Florida legislators pushing for evolution to be taught as “just a theory”

Remember what I said about having to be a right-wing Christian nutter in order to be a public school administrator or council member in Florida? Well apparently it also applies to legislators in the state.

Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald writes:

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”

The state of Florida has a history of extremely poor science education. In fact, the Florida science curriculum was given an F by the Fordham Institute, an organization which monitors and strives to enhance the quality of education across the US, in a fairly recent assessment. Why has Florida faired so poorly in this regard? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that in the state’s history its science standards for middle and high school students has never included mention of evolution. The subject was avoided like the plague. And when evolution (i.e., the gradual change of populations across generations) had to be discussed, the standard practice was to describe the process of evolution without using the word evolution. Rather, evolution, or the e-word, would be replaced with a euphemism like acquired biological change over time.

In response to the dismal evaluation the state has received on its science education, the state’s Board of Education has produced a new set of standards that would bring scientific education in Florida to respectability. The new curriculum would even teach evolution—and it would call it “evolution”, too! Naturally, such a progressive move is not going to be passed without having to go through a gauntlet of deluded willfully ignorant regressive right-wing Christians.

While many of these right-wingers would probably ideally have it such that evolution was never mentioned again in school, the more practical position that they are taking is that it be taught as “just a theory”. Some want Intelligent Design taught along side evolution. Some, such as Florida Republican Senator Stephen Wise even want Biblical Creationism taught alongside evolution in science classes.

The ignorance is baffling. Religious ignorance. Ignorance of what a scientific theory is, versus a lay theory. And ignorance of the epistemological status of evolution. Actually, I should qualify this set of statements. There is certainly a boatload of ignorance. However, there is surely a schooner or two of deceit riding alongside that boat. There can be no doubt that there are plenty of Florida education decision makers that know the difference between a scientific and a lay theory. And there are probably almost as many decision makers who are aware that the scientific community overwhelmingly views evolution as a historical fact.

A brief clarification. As I have discussed before, evolution is a historical fact. It is also a theory, however. What does this mean? In terms of history, evolution is a fact. The amount of evidence in favour of the idea that populations changed over time is so overwhelming that it would be ridiculous to not call it a fact. Evolution as theory, or evolutionary theory, refers to proposed mechanisms of how the historically factual process of evolution unfolded. The most famous mechanism is Darwin’s natural selection. Another mechanism which bares a great deal of responsibility for the species we observe today is genetic drift (i.e., the process of certain segments of a population dispersing and consequently moving down different evolutionary paths as a function of different environments, different mutations, and the magnification of any initial differences between the two subsets of the population at the point of divergence).

That evolution occurred is a scientific fact. Scientists develop hypotheses to attempt to explain how evolution occurred. Once a given hypothesis has received a good deal of empirical support, it comes to be viewed as a theory. Theories of evolution such as natural selection and genetic drift have received overwhelming scientific support. However, no matter how much support they receive, they will never be facts. Facts are simply the data (i.e., what happened or what happens). Theories explain data. But theories will never be the data, and thus will never be scientific facts.

Anyhow, back to Florida. Representative Marti Coley asserts that evolution should be taught as a theory because that’s what it is. Wrong. Evolution is a historical scientific fact and should be taught as such. Mechanisms such as natural selection and genetic drift should be taught as strongly-supported scientific theories.

Florida State University Professor Joseph Travis asks why no one is calling for the supplanting of the teaching of gravity with the teaching of the theory of gravity. It’s a good comparison, as gravity, too, is both factual and theoretical.

Despite all of this, Rep Coley has stated that she’s ready to use the power of the Legislature to push for the teaching of the theory of evolution rather than simply evolution. Coley and House Speaker Cannon would both actually prefer if Intelligent Design were taught along side evolution, but are not pushing for it.

The article goes on:

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

Yeah, sometimes science, rationality, free inquiry, and honesty will do that. Sometimes scientific research and rational and intellectually honest free inquiry will find that dogmatically held beliefs probably aren’t true. Some people will face this head on. Others, like the aforementioned mass-emailers, prefer to put their heads in the sand.

One wonders if the push to represent evolution as being “just a theory” could lead to another big court case, but this time without the ID Creationism. We can call it Dover, Penn. Lite.

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Comments
7 Responses to “Florida legislators pushing for evolution to be taught as “just a theory””
  1. doggone tired says:

    From the beginning it has been taught as the “Theory of Evolution”. Only recently has “Theory” been dropped. This I do not personally understand. “Theory” is used because it can not be proven. It is not an absolute.
    It is important that we remember and not rewrite the past. It is also important that we debate openly and not reduce ourselves to personal attacks due to dissenting beliefs or opinions. The most important gift to give our children is how to think, not what to think. I want both theories taught and without prejudice.
    Another note. I was taught the “Theory of Global Cooling” back in the 70’s. I was also strongly guided and influenced that we should not reproduce due to overpopulation.
    Within the last 20 years it has gone from Theory of Cooling to Theory of Global Warming to Global Warming. Theory again is dropped. I am waiting for this phrase to “evolve” into Global Climate Change or Influx.
    As for population, we are now seeing Europe suffer due to the lower birthrate. Couples are not having two or more children, they are barely having one child. Countries we have come to admire and enjoy,due to their culture, are being changed dramatically due to illegal immigration; their culture is under siege as well as attacked from within. There is a potential for economic disaster when the older generation depends on the younger to support the social system currently set up. With less younger population, there is a greater chance that productivity goes down, farming communities grow smaller and food production is reduced. Tax bases grow smaller, and the economy is stressed beyond recovery. It is imperative to look at what the chain reaction may be in all areas of society . Economics, culture, and yes even ecology. When the economy collapses, who will have the means to save the environment? The priority will swing to self preservation. Balance in education, and all other areas is crucial to our survival.
    Researching for ourselves and finding the facts are so important. Taking facts to create a possibility and then saying that possibility is a fact is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous. Eugenics and Phrenology are great examples of science (pseudo science) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The harm caused by these two examples are truly immeasurable. We are all entwined and teaching one side without the other hurts us all. We must always question and debate. We are truly fortunate to be able to do so. Let us continue to do so, openly and without repudiation.

    I am a fallen Catholic turned Episcopalian, I am not an evangelical. I have lived the majority of my life in Northern Virginia with the exception of a few years in California, Arizona, and Switzerland. I have seen history rewritten and I have watched propaganda used on both sides in a shameful way. For the sake of our country and our future let us teach and search for only the truth.

  2. This Busy Monster says:

    doggone tired:

    Evolution is a fact, or a set of facts, exposed in the fossil record and the analysis of DNA. The relationships described by evolution are real and undeniable.

    The theory part, where there are still several school’s of thought hashing out the fine details, is Natural Selection. Even that, however has been observed in action, and the debate is really over the particulars.

    Sadly, a scientifically illiterate press and substandard science education leaves many of us ignorant of the basic ideas.

  3. ronbrown says:

    Doggone tired:

    There are 2 components to evolution: history and mechanism. That evolution happened in a historical sense is widely recognized as fact across the scientific community. The evidence in favour of it is so strong as to make it absurd to treat it as anything less than fact. Evidence includes the fossil record, genetic continuity, and comparative anatomy and embryology.

    The theoretical part of evolution is the how part. How did life evolve. What were the mechanisms. Mechanisms for which very strong evidence is available include natural selection (the only discovered means by which functional complexity can arise) and genetic drift. The evidence for these theories of mechanism is extremely strong. However, no matter how strong it becomes, it will never lead to recognition as fact. In science, the facts are the data. Hypotheses are attempts at explaining the data. And hypotheses which are backed by a rich base of evidence are acknowledged as scientific theories.

    I have no problem with intelligent design creationism being taught in the classroom, as long at they are taught as an example of what is not science (or what is a form of pseudoscience). While there is overwhelming evidence for evolution, there is absolutely none for ID creationism. If you consider the case made by ID, it boils down to nothing more than arguments from ignorance and attempts to disprove evolution. Arguments from ignorance (I don’t know how this could have happened, or I don’t think this could have happened, therefore God did it) are not arguments for God, they’re simply awkwardly worded specifications of what one does not know. And while ID attacks of evolution have been fruitless, even if they were to completely destroy evolution, that would not constitute an argument *for* ID. If the theory of gravity were disproven, that would not be an argument for the notion that an intelligent puller is pulling objects down toward the earth. As it stands, ID has made no scientific predictions, has collected no scientific evidence, and has been widely recognized by the scientific community as well as the US judicial community (including by Bush-appointed conservative and Christian judge, John Jones in the Dover case) as being motivated not be open-minded inquiry, but by religion.

    ID should absolutely not be taught in a science class as science because it’s not science. It’s based on no evidence, predicts nothing, and produces no scientific value. Moreover, it’s main arguments (irreducible complexity, specified complexity and fine-tuning) have been beaten into the ground.

    The one and only thing ID has going for it is that there are millions of Americans who want it taught in science class. That is not a scientific case.

    In the Dover trial, by Michael Behe’s own admission, the definition of science that the ID proponents were endorsing in order to get ID into science classrooms would have also allowed astrology to be considered a science.

    I am 100% in favour of teaching kids how to think rather than what to think. Teaching ID as science impedes this process because it not only fills their heads with bogus content, but it fills their heads with bogus conceptions of what scientific thinking is, which can only hurt their ability to think.

  4. smiley says:

    All science is provisional. You cannot prove scientific theories, you can only disprove them. That is the way science works.
    Only by defining testable hypotheses can any theory be disproved. But it is also true that as the decades go by and more evidence piles up for a theory rather than against it, the more it is taken for granted as true. That is what has happened in the case of evolution and why most scientists regard evolution as much more than a theory.

  5. ronbrown says:

    Smiley:
    Yes, scientists don’t view evolution as a 100% pure no possibility of being wrong fact, but they don’t view anything perhaps except their own personal existence that way. In science, fact means something for which the evidence is so strong that it would be silly to deny it.

    One problem, though. A common misconception is that there is a stream of progression in science which moves from hunch to theory to fact, as reason for certainty increases. This is a misunderstanding. Theories will never be facts. Theories are attempts to explain data, facts *are* the data. No matter how much evidence a theory generates, it will never be a fact. It’s apples and oranges. Common misapprehension.

  6. Jim Smith says:

    Its funny all you non believing atheists argue by calling people stupid for their beliefs however, you never argue the facts. You try to make people look abnormal for believing a certain way. Well in reality, you all know that you are the abnormal ones. Let me ask you a simple question about evolution. If a person didn’t have a heart, a brain, a liver, kidneys or any number of other vital organs, would they survive? How is it that the evolutionary process created all these organs, all dependant on one another, simultaneously to support a persons life.

    In addition, why is it that everyone and every living creature is all at the same stage in the evolutionary process? (Why aren’t some people running around with tails that have not evolved at the same rate?)

    The human body is about 1 million times more complex than a car. We can’t even duplicate a living cell or replicate the function of the human eye. What are the odds of a full functioning car just materializing one day out in a field. Talk about ignorant, you people have no clue. These are just a few of the hundreds on unanswered questions about evolution and until you can answer these, it’s all a theory and a bad one at that!

  7. ronbrown says:

    You know that the education system needs work when people are talking like Jim Smith. Here is Jim’s comment from above with my responses in square brackets:

    “Its funny all you non believing atheists argue by calling people stupid for their beliefs however, you never argue the facts [The facts? Oh, you mean like fossil record, genetic continuity, comparative anatomy, embryology, and cognition? Or how about how evolutionary theory has predicted the finding of various previously existing life forms, such as tiktaalik, the fish with feet? Yeah, we never talk about facts.]. You try to make people look abnormal for believing a certain way [Yeah, for believing things without evidence]. Well in reality, you all know that you are the abnormal ones [It’s true, we are abnormal in that we are a minority. Atheists are the minority. However, evolutionists are not. Amazing how it is the evolutionist that has led the way in advancing all of the life sciences. Where have the creationists been? Where are the great scientific discoveries, medical technologies, farming techniques, and so on that we have developed by virtue of rejecting evolution and believing in Creationism? And it’s amazing how atheists have scored higher on a number of measures of IQ, academic performance and socioeconomic status]. Let me ask you a simple question about evolution. If a person didn’t have a heart, a brain, a liver, kidneys or any number of other vital organs, would they survive? How is it that the evolutionary process created all these organs, all dependant on one another, simultaneously to support a persons life. [Well, by that logic I guess in your world amoebas, viruses, insects and a whole bunch of other species do not even exist, because I can’t remember the last time I came across members of any of these species with all of these features. Just because humans need these things doesn’t mean that earlier species did. Once certain organs evolve, however, they may become central to the organism’s functioning because of their functional role in the entire system.]

    In addition, why is it that everyone and every living creature is all at the same stage in the evolutionary process? (Why aren’t some people running around with tails that have not evolved at the same rate?) [Who says we’re at the same stage of evolution? There is lots of variability among people. Humans vary in skin, hair and eye colour, straight or curly hair, hair thickness, height, weight, shape, perceptual acuity, facial structure, blood type, intelligence, dexterity, ratios of fast to slow twitch muscle fibres, the presence of a certain alcohol-digesting enzyme (largely absent in east asians), allergies, psychological temperament, age of puberty, colour perception (i.e., colour-blindness), presence of wisdom teeth, learning type (e.g., visual, auditory, practical), rhythm (e.g., dancing, music), artistic ability, handedness, aggressiveness, susceptibility to addiction, susceptibility to a variety of health conditions (e.g., diabetes), social reasoning, social gregariousness, sexuality, body hair, cardiovascular efficiency, ability to maintain attention, and on and on and on]

    The human body is about 1 million times more complex than a car. We can’t even duplicate a living cell or replicate the function of the human eye. What are the odds of a full functioning car just materializing one day out in a field. Talk about ignorant, you people have no clue. These are just a few of the hundreds on unanswered questions about evolution and until you can answer these, it’s all a theory and a bad one at that!” [Yeah, *we’re* the ignorant ones. Quick question: Whose ideas are being endorsed by essentially entire scientific community—which is a community that is based on excessive criticism of ideas? Whose ideas have the support of Western governments and most religious communities, and whose are being kept out science classrooms not just by atheists, but by secular governments? Whose ideas are being laughed at around the world, even by many religious people and communities?

    Do you even have the most basic understanding of evolution? There is not an evolutionist on the planet that would say that a complex functional organism would just pop up in a field somewhere. Evolution by natural selection works from SIMPLE beginnings, with complexity evolving GRADUALLY in a piece-meal fashion as a function of differential beneficiality of different traits. Evolution by natural selection answers how complexity can emerge without the need for a designer.

    It’s funny that you have a problem with something as complex as a car just poofing into existence, but you have no problem believing that a highly-complex, super-intelligent, super-capable God could just be there. It’s funny for two reasons. Firstly, it’s funny that you criticize evolution based on a complete misunderstanding of it. Secondly, its funny because your misunderstanding of evolution—the fallacious idea that functional complexity can just poof into existence—is remarkably similar to the idea that a super-complex God could just exist without a designer, without evolving, and without any cause. Here’s an idea, why not be consistent? If you cannot believe in unexplained existence of a car, then you shouldn’t be believing in the unexplained existence of a God.]

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