Wise to introduce bill on intelligent design
Wise to introduce bill on intelligent designThe senator wants it to balance Florida science standards that require the teaching of evolution.Amid much controversy a year ago, the Florida Board of Education approved new standards that require public schools to teach that the scientific theory of evolution is the foundation of all biological science.
By Matt Soergel - 2/8/2009 - original
But don't think that battle is over. Not even close.
State Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, said he plans to introduce a bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also discuss the idea of intelligent design.
Intelligent design is the concept that life is so complex that it couldn't occur naturally but must have had an intelligent force working to make it happen.
Wise, the chief sponsor of the bill, expects the Senate to take it up when it meets in March. He said its intent is simple: "If you're going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking."
Wise said that if the Legislature passes the bill, he wouldn't be surprised if there's a legal challenge.
"You just never know. They use the courts all the time. I guess if they have enough money they can get it in the courts," he said. "Someplace along the line you've got to be able to make a value judgment of what it is you think is the appropriate thing."
Intelligent design has been in the courts before. In 2005, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching intelligent design in public schools, calling it an example of "breathtaking inanity." The judge, a Republican, wrote that there was "overwhelming evidence" that the theory is a "religious view," not scientific theory.
Wise's planned bill isn't a surprise to those who favor teaching evolution.
"We were expecting some sort of effort to blunt evolution education," said Paul Cottle, a physics professor at Florida State University who helped draft the year-old science standards on evolution. "What you are describing is one of the tools in the standard anti-evolution toolbox."
It won't be the first time the Legislature has addressed the issue.
After the standards were approved in February 2008, the Senate and House each passed bills that would require public schools to teach "critical analysis" of evolution. The majority in both chambers said they wanted to protect teachers from being punished if they questioned evolution.
That effort died in the Legislature, however, because the two chambers weren't able to reconcile their plans into a single bill.
'A lot of hate mail'
This time around, though, Wise - a co-sponsor of the 2008 bill in the Senate - said he expects the House plan to be extremely similar to the one he will introduce. That should make it easier to pass, he said.
Wise acknowledges it's a controversial subject. "I got a lot of hate mail last year," he said. "You'd think I'd never gone to school, that I was Cro-Magnon man, that I just got out of a cave or something."
Those bills were a deliberate effort to "undermine" the new Florida standards on evolution, said Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science, a group supportive of teaching evolution.
"My group is keeping an eye out for this bill to pop up again," he said. "Hopefully legislators are worried about other things."
Court challenge anticipated
In classrooms, little has changed since the Board of Education's evolution decision, said David Campbell, a science teacher at Orange Park's Ridgeview High who helped write the new science standards. School districts will put them into practice over the next few years, giving students time to incorporate the knowledge as they take the science FCAT exam in 11th grade. In addition, textbooks need to be developed and paid for, and teachers need to be trained, though he wonders where the money will come from for that.
If the Legislature passes a bill on intelligent design, Campbell expects it will be challenged. "I think if they pass anything like the bills they passed last year, they're looking at an almost certain lawsuit, which will cost big bucks," he said.
Rep. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, sponsored the "critical analysis" bill in the House last year and said he would support a similar effort this session. He thinks it's likely to pass this time in a close vote.
"The thing we learned last year is that, No. 1, we must keep the discussion scientific. I don't know of anyone who is in favor of teaching religion in public," he said. "We want the students to know that the theory of evolution is only a theory, it has never ever been scientifically proven, and it should be accepted as that."
'This is a national effort'
Cottle called the controversy over evolution a "strange component in the culture wars." He said he's met biology teachers who are constantly challenged by students who refuse to accept evolution, which - far from being "just a theory" - is accepted by the vast majority of scientists.
"It's like students have been put up to it by their pastors," he said. "And I'm sure there are cases of religious students feeling harassed because they're being asked to study this."
The controversy will continue, he said.
"This is a national effort, and it's not nearly over," he said.
Indeed, Hays traveled Friday to Virginia for a symposium at Liberty University School of Law on "Intelligent Design and Public School Curriculum."
He was to be a guest speaker, discussing the legislative side of the issue.
Hays said part of his beliefs come from his training as a dentist, which involved an extensive education in anatomy.
"How can anyone study the human body and deny that it was created by a higher power?" he said. "It is one magnificent collection of genius.
"It is not an accident that happened to come together."