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Florida Science Standards: 2007-2008

In the weeks leading up to a vote on new science standards in Florida, which would include "evolution" for the first time, multiple school boards approved resolutions against the standards. I e-mailed districts that were rumored to be considering these resolutions.

Dear [Name] County School Board,

Hi, I'm a student at Carnegie Mellon University, and I'm writing in reference to the new science standards for the state of Florida.

The scientific community and hundreds of Florida's Christian clergy have affirmed that evolution is a foundational truth. Florida students deserve to hear a scientifically-sound theory backed by overwhelming evidence from fossils, genetics, and biochemistry.
Leading Christian biologists, like Human Genome Project leader Francis Collins, have dismissed "intelligent design" as an unnecessary and misleading perspective of life's origins. Dr. Collins called it both bad science and bad theology. Intelligent design serves only to introduce claims without any basis in evidence, undermining high school science classes.
While you may believe that God influenced the process of evolution in some way, there is no basis for an "irreducible complexity" or a "God of the gaps" explanation for complex systems like the eye. Years ago, Darwin wrote a clear explanation of how the eye could have evolved through several steps, and modern naturalism shows that each one of those steps exists in an animal living today.

The current case in the state board of education is an important one. I have written to the board members and made sure to keep track of new developments. The cases being developed by intelligent design advocates include deliberate misrepresentations of peoples' views, whitewashing of scientific evidence, and a history of deceit. The leading intelligent design organization, the Discovery Institute, leaked a memo revealing a strongly pro-Christian-creationist agenda. No matter what your beliefs, surely this deception cannot go unnoticed - and I believe that the preference of this single Christian group would be harmful to the accepting education community.

For more information, I suggest a U.C. Berkeley website designed for educators here:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

Thank you for your time and continuing service in [Name] County,

Nicholas Doiron
Carnegie Mellon University

I received many responses, both positive and negative. One board member in Putnam County attached a proposed resolution in his reply, and asked me for advice. This is the proposed resolution, similar to the ones considered by other counties:

SCHOOL BOARD OF PUTNAM COUNTY, FLORIDA : RESOLUTION REGARDING NEW STATE STANDARDS FOR SCIENCE
Whereas, the Florida Department of Education has drafted and is now proposing new Sunshine State Standards for Science,

And whereas, the new Sunshine State Standards for Science present evolution as "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported in multiple forms of scientific evidence",

And whereas, the Putnam County School Board recognizes the importance of providing a thorough and comprehensive science education to all the students in Putnam County and to all students in the State of Florida,

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Putnam County School Board, Palatka, Florida, that the Board urges the State Board of Education to direct the Florida Department of Education to revise the new Sunshine State Standards for Science to allow for balanced, objective and intellectually open instruction in regard to evolution, teaching the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory rather than teaching evolution as dogmatic fact.

Here is my critique of the resolution:

"Balanced, objective, and intellectually open instruction" is a goal I hope we all have when approaching this issue. But no matter where you stand - evolution, theistic evolution, intelligent design, or creationism - understanding these ideas relies on learning more about adaptation, development, and evolution. I have read creationist materials, and they agree that an evolutionary system exists, but that it is constricted in a particular way. Intelligent design teaches that evolution is capable of many things but incapable of others. Supporters of each side need quality biology education to understand these concepts.

Certainly, students can express their personal opposition, and teachers will have to decide how to handle discussion. But when a lesson starts with a disclaimer, there is a good chance that students with strong opinions on the matter will see evolution as only some "biased idea" and ignore the evidence presented.

A standard would have to dictate what "alternatives" to mention and what scientific merits they held. When it comes to scientific merit, not religious difference, Intelligent Design's claim that there are "gaps" in evolution is an impatient and shaky argument. In the short history of Intelligent Design, several of these "gaps" have been filled, and explanations exist for the others.

Evolution is not dogmatic, as the resolution would claim. "Dogmatic" systems are, by definition, unquestioned. Research continues to change our understanding of evolution. Several ideas in evolutionary biology were controversial at first, and are now accepted - including several concepts in the new science standards. The new standards do not even use the controversial word: "fact." It is called a "fundamental concept... with multiple forms of evidence."

While a "dogmatic" theory would be unscientific, the overwhelming evidence for evolution of complex life is not denied by Intelligent Design. I cannot see which part of the science standards would actually be offensive to the Intelligent Design supporters - natural evolution is one of their primary concepts.

The goal of these new science standards was to improve state scores and prepare students for work and higher-education in science and technology. Why teach these students something which does not follow the basic definition of science, does not appear in any scientific journal, and adds no new evidence?

Nicholas Doiron

Putnam County ultimately decided not to discuss this resolution (their vote would have come on the same day as the state board's vote). While many school boards did not heed the advice given by me and other concerned citizens, others were swayed by interest in their communities and press attention.