Florida's schoolkids -- after 150 years, will they finally be allowed to hear the E word?
The Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach, Florida USA / Cox chain newspaper
Monday 18 February 2008
Faith, science collide
as state board nears
vote on evolution
by DON JORDAN
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
After months of fierce debate, public testimony and media attention, the state Board of Education will make its final decision Tuesday on whether to add Darwin's theory of evolution to school science standards.
An approval would overhaul standards that now refer only to biological changes over time, and instead require students to learn that evolution is the "fundamental concept underlying all of biology."
And state educators and scientists say it's about time.
The language has drawn the ire of some parents and county school boards in conservative northern Florida who take exception to the standards' emphasis on evolution and want the standards to make room for criticism of the theory or faith-based explanations for life.
The Board of Education will take up the proposed standards Tuesday in Tallahassee. Speakers will have 30 minutes to make arguments before the vote. Board members refused to comment.
The Florida Family Policy Council, which describes itself as a "pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage educational advocacy group" affiliated with James Dobson and Focus on the Family, released a statement last week calling the standards "philosophically dogmatic" toward evolution and arguing that they "prevent competing evidence to objectively examine" evolution.
But Joe Wolf, president of Florida Citizens for Science, a group of parents, educators and scientists who support the proposal, said the attempt to weaken evolution by arguing that the theory's perceived flaws should be given equal consideration is just another way for opponents to "slip in" intelligent design.
Intelligent design is the concept that order and complexity in nature must be the result of rational design. Eleven county school boards across northern Florida have passed resolutions against the proposed standards, with many Baptist churches and followers helping to fuel the opposition.
The Rev. John Hawkins, a pastor at Palm Beach Baptist Church south of Atlantis, said he hasn't followed the issue but often touches on creation in his sermons. "I've never been afraid of them teaching evolution, as long as they give equal time to creationism," Hawkins said.
Although the debate has grown fierce in other regions of the state, the more liberal South Florida has remained largely unimpassioned. When asked her opinion of the new standards, Palm Beach County School Board member Carrie Hill said Wednesday that she wasn't familiar with them. "Isn't that a state issue?" Hill said. "I don't think that's coming to the board. I'd have to see it before I made a comment."
Board member Mark Hansen said he supports laws that separate religion from government but added he would "rather not comment on it unless it's before the board." The standards do not need approval from school boards to be implemented. Board members Bill Graham and Monroe Benaim support the new standards and board member Sandra Richmond said the standards need "to be left to the scientists."
Board member Debra Robinson, who told The Palm Beach Post in 2000 that schools should teach creationism with evolution, clarified her view by saying that debate should occur in school, just not in science classrooms. "We should be open to allow students to debate creationism versus evolution in a critical-thinking class," said Robinson, a doctor.
St. Lucie County School Board member Kathryn Hensley said she would prefer to see philosophical issues remain out of the science classrooms. But three of the four other members - Chairwoman Carol Hilson, John Carvelli and Troy Ingersoll - said they either want intelligent design to be taught or wouldn't object to teaching it if the community requested.
Students "have to know both sides to make up their minds," said Ingersoll, a Baptist minister.
Martin County School Board member David Anderson, the son of a preacher, said he believes in creationism but doesn't oppose evolution being taught in schools, as long as it's presented as theory, not fact. "I'm not opposed to students being exposed to information," Anderson said. "But I don't want them to say 'this is it, this is fact.' "
The Miami Herald
Miami, Florida USA / McClatchey newspaper chain
Sunday 17 February 2008
Schools await board's
vote on evolution
by MARC CAPUTO
Nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin revolutionized biology, evolution will become required study in Florida classrooms if the state Board of Education approves new science standards Tuesday that explicitly names the ''E'' word for the first time.
The standards, which haven't been updated since 1996, were written by scientists and educators to modernize Florida's science education curriculum, which has been derided by mainstream science for years, in part for lacking explicit mention of evolution.
Now it's not just going to be mentioned. It's to be taught, from sixth grade on up, as ``the fundamental concept underlying all of biology [that] is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.''
The fact that evolution is absent from the current standards attests to the perceived weakness of science education as well as to the power of the religious right and other evolution opponents who have launched a full-scale assault on the proposed standards by tapping rank-and-file churchgoers, intelligent-design activists and a high-powered lawyer involved in the nationally watched Terri Schiavo euthanasia case.
Their refrain: The new standards need to call evolution a ''theory,'' so that evolution does not appear to be the fact that mainstream science says it is.
The outcry at so many public hearings led the Florida Department of Education to schedule an extra hour of public testimony and, late Friday, offer an alternate version of the standards that calls every theory a ''Scientific Theory'' -- whether it's about evolution or atoms -- and identifies every natural law as such.
Many want more. One expert who sat on the framers committee that formed the standards wants the board to consider his ''minority report'' to teach kids about scientific differences over evolution. Lori Muller, a mother from St. Augustine, said at a Monday public hearing in Orlando that she liked this idea. ''Just by tweaking some of the words in the standard, we can all win,'' Muller said. ``We are not supposed to be pushing any secret and biased agenda, but just making sure the children of Florida receive the best education possible.''
Though science shouldn't be about politics and semantics, both forces will be more apparent Tuesday at the board of education. In North Florida, a dozen school boards have taken positions opposing evolution in the standards, while Monroe County has supported them.
Mainstream scientists are urging the board to pass the standards as drafted and reviewed by experts, including Nobel Prize laureate Harry Kroto. Kroto says the drive to call evolution just a ''theory'' or teach alternate ''theories'' is religiously -- not scientifically -- motivated by ''creationists,'' and it confuses the definition of the word theory.
In common usage, a theory is a guess. In science a theory -- like relativity -- has the weight of fact because it's a well-tested concept. While strong opinions on the issue dominate, a majority of the seven-member board of education won't say how it will vote.
The board has received thousands of phone calls, e-mails, letters and even Christmas cards. The sheer volume spotlights that Florida is the latest nationally watched flash point in evolution's history, which stretches from the Galapagos Islands that inspired Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species to the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee to Pennsylvania's 2005 federal Kitzmiller case.
For years, evolution has been taught in many Florida schools, but it's not clearly required teaching and doesn't have grade-by-grade benchmarks. The current standards do, however, discuss ''genetic variation'' and ``natural selection.''
Roberto Martinez, a Miami-based board member, said he'll vote to keep the proposed standards as is because he trusts the National Academy of Science and the American Association of the Advancement of Science, which praised them.
Opposite him: Tallahassee board member Donna Callaway, who told the Florida Baptist Witness she wants ''other theories'' taught.
While mainstream science recognizes no other major alternative theories to evolution, the study of cells is leading to new alternatives and supplements to Darwinian thought. Intelligent Design scientists, like biochemist Michael Behe, see the machine-like functions of cells that show such a ''purposeful arrangement of parts'' that he's echoing concepts like William Paley's 18th century ''argument of the watchmaker,'' which posited a grand designer.
Behe, an expert witness in the landmark Kitzmiller case, said some organisms are so ''irreducibly complex'' that natural selection is left wanting, and more strongly suggests that an unnamed supernatural designer crafted them. And this, Behe calls God, though he said the concept doesn't concern itself with the designer's makeup.
Evolutionist and author Kenneth R. Miller testified that Intelligent Design discouraged scientific thinking and muddies the definition of ''theory'' so that astrology could be considered science.
''Ever since Darwin, his theories have been strengthened by science and scientific discovery, not weakened by them,'' Miller said, pointing to a ''mountain of evidence'' from discoveries in antibiotics to human Chromosome 2, which shows a clear genetic link with other primates.
The judge banned intelligent design from the classroom, saying it was more religion than testable scientific theory. One of the people who helped form the new Florida science standards, Fred Cutting, a rocket engineer and Intelligent Design adherent, sought advice from the movement's think tank, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Cutting wanted a benchmark added so students learn ``why some scientists give scientific critiques [of evolution] or models of the chemical origins of life.''
Cutting submitted the suggestions as a ''minority report'' to the education board. The framers' committee rejected it, leading Cutting -- who largely supports the proposed standards -- to say that some are such ''dogmatic'' evolution believers that ''atheism is like a religion.''
That sentiment was echoed in a letter to the education board from Schiavo lawyer David C. Gibbs, who opposes what he calls the ''dangerous'' ideas of teaching evolution as fact.
Cutting notes that supplemental theories to natural selection are emerging in the field of evolutionary-developmental biology, commonly known as ``evo-devo.'' A pioneer in the field of evo-devo, New York Medical College Professor Stuart A. Newman, said experiments show that some creatures are susceptible to quick evolutionary changes. Evo-devo proposes that multicellular organisms can dynamically change form under certain environmental conditions, producing major evolutionary jumps.
Newman took some issue with the science standards that say ''natural selection is a primary'' evolutionary force. He said it should just be listed as ''an important'' force. Of the standards overall, however, Newman said: ``I don't think they sound dogmatic. They're accurate.''
Miami Herald staff writer Phil Long contributed to this report.
Florida Baptist Witness
Sunday 17 February 2008
Sullivan sends letter
opposing science standards
Florida Baptists’ top executive
rejects ‘theory’ compromise
by JAMES A. SMITH SR. Executive Editor
JACKSONVILLE (FBW) -– The top executive of the Florida Baptist Convention has entered the growing debate regarding proposed science standards, urging the Florida Board of Education to oppose the proposal unless the teaching of evolution includes scientific criticisms of the controversial theory.
John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, sent a letter via e-mail on Feb. 17 to all members of the Board of Education and Eric Smith, the commissioner of education, with a hard copy to follow via postal mail.
Sullivan was writing on behalf of the Convention’s State Board of Missions, which represents Florida Baptists, the largest evangelical denomination in the state with about 1,000,000 members in more than 2,000 congregations statewide.
Saying he has “serious concerns” about the way evolution is addressed in the standards, Sullivan told the Board of Education:
“We are respectfully requesting that you not approve the proposed language of the new Science Standards when considered at the February 19, 2008 Board of Education meeting.”
Citing as an example the standards’ assertion, “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence,” Sullivan said “there is a severe lapse in the intellectual integrity” in the standards.
“It is not the desire or goal of Florida Baptists to advocate the removal of the theory of evolution from the curriculum. Nor are we suggesting the inclusion of any other theory on the origin of life,” Sullivan wrote, adding “we firmly believe there is credible evidence supporting a Creator-initiated origin of life.”
Instead, Sullivan said Florida Baptists support “an accurate and thorough presentation of the scientific evidence currently available regarding the theory of evolution. To that end, we respectfully request that you at least require the curriculum to fairly reflect the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. Additionally, the Science Standards should honor and encourage the academic freedom of teachers and students on an issue of fundamental importance and ongoing scientific controversy.”
Regarding widely reported compromise language calling evolution a theory, Sullivan said the compromise does not satisfy Florida Baptists’ concerns. “[W]e do not believe that the mere adding of the phrase ‘scientific theory of’ before the word ‘evolution’ in the standards will really fix the problem. As we have stated, this will not address the standards’ silence about teaching scientific criticisms of evolution.”
Sullivan expressed appreciation to those who drafted the proposed standards, noting that he supports “the desire of the education professional in Florida to ensure the children of this state receive an excellent science education.”
THE FULL TEXT OF SULLIVAN’S LETTER FOLLOWS
[Name and Address of Respective Commissioner:]
I am writing on behalf of the 99-members of the State Board of Missions of the Florida Baptist State Convention who represent one million Florida Baptists, the largest evangelical denomination in the state of Florida. I am sharing our collective concerns with each commission member via Email and then providing an official copy of this letter to the Florida Commissioner of Education for the record. We are respectfully requesting that you not approve the proposed language of the new Science Standards when considered at the February 19, 2008 Board of Education meeting. We have serious concerns over the way that the theory of evolution is described in the new Science Standards. We believe there is a severe lapse in the intellectual integrity of the new wording regarding the basis of the study of biology. Specifically, we are concerned about the narrative found in the Life ‘Science body of Knowledge’ section which starts with the statement: “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.” It is not the desire or goal of Florida Baptists to advocate the removal of the theory of evolution from the curriculum. Nor are we suggesting the inclusion of any other theory on the origin of life. Although we firmly believe there is credible evidence supporting a Creator-initiated origin of life. What we are advocating at this time is an accurate and thorough presentation of the scientific evidence currently available regarding the theory of evolution. To that end, we respectfully request that you at least require the curriculum to fairly reflect the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. Additionally, the Science Standards should honor and encourage the academic freedom of teachers and students on an issue of fundamental importance and ongoing scientific controversy. And finally, we do not believe that the mere adding of the phrase “scientific theory of” before the word “evolution” in the standards will really fix the problem. As we have stated, this will not address the standards’ silence about teaching scientific criticisms of evolution. Let me thank you for your leadership and for the efforts of the team of science professionals who rewrote Florida’s Science Standards. We join you in the desire of the education professionals in Florida to ensure the children of this state receive an excellent science education.
T. G. “John” Sullivan,
Florida Baptist Convention
1230 Hendricks Avenue
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