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Letters to the Editor

Same ol’, same ol’

Douglas Mock, Joseph Thai and Tom Boyd February 6th, 2013

Two “new” bills filed with the state Legislature recently are dog-eared twin parcels of anti-science boilerplate based on model language from the creationist Discovery Institute (in Seattle). This is an annual rite of winter: Legislative sponsors proclaim laudable goals (“academic freedom” and “critical thinking”) with a wink and nod that fool no one except perhaps innocent schoolchildren. The goal is to promote the teaching of religion as science in public school science classrooms.

How does that work? Both bills claim to support teachers’ freedom to address scientific strengths and weaknesses of scientific issues (House Bill 1674 cites evolution specifically, Senate Bill 758 doesn’t).

The most obvious problem is that we do not need new laws to free science teachers to do that: such discussions are always part of science education.

This is like legalizing human bipedalism. The less obvious trick here involves cryptically distorting the word “scientific,” a detail not mentioned in these particular bills but part of the nationwide strategy. In a string of high-profile trials spanning decades, creationists have tried redefining science so as to include supernatural explanations. This never works.

Recently, in 2006, the citizens of Dover, Penn., paid more than $1 million in legal fees and damages after a lengthy federal trial exposed “Intelligent Design Theory” as religious. Teaching religious views as scientific theory violated the constitutional separation between church and state that the framers deemed essential to protect “the people,” including impressionable young schoolchildren, against government-run religion.

The two Oklahoma bills adopt language by the same Discovery Institute folks who thought nobody would recognize the God of Genesis if disguised as an unnamed intelligent designer. Hello? The federal judge described this transparent gambit as “breathtaking inanity” in a clear warning to communities wishing to avoid Dover’s example. Oklahoma should think twice about encouraging new Dovers to appear.

There’s more at stake than squandering time, money, and dignity. Science is a terrific system for finding out how nature really works, with a phenomenal track record of success that underpins current technology, medicine, and much of modern life. We must not weaken that key part of education by permitting nonscience to invade its logic.

In the past two centuries, for example, human life expectancy has tripled by requiring solid evidence for each medical concept. Germ Theory concerned pathogenic microbes too small for us to see, but their importance could be tested rigorously and then incorporated into effective public health practices. Modern microscopes now make germs seem obvious, but indirect methodology detected them decades earlier, thereby saving millions of lives. Let us not be fooled by bogus attempts to “reform” science education that only provides sheep’s clothing for anti-science wolves. These two bills are unnecessary at best — dangerous, costly, and unconstitutional at worst. Real science is essential if future generations of Oklahomans are to enjoy its many contributions to our economic and intellectual growth.

—Douglas Mock, Joseph Thai and Tom Boyd, Norman

Mock is a biology professor; Thai, a law professor; and Boy, a religious studies professor. All are at the University of Oklahoma.

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