Florida Creationist Pressure Mounting

This from the National Center for Science Education:

As Florida continues to consider the draft of a new set of state science standards, there are reports about mounting creationist lobbying against the inclusion of evolution and for the inclusion of creationism. Writing in the Miami Herald (December 9, 2007), Fred Grimm summarized: “For the past 11 years, the biology curriculum in Florida schools has ignored the one great organizing principle of biological science. Darwin’s theory was blackballed, never mind that his work has been bolstered by 148 years of scientific inquiry. … Or so it seemed until last week, when board member Donna Callaway, a former middle school principal from Leon County, said she opposed this Godless evolution stuff.”


Here’s the link to Grimm’s piece.

… continuing with the NCSE press release:

According to the St. Petersburg Times (December 6, 2007), Callaway, a member of the state board of education, told a Baptist newspaper that she planned to vote against the standards, saying that evolution “should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origins of life” and expressing her hope for prayers over the issue: “I want God to be part of this.” The newspaper was unable to obtain comment from most of the rest of the members of the state board of education; Roberto Martinez, however, said that he favored the standards, commenting, “I respect the people who have beliefs in creationism and intelligent design, but I do not believe it should be included as part of the science standards.”

A later report on the Times’s education blog (December 11, 2007) described board member Linda Taylor as “generally supportive of the ‘choices’ philosophy, so long as it falls within what the state can do legally.” She was quoted as saying, “With the evolution, there’s a bigger topic called theories of origin. I think kids should have the opportunity to compare different theories … If we are focused on evolution I am OK with that. But they should at least know there are other theories out there and that they could themselves compare them or that they be presented to them. I would support teaching evolution, but with all its warts. I think that some of the facts have been questioned by evolutionists themselves. I would want them taught as theories.”

Interesting … a “Theory of Origins” gambit. This is obviously a version of the “Teach the Controversy” Wedge strategy. We’ll have to keep an eye out for this new term, if indeed it is a new term.

A scant two days later after its report on Callaway, the St. Petersburg Times (December 8, 2007) revealed that there was opposition to the treatment of evolution in the draft standards within the state department of education itself: “Selena ‘Charlie’ Carraway, program manager for the department’s Office of Instructional Materials, recently used her personal e-mail on personal time to send a missive urging fellow Christians to fight the proposal to include evolution as a “key idea” in the science curriculum. But she invoked her position as a way to, in her words, ‘give this e-mail credibility.’ And that, it turns out, is a no-no.” A spokesperson for the department told the newspaper, “It is inappropriate for any department employee to use their public position to advocate their personal positions.”

This is reminiscent of the Minnetonka Maneno of recent years, where a school board member (since run out of office) used his email inappropriately. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the email piece. People need to communicate, and people need to be able to lobby for their positions. If those positions are inappropriate or wrong, perhaps they should not be in their jobs, but the reason for that should not necessarily be based mainly on the way they communicate, but rather, what they communicate and what they do while in a position of responsibility.

Unlike Chris Comer in Texas, Carraway was “counseled” by the human resources department and warned not to abuse her position again. NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, “Now she has a second chance, and hopefully she’ll behave more responsibly,” and Florida Citizens for Science’s Joe Wolf concurred, saying, “I think she’s allowing her religious beliefs to interfere with her public duty,” adding, “I wish she hadn’t done it. But I think it’s an internal matter.” A forceful editiorial in the St. Petersburg Times (December 10, 2007) disagreed, contending, “Firing would be more in order” for Carraway, and calling on Donna Callaway to resign from her position on the state board of education.

In addition to the individual statements of Callaway and Carraway, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Focus on the Family was rallying its supporters to weigh in (“to include intelligent design in science classes”); that a state representative who is likely to become Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2011, Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), expressed reluctance at the idea of presenting evolution “from just one perspective”; and that “The Polk County School Board has stated it might allow alternatives to evolution to be in its schools,” referring to earlier reports (such as the Lakeland Ledger’s story from November 20, 2007) that a majority of its members support teaching “intelligent design” in addition to evolution.

In response to the mounting creationist pressure on the board, Florida Citizens for Science launched its All I Want for Christmas is a Good Science Education campaign, calling on supporters of the integrity of science education to send holiday cards to the members of the Florida state board of education: “This project will demonstrate that there are as many, if not more, people in Florida who support good science education as there are people against it. We want to tell them that we don’t want our state to become the laughingstock of the nation like other states were in past years when confronted with similar situations.” A list of further actions is also provided.

The current version of the state science standards, dating from 1999, received a grade of F in the Fordham Foundation’s report The State of State Science Standards 2005, which described them as “sorely lacking in content.” Two of the authors of the report have expressed approval of the new draft, however. Paul R. Gross reviewed the draft at the request of the St. Petersburg Times (November 30, 2007), which quoted him as saying, “Clearly, the writing committee, whoever they are, have taken to heart all the arguments that have been made about lousy standards,” adding, “The organization of the plan is entirely respectable, and it pays attention to all the national models … There’s not a lot of fluff in it.”

Similarly, Lawrence S. Lerner was asked by NCSE and Florida Citizens for Science to review the draft. In a press release dated December 3, 2007, Lerner said, “This draft is a giant step in the right direction … It is clear, comprehensive, and most importantly, accurate.” He estimated that, evaluated by the same standards of the Fordham Foundation’s report, the standards would receive a high B, adding, “With a little bit of extra effort, Florida could bring that up to an A.” Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science commented, “Accurate and honest science education is critical to our state’s future. … These improved standards will give teachers a vital resource as they prepare the doctors, scientists, and citizens of the 21st century.”

In Lerner’s assessment, the draft standards received a grade of A for their treatment of evolution in particular. NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau explained, “Evolution is the central organizing principle of modern biology. Cutting-edge work in biology, medicine, computer science, and even geology and astronomy requires a clear understanding of evolution. Adopting these improved standards will mean that Florida students will be better prepared to make life-saving and life-enhancing breakthrough discoveries, to make the best use of those new discoveries as they arise, and to maintain Florida’s standing in an ever more competitive world.”

The period of public comment on the draft science standards expires on December 14, 2007. So far, the Associated Press (December 8, 2007) reported, over 8000 people have commented. The writing committee will then revise the draft and send the result to the Florida Board of Education for its consideration in February 2008. NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau, who was in Kansas during its latest battle over the place of evolution in the state science standards there, told Wired News (December 10, 2007), “My fear is that Florida will do something like happened in Kansas a couple years ago, with the Board of Education overruling the decisions made by the expert committee appointed to draft the new standards.”

Comments

  1. #1 John Pieret
    December 12, 2007

    Actually, “theory of origins” is a pretty old “creation science” term, IIRC. Here is an example:

    http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/FAQ48.html

    The massivly misnamed British site TruthInScience uses it this way:

    Few schools have taught this controversy. This is partly because many popular textbooks present Darwinism as the only scientific theory of origins and give little coverage to alternative theories, sometimes misrepresenting them.

    http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/

    On the other hand, why would we expect anything new under the creationist sun?

  2. #2 Dave S.
    December 12, 2007

    Heck yeah, “theory of origions” and its cognate “origins theory” is well worn Creationist boilerplate. And not even ID creationism, but the Young Earth kind. Indeed, its how they rationalize separating evolution from other sciences…you see, evolution is origins science (which is of course historical and metaphysical, not really a science at all) and something like chemistry is “operational science” (and somehow metaphysical problems magically can be ignored). Evolution and Creationism are just two theories of origins.

    Here’s Roger Patterson from Answers in Genesis:

    “Therefore, evolution is not an operational theory. For these reasons evolution could be considered an historical theory, along with creation models and other origins theories.”

    And here’s Duane Gish explaining it all in gory detail. You see Creationism isn’t a science, but neither is evolution, because both are origins theories! Don’t know when he wrote that one, but none of his refs are more recent than 1983.

  3. #3 John Pieret
    December 12, 2007

    And here is an amusing one from Leadership U. under the title “Designer Universe:
    Intelligent Design Theory of Origins”:

    Hence, we ask: Should Intelligent Design theory and its research programs be dismissed as “creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo,” as one scientist contends? Or is ID’s gradual acceptance into the mainstream of scientific discussion warranted? First, one must understand exactly what ID theory is–and is not. As explained in detail in the Intelligent Design FAQ, below, “…This new approach is more modest than [earlier creationist approaches to biological and cosmic origins]. Rather than trying to infer God’s existence or character from the natural world, it simply claims ‘that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable.’” The door to theism and, for many biblical Creation, is left open. Or, more accurately, it is no longer slammed shut.

    http://www.leaderu.com/focus/intdesign.html

    But ID has nothing to do with religion! … Nosiree, Bob!