The debate over a controversial bill heated up this week as opponents stepped up attacks on the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act" authored by State Rep. Gus Blackwell.
The bill passed a committee by a 9-8 vote.
Part of the bill reads, "No students in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories." Opponents have argued that could lead to teaching religious theories in a science classroom.
Dozens of Oklahoma scientists expressed outrage and endorsed a critique of the bill posted on the website for Oklahomans for Excellence in Scientific Education. Dr. Victor H. Hutchison,
George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma said these types of bills have been introduced more times in Oklahoma than any other state.
"These bills really are an attack on science," he explained. "The bill tries to say it doesn't, it really does allow inclusion of non-science in science courses."
Hutchison said the proposed bill is similar to others that have been introduced around the country and failed. He said they all seem to come from a national organization called The Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington.
Blackwell authored this version of the bill. He said he made changes to the bill and argued his goal was not to introduce religious teachings into science classes, only to encourage students to engage in science.
"This has to be science, scientific evidence, scientific facts, that look at maybe weaknesses of different theories on different viewpoints, but to me that's what piques students' interest," said Blackwell. "Theological viewpoints from creation, it's not a scientific experiment that can be replicated and duplicated or validated. I do think that there is a lot of debate going on you know, in the evolution community, that I think students need to be exposed to."
Blackwell says getting students to question theories would promote science in Oklahoma and added that the bill also includes a requirement for students to know the information presented to them for evaluation.
A student's personal opinion would not exempt him from the material taught in the classroom. Opponents said the bill would put teachers at a disadvantage in the classroom and could have impacts beyond the classroom.
"We could end up with very diluted presentation of science. Harming our students, seriously, preparing them for a career, especially if they go into science or the tech field. Harming the recruitment of businesses, sci-tech industries and med-tech industries do not want to come to Oklahoma City if these bills pass," said Dr. Hutchison.