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Evolution in the Science Standards
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7
Part 6: Where are the 'rat-bats'?
Before the sun even dawned on Feb. 19, I gathered with the 10 speakers wanting to speak in favor of the science standards and other supporters at the doors of the locked capitol. After nearly an hour of waiting, the doors were finally opened and we eagerly dashed inside. When we arrived outside the designated meeting room, we were surprised to see those wanting to speak in favor of changing the standards already waiting in line. How they got inside the building early was a mystery, and despite our asking them about it, they refused to reveal how it happened.
It should be noted that both sides were organized and prepared. It appeared that if that wasn't the case for either side then no one might have signed up to speak for that unorganized side. Once again, FCS served an important function in being the focal point of the pro-science effort.
Once the room finally opened, it quickly filled. There were about 120 seats, and all were taken with plenty of people left standing. Several reporters dominated an entire section of the room and TV cameras were packed in side by side like a platoon of soldiers.
The meeting started promptly and the first few items on the agenda inched along. Finally, the time arrived for the final showdown shortly after 9 a.m. Board chairman, T. Willard Fair, opened with a short speech, which seemed to be aimed at the anti-science crowd. Sometimes he even spoke directly to Kendall, who was sitting in the front row because she was on the list of speakers. He made it clear that the standards public review process was done openly and fair with several opportunities for everyone to have input. However, as Fair looked right at Kendall, he said that some people wanted to speak directly to the Board and look them right in the eyes. Fair mentioned that Kendall had spoken to some Board members in person over the previous few weeks. Obviously, Kendall had poured a lot of time and effort into pressuring the Board into allowing this one last chance to present her side's case. The fact that she succeeded should be duly noted. Her commitment and tenacity paid off, at least for the moment.
First up were a trio of state lawmakers expressing their thoughts on the evolution issue, some for and some against. And then the 20 citizens had their chance, alternating between the anti-science and pro-science sides. Both sides had main themes that ran through most speakers' presentations. The pro-science speakers primarily tried to express how anti-evolution efforts were based in religious objections. For instance, FCS board member Jonathan Smith mentioned the infamous Wedge Document, a Discovery Institute goal-setting paper outlining how to "defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies" and "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." And Brant Copeland, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, summed things up nicely when he said, "Children should learn science in science class, not religion disguised as science."
The anti-science speakers tried to pull off a Hail Mary with their theme, a concept new to the Florida evolution debate: academic freedom. They presented to the Board something they called an "Academic Freedom Proposal." Its purpose was to permit teachers to cast doubt on evolution under the guises of free speech and critical thinking. According to a document they handed to the Board members, they wanted the Board to have the following highlighted text spliced onto the standards' definition of evolution:
Evolution is [a] fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence and teachers should be permitted to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence. [source 1, source 2]
The word "a" in brackets is meant to replace the word "the" that is in the original version. With that proposal as their sword, the anti-science speakers repeatedly parried the pro-science speakers' claim that religion was a motivating factor with the refrain that the issue is critical thinking, not religion. Having evolution "dogmatically" alone in the standards stifles critical thinking, they said. Mixed in with the academic freedom push were the standard creationist talking points: there are gaps in the fossil record, some scientists have been fired for not believing Darwin, evolution is a house of card on the verge of collapse, and macro-evolution has never been observed. John Stemberger, of the Florida Family Policy Counsel, said, "Yet we look at the fossil record and we find rats, and bats, but no transitional forms of 'rat-bats.'" Throughout all of their speeches, the spotlight was on academic freedom, though. Evidence against evolution must be taught!
Story by Brandon Haught
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