Florida facing key test on science

Florida facing key test on science
St Petersburg Times Editorial - 2/15/2008 - original
By wide margins, Floridians question the legitimacy of evolution as the sole scientific explanation for the origin of species and nature's diversity, even though there is no debate on this point within the scientific establishment. Evolution is the basis of modern biology, and the fact that so many Floridians don't accept its validity does not suggest the state should ease off the teaching of evolution, but rather underscores the need to devote more educational resources to it.

Apparently, many of the state's science teachers have been so intimidated by the potential controversy that they either don't teach evolution or tiptoe around the subject. In this information age, when science is the key to national prosperity and to protecting the planet, there needs to be more emphasis, not less, on understanding the concept of a scientific theory.

A scientific theory is not conjecture. It is a coherent framework that successfully explains natural phenomena. For the last 150 years, the theory of evolution has been affirmed by observations in the natural world. The more we learn about biology and genetics, the more evolution becomes undeniable. There is no alternative to it as an explanation for life on Earth that has any scientific foundation.

Supernatural offerings such as intelligent design or creationism, in which the hand of a designer is presumed, are not alternative scientific theories. They have never been tested and cannot be. To teach them in a science class is to purposely subvert learning in order to appease certain religious sensibilities. Instead, they belong in the realm of faith and in religious instruction.

On Tuesday, the state Board of Education will vote on new science standards that finally insist that Florida's students receive comprehensive biology instruction that includes evolution as its underlying concept. It is an economic imperative that these standards be approved, despite the fierce backlash and pressure that has been rallied by religious elements.

Twenty-first century businesses in biotechnology and other sciences are watching Florida's efforts to create an educated work force. Right now, our unwillingness to accept well-established scientific theory is making headlines - just the kind of thing that keeps us a low-wage, tourist-dependant state.

Tuesday's vote is about Florida's future, and nothing less.