Both bills rely on the language of “academic freedom,” but science professionals are concerned that science education is not the actual goal of the legislation.
According to the Gallup poll, 54 percent of Americans support the idea that human beings evolved over time from lower life forms. Sixteen percent of that total believe God had nothing to do with the process, but the poll indicates that belief in creationism — the idea that God created human beings in their current form within the past 10,000 years — is down to 40 percent from an all-time high of 47 percent in 1999.
Polls notwithstanding, Brecheen said he wants “valid criticisms” of evolution allowed in Oklahoma classrooms.
Brecheen’s bill calls for a change in the law that would mandate that “students in public school receive a comprehensive education in science and learn how to compare and contrast a variety of scientific viewpoints.”
According to Mike Fuller, president of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, there is no valid criticism of the theory of evolution as a comprehensive theory, only with aspects of it. “There is no scientifically credible theory that competes with evolution,” said Fuller, a former junior high science teacher. “This is yet another of the continuing efforts to bring religion, in the form of intelligent design or creationism, into science classes. There simply is no controversy about the truth of evolution in science fields.”
Anthony Echelle, the regents professor of zoology at Oklahoma State University, said he believes a poor understanding of science, as well as how “theory” is defined in science, contributes to the misguided notion that there is some sort of controversy among scientists about evolution’s truth.
“A scientific theory is a mechanistic (involves only natural forces — no supernatural forces) explanation that appears to explain a broad spectrum of natural phenomena,” Echelle said via e-mail. “Just as the law of gravity is explained by the theory of gravitation, life on earth (and probably anywhere else) is explained by the theory of evolution.”
Echelle said there is good reason to leave intelligent design out of science classrooms: It’s not science.
“It assumes that there are natural phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws,” Echelle said. “Thus, it assumes that such phenomena are explained by a supernatural force or forces that operate outside the bounds of natural law. Paraphrasing what Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross wrote in their book, ‘Creationism’s Trojan Horse,’ intelligent design invokes an unknown force with either unlimited power, or limited power with unknown limits. With this in mind, what data could be gathered to refute the existence of such a power?” Echelle doesn’t believe religion needs to show animosity to science. He said he counts religious people who subscribe to evolution, like the 38 percent of Gallup poll respondents, as allies.
“I do see allies for science among those Christians, like Pope John Paul II, who clearly recognize the fact of macroevolution. John Paul believed that his God stepped in somewhere in the evolution of humans and gave us spiritual qualities,” Echelle said.
In addition to clear definitions of science and theory, other science professionals are concerned about specific language. The National Center for Science Education responded directly to Brecheen’s bill.
“The bill requires the State Board of Education to adopt ‘standards and curricula’ that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and, for grades eight through 12, evolution,” the group’s statement said.
Brecheen admitted that the standards came directly from the Texas standards.
“Those standards were thoroughly vetted,” Brecheen said.
“Additionally, Texas controls the textbook market. If we’re going to throw money at textbooks, then I want to use textbooks that adopt the Texas standards.”
That presents a problem for the NCSE, as it contends the sections Brecheen copied are “all sections that were added or amended by anti-evolution members of the Texas state board of education … in order to encourage the presentation of creationist claims in the science classroom. No fewer than 54 scientific and educational organizations opposed these revisions.”
Brecheen, who said he believes his bill is constitutionally sound, hopes it goes to the education committee. Although he was aware that Kern was going to submit her own bill, he said the two did not collaborate on their legislation. In a column published in the Durant Daily Democrat, Brecheen referenced evidence of evolution as “a monkey jumping out of a tree and putting on a business suit.”
Echelle disagrees with the Senator’s conclusions.
“Evolution is a theory, but not ‘just a theory,’” Echelle said. “The data from every field of science overwhelmingly tells us that evolution is a fact. Not just evolution of small change (microevolution), but also large-scale evolution (macroevolution), including humans and the other apes (gibbons, orangs, gorillas and chimps) from a common ancestor who lived 20 million years or so ago, birds from dinosaurs, whales from terrestrial ancestors, and so forth.”
For an online story on Rep. Kern’s bill, visit www.okgazette.com.