By TOM HUMPHREY
A Tennessee lawmaker proposes to use the legislative process to get an answer to the question of whether the universe was created by a “Supreme Being.”
Under the measure, introduced by Republican state Sen. Raymond Finney, the answer would come from state Education Commissioner Lana Seivers “in report form” no later than Jan. 15, 2008.
Finney, a retired physician, said Monday that his objective is to formally prod the Department of Education into a dialogue about the teaching of evolution in school science classes without also teaching the alternative of “creationism,” or “intelligent design.”
The move would thus renew a debate that has raged off and on in the Tennessee Legislature since at least 1925, when the 64th General Assembly enacted a law forbidding the teaching of evolution — setting the stage for the famous John Scopes “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tenn., later that year.
Finney said there is no doubt in his own mind that everything in the universe, including human beings, was created by a Supreme Being.
“There has never been any proof offered that Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct,” he said.
“I’m not demanding that she (Seivers) to do anything,” he said, “just asking, ‘Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?’ ”
He said the resolution is “giving her the opportunity to say, ‘You’re wrong. There is no creationism.’ ”
As the resolution is written, if Seivers does answer no to the first question — stating that the universe was not created by a Supreme Being — she would be offered “the General Assembly’s admiration for being able to decide conclusively a question that has long perplexed and occupied the attention of scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators and others.”
But if she answers yes, or states that the answer to the creation of the universe is uncertain, then there is a follow-up question that must also be answered: Why is creationism not being taught in Tennessee schools?
Finney said he suspects that Seivers would answer that the means of creation of the universe is uncertain. Seivers was not available for comment.
But Bruce Opie, legislative liaison for the Department of Education, said state policy has been “over the last several years” that it is appropriate to teach students about creationism in religion or sociology classes, but not in biology classes.
“As far as his (Finney’s) question embedded in this resolution, I am a little bit confused,” said Opie. “It’s awfully interesting that he wants an answer from the person sitting as commissioner.”
The State Board of Education actually decides curriculum for public school courses, he said, and Seivers is basically bound by those board decisions.
As a Senate resolution, the measure needs approval only by the Senate — where Finney and fellow Republicans have a majority of members — to become effective as a formal request to Seivers. The Democrat-dominated House need not take any action.
The 1925 statute banning the teaching of evolution in Tennessee was passed by the General Assembly in March. Teacher Scopes was charged with violating the law and went on trial in July.
He was convicted and fined $100, but the conviction was overturned two years later by the state Supreme Court. The statute was repealed by the Legislature in 1967.
(Contact Tom Humphrey of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com.)