Monday, April 07, 2014

The Oklahoma Academy of Sciences says, "The Academy contends that the acceptance of the general theory of evolution and a belief in God are compatible."

I just read a couple of papers on teaching evolution. The focus was on common misconceptions and whether teachers share the same misconception as students (Yates and Marek, 2013; Yates and Marek, 2014). The authors are associated with Oklahoma Baptist University. Their survey results cover Oklahoma high school teachers and students taking biology.

The authors refer frequently to "the theory of evolution" but none of their questions cover the understanding of what that means. I still don't know whether they looked at misconceptions about the meaning of the phrase.

They did reference a statement by the Oklahoma Academy of Science from 2007 so I thought I'd check it out to see if they define evolution. I was able to find the statement via a link from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) who endorsed it in 2008 [Oklahoma Academy of Science adds its voice for evolution]. You can find the complete statement at: Science, Religion, and Teaching Evolution – 2007. I reproduce it below.

Before you read it, let me make one thing clear. I do not believe that scientific associations should say anything at all about religion. I do not think they should say that science and religion are incompatible, even though I think that's correct. I also don't think they should say that science and religion are compatible, but not because it's wrong (IMHO).

There is considerable debate about the compatibility of science and religion and the one thing we can say with certainty is that scientists and philosophers do not agree. Therefore, it is wrong for scientific organizations to take one side or the other and pretend that the issue has been decided. They should stay out of the issue. This applies to ALL scientific organizations. I think it should also apply to NCSE.

Here's the statement. What do you think? Is it true that if you are an atheist you will never be able to answer "Who?" or "Why?" questions? There's a growing belief that we need to teach more about the nature of science. Is this statement a good place to start?
Science and religion can coexist harmoniously if people understand the strengths and limitations of each field. Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is blind and religion without science is lame.” (1) Science and religion can complement each other - each informing the other in the domain where each is knowledgeable. Respected religious and world leaders such as Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have written statements affirming harmony (2).

Strengths of Science – Science is very successful at understanding the tangible, perceivable world; anything that can be weighed, measured, detected, imaged or described objectively is the domain of science. Science can predict future actions of matter, energy, time, and space, based on past observations and experiments, or it can deduce past events, based on observing the results of those events. For example, geology can deduce what physical happenings occurred in the past and how long ago they occurred. Science can answer the HOW? and WHEN? questions about the physical world extremely well. Science is self-correcting; if new data or better interpretations become available, the scientific community will refine or add to its conclusions to reflect the recent findings.

Limitations of Science – Science cannot answer the ultimate WHO? or WHY? questions. Science is restricted to the domain of physically tangible things. Science can explain HOW things work in ever-finer detail. For example, physiology is explained in terms of biology and chemistry, which is further explained in terms of physics. Beyond the most detailed scientific explanation lies another question -- What is the First Cause? Most scientists would argue that the “First Cause” is not knowable by the methods of science.

Teaching of Evolution in Public Schools – The Oklahoma Academy of Science strongly supports thorough teaching of evolution in biology classes. Evolution is one of the most important principles of science. A high school graduate who does not understand evolution is not prepared for college or for life in a technologically advanced world, in which the role of biology and biotechnology will continue to grow. The Academy affirms that the tangible, perceivable world is the domain of science and that science is clearly the discipline to explain HOW and WHEN the universe came into being. There is no credible scientific evidence that the earth came into being recently or that evolution is not the best explanation of the origins of living organisms. Science, by definition, starts with all available evidence, draws conclusions, and generates testable predictions. The content of science courses should be determined by scientists and science educators, and not by political or religious directives. In particular, science teachers should not be required to teach ideas, models, and theories that are extra-scientific (3). "Creationism" and “Intelligent Design” are not science because they do not conform to the testable and falsifiable criteria of science. It is not appropriate for science textbooks or science teachers to teach creation as science. Creation and other matters of faith are topics for religion, philosophy, and humanities courses.

Conclusion – The Academy regards the fundamental unity of life to be evident in the common building blocks and biochemical reactions of cells and in the remarkable conservation of information in DNA sequences across the biological kingdoms. The latter documents the relatedness of all organisms--plants, microorganisms, and animals.

The Academy contends that the acceptance of the general theory of evolution and a belief in God are compatible. A wide diversity of religious faiths and belief systems are celebrated in the community of science, and the overwhelming majority of scientists accept the principles of evolutionary theory. Many do this without compromising their individual faiths in a Creator. This includes many evangelical Christians today and in the past who accepted both the Judeo-Christian Bible and evolutionary theory. One such individual was Harvard botanist Asa Gray, who was also Charles Darwin’s principal and earliest American proponent in the nineteenth century. There is no inconsistency in holding both viewpoints because the practice of science--observation, measurement, forming and testing hypotheses, controlled experimentation, drawing conclusions, and finally establishing an overall theory of how things happen--simply does not address the ultimate questions of purpose. The theory of evolution is our most rational system that explains an enormous number of observations; why or by whom that system was set in motion is not within the bounds of scientific inquiry. (4)

Understanding of the strengths and limitations of both science and religion can alleviate concerns of both scientists and non-scientists. Scientists do not accept the suppression or neglect of well-understood science because non-scientists dispute it for non-scientific reasons. Similarly, science does not speak on issues of purpose and creation, as these are not objectively testable. Science and religion have different perspectives when they address common issues, and recognizing the differences may make it possible for those active in both to realize that their most important goals are not in conflict.

Yates, T.B. and Marek, E.A. (2013) Is Oklahoma really OK? A regional study of the prevalence of biological evolution-related misconceptions held by introductory biology teachers. Evolution: Education and Outreach 6, 1-20. [doi: 10.1186/1936-6434-6-6]

Yates, T.B. and Marek, E.A. (2014) Teachers teaching misconceptions: a study of factors contributing to high school biology students’ acquisition of biological evolution-related misconceptions. Evolution: Education and Outreach 7, 1-18. [doi: 10.1186/s12052-014-0007-2]


  1. I'm quite excited to see that religion has finally answered the "WHO?" and "WHY?" questions, as well as "the ultimate questions of purpose," and am puzzled that I was not previously aware of this momentous news. Does anyone know where I can find these answers?

    1. And the First Cause -- don't forget the First Cause! Theologians have both invented it and explained it.

    2. The Loaded Question fallacy. They assume - for no good reason - that such a thing exists.

  2. I share the statement of the Academy that: "The Academy contends that the acceptance of the general theory of evolution and a belief in God are compatible."

    The world of science works with thematic reduction and methodological abstraction, and I agree with the author of this article, who said, that has no competence in faith questions. Nor the Bible has the task of declaration in science field.

    The theory of evolution is a scientific theory based on science.

    The story of world creation in the Bible teaches no scientific truth, but teaches us other truths:

    1. The world is created by God.
    2. God is eternal.
    3. The material is finite and non-eternal.
    4. Everything in the creation was good.
    5. Human creation is outstanding and very good.
    6. Human being is responsible for the creation (co-worker) of God.

    Thanks for reading.


    1. Tell me more about these truths. I'm especially interested in "Human creation is outstanding and very good" and how this relates to a recent movie called "Noah."

      Do other holy books also teach truths?

    2. Phil

      The only only of the above six that is true is #6. Humans created God.

    3. Veronica, I don't think that's what Stan meant.

      And who would like to see a discussion between Stan and Robert Byers? I'm envisioning new heights of gibberish.

    4. Phil, you state that the Bible teaches truths. How can you verify that what the Bible claims is true? And when parts of the Bible are in conflict, how do you resolve those contradictions? You make claims, but what evidence do you present which supports those claims. Claims are supported by evidence, not other claims, and not appeals to authority.

    5. No, no Matt G. The position that "claims are supported by evidence" is part of the scientific method of defining knowledge. Religion has another method, one which allows them to determine that statements like "the world is created by God" or "One should not masturbate" are true. I'm not that well-versed in religion, so I don't know what this method is. But, fortunately, Phil Stan is here to describe the method for us....

    6. Phil, you state that the Bible teaches truths. How can you verify that what the Bible claims is true?

      Because The Bible is God's word and God doesn't lie because the Bible says God doesn't lie. Duh.

  3. Respected religious and world leaders such as Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have written statements affirming harmony .

    Respected by whom?

  4. The president of the OAS at the time, Ulrich Melcher, was very clear about the intent of the statement:
    "It is my hope that this statement will tip the balance in the minds of enough people of power that, with due vigilance on our part, Oklahoma children and college students can enjoy a first class science education unfettered by religious intrusions for many decades into the future”.

    Here is link with that quote, from a study of the "persuasiveness" of the statement on undergraduate student opinions:

  5. Oklahoma has fine evolutionary biologists and a good museum at the U of Oklahoma with fossils prominently on display. They acted as host for the 2011 Evolution Meetings.

    But there are obviously pressures. The U of O was supportive and welcoming to the meetings, but as far as I know they put out no press releases letting anyone in the state know that they were hosting these meetings. We meeting participants were housed, and our meetings held, in a large hotel away from the campus and in a relatively isolated location. The on-campus barbecue picnic was moved from its original proposed location to a stretch of lawn behind buildings, all-but-invisible from the streets nearby.

    At the time I wondered why there were no creationist leafleter and picketers outside our hotel, this being Oklahoma. It apparently was because they simply didn't know that the meeting was happening, the University's publicity machine having been quiet as a mouse. Otherwise they would have been out in force, and their friends in the legislature busy whacking chunks out of the university budget.

    That way the University got to have its cake and eat it too.

  6. Rather than write this rather long-winded document, the OAS could have simply xeroxed the
    Jesus and Mo cartoon explaining religion's edge over science.

  7. Does this Oklahoma group have equal authority whatever their position on this subject??
    Evolution does oppose Christian doctrines in history and for many today.
    They are just feeling the pressure that one must choose evolution or religion!
    So they say both are compatible.
    Who do they speak for?
    Evolution is under attack and its losing. Unconditional surrender is demanded by creationists.
    Prove their case by scientific evidence or keep out of the battlefield.

  8. Oklahoma Academy is obviously wrong. Science and religion are in conflict because they have radically different answers for the same questions.The conflict can't be resolved unless you're willing to dilute your stance and make compromises. The only way to really answer WHO and WHY questions is to propose models and test the models - which is what we call science. Religion can only provide answers based on pure fantasy and guesswork. And those answers lack consistency - they vary from one religion to another.

  9. Since "religion" does not give agreed upon answers to who and why questions, there is no division of authority. Specific religions have teachings, but religion in general does not. The Academy's statement would simply be a falsehood, save that the tacit assumption is that the religion is Christianity (popularly assumed to incorporate Judaism as the Old Testament.) As such, the statement is simply a public endorsement of bigotry. The phrase "performative utterance" comes to mind.

    Worse, the implication that you can only scentifically investigate the natural world is highly objectionable. Scientific analysis of the social world or the human mind does bear on who and why questions. I'm afraid in my experience the desire to define science so narrowly is an attempt to invest religion or or some other secretly cherished tradition with an authority that cannot be justified. There seems to be a common belief that abjuring the difficulties of making or accepting makes for a pleasing tolerance in discussion. If only amiability was all the world needed!