Anti-evolution resolutions have found a niche in northern Florida

The National Center for Science Education, an American organization which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, reports that at least nine northern Florida county school boards have adopted resolutions calling for the state board of education “to revise new Sunshine State Standards for Science such that evolution is not presented as fact, but as one of several theories”, according to a report from the Florida Citizens of Science.

In a region where the science education environment apparently selects for stupid, there is strong selective pressure favouring the maintenance anti-science Christian dogmatism. The previous set of science education standards in Florida received a well-deserved F from the Fordham Foundation, an organization dedicated to the advancement of K-12 education in America. In this previous set of standards, the word “evolution” was altogether absent from the curriculum. It was essentially treated as an obscenity—the e-word.

A number of the school superintendents have been quite upfront about the religious basis for their stance against teaching evolution as fact (which, by the way, it is; evolution as a theory refers to scientific theories of evolutionary mechanisms such as natural selection; that evolution did happen (i.e., that populations’ changed over time) is accepted uncontroversially as fact in the scientific community).

Baker County Superintendent Paula Barton said “To be honest with you, we are a strong Christian community here”. Nassau County Superintendent John Ruis describes himself as a strong believer in biblical creationism. Dixie County Superintendent Dennis Bennett explained “We just wanted to get it on the record that we’re a Judeo-Christian community and we believe in academic freedom”. Ken Hall, a school board member in Madison County, commented “We’re not asking for evolution not to be taught, just that it be taught as a theory, one of several. I’m a Christian. And I believe I was created by God, and that I didn’t come from an amoeba or a monkey”.

Apparently these people do not know what science is as an enterprise, nor do they understand what it has accomplished in the domain of evolutionary biology. Science is not about the academic freedom to teach anything. It is not about endorsing the particular beliefs of a particular community. And it’s not subject to populism. The ideal of science is to pursue research and collect and interpret evidence in an intellectually rigorous and honest manner, and to follow the evidence where it leads, whether that conforms to the 2000 year old fairy tales of the community or not.

A number of leading scientific societies and organizations have issued statements in support of evolution, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Teachers Association. It’s time for universities to take a unified stand against such shoddy “scientific education”.

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One Response to “Anti-evolution resolutions have found a niche in northern Florida”
  1. Stoobs says:

    The problem that science faces is that there is no a priori way to confirm the superiority of its epistemic claims to those of religion. After all, if you haven’t already accepted the scientific method, then you have no basis on which to evaluate it until you’ve tried it.

    The only defense one can really make of science is that it produces valuable results – it allows us to talk about the world in useful ways, to uncover new knowledge, and to create useful devices which make our lives easier.

    The problem is that once these devices and discoveries are made, they are available to non-scientists just as much as they are to scientists, and so this provides no real pressure on individuals to accept science as a belief system. They can, at least in the short term, have their cake and eat it.

    The eventual result of this kind of behavior, of course, is that as science is compromised, it produces progressively less valuable results (That is, fewer in number, not reduced in value) – but this only makes it easier to criticize, as it appears to become less fruitful.

    Ultimately, as long as some people accept science, it will continue to produce, whether others do or not. This frees the others to ignore it, since they still gain all the benefits. Only when science is completely destroyed as an institution will serious consequences accrue to non-scientists, and by then it will be too late, and we will all be back to basing everything on Plato or Aristotle.

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