The slow burn memo

A previous post announced that Mr. Gibbs would be releasing an updated version of a legal memo cautioning the state board of education against getting too cozy with evolution in the new draft of the state science standards. It turns out that his partner in crime Francis Grubbs is the one who actually wrote this new memorandum, which was shipped out yesterday to the Board of Education. (Reported by The Gradebook.)

Grubbs’ memorandum is a well-crafted religious rant disguised as some type of peace offering. It has the sense of a slick defense lawyer trying his hardest to muddy the waters and cast just enough doubt on the case to make the jury wonder if the sky really is blue and then hammer home a whopper of a closing statement about the sky falling.

What do I mean about well crafted? It’s disingenuous in how it starts off in the first paragraph saying that Grubbs has no desire to remove evolution. He then says that: “It’s time for quieter voices to engage …” as if to say that his opposition is the raving lunatic. This lulls the reader into believing that this memo is going to be all about calm reason. Nice try, Grubbs.

The next part is actually a halfway decent survey of what science is all about. It’s tentative. It’s based on what’s testable. It’s based on logical thinking. Nonetheless, Grubbs is quietly stirring up the mud. Notice how he makes the point: “Note very carefully this limits science to what is observable, measureable, and testable.” And he also says: “If this Florida’s proposed benchmark is followed the students must be carefully instructed how to discern the limits of science, and when a hypothesis or theory stretches beyond the domain of science.” We’re starting to glimpse where Grubbs is going.

He mentions that evolution is never referred to in the new draft standards as a theory. I’ll have to give him that one, as I just did a search through the standards and found that he is correct. But then he derails into loony territory when he supposes that this is because those who wrote the standards have an ulterior motive behind this. “This omission seems both disingenuous and demonstrative of a possible underlying unscientific agenda …” I can actually understand someone jumping to this conclusion if it was just one or two people who worked on the standards. But at least 58 framers and writers worked on this document. Does Grubbs seriously think that this diverse group of professionals is involved in a conspiracy? That’s where Grubbs loses all credibility. And it gets worse.

Grubbs doesn’t like how the standards are concrete in their treatment of evolution. Rather than the standards saying that the fossil records support humans evolving from earlier species, he wants to insert the weasel words “seem” and “may.” Any place he sees the word evolution, he wants to knock its status down a peg or two. Why stop there, though, Grubbs? Why not have benchmark SC.8.E.1.1 say: “Recognize that light from the nearest star seems to take a few years to arrive. The trip to the star might take the fastest rocket hundreds of years”? But, no, Grubbs is only concerned about evolution. All that other science stuff is OK by him.

Next, Grubbs attacks the Big Ideas of evolution and diversity. Here he tries to separate small changes over time from long term evolution. Sure, we can see changes in life, but all that remote common ancestor stuff is just plain fantasy, he complains. He trots out irreducible complexity without actually using the term, which is essentially an idea dead on arrival.

OK, a whole bunch of evidence supporting evolution is outlined in the draft standards. Grubbs has even quoted several of these benchmarks while suggesting they be tweaked here and there to make them sound a bit dubious. But then he launches into a tirade about how there is no evidence for evolution. He reads the evidence, quotes the evidence and then says there is no evidence. He says: “This is a matter of fact statement that Evolution is the only basis of an interpretive system for understanding all of life-science, and even life itself. This formerly unscientific conclusory statement, devoid of substantiating evidence, moves Florida’s science standards outside the realm of traditional science and enters, instead, into the discipline of philosophy as the construct for defining a worldview.” This is where he loses his senses and takes a huge leap from complaining about the bold, unapologetic coverage of evolution in the standards to how we’re now subverting the children into turning away from religion.

The teaching of evolution makes no statement whatsoever on religion. Students are not asked to “believe” evolution; they are expected to understand it. Grubbs pulls out Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Kenneth Miller quotes that talk about the implications evolution has concerning religion and atheism. He then extrapolates their thoughts to an entire scientific and education community. The framers and writers of the new state science standards are trying to kill God! The sky is falling! He actually says: “It will demand that the concept of “God” be banished from the mind and replaced by atheism …” Oh good grief, Grubbs! It might threaten your personal religious beliefs, but plenty of others have no problem with it.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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