Thursday, February 7, 2008

Theoretically Speaking

Here we go again with the debate over evolution vs. ”creationism,” this time here in Florida.

Top state legislators say they’re ready to join the fight over putting the word ”evolution” in Florida’s public school science standards to ensure that it’s taught as just a theory and not as fact.

Rep. Marti Coley, future House Speaker Dean Cannon and state Sen. Stephen Wise, all Republicans, say they’re considering filing legislation this spring that would specifically call evolution a ”theory” if the state Board of Education approves the proposed science standards Feb. 19 as currently written.

For the first time in state history, the standards would clearly call on all science teachers to instruct middle- and high-schoolers about evolution and natural selection.

The proposed standards just say ”evolution,” not ”theory of evolution.”

Though Wise says biblical creationism should be taught alongside evolution, Coley said she doesn’t want to go that far with evolution.

”It’s technically a theory. Let’s present it for what it is” Coley told The Miami Herald on Tuesday.

I’m all for that as long as they present biblical creationism for what it is: mythology.

This being Florida, however, there is a strong contingent of fundamentalists who think that a book that starts off with two naked people and a talking snake is on the same level as scientific research that defines a theory as ”a testable explanation of a phenomenon based on facts.” So far no one has been able to test the biblical story, which moves it out of the realm of science and into the Land of Make-Believe. But they will not be deterred.

Almost as soon as the standards were proposed in October, blogs and letter-writing campaigns were cranked up.

A number of rural Florida county school boards began criticizing the standards, and a state Department of Education worker sent out a call-to-arms e-mail to fellow Christians, noting that teaching evolution will be ”a COMPLETE contradiction of what we Teach them at home.”

Board of Education member Donna Callaway said in the Florida Baptist Witness that ”other theories of the origins of life” should be taught. Evolution as proposed in the standards doesn’t deal with the origins of life.

One concept being pushed by evolution bashers is intelligent design, which holds that the design of complex organisms is the result of the ”purposeful arrangement of parts” by an unknown designer or designers.

In other words, they would rather come up with some concept of supernatural intervention that is completely untestable in objective analysis and pass it off on an equal level with proven facts. Next thing you know, they’ll want to change the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ slogan — “giving our students the world” — and add “as long as it’s flat.”

But why stop with evolution? What about gravity?

”If you use the word theory to imply that scientists think evolution is just a hypothesis and is not real, that gives an incorrect impression,” said Prof. Joseph Travis, the dean of Florida State University’s Arts and Sciences College, who reviewed the state’s science standards.

”If you use the word theory to say it’s the best idea to explain how it works, then that’s good,” he said.

[…]

Travis, the FSU professor, said teaching evolution is key because it underpins the biological study of everything from dinosaurs to diseases. He also wondered why the critics aren’t pushing to have the word ”theory” precede mentions of gravity in the standards.

Asked if it should be called the ”theory of gravity” in the standards, Coley said: ”Sure.”

But, she said, people aren’t calling her about gravity.

That’s because they’re convinced that it’s intelligent falling.