Archive for February, 2009

Reading between the lines

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

New Scientist magazine has an article up: How to spot a hidden religious agenda.

As creationists in the US continue to lose court battles over attempts to have intelligent design taught as science in federally funded schools, their strategy has been forced to… well, evolve. That means ensuring that references to pseudoscientific concepts like ID are more heavily veiled. So I thought I’d share a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science’s clothing.

Press Release: “Critical Analysis” bill

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Florida Citizens for Science Press Release:
“Critical Analysis” Bill Undermines Florida Science Education

Florida Citizens for Science is disappointed that Senator Stephen Wise has chosen to waste the valuable time of his fellow legislators and possibly deepen a school district’s financial difficulties by filing a bill challenging the teaching of evolution in our state’s public schools (SB 2396). Florida’s schools and the state as a whole are floundering in financial turmoil, and citizens are demanding our lawmakers focus their attention on this crisis. There is no appetite for embarrassing our state yet again.

Wise’s antievolution bill is an insult to citizens who are tired of stomping over the same ground over and over again. The Florida Board of Education and last year’s state legislature have already debated the teaching of evolution ad nauseam. To insist on bringing this up again is irresponsible because it will distract our lawmakers from the important tasks at hand, and could burden one of our school districts with a million dollar legal bill.

Mandating “critical analysis” of evolution has been done before in other states with disastrous results. We don’t need to put Florida through the same painful learning process that Ohio had already gone through a few years ago. Once the work began on deciding how to implement “critical analysis” there, it was discovered that the concept was nothing more than an attempt to impose creationist teachings. The proposed lesson plan was riddled with distortions of scientific knowledge/methods pulled directly from old creationist arguments. Ohio eventually dropped the whole idea of “critical analysis” evolution and washed their hands of it.

Florida will head down that same beaten path if SB 2396 is made into law. Furthermore, Sen. Wise has made clear in public statements his desire to slip intelligent design creationism into our schools. That had also already been done in Pennsylvania where a federal court case in 2005 determined that the teaching of intelligent design was unconstitutional due to First Amendment violations. It’s clear that Sen. Wise believes that his critical analysis bill will open the way for intelligent design creationism. This puts our school districts at financial risk! The Florida ACLU already indicated that it would pursue a lawsuit if intelligent design creationism gets into the classroom. The Pennsylvania federal court case cost a school district one million dollars. Does Sen. Wise really want a Florida school district to foot such a massive bill?

We encourage lawmakers to discard this irresponsible and costly bill.

“Critical analysis” bill filed by Wise today

Friday, February 27th, 2009

All that bluster about mandating intelligent design creationism was much ado about nothing, I guess. Today, Senator Stephen Wise filed SB 2396:

Educational Instruction; Requires that the instructional staff of a  public school teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the  scientific theory of evolution and certain governmental, legal, and  civic-related principles.

Intersting strategy. First of all, Wise is asking that a current law be modified. That law says:

Members of the instructional staff of the public schools, subject to the rules of the State Board of Education and the district school board, shall teach efficiently and faithfully, using the books and materials required to that meet the highest standards for professionalism and historic accuracy, following the prescribed courses of study, and employing approved methods of instruction, the following:

There is a long list of specific subjects that follow, such as the Declaration of Independence, flag education, history of the Holocaust, health education, study of Hispanic contributions to the United States, etc. Wise wants the following inserted right at the top of that list:

A thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.

He also wants inserted a little further down the following:

The historical context in which the Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed; the purposes, functions, and limitations of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the federal, state, and local governments; the significance of common law, state and federal constitutional law, statutory law, procedural law, and local ordinances or codes; an understanding of important legal principles, including the rule of law, stare decisis, and the federal supremacy clause; and the duties that all citizens share in order to know and protect the rule of law.

So, what he has done here is coupled “critical analysis” of evolution with civics education in one bill.

Florida’s Greatest Menace V: Brainwashing Students

Friday, February 27th, 2009

(This is the fifth part in the Florida’s Greatest Menace series. For an introduction to the series, go here.)

A new leader

Waging a battle against the teaching of evolution has but one requirement: a leader with a fire in the belly and time to devote to the cause. The 1920s in Florida featured “The Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan, Bible Crusaders of America leader George Washburn, state Representative Leo Stalnaker, and Florida Purity League founder L.A. Tatum. There are always people around who are eager to join in the antievolution fight, but it takes someone special to rally the troops and make something happen. When antievolution efforts fizzled in the 1930s and went dormant for the next few decades, maybe there just wasn’t a striking personality to take up the cause. Antievolution sentiments are always evident among the general population no matter the time period, but the leadership apparently wasn’t available during this lull. All of that changed in the 1970s. Enter Rev. Clarence E. Winslow.

Winslow was about 64 years old when he first made waves about evolution in 1971. He was a retired minister from the First Church of the Nazarene, Clearwater, and became a chaplain of the Kenneth City Police Department. He had been doing a lot of reading in his free time, and was kicked into action by a newspaper article that reported on anthropological research of the time. The article overall upset him, but what really fired him up was this quote: “Dr. Russel H. Tuttle, a University of Chicago anthropologist, subscribed to the theory that man’s forbearers were a special species of apes which began walking upright soon after leaving the trees.” The article went on to say that some scientists thought man never went through a so-called “knuckle walking” phase, while others said man did.

All of that was offensive nonsense, Winslow thought. He wrote a letter to the Pinellas County School Board, citing that news article and following it up by saying “The Genesis record indicates that God created Adam and Eve as adults and pronounced them husband and wife.” And so began Winslow’s crusade to battle the evils of evolution. Yes, he did think evolution was horribly immoral, echoing some of William Jennings Bryan’s sentiments from the now distant past. We’ll sample some of Winslow’s justifications for his stance in a little bit. But right now we’re going to look at how one man can make things happen when he takes the reins. (more…)

Earliest Human Footprints Discovered

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Ancient footprints found at Rutgers’ Koobi Fora Field School show that some of the earliest humans walked like us and did so on anatomically modern feet 1.5 million years ago. Published as the cover story in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Science, the anatomical interpretation is the conclusion of Rutgers Professor John W.K. Harris* and an international team of colleagues.

Based on size of the footprints and their modern anatomical characteristics, the authors attribute the prints to the hominid Homo ergaster, or early Homo erectus as it is more generally known. This was the first hominid to have had the same body proportions (longer legs and shorter arms) as modern Homo sapiens. Various H. ergaster or H. erectus remains have been found in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, with dates consistent with the Ileret footprints.

Let’s wait and see what kind of mental gymnastics the IDers will try to perform in a attempt to explain this discovery.

Proposal Misses the Mark

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Our friend Paul Cottle had a piece published in the Florida Times-Union a while ago, but the paper had sliced and diced his work quite a bit. So, I’m posting here Paul’s original submission for your reading pleasure.

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Senator Wise’s Proposal on Intelligent Design Misses the Mark
Paul Cottle, Florida State University Professor of Physics
and Member, Florida Science Standards Committee
February 11, 2009

The legislation on Intelligent Design that Senator Wise described in Sunday’s Times Union will provide the strongest challenge yet to the treatment of evolution education in Florida’s new science standards.

But Senator Wise’s proposal does not represent the viewpoints of all Christians.  In fact, the Catholic Church to which my family belongs strongly supports the science of evolution.  Last year, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando published an op-ed piece in The Orlando Sentinel endorsing the teaching of evolution while at the same time rejecting the notion that “evolution requires a materialistic or an atheistic understanding of the human person or of the entire universe.”  Indeed, Intelligent Design is being excluded from a Vatican-sponsored congress on the evolution debate being held this spring.

Senator Wise’s proposal does not use the word “science” in the same way that the vast majority of scientists do.  Most scientists regard science as a way of explaining phenomena we observe in our laboratories and elsewhere in the universe using the laws of nature.  As Matt Soergel reported in his article, Intelligent Design advocates assume that “life is so complex that it couldn’t occur naturally but must have had an intelligent force working to make it happen.”

Finally, Senator Wise’s proposal does not address the issue that concerns Florida’s parents most:  the possibility that a science teacher (or any teacher) could use their privileged place in a child’s world to change that child’s beliefs regarding religion.  This is the primary concern of parents on both sides of the evolution education debate.  Evolution is a flashpoint for this concern, but there are certainly other opportunities in the public school curriculum for a teacher determined to change students’ beliefs to try to do so.

Hence, Senator Wise and the legislature should leave the evolution standards alone and instead send Governor Crist a bill that simply says that Florida’s public schools should be tolerant of students’ religious backgrounds and that no teacher may denigrate a student’s religious beliefs, regardless of the curriculum subject being addressed.  It need not mention the topic of evolution at all.  Fine science teachers already take care to respect students’ religious beliefs while providing instruction in evolution, and such legislation would acknowledge their efforts.

Odds and ends

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

— Iowa is contending with their own “Evolution Academic Freedom Act“. Is it just me, or does it seem like there are more of these things out there this year?

Some representatives from Iowa’s regent universities are calling for the state Legislature to kill HF 183, “The Evolution Academic Freedom Act,” introduced Feb. 3 by Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll.

A statement released Tuesday includes a petition with more than 200 signatures by faculty opposing HF 183 from  Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, as well as from 17 other Iowa universities, colleges and community colleges, seven primary and secondary schools, and three research organizations.

— Astronaut returns something he had borrowed from Florida school.

The astronaut brought back the orange and blue school flag that he took into space with him during his recent trip. It was designed by K-Kids member student Logan Chute, whom principal Sue Stoops declared to now be “an international space designer.” K-Kids is a middle school service group affiliated with Kiwanis Clubs.

— The ocean researchers at the University of South Florida have a new toy.

“We don’t know as much about the ocean as we should know,” said William Hogarth, dean of USF’s College of Marine Science. But with the state-of-the-art equipment on the WeatherBird II, USF will be closer to understanding red tide, climate change, the increasing acidification of the ocean and other underwater mysteries.

— ARF is one of Florida State University’s best kept secrets. Studying the Antarctic in Florida? Yup!

More than half of the 10,000-square-foot, single story facility – 6,000 square feet, to be precise – is devoted to temperature-sensitive storage compartments containing core samples from Antarctica. Inside the freezer compartment it’s an icy 28 degrees below zero, to simulate the permafrost and dry valleys of Antarctica.

Tonight in Jacksonville

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Florida Community College at Jacksonville offers a Scholars’ Roundtable with Michael Ruse, Ph.D., professor of Philosophy and Zoology at Florida State University. Subject: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design.

7 p.m. tonight at Florida Community College South Campus Nathan H. Wilson Center for the Arts 11901 Beach Blvd. Free and open to the public.

From a newspaper article about the event:

But he said that evolution should not be competing with intelligent design.

“There’s two separate answer about what you are doing which just aren’t answers of the same kind, they are dealing with different issues,” Ruse said that science and religion are not necessarily at odds.”

He does have his view, “I happen to think that intelligent design theory is religion by another name,” Ruse said.