Saturday, October 6, 2012

Oklahoma Evolution Workshop, Part Five

For the late afternoon and evening sessions, the workshop focused on educational and religious issues related to evolution.

Dr. Mary Kay Johnston is a new young professor at Concordia University in Austin TX, which is associated with the Lutheran Church. That is, the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, which officially endorses young-earth creationism but tolerates some diversity of opinions within the academy. She has not experienced trouble from her colleagues or church leaders for teaching evolution, but does have to deal with students coming to college with misconceptions of and hostility toward evolution. This quickly turned into a lively discussion about how to deal with religious issues popping up in science classes.

To avoid some of these problems, Dr. Johnston suggested, we could do some of the following things. For example, talk with students about what science really is. Also, let them know how evolution works before you begin talking with them about the products of evolution, especially humans. And use examples of evolution that are less likely to elicit a negative reaction; students (and their parents and preachers) are unlikely to get bent out of shape over the evolution of diatoms. You don't even have to call it evolution at first. Dr. Johnston encouraged us to deal with Intelligent Design, and to point out the flaws in its fundamental argument: that the parts of a complex system cannot work by themselves. The creationists' favorite example is the bacterial flagellum; but the basis of the flagellum is the same as that of a secretory apparatus.

Rich Broughton also told participants about some excellent teaching resources that are available online, such as Understanding Evolution, the National Center for Science Education, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Cool Science site, and the Talk Origins Archive.

You can't get a lively group like this to not keep talking about religion-science issues. Dinner conversations got serious, in a constructive and friendly way. Those of us involved in this discussion got to know and appreciate each other more, in my view.

For the evening session, Dr. Victor Hutchison, retired from a distinguished professorship at the University of Oklahoma, told us about how creationism and intelligent design are not science, but are politics and religion using science as a disguise, and demonstrated this to us by quotations from the creationists. For example, to Phillip Johnson, the removal of evolution will be the "salvation of western civilization." This is clearly a conflict between science and religion, fueled from the religion side. The militant atheists fuel the attack from the atheist side, especially the "Gnu Atheists." I had never heard this term before; this group of atheists invented the term for themselves. The gnu atheists attack "accommodationists" who try to at least defuse some of the religious conflict over evolution. Meanwhile, many churches such as the Catholic Church (under Pope John Paul II) accept the science of evolution, and some scientists (such as Thodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of evolutionary science) have been religious. Dr. Hutchison pointed out that there are not just two views of creation vs. evolution; there is a whole range of views.

There is also a problem between intelligent design and science: if you simply say, regarding anything that you think is complex, "the Intelligent Designer created it," this brings scientific inquiry to and end. The creator made it; end of story. Not surprisingly, the intelligent-design creationists have not published their own scientific research. And intelligent design is clearly motivated by politics. When Judge John Jones ruled against the creationists in the Dover trial, Republicans were quick to attack him, even though he was a Republican who had been endorsed by Rick Santorum and appointed by George W. Bush.

The intelligent design side is sometimes dishonest, Vic told us. The creationists, going into the 2005 Dover trial, submitted a pile of scientific papers that they claimed supported their view. When the defenders of evolution contacted the authors, they indicated that the creationists had misconstrued the papers to mean something that contradicted their scientific conclusions.

Vic updated us about the recent history of creationist legislative bills in Oklahoma, which narrowly failed, and only because Oklahomans who cared about science education contacted the legislators. He spoke over an hour with incredible energy, even as he enters his ninth decade. Who can follow him, when he finally becomes too tired to continue his work? There are several of us on the Board of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, sponsor of this workshop, who can try, but it will take all of us to keep his work going.

No comments:

Post a Comment