Philip Johnson on Rick Santorum’s “Teach the Controversy” Amendment

Transcript of a Clip from One Nation Under Darwin

When something like ninety percent of the public is skeptical to one degree or another of the theory of evolution, how should educational authorities address this controversial subject. I said they should teach the controversy. A simple, a three-word soundbite to explain the principle: teach the controversy. Teach what the official voices of science say. That’s knowledge students should have. But they should also learn why many people believe that what they are being told is philosophy a rather than fact. It makes claims which have not actually been established by the scientific method of careful observation and especially repeatable experiments that one scientist does and another can repeat. This method of scientific evaluation is not what is behind the Darwinian theory of evolution, rather it is a philosophical claim. I said that students should be taught the controversy, should know why it’s controversial.

So a senator, Rick Santorum, sent a message to me after this and said that as the president’s Leave no Child Behind Education Act was up before the Senate at that time, he wanted to introduce a Teach the Controversy resolution as an amendment to the bill. I wasn’t at all sure that the senator would get more than a handful of votes for this so I didn’t know if it was a good idea or not. But, I wanted him to have a good amendment to proceed with, so I sat down and drafted one, as a staff assistant might do. What I drafted was a resolution for the United States Senate to pass that read as follows:

It is the sense of the Senate that in two sentences — this is a two-sentence resolution:

Good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science.

Now that seems to me to be hard to dispute. Isn’t it a good idea that students of science should learn how to distinguish philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science from actual data or testable theories that are subject to experiment. It seemed to me that that was an obviously sound principle.

and then the second sentence of the Santorum amendment as it has been called since:

Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

The second sentence, you can see, is simply an application of the first sentence to a specific subject. The first sentence has the principal all there. Senator Santorum stated that the purpose of this resolution was to promote intellectual freedom. It was a very liberal resolution.