Archive for April, 2008

Asking for prayers … but it’s not about religion

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The deceptively named “academic freedom” bills’ sponsors have gone to great lengths to claim the bills have nothing to do with religion. But who out there is supporting these bills and wants to see them pass? The Florida Baptist Witness, of course. And the Florida Prayer Network is involved now, too. The Gradebook blog writes about a “prayer alert” the Network sent out:

For the “academic freedom” bills, the group asks that people “pray that a difference in bill language between the House and the Senate will resolved quickly (and) pray for wisdom for the bill sponsors, Senator Ronda Storms and Representative Alan Hays.”

More good editorials/columns

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Florida newspapers continue to editorialize on the side of good science. The Daytona Beach News Journal: Anti-evolution bills defy science

Lawmakers don’t seem to be questioning the validity of “alternative theories” to evolution. Instead, they’re bickering over how far they should push public schools to allow those alternatives — which don’t qualify as valid scientific theories — to be taught. In the process, lawmakers strain the credibility of an education system that already ranks among the most distressed in the nation.

And they try their constituents’ patience. Those listening to the debate on the House version of the evolution bill undoubtably came away with a poorer opinion of their elected leaders; the discussion was rancorous, peppered with sanctimony and disdain for established scientific standards.

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” column: Seeking ignorance in the name of God

The Christians for whom I am attempting to speak do indeed believe that God created the heavens and the earth, including the process of evolution, by which we have arrived at this unique place in the history of the world. We also believe that God has spoken to us through the inspired words of Scripture. And we even believe that God continues to hear our prayers, however imperfect our understanding of that phenomenon may be. But what we do not believe is that God created the universe in a literal six-day period a relative few thousand years ago. We also do not believe that mentioning God’s name in public a few more times each day will cure the ills of our country. And we do not fear the theory of evolution being taught to our children in the public schools.

Christians have no reason to fear evolution, and in fact have much to celebrate when considering the wonder of biodiversity, of which we humans are an integral part. But we should fear ignorance in God’s name. One, because it weakens the place of God in our world; and two, because legislation such as the Evolution Academic Freedom Act will inevitably invite some students to ignore the preponderance of evidence supporting the process of evolution if they so wish, weakening their own standing.

Fate of the bills

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

What will happen with the differing versions of the deceptively named “academic freedom” bills now? (The two pages we need to keep an eye on are this one (House) and this one (Senate).)  The Senate and House approved very different versions of the bill, and each bill sponsor seems convinced his or her own version is the best one. With four days left, it’s a good bet that the House version will get nowhere in the Senate. But the Tampa Tribune reports that Senator Storms might be able to ship her version back to the House for a second look.

Monday evening, Hays said he thinks his version is the better one, but he will try to pass the original bill. He had not polled House members about it yet, he said, but is hoping that the Senate will send back the bill quickly and that House leaders will give him ample time to persuade enough Republicans to vote for Storms’ version.

“Our Democratic colleagues are vociferous in their opposition” to either plan, Hays said, but “I believe we can bring this home.”

Asked about the possibility of a last-minute save for the legislation during this final week of session, Storms said, “I believe in miracles.”

However, the St. Petersburg Times got a quote from the House majority whip, who notes that the House lawmakers aren’t crazy about the Senate version:

But Monday’s lengthy debate on the House floor might have been all for naught anyway.

Legislative procedure requires that the House bill now go back to the Senate for consideration.

Unless lawmakers there accept it, the bill cannot go to the governor to sign into law.

Storms said Monday that she knows her chamber won’t pass Hays’ proposal, so she will ask the House to consider and vote on her version.

“I have no choice,” she said. “And I believe in miracles.”

Hays said he’ll try to get Storms’ bill heard before session ends Friday, but he conceded it will take “a lot of lifting.”

Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, House majority whip, said there is “not much appetite” in the House for Storms’ proposal.

“I think we made our position clear already,” she said. “The members are uncomfortable with the Senate version.”

So, we have to pin our hopes on the conflict between the House and Senate lasting four days. With larger issues looming before the legislators in a short time frame, I like our chances. A few phone calls to House Republicans expressing your opposition to the Senate bill couldn’t hurt, though.

Early news reports

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Accounts of the House vote are already hitting the news:

Palm Beach Post: Florida House approves evolution bill

Gov. Charlie Crist dropped in on the House press gallery during the two-hour debate this morning and showed little enthusiasm for the bill, which opponents argue would open a backdoor for creationism to be taught public schools.

Asked if he believed in evolution, Crist said, “I believe in lot of things. We should have the freedom to have a good exchange of ideas.”

But is legislation needed to guarantee that exchange? “I’m not so sure,” Crist said.

[Rep. Carl] Domino compared the bill to conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landing was faked and that the Holocaust never happened.

“There are a lot of strange things out there that I don’t want my teachers teaching,” Domino. “I don’t want my teachers just teaching their opinion about things.”

The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Alan Hays of Umatilla, insisted the theory of evolution “has holes in it.”

“No one has any record – no fossils have been found, no eyewitnesses have seen any species in transition from one to another,” Hays said.

Hays said he wasn’t trying to include creationism in science classes, but could not name a scientific alternative to evolution.

Sun-Sentinel: Florida House passes bill ordering ‘critical analysis’ of evolution in schools

“This bill does not permit, nor authorize, nor allow, the teaching of creationism or intelligent design,” said Hays, R-Umatilla. “This bill does not permit the teaching of religion in the classroom.”

But whether the state-mandated “critical analysis” of Darwin’s theory would include alternatives like intelligent design would be left to teachers.

The bill, called “The Evolution Academic Freedom Act,” is needed because teachers are fearful of presenting a critical view of evolution, said Hays.

However, no teachers in Florida have filed complaints about their lessons on evolution, according to the state Department of Education.

House Republicans say their version is “simpler and more straightforward than the Senate bill on the subject of evolution. Also, unlike the Senate bill, this bill does not create any new ‘rights’ for teachers,” according to memo from the House majority office.

But the Senate seems unlikely to accept the House version, since that chamber already rejected that approach last week.

News-Press: Florida House approves bill protecting teachers, students who challenge evolution

“This bill shows conclusively that bad bills can turn legislators into monkeys. This is silly legislation,” said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, a college professor. House Speaker pro-tempore Marty Bowen, R-Haines City, admonished him to stick to debating the issues, rather than name-calling.

Orlando Sentinel: “Evolving” academic freedom bill clears the House

“I don’t want religion taught to my daughters or grandchildren in the classroom either,” said House sponsor Alan Hays of Umatilla.

“But unfortunately, too many people, thanks to the Supreme Court’s distortion of the First Amendment, too many people are afraid to even mention the theory of intelligent design.”

House Democrats, though, tried several times Monday to pin Hays down on whether teachers would now be shielded from disciplinary action if they tried to teach full-blown religious beliefs as a form of “critical analysis” of evolution.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, asked that a series of questions with Hays be “spread” into the House Journal – a tactic usually employed when lawmakers want the intent of a bill to be read into the record for future court interpretation.

Others said the bill was likely to wind up in court if it becomes law.

“I would think your profession would welcome that,” Hays shot back to one Democratic lawyer in the House.

A Fox affiliate has a quote from the Discovery Institute: Bill Requires ‘Critical Analysis’ of Evolution

The Senate last week passed a bill based on model “academic freedom” legislation from the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, a Seattle-based think tank that supports intelligent design research. The Senate bill would prohibit school officials from penalizing teachers who challenge evolution with “scientific information.”

The House removed that language from the bill and replaced it with the “critical analysis” requirement. That’s also acceptable to the center, but it prefers the Senate version.

The House’s insistance on language the Senate already has rejected left John West, the center’s associate director, perplexed.

“It makes me wonder whether some of the people who are for it are actually trying to scuttle it,” West said. He’s worried because the legislative session is set to end Friday. If the two chambers cannot resolve their differences in the remaining four days, the bill will die.

Release: Response to today’s vote

Monday, April 28th, 2008

The following was sent out to the media today:

Response to today’s House vote passing the deceptively named “academic freedom” bill.

April 28, 2008
Contact: Brandon Haught, Florida Citizens for Science
bhaught@flascience.org / www.flascience.org / (Media Page available)

Rep. D. Alan Hays wants to know what people are afraid of when they stand in opposition to his deceptively named “academic freedom” bill.

We are afraid of the stunting effect this legislation will have on science education, as students will be exposed to old, discredited arguments against evolution that have their roots in religious protestations against that science, and be misled into thinking those arguments have the same weight as the real scientific findings. This will hamper their ability to succeed in the scientific field in college and beyond. Florida public school teachers are given free reign by Hays’ bill to espouse personal belief dressed up to look like science, and, whether intentionally or not, confuse students as to what science actually does and says.

We are afraid of the corruption of the very phrase “critical analysis,” using it as a political sledgehammer, no different than wrapping oneself in an American flag and denouncing anyone opposed to your personal ideas as unpatriotic.

We are afraid of people like Rep. Hays, who clearly demonstrate a profound ignorance of science and yet propose laws to regulate that subject.

We are afraid that a Florida school district will face a legal fight that will cost millions of wasted taxpayer dollars, exactly like what happened during a 2005 high profile court case in Dover, Pa. It should be noted that the idea of intelligent design was deceptively passed off in public schools then as scientific, but was later proven to be just the opposite.

Yes, Rep. Hays, we are afraid. But not for the reasons you claim.

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House vote

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Sorry, folks, I wasn’t able to watch the entire debate before the vote. I just caught bits and pieces. So, I can’t give my usual full summary. However, the snippets I did hear sounded just like what we’ve already heard in previous debates. I’m getting about tired of hearing the “what are you afraid of” line.

Final vote: 71-43. Bill passes. [edited to add: It looks like some votes came in a little late. Vote right now stands at 72-44.]

Now we have to see whether the different House and Senate versions can be worked out.

Final week

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Welcome to the final week of the state legislative session. Today will most likely see the final vote in the House on the anti-evolution bill, so keep an eye on the bill’s page to find out the end result. I don’t anticipate any surprises there.

What’s happened so far: The Senate’s deceptively named “academic freedom” bill (SB 2692) sailed through its committee hearings and floor vote. Despite spirited debate and opposition from Senate democrats, the bill was still easily approved and shipped over to the House. Meanwhile, the House’s bill (HB1483) started off as a carbon copy of the Senate one. But once it hit the Schools and Learning committee, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hays, offered a complete revision. The longer original bill was swapped out for a single sentence to be inserted in law, requiring a “critical analysis” of evolution. As in the Senate, House democrats were vocal against the bill, regardless of form. The bill reached the full House, but since the Senate bill had already been approved and was now before the House, Rep. Hays did a little bill juggling. He formally dumped his bill and instead took up the Senate bill, but then stripped the Senate bill content and replaced it with his House bill single line text (House page for the Senate bill). From my outsider, novice point of view that was a strange move. House democrats were able to successfully tweak Hays’ bill by adding the word scientific to the sentence. That bill is now up for its final vote in the House.

Future moves: First, the House has to vote on the bill. Barring any earth-shattering surprises, the bill should be approved. That creates a dilemma. The approved Senate version is completely different from the House version. The two will then have to be reconciled. It should be noted that when the Senate bill was voted on, its sponsor, Sen. Storms, offered a last-minute amendment to change the bill text to match the shorter House version. That attempt failed. As far as working out the differences in the two bills, the St. Petersburg Times education blog noted: “Key senators have indicated they did not expect to take up the measure again if it drastically differs from their already approved bill.” In a more colorful statement, a Herald Tribune article said, “Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who voted for the evolution bill and spoke in favor of it, was more blunt about the shrinking time frame. He said Hays ‘must be hitting the sauce if he thinks he’s going to send the bill back here.’”

Something to be afraid of: A common refrain of the bill sponsors is why are people afraid of critical analysis of evolution? If it’s such a rock solid theory, then schools should welcome the critical analysis. What do you have to fear? Here’s a shocking admission for you: we are afraid. But it’s not fear of a good, scientific examination. That’s not what folks like Hays are offering. We are afraid of manufactured controversy and unscientific ideas being presented in a science class where students who have never been exposed to the smelly crap of “creation science,” or “intelligent design” could be confused and misled into believing there is something wrong with the science in their textbooks. The purpose of this so-called critical analysis is to sow doubt where there is no legitimate, scientific doubt. As was seen in Dover, Pa., this critical analysis is dressed up to look like science, when it is actually nothing more than a Trojan horse, completely devoid of anything resembling real science. Unfortunately, it took an expensive federal court case to bring the nonsense there to a stop.

What will happen by the end of the week? I have no idea. I guess we’ll find out together.

Reaction sent to media

Friday, April 25th, 2008

The following reaction was sent to the media earlier today following the anti-evolution bill debate in the Florida House. The St. Petersburg Times education blog, the Gradebook, has already linked to it.

Florida Citizens for Science response to today’s House debate on HB 1483 and SB 2692 concerning the teaching of evolution.

Florida Citizens for Science commends Rep. Martin Kiar for his attempt to control Rep. D. Alan Hays’ misguided, uninformed bill that attempts to regulate how the subject of evolution is taught in the public school classroom. Rep. Hays’ own comments condemn him to being a complete fool when it comes to matters of science. He claims that his bill has nothing to do with religion, and yet the off-kilter things he says about science are obviously straight out of creationist literature.

His claim that there are no transitional fossils clearly illustrates his lack of knowledge about the current state of the fossil evidence. Natural history museums across this country and around the world are packed full of transitional fossils. Florida Citizens for Science will gladly pay for Rep. Hays’ admission price to a museum, such as perhaps the Florida Museum of Natural History, and provide a working biologist as his tour guide. That museum’s Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land is outstanding! Rep. Hays is in desperate need of such a fact-finding trip. He holds a cartoon version of evolution in his head that is completely at odds with the reality. He actually demands that science produce some chimera creature, such as in his own words a half fly/half monkey. No biologist would ever propose that such a creature exists. This gross distortion of science is a common creationist tactic, which Rep. Hays is wielding with gusto.

Many lawmakers today wanted to know what scientists have to fear from critical analysis. Nothing. If the bill does not pass, that does not mean that critical analysis will be stifled in any way. It happens right now in the science classroom, and will continue to happen. These lawmakers are setting up a red herring of “what are you afraid of”? If Hays’ carnival funhouse mirror version of evolution is what he’s basing his critical analysis on, then I can see why he is confused. It is offensive that a person who has such a dismal understanding of science would dare to write a law regulating that science. It’s no different than him saying the sun rises in the North and then trying to write a law based on that childish notion.

His response to there being no controversy in the scientific community over the fact of evolution was to direct lawmakers to the Expelled movie. Hays has swallowed whole the story fed to him by the Discovery Institute of Seattle, Wash. The controversy, such as it is, is all public relations and completely manufactured. The website expelledexposed.com provides proof of this.

Rep. Shelley Vana was correct in cautioning against having this debate concerning evolution. It shows that Florida is woefully stuck in the dark ages, and most certainly will drive away the high-tech scientific research industries the state has been courting for years.

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