by Bill Johnson
(AR) OKLAHOMA CITY --
small state committee that hardly anyone ever heard of
has kicked up a mammoth furor over evolution that rumbles from border to
border in Oklahoma, and into other states as well.
The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee, which picks the texts the state will pay for, voted unanimously to require a disclaimer in science textbooks stating that evolution is only a theory, not a fact, and is "an unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things."
Reaction was quick, with some ranging from Gov. Frank Keating to a group of state legislators hailing the action, to others who accused the committee of "bad science."
Keating said the disclaimer was thoughtful about other views and that it would be unacceptable to say that creationism should not be taught in the public schools.
Rep. Fred Perry of Tulsa said he signed a petition thanking the committee for its action "out of a religious conviction and in empathy for textbook committee members who are experiencing criticism from several quarters."
Perry, one of eight legislators who signed the petition, said there were "more legislators that feel that way and would sign it, if given a chance."
The Daily Oklahoman, one of the nation's most conservative newspapers, also praised the committee's action and carried a lengthy article on a speech by an anti-evolution activist.
But not everyone in Oklahoma, often called the buckle on the Bible Belt, thought the committee was right. Some public school science teachers said the disclaimer would lead to confusion among students, and science professors in Texas chimed in against the action.
A few principals and school superintendents said they might use local school money to buy other textbooks instead of accepting those approved by the committee. If a school picks a text approved by the committee, the state pays for it. A school may use texts not on the approved list, but they have to pay for those themselves.
The Oklahoma disclaimer is identical to one approved earlier in Alabama. Eugenie Scott, director of the nonprofit National Center for Science Education Inc., dissected the Alabama effort in an hour-long speech to the Southern Area Convention of the National Science Teachers Association.
Scott used the words "nonsense" and "stupid" frequently in discussing the Alabama disclaimer. She was greeted by applause when she called on school administrators and principals to end what she called their gutless response.
"Teachers feel like they are being hung out to dry while principals and administrators dive under their desks," Scott said.
Scott, who has a doctorate in physical anthropology from the University of Missouri, contended the disclaimer misstates the nature of science when describing evolution as a "controversial theory."
Many fundamentalist religious adherents follow the Biblical account that God created man in his image and created the world in only seven days. The argue that there is no scientific "proof" to back up evolution.
Scott said "baloney" to the disclaimer's statement that "evolution also refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produce a world of living things."
"This presents evolution as if it is inherently anti-religious, and it is not," Scott said.
About a fourth of Oklahoma's 840 public school science teachers answered a random survey earlier this year of teacher attitudes toward evolution. The survey was conducted earlier this year by Jeffrey Weld, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University.
That survey showed about two-thirds of those responding said they emphasized the evolution theory in their biology class. Nearly one-third said they place little or no emphasis on evolution, and one-fourth said they place moderate or strong emphasis on creationism.
December 12, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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