Kids paying for holy war over evolution

Kids paying for holy war over evolution
By FRED GRIMM - In My Opinion - Miami Herald - 1/10/2008 - original
The nine-hour drive was only the physical distance traveled by the two emissaries from rural Taylor County, nestled in the crook where Florida bends around the Gulf. Those 405 miles were nothing compared to the cultural gap they found in Miramar.

Oscar Howard Jr., superintendent of Taylor County's School District, and Danny Lundy, vice chairman of the School Board, spoke in accents from that other Florida. "We're opposed to teaching evolution as a fact," Howard said, adding that his School Board and 11 others have passed resolutions against the imposition of evolution in the school curriculum.

Evolution, Lundy warned, would tear the Taylor public schools apart. ''The good people back home,'' he worried, would have no choice but to pull their kids out of school.


Others attending the hearing on reviving the state of education's science standards Tuesday denounced this notion of teaching evolution, some evoking an evangelical language that hardly translated on the other side of the divide. A woman talked about God and miracles and friends brought back from death and how biblical faith, not evolution, revealed the only answers to life's mysteries.

When geologist Ina B. Alterman, formerly of the National Research Council, came to the microphone to defend science, evolution and freedom from religious interference in education, it was as if she were speaking another language. She and her allies -- scientists, teachers, parents -- offered reasoned arguments for teaching evolution that would seem to overwhelm any science-based opposition. Hers was a majority position at the Miramar hearing. Oscar Howard Jr. said that up in Perry, anti-evolutionists would have made up 80 percent of the crowd.

Mindful of attitudes in that other Florida, Boca Raton physician Tom Hall warned of the legal costs incurred by a quixotic, unconstitutional attempt by the Dover, Penn., School Board to teach faith-based Intelligent Design. But a Miami paramedic warned that taking God out of the classroom has led to immorality and violence. He related the beating death last week of a toddler by a 12-year-old in Lauderhill to the teaching of evolution. An unfathomable leap in logic on one side of the divide. An understandable leap of faith on the other.


Even the word theory, this night, suffered irreconcilable definitions. Darwin's theory, up in Taylor County, population 20,000, only rates the pedestrian meaning: unproven speculation. Scientists speaking Tuesday night, one after another, reminded the audience that scientifically, the theory of evolution was no more speculative than the theory of gravity. This theory, they said, formed the basis for all biological science, girded by 156 years of research. Some who doubted Darwin suggested a populist solution. Teach all theories of creation. Let the kids decide. As if biology were as subjective as philosophy.

More arguments and counter-arguments about faith and evolution were launched into a vacuum of irreconcilable beliefs. Then, the final speaker, Lisa Dizengoff, director of science curriculum at Pembroke Pines Charter School's east campus, angrily reminded the crowd that after all the carping over evolution, no one had gotten around to addressing the state's lackadaisical, last-century approach to science education.

"All I heard was this argument about evolution," she said, disgusted that so many other problems had been preempted by a single controversy.

"The kids lost out again."