Bill may protect doubters of evolution


82nd Legislature

A state representative and his new bill are stirring the debate on evolution in classrooms. Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, said he believes the possibility that human life began by chance would be like going to a casino slot machine and hitting the exact winning tumble hundreds of times — once for every person in the world. “No one doubts that within a species you can have changes,” Zedler said. “The question becomes, is there some change from one species to another without causation?” Zedler has recently introduced legislation to protect students and education professionals who question the theory of evolution from discrimination. His bill presents intelligent design, an idea that states an intelligent being is responsible for life’s origin, in opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Zedler said he filed the bill because of the reports of dismissals and disciplinary actions against professors who mentioned a theory other than evolution in their presentation, citing “Slaughter of the Dissidents” by Jerry Bergman, a book that documents such cases. “What it’s about is freedom,” Zedler said. “When we think of universities and colleges we think about academic freedom, the ability to take a position and express it as long as we have the academic evidence to back it up.” Zedler’s bill would allow legal recourse for professors dismissed from their jobs or students who were reprimanded because they questioned evolution. Richard Heineman, a natural sciences professor and evolution specialist, said no one in his department would likely be hired unless they believed in evolution. Heineman teaches a class on Viral Evolution where the class experiments with viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages, and changes their environments and genetic makeup to test the theory of evolution. Heineman said he does not speak about theories like intelligent design in his class because it’s not a scientific approach to the question of how life began. “When we talk about it, we talk about it as an example of the difficulties people have in applying scientific [explanations] to issues,” Heineman said. Biology sophomore Kylee Walter said she learned about intelligent design briefly in high school but never in any of her biology classes at UT. Although Walter said she never saw a faculty member at UT get ridiculed or attacked for mentioning intelligent design, she saw students get ridiculed for expressing belief in it. Walter said a bill like Zedler’s would be beneficial to students and professors.