January 04, 2008

Florida Science Education Standards Survive More Creationist Nonsense in Jacksonville

Yesterday, a public hearing was held in Jacksonville, FL at which the proposed education standards, which include explicit mention of evolutionary biology, were debated. More people spoke in favor of the new standards and the comments by anti-science types are almost too precious — and rather disturbing, considering that a former educator made some exceedingly ignorant remarks. I'm glad to be able to note that she's a former educator. Anyone who says things so blatantly jejune should be a former educator.

Darwin survives another debate

Foes of new science education standards try a new strategy.

About 120 people gathered at a public hearing in Jacksonville on Thursday to weigh in on the state's proposed new science standards, which embrace Darwin's theory of evolution as the pillar of modern biology. And though Darwin doubters showed up in good numbers - some of them to advance a new twist on an old argument - they were outnumbered by his defenders...

The revamp has won favorable reviews from teachers and scientists. But many conservative Christians object, saying the standards should also include faith-based theories.

Many of Thursday's critics - including Beverly Slough, president-elect of the Florida School Boards Association - insisted they were not pushing creationism or intelligent design. Instead, they said, they simply wanted the standards to open the door for classroom debate on what they have dubbed evolution's flaws.

"In my lifetime, I've never seen an ape turned into a human. I've never seen us come from slime," said Ruth Klingman, who identified herself as a former educator. Darwin should not be "dogmatically taught like it was a fact..."

"How many of us were taught that Pluto was a planet?" said Kim Kendall, an activist from St. John's County.

Kendall said she took exception with the statement included in the standards that evolution is "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology." Asked after the meeting what other fundamental concepts there were, she could not say...

Some experts say an attempt to insert skepticism into evolution lessons, rather than blatantly religious concepts, may be the latest wedge strategy for ultimately introducing religious ideas into science classrooms.

"This is strategy No. 4," said Michael Ruse, director of Florida State University's program on the history and philosophy of science. The first three - banning the teaching of evolution, then promoting creationism, then touting intelligent design - have all hit legal roadblocks...

...Pinellas County attorney David Gibbs III, who represented Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, argued otherwise in a recent letter to the BOE. He suggested the board might violate the constitution's establishment clause if it did not include alternative theories.

"The terms being used in the proposed standards seem to imply a shift in classroom worldview away from the neutrality of a scientific perspective toward a 'thumb on the scale' for one particular worldview or belief system," Gibbs wrote...
Let's look at who spoke against the standards for a moment; they're all religiously motivated. For Ruth Klingman, for example, to identify herself as a "former educator" is more than a little misleading. Whatever she might have done in the past, Klingman is now an "enlistment associate" for an evangelical Baptist organization called the International Commission. Based in Lewisville, Texas, the International Commission describes its mission as "equipping believers to conduct church to church partnership evangelism in every country of the world by 2013." That makes it more understandable, I suppose, that she'd be so entirely ignorant about evolutionary theory that she could make strawman-like statements about seeing apes turn into humans or people emerging from "slime." I can only imagine that she taught Sunday school, at best, as an "educator." Perhaps she instructed kindergarteners in finger painting. With statements like this, she'd best stick to recruiting missionaries, because she clearly doesn't know the first thing about biology.

Likewise for Kim Kendall. She has the gall to deny that evolution is the underlying principle of biology — a statement to which any biologist will attest, since without evolutionary principles biology becomes little more than a collection of disjointed facts — and then can't answer what the unifying theory of biology is in her own opinion. The reason for this, of course, is that Kendall hasn't bothered to investigate biology at all. She knows that she doesn't like evolutionary theory because it doesn't support her religious views and that's all she needs to know for her purposes, because the people she's trying to motivate couldn't care less about biology or, indeed, any scientific discipline at all. They have, therefore, no interest in improving science education but precisely in turning it into a religious forum. Science essentially stops at the end of Genesis for these people. Kendall could have come up with other unifying biological theories, of course, if she'd cared to investigate it. At the very least, she could have paid lip service to cell theory, for instance, which is a cross-discipline theory in biology that could be divorced from evolutionary theory with a little bit of intellectual manipulation. The fact is, Kendall doesn't do her homework, and nobody who fails to do their homework should have any say in what homework millions of children across an entire state should be doing.

Need I say that David Gibbs, attorney for Creationist Nathaniel Abraham and head of the Christian Law Association, is full of crap when he pretends to express a concern about religious equality, let alone good science? Gibbs own firm offers free legal representation only to Christians, not to members of all faiths, and his knowledge of science is on par with Ted Haggard's standing as a moral model.

I think Ruse is right about the new strategy angle. The thing is, the shortcomings of scientific theories — biological or otherwise — are taught when the theory itself is discussed. Part of learning about science is learning about what's still not known. Even at the university level, when there's something that's not yet understood, for which there are competing hypotheses, this is made explicit. Contrary to what people like Klingman and Kendall would like us to think, learning about the sciences doesn't consist of having a priest stand up and deliver theorems to the congregation as if they were unassailable, divinely-revealed, eternal truths.

That's best left for church.

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