Archive for February, 2016

You can’t have it both ways

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

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

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

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?

Yet another piece siding with the bad bills appears

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

You’ve got to hand it to the gang supporting those horrible instructional materials bills. They have influential friends and they’re not afraid to use them. Flagler School Board member Janet McDonald wrote a lengthy Community Voices piece in the Daytona Beach News Journal: Give parents curriculum tools. Of course, it touts all the supposed merits of the bills and moans over their mistreatment in Tallahassee.

The implementation of this law has been met with resistance in some districts, especially when community members choose to voice positions on materials in use. Across the state, parents and community members have identified inappropriate instructional materials relative to age and content, religious or political indoctrination, revisionist history, or pornography appearing in materials chosen from state-suggested lists (links to examples available on

I’ve written a rebuttal this evening and shipped it to the newspaper. I’ll let you know if it’s picked up. This is right here in my backyard!

A columnist in their corner

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

The group behind the two very bad “instructional materials” bills currently languishing in the state legislature apparently has a newspaper columnist in their corner. I don’t believe I’ve read Brent Batten’s work before in the Naple Daily News but I’m told that he’s a conservative. As such, Batten has written an article about how the bills are stalled. He goes on at length about the alleged benefits of the bills. And he barely mentions one single objection (out of the many we in opposition have) while quickly dismissing it.

Have a look at the heavily one-sided piece here: No guarantee of book bill’s passage. There is a comments feature on the column but you have to sign up to leave one, I believe.

They’re not dead yet & Getting the word out there

Monday, February 1st, 2016

In my previous post I said that the “instructional materials” bills in the state legislature don’t look like they’re going anywhere. But I also said that they can’t be considered dead yet. I was right: ‘No bill is dead’ in Florida Senate Education, chairman says.

Chairman John Legg told the Gradebook the bills still have a chance to move.

“We are in Week 4 of session. No bill is dead,” Legg said, noting his committee is likely to meet at least twice more.

Florida Citizens for Science gets a brief mention:

He said the instructional materials bill by Sen. Alan Hays is very complicated, with many details that could affect school and district decisions. Florida Citizens Alliance wants to see “revisionist history” removed from materials, for instance, while Florida Citizens for Science has battled the proposals as an effort to put creationism into science textbooks.

But even if the bills finally appear on the committees’ schedules, there are a few more committee stops they have to make before they can be presented to the full House and Senate.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Smith, Florida Citizens for Science president, is not standing idly by. He has a letter in the Lakeland Ledger voicing our opposition to the bills. I’ll reproduce it in full here:

As a taxpayer, would you like to see your own school district throw away millions of dollars and countless hours of media attention, just to appease ideologically driven special interest groups?

Disguised by the smoke and mirrors diatribe of the “local control” mantra, Sen. Alan Hays’ bill (SB 1018 and the companion bill HB 899) would open the doors to endless and expensive headaches over what kinds of textbooks and other materials should be used in Florida’s classrooms.

The language in Hays’ bill seems innocent and full of taxpayer empowerment.

For example, parents can currently complain to the local school board if there’s anything objectionable in a textbook. But the bill, if passed into law, would give any taxpayer the additional superpower of taking the complaint to court if he or she didn’t get what they wanted out of the school board. Hays might as well call this bill the “2016 Trial Lawyers Employment Act.”

The bill would require instructional materials to “provide a non inflammatory, objective and balanced viewpoint on all issues,” which sounds great.

However, the reality is that some people will view biological evolution, which is accepted solid science, as inflammatory, when presented “unbalanced” by other non-science alternatives in the textbooks.

One of the main organizations who helped write and promote these bills – Florida Citizens Alliance – has already gone on record saying as much. They are also opposed to students learning about climate change.

Perhaps another appropriate name for Hay’s bill would be the “Special Interest Entitlement Act.”

I’m sure creationists and global-warming deniers will rejoice!

Jonathan P. Smith
Florida Citizens for Science

not dead