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In Letter and Op-Ed, AAAS Urges Defeat of Oklahoma Science-Ed Bill

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner

AAAS is urging that Oklahoma legislators reject an academic freedom measure now pending in the state Senate, saying that it would undermine the teaching of evolution and confuse students about fundamental and widely accepted scientific knowledge.

In a letter sent Monday to Oklahoma elected officials and in a commentary published Sunday in The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, CEO Alan I. Leshner has written that the measure (HB 2107) would degrade science education and contribute to the decline of science literacy at a time mounting global competition in science and technology fields.

And he reiterated a theme that has been central to AAAS’s nationwide message on evolution and intelligent design: Science has no inherent conflict with religion, and neither stands to gain when they are pitted against each other.

In a time that calls for unity and common purpose, the Oklahoma measure divides and distracts us, Leshner wrote in the op-ed published 19 March. America is facing unprecedented challenges—protecting national security, developing new energy sources, improving our economy and defending against diseases such as Avian flu. We can meet those challenges not by bringing religion into those classrooms, but by teaching science better than ever, with new imagination and increased energy.

HB 2107 would establish that teachers have the academic freedom to teach the “full range of scientific views on the biological or chemical origins of life” and that students cannot be graded on their beliefs. The sponsor of the measure, state Rep. Sally Kern, says it would encourage critical thinking by exposing students to all sides of the scientific debate about evolution.

That sounds reasonable, at first, Leshner wrote. But this is the sort of code language that supporters of intelligent design doctrine have tried to inject into science education standards in other communities and states nationwide—not to promote science, but to promote a narrow religious agenda.

In fact, there is no scientific debate about evolution. The evidence accumulated during the past 150 years—from dinosaur fossils to the latest discoveries about our own genetic coding—proves that evolution is the only plausible explanation for how life has unfolded over millions of years.

Leshner elaborated on that idea in a letter to state Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Sen. Jeff Rabon, the committee vice chairman; Sen. Stratton Taylor, chairman of the committee’s Education Subcommittee; and the 12 other subcommittee members.

Supporters of Intelligent Design claim that their ideas are supported by scientific evidence, but there is no research or scientific publications to support this claim, he wrote. Referring to the Dover, Pa., Intelligent Design trial, he added: As Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania found, because ID relies on the existence of a supernatural designer it is a religious concept, not science, and therefore does not belong in the science classroom. Presenting it there would only serve to confuse our children about what is and is not science.

Both the letter and the op-ed stressed AAAS’s belief—outlined in a recent statement from the AAAS Board of Directors—that science and religion can comfortably co-exist. Over 10,000 U.S. religious leaders from a range of faiths and denominations—including a significant group from Oklahoma—have signed onto the Clergy Letter Project supporting the harmonious relationship between religion and evolution.

HB 2107 bill passed the Oklahoma House earlier this month and the state Senate is now poised to act on it. If the measure passes the Senate, it would go to Gov. Brad Henry, who could sign it or veto it.

To see a full copy of Alan I. Leshner’s Oklahoman op-ed, click here.

To see a full copy of the letter, click here.

To see AAAS’s extensive collection of historical documents, teaching resources and commentary on evolution and intelligent design, see Evolution on the Front Line.