Florida Evolution Bill amended again, passes House committee

Let’s don’t and say we did. That’s what kids used to say when someone suggested doing something that the others didn’t want to do. And that is the point of special laws or standards that single out evolution for special treatment. Let’s find a way to say we are doing it, but still not require it, or fudge quite a bit.

At first glance the bill, as amended by the Florida House of Representatives yesterday, looks like a strong endorsement of teaching evolution. And state Representative Hays, the bill’s main sponsor in the House, says

Don’t try to read something in there that isn’t already there. It’s direct and to the point. Any good science theory that is a valid theory should be able to withstand a critical analysis.


But it singles out evolution for odd special treatment, so a closer look is in order.

                An act relating to evolutionary theory

  Council/Committee hearing bill: Schools & Learning Council
2 Representative(s) Pickens and Hays offered the following:
4 Amendment (with title amendment)
5 Remove everything after the enacting clause and insert:
7 Section 1. Paragraph (u) is added to subsection (2) of
8 section 1003.42, Florida Statutes, to read:
9 1003.42 Required instruction.–
10 (2) Members of the instructional staff of the public

11 schools, subject to the rules of the State Board of Education
12 and the district school board,shall teach efficiently and
13 faithfully, using the books and materials required that meet the
14 highest standards for professionalism and historic accuracy,
15 following the prescribed courses of study, and employing
16 approved methods of instruction, the following:
17 (u) A thorough presentation and critical analysis of the
18 scientific theory of evolution.

20 The State Board of Education is encouraged to adopt standards
21 and pursue assessment of the requirements of this subsection.
22 Section 2. This act shall take effect October 1, 2008.
Page 1 of 2
Strike-all to HB 1483 FINAL#2.doc
Amendment No. 01 (for drafter’s use only)

25 —————————————————–
27 Remove the entire title and insert:
29 A bill to be entitled
30 An act relating to evolutionary theory; amending s.
31 1003.42; requiring instruction in, and the critical
32 analysis of, the scientific theory of evolution; providing
33 an effective date.

In short: teachers,
subject to the rules of the State Board of Education
and the district school board, shall teach
[ insert lots of high sounding words ]
A thorough presentation and critical analysis of the
scientific theory of evolution.

The language is vague and subject to interpretation - and

11… subject to the rules of the State Board of Education
12 and the district school board

Two big reasons to have standards are: don’t be vague about what to teach and don’t be subject to the local district. Florida has new, not yet implemented science standards for all grades. These standards were prepared in a process established by the state BOE. The standards, and the BOE, support teaching evolution. Several local districts are known to strongly oppose teaching evolution, or at least those districts oppose teaching evolution if they are not allowed to tear it down with specious claims and arguments (Index to Creationist Claims). These claims and arguments are known as scientific creationism, or intelligent design, or weaknesses of evolution, or critical analysis of evolution. Those latter words mean to creationists that they can do what they want to do, namely teach those claims without identifying them as creationism. But those claims are precisely the content of books on “scientific creationism”.

Less than 1 % of a thorough presentation of evolution is possible in a standard biology class, then on to critical analysis says the bill but only of evolution. The degree of power of the local district rather than the BOE to define the terms “thorough presentation” and “critical analysis” is left unclear, but the local school board is a much more potent force in the daily life of a school teacher than the distant BOE.

What about “books … that meet the highest standards?” What books might a local board select for critical analysis? It happens that the Discovery Institute, (Disco) who wrote the original bill, (Academic freedom bills) also wrote and sells a book called Explore Evolution just for the occasion. One stop shopping at Disco - what more could schools want?

The House and Senate versions of the evolution bill look rather different. What do they have in common? Both single out evolution for odd special treatment. The Senate bill leaves decisions about what is scientific (regarding evolution) to teachers and students while the House bill gives local boards considerable defacto authority to make those decisions. Thus both bills take the science curriculum out of the hands of scientists.

Legislators should know that an evolution bill is not simply useless; it is pernicious. Creationists are well organized to take advantage. They have a large body of material, known as scientific creationism and by other names, which adherents insist is scientific although the contrary has long been clear. Any bill which singles out evolution for special treatment not given other scientific topics is a signal to creationists to teach this material as if it were science. This material can be very confusing and misleading, making it very difficult for students to understand either science or nature.