Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Evolution Still Considered Scientific Truth in Oklahoma, but Just Barely

Oklahoma science teachers just barely dodged a bullet yesterday when the Senate Education Committee "narrowly defeated" the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act (SB 320) 7-6. Thankfully this bill that would allow for treating intelligent design as a science subject was killed in committee.

SB 320, written by Senator Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) was not an overtly obnoxious mandate for equal time for intelligent design with the theory of evolution, which is why it was even more dangerous: it actually had a chance of passing. Language in the bill states that the Legislature "finds that the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origin of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects."

There is this argument from right-wing philosophers that there is some kind of scientific controversy over biological evolution; in fact the only controversy with evolution is the inability of some people to reconcile their Biblical-literalist viewpoints with scientific evidence. Throwing in global warming and human cloning in this statement revealed even more about the agenda behind SB 320. Global warming is a real evidence-based phenomenon (although not as dire as some would make it seem), and human cloning is more of a practice than a theory. There is definitely a moral question behind human cloning, but that is certainly no place for science, which strives for separating what is from what is not, rather than separating what should be done from what should not.

The bill was rightfully killed by one vote in committee, and it could have come from Senator Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater). Halligan objected to a provision in the bill that would have allowed students to refuse on moral grounds to answer questions on a science test. That section of the bill allows that "students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories." From this bill, a student could either refuse to take a test on evolution or respond to questions that have a definite right answer blatantly wrong, and the student would not get marked off for it. Arguing for solutions that may not be defined clearly as right or wrong is a hallowed tradition in English classes, literature classes, philosophy classes, etc. But there is very little place for argument when it comes to science, math, engineering, etc. And there is a right answer to the question of how organisms came to possess the traits they have; in the science classroom, the right answer is not God.

When Senator Susan Paddock (D-Ada) noted that Senator Randy Brogdon's bill was endorsed by a preacher who spoke to the Senate last week and who had issued a warning about the spread of atheism, Brogdon retorted that at least the minister had spoken from the heart and his sentiments would be supported by "80 percent, probably 90 percent of Oklahomans." Of course Brogdon should know that in this country, a majority even as large as 80 or 90 percent isn't always right. If only Brogdon could be part of an "open and objective discussion of the facts and observations of" religious beliefs "and the assumptions that underlie his interpretation", maybe then he could "develop the critical thinking skills needed in order to become an intelligent, productive and informed citizen."

No comments: