New science rule sparks the evolution debate anew

New science rule sparks the evolution debate anew
Susan Jacobson - Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer - Nov 16, 2007
The long-standing debate over teaching evolution in school came to Orlando on Thursday night, where about four dozen people assembled at Jones High School to give their views on proposed revisions to state science standards.

The change that's attracting the most attention would require students to learn about evolution as part of an effort to beef up Florida science standards and create a competitive workforce for the 21st century.

However, several of Thursday night's speakers said there's room in the classroom for "intelligent design" -- the idea that life is best explained as derived from an intelligent cause rather than "an undirected process such as natural selection."

The subject has been contentious for years, called into the public consciousness in 1925 by the "Scopes Monkey Trial," in which a Tennessee teacher was charged with violating the law by teaching evolution.

Dave Finnigan, an educational consultant who lives in Celebration, said the Scopes trial should have settled the issue. Intelligent design, he said, is a thinly veiled religious theory that doesn't belong in public schools.

"Evolution is a fact, and you can't dispute it," Finnigan said. "We say it's the 'theory' of gravity. It doesn't turn gravity off."

But several people who spoke Thursday urged state Department of Education officials to allow schools to teach intelligent design and other theories along with evolution.

Teacher and parent Veronica Bryant said there's a lack of fossil evidence to support evolution and that the complexity of life defies it.

"Real science can stand up against other theories," said Bryant, who teaches math at Silver Star Center, an alternative school. "There is nothing wrong with offering alternative viewpoints."

Richard Ellenburg, one of the writers on the committee that revised the standards, said the intelligent design-vs.-evolution debate was not an issue among members.

"Intelligent design is not a science theory, as I've been taught," said Ellenburg, an Orange County science teacher and the 2008 Florida teacher of the year.

Since the proposed standards were made public Oct. 19, the state has received nearly 5,000 online comments from educators and nearly 1,500 from others, including about 700 from parents. Some people also are sending e-mails directly to state Board of Education members.

Among them is Kim Kendall, a St. Augustine mother who is urging friends to contact the state to oppose the teaching of evolution exclusively. In an e-mail, she warned that "No other reasons for existence (like the truth of Creation) will be applied . . . "

"I feel like there's too much scientific data punching a hole in evolution," Kendall said.

The next step is for members of the committee that wrote the standards to analyze public input and possibly make revisions. Public comment ends Dec. 14. The Department of Education will present the standards to the Board of Education.

Susan Jacobson can be reached at sjacobson@orlandosentinel.com

Copyright 2007, Orlando Sentinel