The Norman Transcript

May 15, 2006

'Where we stand'


By Althea Peterson

Transcript Staff Writer

Discussions are evolving on evolution in Oklahoma.

The University of Oklahoma Department of Zoology recently released a statement on evolution, which received unanimous support among its faculty. The statement begins “Evolution is a fact. Evolutionary theory is a cornerstone of biology.” Bill Matthews, director of the department, said the department included all faculty on the discussion before releasing the statement April 19.

“The faculty felt it was important that it showed where we stand on the issue,” Matthews said.

Ola Fincke, zoology professor who drew up the original draft of the statement, said calling evolution a “fact” probably surprises many in the public. However, she said it is the sole explanation for organism creation that can be tested, but has not been proven wrong.

“There is no valid alternative to evolution,” Fincke said.

This statement only comes one month after Oklahoma State University’s department of zoology released a similar statement on zoology, which received support from OSU’s faculty council. Stan Fox, regents professor of zoology at OSU, said their faculty also composed the statement as a group.

“It was in response to the pressure to put intelligent design in the curriculum,” Fox said. “We of course agree with OU that evolution is a cornerstone of biology.”

The difference between the two is a matter of science versus supernatural, said Matt Loven, OSU assistant professor of zoology.

“Among scientists, there is no controversy to evolution,” Loven said. “We believe it is an important part of education. I’m really excited to see that OU finally released a statement. The fact that two major universities agree on this is great.”

However, some do not feel that this news is “great.” Representative Thad Balkman, R-Norman, said the statement seems to exclude any other explanations to organism creation.

“I think it’s disappointing that these people are not open to debating these issues,” Balkman said. “I believe in intelligent design. There are many scientists and physicists who believe in intelligent design. This is orthodoxy.”

When the Oklahoma House considered the “Academic Freedom Act,” Balkman said some incorrectly thought this was an endorsement of teaching ID. He said he is for teaching both evolution and ID.

“I support the teaching of evolution in schools,” Balkman said. “I’m not anti-evolution.”

This is not just a state issue. President George W. Bush spoke on evolution and intelligent design Aug. 1, 2005. He spoke in favor of teaching both equally in science courses.

“Both sides ought to be properly taught… so people can understand what the debate is about,” he said, according to an official transcript of the session. “Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. …You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”

Fincke said intelligent design has no place in a science classroom, because it is not science.

“It’s philosophy at best,” Fincke said. “You can believe that, but I believe that God did it via evolution. Teach intelligent design in a philosophy class, or in Sunday school. Intelligent Design has created no new scientific knowledge.”

Vic Hutchison, OU emeritus zoology professor, called OU’s statement “The best I have ever seen on evolution,” but fears that if ID is also taught it will take necessary time away from teaching evolution.

“Science does not, cannot and will not address the matters that are supernatural,” Hutchison said. “Why teach something in science that isn’t science?”

While neither OSU or OU have publicly endorsed the statements from their zoology departments, the OU Faculty Senate has the statement on its agenda for their next meeting. Fox said he hopes state higher education will take a position on the issue as the departments already have.