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Faithless science


Kurt Hochenauer February 19th, 2009

Oklahomans who cared about maintaining science standards in schools paid close attention to a bill introduced by state Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, which would have allowed teachers to discuss with t...

Oklahomans who cared about maintaining science standards in schools paid close attention to a bill introduced by state Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, which would have allowed teachers to discuss with their students the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, global warming and human cloning.

Called the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," Senate Bill 320 appeared to be yet another disingenuous attempt to attack the teaching of evolution in the state's science classrooms, according to critics of the bill. The prosposal died Feb. 16 in the Senate Education Committee.

The bill asked the Legislature to determine "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy." It stated, ""¦ educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." The bill would have permitted teachers to show the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

But evolution is only controversial to people who oppose it on religious grounds. It's a unifying theory of science that, simply put, argues species change or evolve through the years. The theory, developed by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, has created the foundation for advancements in modern medical science. Evolution has never been disproven on its own scientific terms. Never.

The chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning have clear scientific foundations and consensuses as well. These subjects are fluid and dynamic, but the underlying science itself, as with evolution, is open to scrutiny and is absolutely not controversial, except on religious, political or ethical terms.

A similar law passed in Louisiana last year. It has led the state's board of education to give teachers the right to use material outside of the standard curriculum to teach so-called "controversial" science subjects, according to an article on the Web site of Science magazine. At least one Louisiana educator expects some science teachers there to start using teaching materials written by intelligent design proponents. Intelligent design is a pseudoscientific theory supported by many creationists.

All this could have happened in Oklahoma if Brogdon's bill had become law.

The bill had the potential to dumb down Oklahoma students, who, under the bill, couldn't be penalized because they subscribed "to a particular position on scientific theories," (i.e., anti-evolution dogma). Teachers could feel pressured to bring religious or political ideas masquerading as pseudoscience into science classrooms. This dumbing down could reduce the state's ability to produce physicians, scientists and medical workers or deter people from the state's medical research community.

One of the main groups opposing the bill was Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. The National Center for Science Education also opposed the bill.

By all means, encourage Oklahoma students to discuss media controversies in civics courses. Let them discuss Sen. Jim Inhofe's protests against global warming science. Intelligent design might make a robust topic for discussion in a religion course, but allow teachers to teach science subjects without ideological interference.

President Obama has said that, in the recent past, "Rigid ideology has overruled sound science." It's time for correction, not regression.

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

 
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