Will Florida Teach Science? We know what one vote will be now.

By Brandon Haught, Communications Director of Florida Citizens for Science.

Before I begin, let me give a brief recap of what’s going on for anyone just joining us. Florida’s state science standards for public schools is currently going through a revision process. The current standards are a miserable mess, having been given a grade of F by the Fordham Institute. The standards don’t mention the word evolution, instead referring to this important biology concept as simply “changes over time.” The draft of the new standards feature evolution as one of the major concepts students must know. The draft standards are now going through a public review period. Anyone can go to the website and rate/comment on the standards. Of course, the inclusion of evolution is causing quite a stir. Several newspaper articles, editorials, letters to the editors, online forum posts, etc. have been keeping track of this. The public comment period closes about mid-December. Then the writing committee will make any needed revisions to the draft. Finally, the state board of education will vote on whether to accept the new standards.

That is just the short version of what’s going on. For more details, feel free to browse through this blog’s posts over the past few weeks. Of special note is the concern over the Polk County board of education expressing displeasure over evolution in the standards.

Got all that? Now comes the next steep hill in this fun roller coaster ride. The Florida Baptist Witness has online an editorial by James Smith Sr. In this editorial he complains about evolution being “dogmatic” and believes that there is a real controversy within the scientific community over evolution. He cites the Dissent from Darwin list as supposed proof. (Project Steve is an appropriate counter to that dishonest Dissent list.) Smith doesn’t mind using the Discovery Institute, the public relations machine for the anti-evolution crowd, as his crutch throughout this article. So far there is nothing new or shocking coming from Smith. Unfortunately, his readership might be influenced by his drivel, but that’s his job after all.

But then he reports that he had an e-mail conversation with Florida Board of Education member Donna Callaway. Callaway states quite clearly that she is going to vote against the new standards because of evolution. She’s apparently not advocating actually teaching intelligent design, the Discovery Institute’s creationist Trojan horse. But she does think that students need to be exposed to “other theories” in some way.

“I agree completely that evolution should be taught with all of the research and study that has occurred. However, I believe it should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life,” Callaway told me.

What Smith and Callaway don’t understand is that those other theories of origin of life are not science. There is not even a thimble full of scientific evidence in intelligent design. Cold, hard facts have exposed in a court of law that intelligent design is nothing more than a vehicle for inserting religion into the public school science classroom. Even as a footnote, allowing intelligent design into biology lessons forces children to make a choice. Students are smart. As soon as intelligent design mentions its unspecified “intelligent designer,” kids know that the conversation is about God. That then sends a signal to students that religion is in conflict with science and that they have to pick one or the other. That’s a potential showstopper, turning many students off of science because they are falsely led to believe that the issue is God versus no God. That does a disservice to both religion and science. There are many religions that have no problem at all with accepting evolution.

The common refrain to the steadfast resistance to having intelligent design in the classroom is that evolution is a theory in crisis and can’t stand up to criticism. Yes it can stand up to criticism. It has for about 150 years! Every single scientific theory by its very nature is falsifiable. If it’s not falsifiable, it’s not science. If the intelligent design crowd has the evidence to bring evolution down, then they need to provide the scientific evidence. They won’t do it, though. All of their time is spent on public relations.

Smith and Callaway have a dangerous mindset. It’s obvious they have little understanding of what science is, or they are willfully being deceitful. This is dangerous because Smith has an audience to preach to and Callaway has a vote on the state Board of Education. They can rob students of a proper science education; an education sorely needed in this state. Everyone in this country has a right to freely practice religion, but every student in our public schools also has a right to a good science education that will prepare them for their adult lives in this rapidly changing world.

Although she is not attempting to “arouse controversy,” Callaway told me she is concerned about what’s best for children. “I want an informed public so that when these and other similar decisions are made that affect all of us that they are reflective of how the people feel.”

Science is not about how people feel, Ms. Callaway. It’s about a methodical way of exploring and understanding the natural world around us. Science is about discovering a body of facts, piecing those facts together to hopefully reveal a fuller understanding of what is being studied, and then presenting that work to the scientific community. That community will then pick apart the work, test it, test it again, and test it some more. There is no popularity vote. The work has to stand on its own merits. The “informed public” is best served by learning science in the science classroom. Evolution is science. Intelligent design is not.

A longtime, active member of First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Callaway added, “My hope is that there will be times of prayer throughout Christian homes and churches directed toward this issue. As a SBOE member, I want those prayers. I want God to be part of this. Isn’t that ironic?”

Not at all, as far as I’m concerned. Indeed, Florida Baptists should pray for the State Board of Education — as well as let their opinions be heard on this vital matter.

Be careful what you wish for, Ms. Callaway and Mr. Smith.

This article was originally posted at the Florida Citizens for Science blog.