Virginia introduces first antiscience bill of the year

January 8, 2014 • 10:54 am

Below is House Bill 207, prefiled in the Virginia General Assembly on December 27, 2013 by delegate Richard Bell (a Republican, of course).  It is now in the education committee, and I have no idea what its chances are.

It’s one of those innocuous-sounding “teach-the-controversy” bills that is aimed at allowing teachers to present the “weaknesses” of both evolution and anthropogenic climate change. Lest you doubt that, here’s what Bell told a Virginia newspaper, as reported by ClimateProgress:

Bell told the Hampton Roads Daily Press that the bill was intended to protect teachers who might otherwise be disciplined for how they responded to questions from students about topics like evolution. He noted that since the state does not require teaching of alternatives to the theory of evolution, “introducing them into instructional discussion would not seem appropriate.” In his 2011 re-election campaign, he boasted of the endorsement of noted climate-change-denier Ken Cuccinelli II (R).

Groups like the Discovery Institute and Heartland Institute have pushed schools nationally to adopt curricula that embraces skepticism of science. The former’s “Teach the Controversy” campaign has encouraged educators to include in their lectures the “non-scientific problems” creationists and intelligent-design proponents claim to have identified in the theory of evolution.

I’m not sure what Bell means with his “not appropriate” caveat about teaching creationism, but if that’s the way he feels, why this bill?

Note that parts A, B, and C create a situation in which creationism and climate denialism are to be treated “respectfully”, surely falling in the “differences of opinion about scientific issues” category. Well, neither evolution nor anthropogenic climate change are “differences of opinion.” They are scientific conclusions, and if teachers pretend that they’re merely “opinions,” they’re sorely misleading the students.  The only way to respond “respectfully” to students who suggest creationism is to say, “With all due respect, both evolution and anthropogenic climate change are facts,” and then present the supporting data. If necessary, one can explain why the opposing opinions aren’t supported by science. But there should be no “respect” implying that creationism and climate-change denialism are credible views.

Section D is what kills me: it’s a weaselly way to pretend that creationism isn’t a religious doctrine.  Asserting that the bill should not be construed as religious doesn’t make it so: it’s a distinction without a difference. It’s like sticking a label on a cat that says, “Nothing about this animal should be construed as promoting the idea that it’s a felid.”

Shame on you, Virginia.  If they wanted teachers to simply teach accepted science, they wouldn’t need to pass bills like this.


Offered January 8, 2014 Prefiled December 27, 2013

A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 22.1-207.6, relating to instruction in science.

———-Patron– Bell, Richard P.———-Committee Referral Pending———-

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 22.1-207.6 as follows:

§ 22.1-207.6. Instruction in science.

A. The Board and each local school board, division superintendent, and school board employee shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.

B. The Board and each local school board, division superintendent, and school board employee shall assist teachers to find effective ways to present scientific controversies in science classes.

C. Neither the Board nor any local school board, division superintendent, or school board employee shall prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes.

D. Nothing in this section shall be construed to promote or discriminate against any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote or discriminate against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote or discriminate against religion or nonreligion.

2. That no later than August 1, 2014, the Board of Education shall notify each division superintendent of the provisions of this act. Each division superintendent shall notify all employees of the local school board of the provisions of this act by the first day of the 2014-2015 school year.

51 thoughts on “Virginia introduces first antiscience bill of the year

      1. I wouldn’t be too sure. Remember that YHWH is the dude with serious megalomaniacal issues and the worst anger management problems in all of literature. He set Adam & Eve up in a no-win NIGYSOB, he drowned the whole planet, he used Jedi mind tricks on Pharaoh as an excuse to cut loose with his sniny new weapons of mass destruction, he cheered on Moses and his merry men as they raped all the Midianite girls after slaughtering their parents, and the best he could think of to forgive humanity for his own transgressions was to rape a virgin so he could go slumming for a bit and engage in some S&M fantasies.

        Christianity is a perfect fit for YHWH.



          1. Oh, they’ll all do tricks — that’s their specialty, after all. Some even turn tricks, too, if that’s what you’re looking for.


          1. 1/. The involuntary sound uttered when opening a credit card statement.

            2/. “Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of a Bitch.”

        1. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction” (Richard Dawkins, opening sentence of chapter 2 of The God Delusion.

          1. Every time I encounter Richard’s line, just for the sake of stretching my mental muscles, I try to think up somebody worse.

            Not Iago. Not even Baron Scarpia. Possibly the Emperor from Star Wars, but he was such a shallow cartoon caricature, and we don’t see that much detail about his depravities; the same would apply to any other comic book / fantasy supervillians. Voldemort pales in comparison.

            I’ve yet to come up with a viable counterproposal.



          2. The Old Testament god is kind of like a cartoon caricature. I think he is extra evil because we don’t get to know him very well so we can’t give him too much sympathy. Even the Emperor had a backstory, superficial as it was.

          3. True, we don’t learn of YHWH’s backstory in the Bible — though I understand that said backstory does exist in other, older myths that were redacted from the Bible.

            But, at the same time, we have far more than enough actual-story of YHWH to establish his true character and nature…and we’ve got such an overwhelming lot of story about him as to paint him as having every reprehensible and undesirable personality trait imaginable, and then some — and with no redeeming features whatsoever. I’m not sure a modern writer could sell a book with a less sympathetic villain.


          4. You don’t think Darth Vader’s use of the Death Star to annihilate a planet compares? I mean he killed the whole planet without even offering an ark!

          5. In terms of sheer body count, sure.

            (I should interrupt at this point to note that I’ve had Star Wars fans get all upset at me because it was whatever officer who was in command of the ship who ordered the destruction of the planet, not Vader himself. I personally see that as a distinction without a difference; a well-trained officer corps knows what the commander-in-chief is going to order and often acts autonomously unless said chief sees need to intervene.)

            But the destruction of the planet was clearly a casual and clinical thing, like any general ordering the use of overwhelming force to intimidate the enemy. Bush did it with his “Shock and Awe” campaign at the start of the Gulf War. Horrific and unjustifiable, yes, absolutely. But it’s not the same thing as what YHWH did in the Flood.

            In YHWH’s case, it was clearly done out of the same motives that a young child might smash his favorite toy after seeing a bit of the paint chipped off — rage, frustration, and an irrational sense of betrayal. And this was supposedly YHWH’s crowning glory achievement, too; the all-knowing all-powerful’s greatest work of art gone from Eden to Sodom in three chapters flat. Plus, the death-and-destruction bit didn’t actually do anything to fix what it was supposed to, and the YHWH’s chosen vessels were clearly themselves not shining examples of great moral righteousness. The levels and layers of corruption and insanity are so thick and heavy it’s practically impossible to peel them all apart.

            So…superficially, yes, Vader and the Emperor are comparable. But even they’re not quit as horrific as YHWH.

            Besides, Vader has remorse on his deathbed and the Emperor is defeated. YHWH shows no signs of remorse — quite the opposite — and is unbeatable.



          6. That’s just one part: Vader doesn’t seem to want to be loved and do the whole “love me or I kill you” thing (except maybe to Luke) – but Yahweh does it to everyone (or to the Israelites, depending on one’s interpretation)! There’s more, but sheer body count is not it alone in any case.

          1. Ah, yes — the “I brought you into this world, and I’ll send you out of it if I feel like it” parenting technique. For some reason, Christians tend to get damned uncomfortable when I ask them if they have any children of their own living with them, as Child Protective Services would likely want to have a word with them.

            Thankfully, most Christians are more moral than their gods, and wouldn’t actually murder their own children. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from abusing their children in other Biblical ways that the State doesn’t prohibit, such as beatings (euphemistically referred to as “spanking”) and mental abuse (“Eat your broccoli or Satan will eat you!”).



          2. The reply threads seem to be jumbled. Anyhow, regarding Vader and YHWH, those are good points about the pettiness involved in smiting the planet. I’ll agree that there is no difference between ordering the killing and doing it, after all YHWH generally ordered tribes to kill each other, except for the case of the plagues. (He can rain down blood and pestilence but he still needs the chosen ones help!)

            There’s also some pretty obvious Trinity imagery going on at the end of Star Wars with Vader, Yoda, and Obi-wan together in the force. If Luke is the redeeming son, then Vader took his place and stood up to the evil emperor himself (more than we can say for YHWH watching Jesus die). So I will concede, YHWH is worse–unchanging, unwilling to sacrifice himself to save his son. But wait, his son is himself! Maybe he is good. Would it have made any sense to sacrifice himself to himself to save everyone from himself only to then have himself step in to save himself from himself not intervening to help himself? No, no, that would be silly!

          3. That, and Jesus is also one hell of a mean motherfucker himself. He’s the one in charge of sending people to Hell, after all, and he’s coming back “real soon now” to kick off Armageddon and kill all the non-Christians (and, in the mean time, wants Christians to get started for him), and he came not to bring peace but a sword, and to rip families asunder, and any who love their families more than him are fucked, and and and and and….

            Quite the dynamic duo, the two of them.



  1. Virginia better hope this doesn’t make it past the governor’s signature. If it does, it’s guaranteed to do nothing but make lots of money for lawyers, for it absolutely won’t survive a court challenge.


    1. The Sensuous Curmudgeon, on his blog, regularly unearths these bills and exposes them to the ridicule they deserve; highly recommended. The language here is lifted directly from the Dishonesty Institute’s current template for such bills. You are absolutely right about it not surviving a court challenge.

  2. How can someone embrace “scepticism of science.”? I thought science was built on scepticism and that scepticism implies curiosity and a desire to understand. If you are sceptical of Biology then you look at the evidence and find out how your questions have been answered or what work is going into answering your question. From my quite weak understanding of this shouldn’t they be embracing cynicism of science? I didn’t think cynicism implies any curiosity, mainly doubt and rejection for personal political or religious reasons. That label seems to suit these bastards more accurately.

  3. Good grief, either teach Science or don’t & if you don’t, please explain why you feel future generations should be left behind and the US should yield its position as one of the best places to study science while the rest of the technologically advanced world moves on.

  4. I wonder why the legislators never include in their bills encouraging teachers to discuss the supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory some language that encourages discussion of the weaknesses of the Genesis account or of Intelligent Design.

    Genesis, for example, is internally inconsistent and contradicted by well-known evidence. Do they wish science teachers to point out these facts to their students? I don’t think so.

  5. The language of the bill is boilerplate used in numerous other states’ proposals, written by lobbyists from anti-evolution groups, who have honed it carefully based on past failures in the courts. It’s pretty much the same language in a bill that has already been enacted here in Tennessee. The intent is, obviously, to give legal protection to any teacher who wants to teach creationism in the classroom.

    1. It’s probably from ALEC.

      If you haven’t heard of ALEC, it’s the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by the Koch brothers to draft boilerplate regressive legislation (like anti-evolution laws, voter suppression, anti-abortion, anti-separation of church and state, tax cuts for the 1%, etc). It’s really intended to let a couple of spoiled billionaires treat the country like their own private playground. The governor of my current state is beholden to them for his campaign funding. We call him a Kochsucker.

      1. What’s the matter with Kansas, indeed. ALEC is the spearhead of the neo-feudalist Right. I’m not sure the Koch’s and Pete Pedersen and other remnants of the John Birch Society + liberRandtarian utopian dreamers ever planned for things to go as far as they have. Who would have predicted single-issue (anti-abortion) voters would stick around for 30-odd years of self-inflicted economic-death-by-a-thousand-cuts, hoping to drive all abortion procedures back underground — oops, I meant to say end abortion? Or that national Democratic leadership would turn pussy, and invent neo-liberalism (i.e. 1970 GOP economic policy, essentially) as a way to line their pockets up directly under the oligarchic cash flow? The whole thing is a raging flood now, with nutjob extremists on the right even the Kochs fear, loathe, and don’t agree with, & have no ability of bringing under any kind of control — like our Virginia buddy — and the only way left to stop the rush over the cliff is from the bottom up. Easier said than done. All the while, the power lust for the “makers” exponentially increases. It even surpasses their wealth gains.

      2. I sincerely doubt that it’s ALEC. So far as I know, those folks don’t give a shit about this kind of thing. Where’s the money in deluded teachers? No, this is just our old friends, hustling wealthy theocons for near a quarter century.

        1. Don’t be so sure. It is a so-called “wedge” issue in another way – people vote for the theocratic plutocrats because some folks want the first part and don’t notice the extreme other part. Or such is the intention.

        2. The people behind ALEC (in this case the Koch brothers and the Kochsuckers who suck up to them) wand control – and they don’t care what the issue is as long as it riles up their base.

  6. “D. Nothing in this section shall be construed to promote or discriminate against any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote or discriminate against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote or discriminate against religion or nonreligion.”

    My, they’re getting “tricky” with their language on this one, aren’t they? I guess now science is just another “belief system.”

    1. ” . . . against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs . . . .”

      Bet they won’t use the phrase “irrational beliefs or non-irrational beliefs.”

  7. What part of the Old Dominion is Dickie Bell from? If the Fredericksburg area, why does that seem to have become (to me, anyway, from various inputs) the most reactionary part of the state?

  8. If this nonsense were ever foisted on me as a teacher, I’d happily oblige. I’d continue to give my evolution lectures as I always do, but at the end of each lecture it would be easy to add one additional slide saying simply “Or God did it”

  9. This lumping together of AGW and evolution strikes me as somewhat odd. Is there a religious association with global warming now or is it simply a matter of 2 different agendas being represented together for some reason?

    I don’t view the 2 issues as similar in any way other than at the surface where they deny science. There are legitimate debates to be had with respect to global warming policy and the potential effects of the warming. It is far from settled science regarding predictions of the effects simply because the models are complicated and involve many variables.

    That said, I’ll modify my initial statement. The second concept they have in common is denying facts in order to cause confusion and stifle meaningful discussion. Still, I don’t view the two topics as even remotely on the same playing field. There’s no legitimate points to debate regarding Evolution vs. Creationism.

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