Lawmaker's Science Bill Sparks Controversy

Tuesday, January 13th 2009, 6:26 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley and Terry Hood, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- A proposed bill in Oklahoma is getting attention from across the country.  Some say the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act is an attempt to put religion in the public classroom.

The bill's author says it's not about religion, but about opening the dialogue in science class.  But, opponents see it differently and say it's one more way to stop teaching evolution.

"An open discussion inside the classroom is healthy for the students to have all of the knowledge that's available," said Republican Senator Randy Brogdon of Owasso.

Senator Randy Brogdon is the man behind the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act.  The Owasso Republican says the bill has one goal, to free up discussion in Oklahoma science classes.

"It is geared to allow the students and the teachers to have an open dialogue, nothing more and nothing less. Right now, the teachers are not sure what they can talk about inside the classroom," said Senator Randy Brogdon.

The bill would allow teachers to talk about issues that now may be off limits, such as human cloning or embryonic stem cell research.  But, one phrase in the bill has the scientific community up-in-arms.

It says:  "The legislature further finds...biological evolution...can cause controversy."

Scientists say there is no controversy about evolution and the wording is code to open the door for Intelligent Design.

"The science classroom is a place for debating science and openly analyzing science, but to inject religious dogma in there is absolutely wrong," said TU Geology Professor Jim Derby.

Dr. Jim Derby is a geology professor at TU and has no doubts about evolution.  He says the bill is similar to at least six other proposed bills across the country and backed by the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank that supports the teaching of Intelligent Design.

"This bill will mislead people into thinking that what they're doing is all right by teaching non-scientific values in the classroom," said TU Geology Professor Jim Derby.

"You hear all of the complaints, the whining, and the scare tactics to close down open discussion.  I believe open discussion is good for the students," said Republican Senator Randy Brogdon of Owasso.

Senator Brogdon says the mission is to get kids to debate scientific issues.

The scientists say that's already happening and government should stay out of the classroom.

A host of nationwide science organizations have come out against the bill, including the National Center for Science in Education which calls it the first anti-evolution bill of 2009.

Brogdon says the bill won't go before the state legislature until February.