Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How to Celebrate Darwin Day

At least in Oklahoma.

It has become something of an annual ritual. The Bible uses a phrase something like, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle,” (1 Chronicles 20:1). It is as reliable as the opening of tree buds. Every winter, state senator Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma (I am in his district) introduces a creationist bill. It is not worded as a creationist bill, but that is its intent. It is called the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act (SB 1765). Its stated purpose is to prevent science teachers from penalizing students for their religious views. Therefore, an evolutionist teacher cannot penalize a creationist student. In literal fact, this would mean that a creationist teacher could not penalize a non-creationist student either. Brecheen claims that evolution is a religion, the establishment of which is unconstitutional.

This bill is a solution to a problem that does not exist. The bill specifically states that the student needs to know the scientific concepts. But I have never heard of a case of a creationist student in Oklahoma getting penalized for creationist viewpoints.

So I celebrated Darwin’s birthday by sending emails to the members of the Senate Education Committee. Those of you in Oklahoma might consider doing this also. Here is what I sent to the chair of the committee. I used my AOL email rather than my university email.

Dear Senator Ford,

I wish to express my opposition to Senator Brecheen's bill, SB 1765. I have written to this committee almost every year in the past about this bill each time it recurs. I am a professor and science writer, but am writing this letter as a citizen and using my private email. I am president of the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences, but my views are my own.

The bill is unnecessary, as its main points are effectively covered by existing Oklahoma curriculum standards. Nothing in the bill explains why we need a new state law specifying what teachers already (are required to) do and have been doing for decades. Teachers already teach strengths and weaknesses as part of inquiry-based learning. The state of Oklahoma faces numerous challenges and I do not believe the Senate needs to take its time to debate and enact unnecessary legislation.

I realize that Senator Brecheen considers evolution to be a religion, but it is not. It is a scientific theory based on a great amount of evidence, which I have outlined in my Encyclopedia of Evolution and other books. When I teach and write about evolution, I never present it as a dogmatic belief and never require my students to agree with me. In fact, my best student in 2012 (she got 103% on the final grade) was our Southeastern valedictorian and a literal creationist. I did not penalize her for her beliefs, just as I do not penalize my atheist students. I consider this bill to be more of a political statement than an attempt to address any real problem. Have any teachers or students brought up cases of discrimination?

Thank you for considering my request.

Stanley Rice

I got the following response, apparently a form letter, from the assistant of one of the senators:

Thank you for your email expressing opposition to SB1765. Senator Jolley welcomes the input from constituents of all backgrounds and opinions. Hearing your perspective based on the combination of your professional expertise and faith is very much appreciated.

Should this bill receive a hearing this Session, Senator Jolley will certainly apply a sense of balance to his deliberations prior to casting a vote. Thank you for taking the time to write and please feel free to contact me any time I might be of assistance.

Now, I have nothing against a sense of balance, but this is often creationist code for creationism.

For those of you in Oklahoma, here is a list of committee members and contact information:

Name, Room #, Phone, Email
John Ford, 424A, 521-5634,
Gary Stanislawski, 427A, 521-5624,
Earl Garrison, 528A, 521-5533,
Jim Halligan, 425, 521-5572,
David Holt, 411A, 521-5636,
Clark Jolley, 519, 521-5622,
Susan Paddack, 533B, 521-5541,
Wayne Shaw, 513A, 521-5574,
Ralph Shortey, 514A, 521-5557,
John Sparks, 529B, 521-5553,
Ron Sharp, 533, 521-5539,

Meanwhile, enjoy celebrating Darwin’s 205th birthday.

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