Florida: At Least We’ll Get to Say, “I Told You So”

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On Monday, April 14th, Florida Citizens for Science, the Florida ACLU, and many other groups sponsored a press conference and panel discussion criticizing the “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” bills currently filed in the state Senate and House, respectively. The bill in the senate, the one still misusing the “academic freedom” phrase, is scheduled to go to the floor on the 17th. That will be today very shortly. I am not terribly optimistic about the outcome, since it seems that the legislators didn’t bother to turn out for the events on Monday, and the mainstream media invented some stuff out of whole cloth, but mostly failed to report on the full range of reasons why the bills under consideration are bad for Florida’s schools, students, parents, and business.

I’ll summarize what was actually said at the press conference. The segments may incorporate both paraphrased and verbatim passages.

We gathered on the courthouse steps. There were about six people taking video of the press conference, some people handling audio for the video, plus several more still photographers and journalists equipped with notepads.

Dr. Ann Lumsden (professor at Florida State University) described the press packets, including the text of the bills, analysis of the bills, information about the panel, and information about the evening panel event. She read off a long list of event sponsors, including Florida Citizens for Science, the Florida ACLU, and many scientific societies. She also read a statement from the National Association of Biology Teachers concerning the teaching of science and how the scope of science doesn’t include the religious-based “alternatives”. She then introduced the speakers: Vic Walczak (Pennsylvania ACLU and attorney for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case), Maryann Fiala (Executive Director of the AeA Florida Council), Sir Harry Kroto (Nobel prize-winning chemist and professor at FSU), and me. Each of us had about three minutes to make our statements.

Vic Walczak said that looked over the legislation in light of his experience as an attorney in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case. The first question he had was why any school district would want this legislation. It completely divest school districts of control of their curriculum in the area of evolution. This makes no sense. Why would the state tell local school districts they can have no control. Second, not only does the “academic freedom” bill invite religion into the classroom, it also makes it impossible to take it out. Vic used the metaphor of the school bully who slaps a hard-to-remove “Kick me” sign on a student, where the legislators are filling the role of that school bully when it comes to school districts. The bill is a “lawsuit magnet”. The bill gives the authority and right to every teacher to teach whatever what they want, including religious views. The school district can’t take it up with the teacher; the teacher could sue the school under this bill. If the teacher does bring in religious antievolution, the school district can be sued by parents who object to violations of the first amendment. We did this before with the Kitzmiller case, and we convinced a conservative judge that “intelligent design” was just “creation science” with a new label. We will be able to do the same in Florida when teachers use the same religious antievolution arguments in classes. This is a bad bill. it makes no sense.

Maryann Fiala commended the state on its fine new science standards that would help Florida’s students compete in the global marketplace. In order to do that, students have to have a basis that incorporates standards that measure up globally. Florida spent about 0.75 billion dollars in order to entice entities to set up a biotech cluster in Florida. Where will they get workers? Certainly not from an educational system that fails to provide a science-based curriculum. In terms of setting up a 21st century economy, this legislation is a step backwards, and I hope it is rethought and abandoned. Give our Florida students a fighting chance in the global economy, and give them a 21st century education.

Sir Harry Kroto laid it on the line, saying that as a governor of Scripps, that if he were coming to Scripps he would think twice if he thought his children would not be taught the basis of biology. Science is evidence-based. Our everyday technology tests many principles of science everyday. Evolution, tectonic drift, DNA, these are all fantastic examples that shows everyone that evolution is the bedrock of biology. “Intelligent design” is just a belief statement. The argument that the Grand Canyon is only 5000 years old is even contradicted by the government’s interpretive materials there. The vast majority of scientists agree on an old age for the earth and the Grand Canyon; the arguments for young ages of each should be recognized as beliefs only. When it comes to the microevolution/macroevolution split, there is abundant evidence for macroevolution, including Hox genes, which are found in fruit flies and humans. Scientists have evidence without certainty. Those whose propose “intelligent design” have certainty without evidence. The National Academy of Sciences should have the last word, and they recognize that evolution is the bedrock of biology.

I spent my three minutes linking the misuse of “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” language to past antievolution efforts. I also brought up the Discovery Institute and its “Wedge” document. I finished by noting that if the legislators were serious about improving science education, including evolutionary science, they would be setting up a program to support teachers earning undergraduate or graduate degrees in the fields they are charged with teaching.

In the mainstream media accounts, the Associated Press article said “The scientists argue evolution is a scientific fact…”. As one of the three scientists at the press conference, I can say confidently that I didn’t say those words, nor did I hear my colleagues say them. That particular phrasing is guaranteed to make many people stop listening to what one is saying, and it is more than annoying to have such inept words stuffed in our mouths.

Stephen D. Price reported for the Tallahassee Democrat, filing an 11.5 column-inch article that appeared on page 8A on April 15th. Price’s problem went the other direction. While he gave a response from Alan Hays concerning a question about how the wording of the bill brings creationism into the classroom (Hays answered that his bill did not even mention religion), Price failed to even hint that he had an extended response from both myself and Vic Walczak on that point that completely rebutted the know-nothingism of Hays. I pointed out the the bill didn’t specify what would be taught and was all about permitting things to be taught at the teacher’s discretion. I pointed out that we knew from experience what teachers do use when they broach “alternatives” in the classroom: the same old religious antievolution arguments. I briefly recounted the Roger DeHart incident where a Discovery Institute-affiliated teacher for years would substitute creationist and DI materials for the district-approved classroom unit on evolution. I brought up the respect DeHart had for the “academic freedom” of students in his marking a disagreeing student’s quiz with, “Interesting. Your opinion sounds biggoted. [sic]” Vic Walczak then gave an overview of the history of antievolution, noting that religious antievolutionists have progressively evolved their labels, but they still use the very same arguments. Vic also noted that the very same people who were behind “intelligent design” are behind the current bills, having provided a draft text of “academic freedom” online.

24 Comments

The AP (one of the worst exponents of dull un-news) isn’t in the business of reporting the facts of the news, but in selling a facsimile of them that either reassures the prejudices or fans - very gently - the fears of people who have no interest in the news as anything other than coffee break/water cooler/church tea bull session fodder.

That said, one has to do what is right, and I greatly admire the work you and all have put into this issue!

Rather than using the inept words “The scientists argue evolution is a scientific fact…” we should emphasize that the process of evolution does in fact occur. Proof of this fact can be seen in a mirror. Each of us is an example of descent with modification. We inherited half of our father’s genes and half of our mother’s genes, probably with a few mutations in the process. And we have different rates of reproductive success, which results in gradual changes in the frequencies of genes in a given population.

The issue is not whether evolution occurs. The issue is whether evolution has been occurring for 10,000 years or more than 3 billion years.

Isn’t it true that with the wording of this document there would be absolutely no problem with teaching “Giant Dental Floss Being drops his iPod and creates the Universe”-ism?

I think even if ID wins this battle, the courts will have to step in when FSMers, GDFBDiCUs, and Pink Unicornianites are seen actually teaching their theories in science classes and Florida becomes the laughing stock of the country (again).

Scott Wrote:

The issue is not whether evolution occurs. The issue is whether evolution has been occurring for 10,000 years or more than 3 billion years.

Not really, Scott. There is no issue over the approximate age of life on Earth. Hard evidence exists that demonstrates that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This is why Dembski always equivocates over this point - he knows that he cannot even make a pretense of challenging the evidence, but he wants to keep his YEC constituents on board.

On the face of it, the core issue seems to be to be one of teleology (or purpose with forethought). The ID argument assumes the premise that there exists in nature physical evidence that evolution could not occur without “guidance” from an “intelligent agent”. IOW, divine intervention.

If you go a bit deeper, however, you find a political campaign using a veneer of sciency-sounding terminology to establish a Christian dominionist agenda.

Nigel D. wrote- “If you go a bit deeper, however, you find a political campaign using a veneer of sciency-sounding terminology to establish a Christian dominionist agenda.”

And we must never forget that this is what this is really all about. The assault on science is only one dimension of a broader effort to overthrow the U.S. and the Enlightenment. Bottom line.

Nigel D Wrote:

This is why Dembski always equivocates over this point - he knows that he cannot even make a pretense of challenging the evidence, but he wants to keep his YEC constituents on board.

Actually Dembski is quite clear on agreeing with mainstream science on the chronology. What he equivocates over is common descent. He seems to agree with Behe that “RM + MS” is insufficient to account for large-scale genetic changes, but unlike classic YECs and OECs he never (to my current knowledge) claimed independent abiogenesis of any particular lineages.

As for the YEC constitutents, there’s an article from ~3 years ago where he states both his clear OE position and political preference for the YEC position. IOW he seemed envious that YECs can rule out “death before the Fall.”

Dembski, perhaps more than any anti-evolution activist in history, is committed to the big tent.

Frank J:

Dembski, perhaps more than any anti-evolution activist in history, is committed to the big tent.

IOW, he has absolutely no intellectual integrity. but we already knew this.

We may be seeing the next step in the evolution of the ID movement. The Florida bill suggests that their new goal is merely to have evolution presented with disclaimers in science classes. If you are a parent with religious objections to evolution, you don’t want your children taught that evolution is solid theory. And while there are religious motives involved, it probably doesn’t count as introducing religion into the classroom.

At some point, the issue of the freedom of parents and local school boards has to be addressed. For example, don’t they have a right to decide the content of sex education classes in their classroom? And can we argue that this doesn’t extend to science classes?

What this bill is intended to do is accommodate the religious right in their efforts to overturn evolution, and science in general, we all know that.

But this is merely a smokescreen regarding free speech, etc. The fundamentalist churches in this country have insulated themselves from public law by legislation, e.g., churches are free to fire anyone who disagrees with their faith, they pay no taxes yet now suck up to tax dollars thanks to GWB. They make themselves immune from prosecution in the courts, and they always claim religous bigotry, defamation, intolerance, and discrination of their views, etc., in the name of religion. That’s the purpose of this Florida law, to protect their religious views while allowing THEM to do what they will not allow others to do to them.

Every science book and subject is in jeopardy. The universe is only 10,000 years old, as is the Grand Canyon, rocks certainly no older, radioactive elements have a skewed decay rate and C14 dating works for everything. Meteorology? rain can be had by praying. Einstein is gone, Newton reigns supreme. Atoms can think giving rise to the intelligent design concept and how they conveniently combine to form DNA. Ironically, the legislators know exactly what they’re doing.

Focus on the Family, Dobson, Robertson, etc, all will become the recognized authorities in science.

On the flip side, any teacher who supports evolution should do their maximum to point out the failures of ID/creationism in like fashion, and DOCUMENT ANY RESULTANT HARRASSING TREATMENT they incur!

I sent an e mail too all of the senators on the judiciary committee a couple of weeks ago.I received “canned” responses from all but one. Here it is…

Thank you for your email and for sharing your views. I really appreciate your taking the time to write. It would help me to evaluate your arguments if you could point out to me where, in Senate Bill 2692, any teacher would be forbidden to teach evolution or any teacher would be required to teach creationism. I would also be interested in your citing for me any lawsuits costing any state money which have occurred as a consequence of this particular legislation being enacted in any other state. Thanks again for your communication and I look forward to hearing from you. Respectfully,

Senator Don Gaetz

I didn’t know if Senator Gaetz was persuadeable, so I sent him a lengthy response and attached a “side by side” comparison of the DI’s prototype and the proposed bill.Along with the senate committee’s OWN analysis of the bill (which BTW, states that it opens the door to legal problems).

It did absolutely no good - turns out he is an “unfriendly”.

I wish that Dr. Elsberry could have come here earlier. As soon as I heard his logical response to the question (the same one that Gaetz asked me), I had a V-8 moent! How simple! He’s so right! This bill is “Permissive”!

Duh! and AAaarrgghh! Why couldn’t I think of that word?!

Frank J, thanks for the correction. I could not bring myself to go back and re-read anything that Dembski had actually written. :-)

Not really, Scott. There is no issue over the approximate age of life on Earth. Hard evidence exists that demonstrates that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. Not really, Scott. There is no issue over the approximate age of life on Earth. Hard evidence exists that demonstrates that life has existed on Earth for billions of years.

If you are a creo there is super hard, bullet proof evidence that the earth is 6,000 years old. And all the fossils are left over from the Big Boat flood. And the ancient Jews kept dinosaurs as pets.

It is all right there in 2 pages of 4,000 year old mythology. And if you don’t know that, you will go to hell with all the atheistic followers of the Darwinist religion and all the Fake Xians.

This isn’t even a parody of creo beliefs. They say exactly this all the time.

This bill is bad but not as bad as it seems.

It just repeats the status quo. There is no will or enforcement mechanism to teach the state standards. In reality, the school districts will just teach whatever they feel like and no one will do anything to stop them if they teach creationism.

A similar bill is law in Texas and, rumor has it, it is has been a great help to school districts that want to teach creationism and many do so. But they would have done it anyway.

Also probably unconstitutional. The Lemon test states that a law that primarily favors one religion and is primarily religious in intent violates the first amendment. As our Dominionist president said, “the constitution is just a damn piece of paper.”

wallyk: At some point, the issue of the freedom of parents and local school boards has to be addressed. For example, don’t they have a right to decide the content of sex education classes in their classroom? And can we argue that this doesn’t extend to science classes?

So if my child has difficulty in adding fractions in mathematics classes, I have the right to insist it be excluded? It seems to me that that is the same argument.

Hey! There’s a “Brand New Twist” just out now! Please visit FCS and give me your opinion!

http://www.flascience.org/wp/

I personally think this is a good thing - but then again, I’m not the smartest page in the book :-)

If you are a parent with religious objections to evolution, you don’t want your children taught that evolution is solid theory.

What if you are a parent with religious objections to teaching kids that 4,000 year old mythology is fact. Or just that lying to kids in schools by teachers is wrong. That is most Xian sects, Catholic, mainline Protestant, Mormon, and some Evangelicals who don’t have a problem with evolution, geology, astronomy, and paleontology. Roughly 40% of the US population by membership.

Many parents would be outraged and are outraged when fundie Death Cult mythology is taught in science classes. It is also illegal and has been ruled illegal in courts for decades. A violation of the US constitution.

Is it just me or does it seem like a remarkable coincidence that the Florida “Academic Freedom” bill and others like it around the country are being debated just as “Expelled” is being released in theaters? Hmmm…

In any case, if the ID-creationists get their way with this bill in Florida or anywhere else, I think the response is simple: teach Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (FSMism). And also propose to teach Raelianism while you’re at it.

If that happens, you’ll see the same legislators pushing the bill now backpeddle faster than you can say “Oops!”

Embarassment, scorn and derision are wonderful things. And if Florida’s legislators insist upon doing this, then they and the state deserve every ounce that can be mustered against them.

I can see the headlines now: “Florida, the New Kansas”

Stacy S.:

Hey! There’s a “Brand New Twist” just out now! Please visit FCS and give me your opinion!

http://www.flascience.org/wp/

I personally think this is a good thing - but then again, I’m not the smartest page in the book :-)

Wow, that is a really smart move on someone’s part. I sure hope it works.

And if not, then we can always go the FSM-Raelian route. That, at least, would be immensely entertaining :)

raven Wrote:

If you are a creo there is super hard, bullet proof evidence that the earth is 6,000 years old. And all the fossils are left over from the Big Boat flood. And the ancient Jews kept dinosaurs as pets.

DavidK Wrote:

Every science book and subject is in jeopardy. The universe is only 10,000 years old, as is the Grand Canyon, rocks certainly no older, radioactive elements have a skewed decay rate and C14 dating works for everything.

C’mon y’all. I’m just as opposed to any anti-evolution efforts as anyone, but does anyone seriously think that any of those efforts will turn any significant number of students into YECs who aren’t YECs already?

The real problem with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach is that students who would otherwise have no problem with theistic evolution might conclude some OEC position, possibly with common descent, or even “virtual evolution.” But much more importantly they will (1) call it ID, not TE, (2) erroneously believe that mainstream science is suppressing it and (3) not think to challenge students that infer contradictory positions including YEC.

Hey! There’s a “Brand New Twist” just out now! Please visit FCS and give me your opinion!

http://www.flascience.org/wp/

My first impression was “is this a joke?” While I might agree with their sentiments of abstinence-centered sex ed (I only skimmed the article), the fact that it is clumsily tied to evolution screams “religious right” louder than anything I can recall.

The big question is whether teachers would be free to teach that HIV does not cause AIDS. Phillip Johnson was big on that a few years back, but I haven’t heard much about it lately.

This just in … the amendments were withdrawn.

keith: Stacy and the Street Mongers,

What all of this means is you lose..we win and its really just getting a good running start. There are already some 37 states with similar legislation and after Expelled there will be a rush to get them passed.

Wow, so I suppose there was some kind of collusion to link “Expelled” to such legislation.

Richard Simons:

wallyk: At some point, the issue of the freedom of parents and local school boards has to be addressed. For example, don’t they have a right to decide the content of sex education classes in their classroom? And can we argue that this doesn’t extend to science classes?

So if my child has difficulty in adding fractions in mathematics classes, I have the right to insist it be excluded? It seems to me that that is the same argument.

What’s at issue is the right of the majority versus individual rights. If the school board decided that math class will not include fractions, it would be foolish, but is there a consitutional violation? Freedom includes the freedom to be foolish.

The Lemon test is more relevant. There is no religious intent in presenting evolution as solid theory. But there probably is religious intent in not wanting it to be presented that way. That might hold up in court.

But do we want to rely on the courts in the long run?

Raven Wrote:

If you are a creo there is super hard, bullet proof evidence that the earth is 6,000 years old. And all the fossils are left over from the Big Boat flood. And the ancient Jews kept dinosaurs as pets.

Except, Raven, that the Bible does not actually mention the age of the Earth. It is true that one can add up all of the years described in the OT, but there is a gap between that and the NT of indeterminate length. It could be 500 years or 5000 years or 50000 years - the bible itself makes no comment.

This isn’t even a parody of creo beliefs. They say exactly this all the time.

Well, I agree here, and was just ignoring those lazy creos who haven’t bothered to check their own source.

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on April 17, 2008 12:33 AM.

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