Florida: Evolution Will Not be Watered Down. Sort of.

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A good trick in child psychology is to come to a “compromise” in which the child, not knowing any better, gets what they think they wanted but it really turns out to be cod liver oil after all. Florida creationists got their cod liver oil when the Florida School Board voted, with a worrisome 4-3 count, to accept the proposed science standards that actually use the word “evolution.”The word “evolution,” however, is qualified as a “scientific theory.” That’s the compromise part. Creationists, like young children, can get certain concepts very wrong, and this is one of them. We often hear the phrase “… only a theory…” in reference to evolution. This belies the ignorance of most creationists, who use the word “theory” in a vernacular sense to mean “something we don’t really believe.” Like this:”John will be attending church this Sunday. In theory…”means”John says he’s going to church this Sunday, but I know he won’t be there.”In science, of course, “theory” is a much more elevated concept, elevated in the sense of acceptance, or to use (improperly) a vernacular term, elevated in the degree to which we “believe” it. The science of gravity; of radio-isotopic decay (radioactive materials, power plants, bombs, etc.); of hydrodynamics and thermodynamics; and so on are all based on theory. Strong, powerful, predictive theory. Much of this theory is essentially dogma … for good reason. Because it is as close to “correct” as we can get, with no real prospect on the horizon of it changing. This lack of prospect of change is not because of strength of belief, but rather, because of decades of hard work to dethrone a particular theory, or it’s attendant hypotheses and implications.So the creationist think they have achieved a compromise, but really, it is simply the case that proper language was used in the Florida science standards.And, Florida has dodged the legal bullet. For now.[details here]

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9 thoughts on “Florida: Evolution Will Not be Watered Down. Sort of.

  1. I wish you were right about this, but knowing the power of religious literalism and the poverty of science education in certain parts of Florida, I don’t think you are. Instead, the “theory” of evolution will be contrasted with the “inerrant word” of the Bible. Students will, at best, be taught to the FCAT and be able to regurgitate a few facts. The underlying principles won’t end up being taught and the door is left open for “other theories” to be taught on the very basis that John Stemburger and Marti Coley articulated at yesterday’s public input session; nobody has proven the theory of evolution (otherwise, in Coley’s words, it would be a law), so it’s no more valid than any other theory. In fact, there’s not even any evidence of MACROevolution (according to Stemburger and his Florida Family Policy Counil, the Florida Christian Coalition and the Florida Baptist Convention ? all of which have real clout in the northern part of the state), so essentially students can be taught that variation within species is fine and dandy, but that the theory can’t explain the diversity we see between taxa.One way or another, the ignorance is going to continue to be perpetuated. The introduction of the word theory without a benchmark for accurate teaching of what constitutes a theory in science in the first place is all the breathing room necessary.

  2. Great analogy with the child psych and Floridian Baptists. I told the folks at the coffee shop about the vote to put the word evo into the curriculum-the coffee gal said “That’s one vote they couldn’t rig…”

  3. Florida creationists got their cod liver oil when the Florida School Board voted, with a worrisome 4-3 count, to accept the proposed science standards that actually use the word “evolution.”

    Bear in mind one of those dissentors was Roberto Martinez, who voted it down precisely because it contained the slight watering down from the original standards. Only asshat Donna Callaway of the three was firmly in the pocket of the IDCreationists from the get-go. Not sure ablout the third Nay vote.

  4. Dave S.,BOE member Akshay Desai publicly supported the inclusion of evolution in the standards, but Bob Martinez was far and away the most vocal defender of accepting the standards as is.Also, regarding some of the other comments, let’s not forget that mainstream Baptists are often our allies in this matter, for example, Rev. Harry Parrot, one of the ten pro-science speakers at the public hearing before the board vote.

  5. Shouldn’t we want all scientific theories to be called “Scientific Theories”, instead of only allowing that distinction to evolution?I mean some of this silliness comes from the idea that the following is the way of science:observation -> hypothesis -> theory -> lawOr something like the above.However, we (scientists) know that this sequence is not true. Newton’s Laws are not at a higher standard than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.Indeed, there are many “laws” that haven’t been tested as rigorously as the dicta of Newton (for example, Moore’s Law). Yet, we do not see people yelling about the supremacy of Moore’s Law.Yes, I know that a large part of this debate is caused by the inability of a certain sect of people to get their minds around the idea that we are genetically related to “animals” (forgetting that we are also animals), and that (unless there is any physical evidence to the contrary) we both descended from a common ancestor, and that you can take this idea back to the “beginning” of life. Since this debate really has to do with whether we are somehow mystically “special” or as mundane as a “common beast”, most people don’t make the connection between all the scientific theories governing the physical world and the theory of evolution. (Hell, many detractors seem to only believe that scientists dogmatically hold on to what Darwin wrote in his little black book.) However, if they really wanted to try and tear down evolution, they have to tear down all theories evolution rests on, as well.I like this little youtube video from cdk007 that lists all the things that evolution deniers have to reject if they want to have it “their way” (as well as providing counters to the common anti-evolutionist statements):http://youtube.com/watch?v=5nj587d5ies

  6. …sorry. I think I digressed, as I am regularly wont to do.In sum (after my digression about understanding that anti-evolutionists may well have that position due to a belief of a special mystical nature of humankind), I think it is important to not provide any scientific theory with any special discrimination.Proudly list all the scientific theories as scientific theories, including (in alphabetical order): atoms, the big bang, cells, circuits, [computer] computation, electromagnetism, gas kinetics, general relativity, global climate change, gravity, plate tectonics, quantum fields, relativity, special relativity, systems.

  7. JamesF:I’m definitely not forgetting that; the sad fact is that there’s a high concentration on literalists in this particular part of the world and they hold a good deal of sway. In some places, it’s far more than “mainstream” types, precisely because they’re so incredibly obstinate and vocal. Folks like Parrot tend to get pushed into the background. It’s hard to hear relatively rational voices over the din of hallelujahs that so frequently dominates public discourse. If my ears are a halfway decent anecdotal measure, the loudest person at yesterday’s meeting was none other than John Stemberger, for instance. On the other hand, folks like Parrot and Dr. Coddle (the physicist from FSU; I may be misspelling his name) don’t tend to shout.I lived in one of the more tolerant places in North Florida, but half the time I got on a public bus, the Christian music was so loud it’d nearly make my ears bleed. That’s just the way life is there. I’m sure most people who grew up there (I didn’t) don’t even notice it.

  8. Mike,Well said – you properly made the distinction between the Florida Baptist Convention and Baptists in general (believe me, as a Catholic I’m still learning about the various denominations), and the former were possibly the single biggest opponents of the Florida science standards. Nothing like a vocal, powerful fundamentalist faction to ruin things for the mainliners.

  9. I like this framing idea about theories…hmmm…the theory of geometry that built their churches…the theory of procreation…that gave them life…the theory of bridge building that scoots them over the everglades daily…the theory of persecution by the Romans…the theory of Paul being jewish…the theory of the Gutenberg printing press….

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