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Evolution Wins as Creationists (Accidentally) Switch Sides in Florida
By Brandon Keim February 20, 2008 | 12:59:46 PM
Categories: Education, Evolution
The Florida Board of Education officially upheld evolution yesterday.
The board didn't quite mean to do that, of course. In a 4-3 vote, the Board accepted a proposed curriculum that replaced all references to evolution with the phrase "the scientific theory of evolution." In so doing, the board inadvertently made evolution central to public school science education, and also, almost incidentally, mandated education on just what constitutes a "scientific theory."
Until now, Florida's schools weren't required to teach evolution. The old curriculum guidelines didn't even mention it by name.
That state education officials would approve the new standards was not a foregone conclusion. Since last November, 12 county school boards passed resolutions calling for classroom evolution to be balanced by "alternatives" -- a polite euphemism for religiously orthodox explanations of life. The resolutions were non-binding, but raised fears that that the Board of Education would try to duck controversy by diluting the new standards.
Apart from being illegal, teaching creationism as science is a very bad idea. Students may not be permanently scarred by failing to learn about evolution at an early age -- though the National Academy of Science would surely disagree -- but, they're bound to be stunted if told that evolution and creationism are even remotely equivalent in any scientific sense.
Yesterday's decision is thus great news for Florida -- and perhaps for the nation. Had Florida backed down, Texas -- where a pro-evolution science education official was fired last year, and a curriculum revision is scheduled later this year -- might have followed suit. Together they exert enough purchasing power to drag the nation's textbook manufacturers with them, science be damned.
The 4-3 vote was obtained by including a last-minute amendment to the standards. Suggested last Friday by religious conservatives and dubbed the "academic freedom proposal," the amendment required that the curriculum's references to "evolution" be replaced by the "scientific theory of evolution."
The amendment's supporters called the language change a victory -- and it is, though not in the way they imagine.
Not only will Florida's students learn about evolution; they'll also learn that the scientific definition of a theory is different from the everyday definition, referring not to wild-eyed speculation but to a vast body of observation and testing that confirms a hypothesis so strongly that it might as well be considered fact.
A big thank-you, then, to religious critics of evolution education. The language change will better help Florida's children understand not only evolution, but science itself. (If only this USA Today headline writer had the same education.)
Isn't democracy grand?
Note: People interested in how religious and scientific beliefs need not conflict should check out my Q&A with evangelical theologist Michael Dowd.
Decision: Florida schools must teach evolution [Palm Beach Post]
Evolution joins curriculum [St. Petersburg Times]