Our view: Showdown on science

Our view: Showdown on science
Florida Today - Dec 18, 2007 - original
State officials should approve new teaching standards that embrace study of evolution

The Sunshine State is fast becoming a battlefield in the war on science.

That's because the State Board of Education must vote early in 2008 on whether or not Florida schools should teach proposed new science standards that embrace evolution as a core scientific principle.

Current standards don't even mention the word "evolution."

That's incredible -- and does huge injury to a solid science education.

Now a standards update -- written by Florida educators and based on recommendations of national science groups -- could correct the blunder.

But their approval is far from certain because some board members appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush want to ignore science, keeping students in the dark.

Board member Donna Callaway told a religious newspaper in Jacksonville she objects to the proposed new standards because evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of the origins of life."

Like Callaway and other members appointed by Bush, some religious groups want faith-based beliefs inserted in the science curriculum.

They claim intelligent design -- a thinly veiled version of creationism, which is the belief the universe is too complex to have been created without the work of God -- should be taught as an alternative to evolution.

Many people, including some scientists, share a belief in a divinity that sparked all life.

But beliefs, as opposed to scientific theories like evolution, gravity, or the laws of physics, can't be tested using the scientific method and don't belong in science textbooks or classrooms.

Intelligent design advocates sometimes claim students should be taught both sides of what they call "the controversy" over evolutionary theory for the sake of academic freedom.

But there is no controversy, since evolutionary theory underlies all of biology and reflects volumes of rigorous, repeatedly tested and undeniable evidence.

That's why a federal judge in Pennsylvania last year rightly ruled Dover, Pa. schools can't require the teaching of intelligent design because that would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

And why a January article in the official Vatican newspaper endorsed that ruling and said evolution does not conflict with Roman Catholic teaching.

Others in state government are also marshalling the forces of ignorance to defeat the much-needed revisions to Florida science teaching standards.

Department of Education director of instructional materials Selena Carraway this month used her job title in e-mails advocating defeat of the standards.

This while Florida desperately needs to develop a highly educated workforce to draw more high-tech and bioscience employers like the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in Orlando, to diversify its flailing economy beyond tourism and agriculture.

According to a new report from the Florida Chamber Foundation, those educated workers are critical to the state's future.

If top education officials refuse to let students receive the best science education possible, that's not going to happen.

The Board of Education should approve the revised science standards and bring Florida schools into the 21st century.