Darn, how did I miss this?

May 16th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Baptist College of Florida had a Creation Conference:

On April 26-27, The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville hosted the first on-campus Creation Conference in the R.G. Lee Chapel led by world-renowned Creation Scientist Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International. Sarfati holds a Ph.D. in Spectroscopy (Physical Chemistry) from Victoria University in Wellington, and has authored numerous books, articles, and resources focusing on the topic of creationism.

“The purpose of the conference was to show how, contrary to popular belief, the biblical account of creation is actually well supported by science, including evidences from biology, geology, astronomy, and anthropology,” stated BCF Professor of Old Testament and Event Coordinator Rick Freeman. “Sarfati demonstrated how the genuine facts of science do not fit well with the theory of evolution, whereas they do fit nicely with the view that God created all things from nothing about six thousand years ago.”

I missed this glorious and oh-so-educational event. But fear not; there are videos. If I get a little free time, I may check out the one directed at the youth. Maybe.

A calm response to an anti-evolution rant

May 14th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Back on April 25 I posted about a guest columnist in the Gainesville Sun railing against evolution, He’s itching for a fight. The writer’s main point was that past debates at the University of Florida between creationists and scientists over evolution allegedly came down heavily in favor of the creationists. The supposed victories were so decisive that other scientists refused to participate and were instead “hiding under their desks.” I have yet to find solid evidence of any such debates or their fallout, but a guest columnist in Friday’s Gainesville Sun nicely rebuts the anti-evolutionist writer. Essentially, results of public debates have no bearing whatsoever on the actual science: Paul A. Gulig: Catholics face no conflict between faith and science.

His first point is to tell the story of an obviously inept debate on the subject that occurred on campus in the 1980s. The fact that an evolution supporter grossly failed in his mission does not negate the whole subject. If that were the case, nothing would be settled by debate because there are inept people taking every side of every issue, and all one would have to do is find the worst example of support for a side to show that the point of view is wrong.

He then tells of a second alleged debate that was apparently one-sided for evolution. Again, the fact that a poorly planned event took place does not address the core issue.

I encourage you to read the whole piece. It’s a very nice take down, demonstrating just how vacuous the previous writer’s article was.

Gulig is a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of Florida.

It’s truly an honor!

May 3rd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

I’m very honored and excited to be selected as one of two teacher scholarship winners, receiving an all-expenses-paid eight-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon, hosted by the National Center for Science Education this summer! Is that just pure awesome or what?!

NCSE news release: Congratulations to the 2016 NCSE Grand Canyon Teacher Scholarship winners!

“This trip will be the adventure of a lifetime for Haught and Davis,” explained NCSE’s Steve Newton, a geologist and one of NCSE’s guides on the annual raft trip. “Teachers who work so hard for their students and the science-literate future of America deserve some time to relax on the Colorado River. But we’ll be making them work, too. The Grand Canyon is the greatest geology teaching lab in the world, and they’ll be able to explore geological processes up close, place their hands on rock layers laid down before the first multi-cellular fossils, and see how plate tectonics, erosion, volcanoes, wind, and waves built up and carved down the landscape. I can’t wait to see what lesson plans they develop based on that experience.” As part of the scholarship application, both teachers committed to produce a lesson plan and student assessment based on the trip, which NCSE will make available for other teachers to use.

Oh, man … they’re going to make me work?! I guess I’ll endure somehow.

We lost a friend

May 2nd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

krotoThere is some very sad news from over the weekend. Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize winning chemist teaching at Florida State University, passed away Saturday. He was a great friend to us here at Florida Citizens for Science. During the big fight over evolution in the state standards back in 2008, Kroto personally helped in many different ways. It was an honor to work with him. He’ll be missed.

From the National Center for Science Education’s post on his death:

Kroto was enthusiastic about evolution, writing, in a post on his website, “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is supported by an avalanche of synergistic cross-disciplinary evidence from almost every branch of the sciences: Paleontology, geology, biology, genetics, chemistry, physics etc.” And he was correspondingly concerned about creationist assaults on the teaching of evolution, telling a New Zealand newspaper that people who insert creationism into the science curriculum “really p… me off” (bowdlerism in original). His concern was not expressed only to the media. In 2008, for example, he publicly decried legislative efforts to undermine evolution education in his adopted home of Florida, as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (April 15, 2008) reported.

He had no problem speaking his mind about the evolution issue. He wrote an op-ed column for the St. Augustine Record in 2008 taking Florida legislators to task for trying to meddle in the state science standards debate: Evolution is a ‘Theory’ in Name Only.

It is disgracefully unethical for individuals who rail against the teaching of evolution to young people as a proven “fact” to accept, either for themselves or their families, the humanitarian benefits accruing from medical scientific research underpinned by the theory. Evolution is the backbone of biology. Many medical treatments including most drugs could not have been developed if previous generations of young biology and medical students had not been taught evolutionary concepts.

He’s itching for a fight

April 25th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

debateAndrew Scholberg, a freelance writer and member of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville, wrote a guest column for the Gainesville Sun entitled Gainesville’s evolution vs. creation saga. In it he laments the absence of any good evolution vs. creationism debate at the University of Florida since the 1980s. Back in the 80s, he writes, there was a debate between creationist Dr. David Kaufmann and UF philosophy professor Dr. Robert Primack. His unverified account, based on an interview with Kaufmann, claims:

When the debate ended, Primack immediately slipped out through a stage door with his tail between his legs while Kaufmann stayed in the auditorium to answer questions from the students who surrounded him, eager to hear more of his thoughts.

After the great evolution debate, the students were asking for more debates. But none of the UF evolutionists dared to debate Kaufmann, who told me, “They were hiding under their desks!”

I’m not sure that a philosophy professor was the best opponent for a die-hard creationist. But a possible alternative reason for no one else debating Kaufmann, other than fear, could be that it’s simply best not to legitimize the non-science of creationism or intelligent design by giving them the spotlight alongside real science. Or maybe the “Darwinists” have been quaking in their boots. Who knows.

I’m not familiar with this debate. I don’t believe I came across it during my research for Going Ape. Or maybe I did and decided not to include it. I only wrote about debates that had some connection to other events in my book, so perhaps I neglected it for that reason. But just now I spent some time poking around my usual research haunts and I have yet to find any news blurbs or Internet hits about this particular debate. If you know of anything I’m missing, please clue me in!

Nonetheless, Scholberg’s column is good for a laugh. For instance:

Those who still believe in evolution might as well believe that the same person could keep on winning the Powerball lottery year after year after year. Similarly, the odds against life-by-chance are so overwhelming as to be impossible. Therefore, evolution has no legitimate place in any science textbook, science class or science lecture. Darwinism is a false worldview: philosophical materialism (atheism) dressed up to look like science.

And I’m heartened to see that the reader comments are, so far, taking the side of real science.

But, according to Scholberg, Kaufmann is still available:

Kaufmann told me he’s still available to represent the creationist viewpoint in a public debate. Does any Darwinist at UF have the courage to debate him, or are they still hiding under their desks?

Good grief.

[edited to add …]

Further research (thanks, Glenn!) turned up a mid-80s article featuring Primack’s views on creationism “the Bible is not a good textbook.” And the article says he was UF foundations of education professor.

Session over; Instructional Materials bills dead

March 13th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

TextbooksThe Florida legislative session is mercifully over and the instructional materials bills we’ve been tracking are history. These ill-conceived bills would have changed the way textbooks and other educational tools are reviewed and selected, handing entirely too much power to well meaning but non-expert parents and not so well meaning, ideologically driven special interest groups. You can learn more about the bills and why there were bad for science education in our news release and series of blog posts.

I told the National Center for Science Education this weekend: “We’re fortunate and happy that these bad bills didn’t get out of the starting gate,” Florida Citizens for Science’s Brandon Haught told NCSE. “The good thing to come out of this brief fight is that a clear anti-science motivation behind these bills is now documented. The bills’ sponsors and supporters aren’t likely to give up, though. But we’ll be ready, just as we have been for a full ten years now.”

I predict that the main cheerleaders for these bills, Florida Citizens Alliance, will be back. They have a sizable network and they visited Tallahassee in person to help round up four co-sponsors on the senate bill and 19 co-sponsors on the house bill. They’re worth keeping an eye on.

On the other hand, as I told NCSE, the good thing is that Florida Citizens Alliance handed us all sorts of evidence of their anti-science views, which can be very useful in the future. And we also made some very good friends with other groups opposed to the Alliance’s antics.

You can’t have it both ways

February 18th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

I have genuine difficulty understanding a person who looks down on science and yet has no problem benefiting from it. A letter-to-the-editor writer in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal did exactly that – denigrate science while praising its products – in response to my column published Sunday. He writes:

Science. It sounds so, well, scientific. The word conjures images of brilliant, bald men in glasses and white smocks unlocking the secrets of the universe. Not quite. Mark Twain said in “Life on the Mississippi,” “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such a wholesale return of conjecture for such a trifling amount of fact.”

To those who worship science, like Brandon Haught (author of the Community Voices column in Sunday’s paper, “Don’t mix science, religion in public schools,”) this will be painful to accept — but most of science is speculation, extrapolation, or simply made up. Eventually, nearly every scientific fact turns out to be wrong. From phantom planets to phlogiston theory to luminiferous aether to phrenology, all of which were at one time generally accepted scientific facts. That’s the problem with science; you just can’t count on it.

I understand the scientific process. It’s humanities’ most valuable tool as we try to understand the universe in and around us. I value science for its amazing utility. I don’t worship it. Science in its infancy may have had more than a fair share of speculation and fantasy but it’s come a long way since then.

According to some pundits, 98 percent of scientists accept the current theories of global warming. At one time, probably 98 percent of scientists accepted the theory of spontaneous generation. Didn’t make it right.

I agree. The majority believing something doesn’t make it right. The facts do.

Of course science is useful. But to teach it in schools to the exclusion of religion and philosophy is silly. Consider the progress we have made: We have airplanes that fly faster than sound, we have vast networks of communication, we have cured many of the diseases which afflicted mankind for centuries to the extent that life expectancy is almost double what it was only 150 years ago. And yet, we are still fighting wars over the same casus belli which incited cavemen.

Wait. The writer said earlier that you can’t count on science. But now he’s listing science and technology-based achievements as good things. I’m sorry, buddy, but you can’t have it both ways. And in my column I never said religion and philosophy shouldn’t be taught. I did say that religion shouldn’t be taught as science or as an alternative to science. There’s a difference. I’m actually all for there being comparative religion courses in schools. But I seriously doubt that’s what the writer has in mind.

You want to teach science in school, feel free. I would encourage it, but let’s not discount the probability that what we teach will eventually be obsolete. The only sensible approach is to teach philosophy and religion in the classroom next door to the science lab. If we are ever to truly see significant progress in the evolution of homo sapiens, we are far more likely to accomplish it through philosophy than nebulous scientific facts.

And here he goes, back to bashing science. I don’t think anyone is saying science is necessarily going to alter who we are as human beings. I don’t think that’s ever been the stated purpose of science. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not convinced religion or philosophy will do the trick either, though. And I’d like to point out that many of the wars the writer mentioned earlier were sparked by conflicting religions.

Finally, this writer’s nonsensical response to my column actually grasped at a very small element of my piece. Regrettably, the column’s headline “Don’t mix science, religion in public schools” was misleading and missed the point of the column. I had no control over the headline. But the actual content of the column focused on who should have influence over the review and selection of instructional materials. Creationism was only mentioned toward the end. That shows you where this letter writer’s head is at.

(Cross posted at Going Ape)

Instructional Materials Bills Update

February 14th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

My column was published in the Community Voices section of today’s Daytona Beach News Journal: Don’t mix science, religion in public schools. It’s haysa rebuttal to a previous column written by a Flagler County school board member. She supported the two very bad instructional materials bills currently languishing in the Florida legislature. My piece goes out on a limb with a fun analogy inspired by the bills’ senate sponsor. Sen. Hays is a dentist, semi-retired. I felt I needed to poke him a bit while I still could. Hays announced recently that he’s not running for reelection in the senate but is instead shooting for a supervisor of elections position. He won’t be missed by us at Florida Citizens for Science. But he will be missed by me, though, because he was a reliable anti-evolution quote machine. Read some of his greatest hits in my latest Going Ape post.

As far as the bad bills are concerned, the good news is that neither one has been scheduled for a single committee hearing. The bills in their current form are essentially dead. There’s not enough time left in the legislative session for them to see any progress.

Notice I said “in their current form.” That’s because a part of the concept behind the bills is alive and now lurking as an amendment to a different bill that is moving along. This Tampa Bay Times blog has the scoop. So, the folks behind those bad instructional materials bills have managed a small victory and so have we. If the amendment survives and the bill it’s attached to passes into law, a subset of what they don’t like — “any material containing mature or adult content” — can be challenged. But I don’t see how the amendment can be stretched to apply to our main concern: science education. Here’s the amendment:

The parent of each public school student in grades 6 through 12 must be provided, for each course offered at the school in which the student is enrolled, a course syllabus with a complete listing by title of the instructional materials to be used in the course. The syllabus must identify any material containing mature or adult content and notify the parent of the procedures for objecting to his or her child’s use of a specific instructional material pursuant to s. 1006.28(1)(a)2.

What do you think?