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Scientist and pastor debate "intelligent design" at OCCC

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Scientist Abbie Smith and Pastor Steve Kern debated the theory of "intelligent design" at a "hot-button" debate on Thursday night (3/15/12)
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Should the theory of “intelligent design” be taught in public school science classrooms?

That was the topic of discussion Thursday night at the "Second Annual Hot-Button Debate" held at Oklahoma City Community College and sponsored by the Oklahoma City Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State.

Last year, at the inaugural debate, conservative pastor Steve Kern and the Rev. Bruce Prescott debated the issue of whether America was founded as a Christian nation. We reported on that debate here.

This year, Kern took up the challenge again, this time debating whether "intelligent design" should be taught in public schools, something his opponent - Abbie Smith, a doctoral candidate in microbiology and immunology at the University of Oklahoma - disagreed with.

After introductions by the Rev. Jim Shields of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, Kern kicked off the debate by giving a rather rambling opening statement that, among other things, had him proclaiming "neo-Darwinism is a dying theory" and that "education is about having other points of view."

"Since removing God from the schools, public education has suffered," Kern said.

As Kern looked down at his notes, seemingly nervous and unprepared, Smith sat next to him, smiling confidently. She would soon have her turn, standing behind the lectern and giving a snazzy PowerPoint presentation that clearly explained her position.

With images of reactionary book burnings and an artist rendering of Jesus coddling a baby dinosaur accompanying her notes that appeared on two screens, Smith's classroom approach was smart, witty and informative in comparison to Kern's rigid, fundamentalist approach.

Smith showed court cases where supporters of creationism were told to stop pushing the religious theory and how in books they simply switched the wording - lazily, she noted - from creationism to "intelligent design."

Smith also noted that there are legitimate scientific controversies while issues like "chemical origins of life," "global warming," and "human cloning" are religious, not scientific controversies.

The young scientist, who "studies viruses for a living," said that groups, like Oklahomans for Better Science Education, of which Kern is a member, believe that the study of science leads to everything from totalitarian politics to abortion infanticide. She had the PowerPoint image to prove it.

When Smith concluded her introduction, Kern sarcastically congratulated her and explained that children are not taught the difference between microevolution and macroevolution and how the former "is the ability of species to make chamges within the limits set by the parameters encoded in the DNA of specific species" while the latter is the "unobserved process of one species changing into a totally different species."

Noting a bill that his legislator wife, State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) has pushed, addressing "academic freedom," Kern said all it would do is "allow teachers to point out discrepancies" in scientific theories, such as the theory of evolution.

At this point, Kern then got startlingly emotional, asking Smith and the audience, "Why are they upset about children learning about God?" He then added, "You can't compartmentalize your faith, your education ... they are all things, that are part of who you are."

Kern also said the theory of evolution was a "lie ... (they) have been teaching and preaching and proselytizing for 70 years ..."

He wrapped up his statement by saying, "I stand for the truth!"

"Whose truth?" asked an audience member.

Smith, when she returned to the lectern and her PowerPoint, continued her methodical, scientific approach, talking about viruses, HIV, genomes, and how animals are affected. She also appealed to Kern and others who may have viewed her as a "know-it-all" outsider by saying she grew up "in a small farming town in the middle of nowhere" and she was aware of where a lot of fundamentalist Christians like Kern were coming from.

This is where Kern began to argue that evolution - at least macroevolution - doesn't make sense because "viruses are still viruses" and other organisms are still what they have always been ... "You're talking about adaptation here," he told her.

Smith went on to talk further about viruses, while Kern sat there with a sour look on his face, coming back to tell her that "You go back and viruses are viruses ... they may have adapted ... they are still viruses."

When Kern asked where the virus fossils are, Smith responded that viruses are too small to fossilize.

Kern wanted to see the fossils of creatures that were between species as we know them. Smith would only respond that questions should be asked while staying true to her belief in evolution.

Said Smith: "I use evolution in the lab to make our lives better."

Kern, meanwhile, wasn't having it.

"If evolution is true, why are so many people asking about its validity," asked Kern.

Kern later stated that with the embrace of Darwin's theory of evolution in mainstream science, the career paths of scientists who may question evolution have "limited" options if they make their opinions known.

To make her point about the dangers of creationists working within the mainstream science community, Smith reminded Kern and the audience of the case of "Baby Fae" back in 1984 when an infant born with a heart defect had her heart replaced with the heart of a baboon - a xenotransplant procedure.

The doctor, Leonard Bailey, "was a creationist but went ahead with the surgery."

"Baby Fae" - later revealed to be Stephanie Fae Beauclair - died within a month after receiving the baboon's heart. Smith said Dr. Bailey should have known that such a xenotranplant, from animal to human, was too risky and didn't make scientific sense. Smith said Dr. Bailey should have been prosecuted for doing a risky medical procedure on Baby Fae.

During a question-and-answer portion, following the conclusion of the debate, one of the questions had to do with God and that if there was a God, wouldn't the study of evolution expose His existence?

Smith thought about it and said, "Theoretically."

Kern, of course, said that if a design is revealed, then logically there must be a "designer."

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from... read more

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