The Senate Education Committee voted 3-2 Wednesday against the proposal by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, in what has become an annual debate before the panel.
More than 70 Nobel Prize-winning scientists have urged the scrapping of the 2008 law. The repeal effort is led by Zack Kopplin, a Rice University student from Baton Rouge who has drummed up support from scientists around the country.
"This law is about going back into the Dark Ages, not moving forward into the 21st Century," Kopplin said. "Louisiana students deserve to be taught sound science and that means the theory of evolution, not creationism."
Gov. Bobby Jindal and Christian conservatives are among those who oppose the repeal, saying the law promotes critical thinking and strengthens education. Some opponents of Peterson's bill also challenged evolution as a scientific fact.
"If we can't think critically, then we might as well throw out the scientific method," said Mary Passman, a home-schooled 14-year-old from Baton Rouge. She said critics of the law oppose it "because they don't want you to know that evolution has some serious problems."
The law still requires science teachers to use approved textbooks. However, it allows use of supplemental materials on science subjects including evolution, cloning and global warming.
Guidelines adopted by the state education board banned promotion of a religious doctrine in the supplemental materials and required that information presented by teachers be "scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence." The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education didn't include a specific ban on the teaching of creationism, however.
BESE can prohibit supplemental materials it deems inappropriate, but teachers and local school boards don't need its prior approval to introduce supplemental material.
"The act is written very cleverly to create a loophole to allow (creationism) to be snuck in," Kopplin said.
Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, said he worried that repealing the law could shut out debate of differing ideas and concepts. Other lawmakers opposing repeal said they've heard no instances where the law was used to introduce religion into science classrooms.
Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel and Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, questioned whether any complaints had ever been filed about creationism being taught in schools since the law was passed.
Kopplin acknowledged no complaint has ever been lodged.
"I don't want the message out there that we're teaching bad science," Appel, R-Metairie, said.
Jim Dugan, an anthropology instructor at Tulane University, called it "faint praise" to support the law simply because no one has reported a problem yet.
"Louisiana deserves national ridicule for having this act," he said.
Senators supporting repeal said the law has created a view of Louisiana as anti-science.
"I think science would continue to be taught without this act, and I do think that it's a problem for the national perception," said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who supported the repeal.
Voting against the repeal were Guillory, Walsworth and Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Denham Springs. Voting for the repeal were Claitor and Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. Appel didn't vote.