Archive for April, 2014

Evolution in the Florida news

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Two stories featuring good ol’ evolution popped up in the Florida news.

First, a bill in the state legislature right now that would remove state government from the textbook selection process motivated a group to take to the streets to voice their opposition. AWAKE Volusia rallies against possible textbook changes

What your children read and learn in textbooks could change beginning July 1 if new legislation is passed.

And that concerns members of AWAKE Volusia, a grassroots group that is fighting not to give local school districts the right to change the information in textbooks — including religion-related changes.

AWAKE Volusia argues that the new legislation would allow each district to insert ideological and political views into public schools. This could eliminate textbooks that teach about Islam, evolution, or anything that someone believes isn’t true.

“If you’re not being taught that evolution exists … maybe your parents aren’t going to teach you,” Averetts said. “And then you go to college and take a college course, and they go over this … and people already know what they’re talking about, and you’re sitting there lost, looking at the person next to you.”

Next, there is a story in the Florida Times-Union reporting on a panel discussion at the University of North Florida devoted to evolution and religion. Not much rancor at Jacksonville meeting on evolution vs. creation.

More than 500 peopled filled the University of North Florida’s Andrew Robinson Theater Tuesday to tackle a topic known more for its conflicts and controversies than for its tendency to unite people of diverse views.

Yet the panel of speakers — theologians, scientists, doctors, historians and educators — discussed their different views about religion, science and the origin of humanity with very little conflict or controversy. No one was dogmatic or belligerent, even when they were passionate.

Chris Sanders, an IT contractor, said he would have preferred more scientific discussion about the origins of life and less religious and philosophical discussion.

“I think the goal should have been truth, but it came out like a lot of propaganda,” he said.

There was a letter to the editor published about the panel. I love this comment:

Public opinion decides questions of social mores but not questions of science.

Nope, I didn’t say that.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

A column was published today in the Tallahassee Democrat (Michael McShane: Don’t blame vouchers for poor science instruction) that agrees with my earlier column in that newspaper concerning how it’s wrong to teach creationism, but then he distorts the purpose of my column and attributes motives to me that I don’t have.

In other words, he completely missed the main point of my column, which was about the need for better accountability in voucher schools. Or maybe he purposely twisted my intentions out of whack to serve his own ends. I don’t know. In my column I was very careful to not bash voucher schools overall and even stated “Florida Citizens for Science does not take a stand for or against voucher programs.” I also didn’t blame the lack of public acceptance of evolution on voucher-accepting private schools. But if anyone reads McShane’s column without referring back to my own column, the reader would get the wrong impression that I blamed voucher schools for the proliferation of creationism.

“Gallup polling consistently finds about 45 percent of the population of the United States believing in creationism. Note, this cannot possibly be attributed to the pernicious effects of vouchers, or private schools writ large, as approximately one half of 1 percent of students participate in voucher programs and at no point in the last 50 years have more than 12 percent or so of students attended private schools.”

OK. I have no problem with that statement, but it doesn’t address anything I said in my column. In my column I noted that there was an effort in the state legislature to expand a voucher program. Then I said that some, not all, voucher schools teach creationism and they get away with it because there is no accountability. Finally, I argued that any expansion of the voucher program should include an accountability requirement. At no time did I say that voucher schools were the source of the general public’s belief in creationism.

“But on the specific issue of creationism, the explanation is relatively straightforward. Public schools teach creationism because they are, at their core, political institutions. They are governed by elected officials. If a majority of the voting public in a particular jurisdiction believes in creationism, they will advocate for creationism to be taught in the public schools.”

That is only partially true. I’m sure some teachers in strongly conservative school districts get away with teaching creationism simply because no one complains. But any outright, public advocacy for creationism would be quickly shut down because it’s illegal to teach creationism in public school science classrooms, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve written about many such attempts here in Florida in my book. McShane has no idea what he’s talking about.

“So what do you do if you are a person who lives in an area where the preponderance of the voting population believes in creationism? If you’re wealthier, you can move to the attendance zone of a school that teaches evolution or pay for your child to attend a private school that offers the correct interpretation of scientific history. If you’re poor, you’re out of luck. You will be legally compelled to send your child to a public school that teaches something you know is wrong.

“That is, unless your state has a voucher program.”

Wrong. If your child is being taught creationism in a public school science classroom, you complain. You talk with the teacher and let that teacher know that teaching creationism is illegal. If that doesn’t work, you move up to the principal. Then you move up to the school board and superintendent. Finally, if all else fails, you set a lawsuit in motion. Yes, you can move to a voucher school (hopefully, one that has a good science program). But that’s not your only option.

McShane, if you want to be a cheerleader for voucher schools, go for it. But I wish you wouldn’t use a distorted interpretation of my views and a gross lack of understanding of how creationism in public schools can be handled to do it.

How did I do?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

You can check out a recording of my interview last night on the Marc Bernier radio show at the show’s audio library. I think it went well overall … except for when I got severely tongue tied over my publishing company’s name. I’m so sorry University Press of Florida! I’ll do better next time; I swear!

Interesting upcoming events

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

— The Clay County Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State will host guest speaker (and Florida Citizens for Science board member) David Campbell May 10 for his talk “The Evolution of Creationism:  A Tale of Willful Ignorance and Tactical Reinvention.”

— This should be interesting: Civil Discourse Series at University of North Florida to touch on evolution in next program.

OneJax will take up the subject [evolution] — in a mannerly way — as the next program in its Civil Discourse Series. This one is titled “Faith & Reason: The Origin of Humanity.” The interfaith group is co-sponsoring the event from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the University of North Florida’s Andrew Robinson Theater.

The panel discussion will present diverse perspectives on when and how the human species originated. John Delaney, UNF president, will be the moderator.

— I will be on the Marc Bernier radio show on Tuesday for an hour starting at 5 p.m. You can listen live online and also listen to an archived recording posted later.

4/29 5:00 In Studio Appearance by local author Brandon Haught to discuss his new book – Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom

“Going Ape” and “Filthy Dreamers”

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

I hope I’ll see some of you this Saturday when I give a talk about my book “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom” after a screening of the documentary “Filthy Dreamers”. The film and my book are packed with lively descriptions of efforts here in Florida to remove evolution instruction from schools or balance it with some form of creationism. But all of those anti-evolution efforts (there have been and continue to be many) prompt a relevant question: Is evolution actually being taught in public schools? That question will be the focus of my talk.

The event will be at noon at the UCF Center for Emerging Media. All the details are at my previous blog post (including the parking pass you will need).

“Your Inner Fish” Part 3

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Part three of Neil Shubin’s three part series, Your Inner Fish, will air tonight on Wednesday April 23rd at 10: pm (EST) on your local Florida PBS station. This week’s program is titled “Your Inner monkey” and delves back into our primate past. Shubin travels from the badlands of Ethiopia, where the famous hominid skeletons “Lucy” and “Ardi” were found, to a forest canopy in our own state, Florida, home to modern primates. I’m sure this program will further fuel the ongoing debate about evolution and several bloggers on this site will find reasons to cross swords.

Teaching children that science is corrupt

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Eileen Roy, an Alachua County School Board member, wrote an op-ed for the Gainesville Sun arguing against using state tax money to fund vouchers that go to bad science classes in some religious schools.

It is an irony that the mantra in Tallahassee is that we want our students to be educated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses and to be prepared to compete in the global economy. Teaching children that science is corrupt is no way to equip them for the modern world and will cause them and society future harm.

How about we send Ms. Roy some messages of support for helping bring this issue to the public’s attention.

Going Ape in the news

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

A story about me and my new book was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal today. The piece also features quotes from Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith and Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger.

John Stemberger, president of the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, said he doesn’t want teachers to skip the theory, but he wants them to point out its weaknesses, including the lack of fossils that show the arch of evolution. Teachers also should balance evolution with other theories, like intelligent design or the idea that an asteroid brought life to earth, he said.

“Our position is that evolution is a leading scientific theory, but it is a flawed theory and it should be taught with a critical analysis,” Stemberger said.

I try to emphasize that even though I have a strong opinion about the controversy, the book is neutral.

He said he feels it’s crucial for teachers to cover evolution, but don’t expect him to chronicle the history of Florida’s science instruction from that point of view.

“I was very, very careful to tell the story from a neutral standpoint,” Haught said.

“My book is about history, but it’s also about the present,” Haught said. “I think that’s very important for folks to get a feel for how it happened. This war is not over and it’s not going to be over for many years to come.”