In the Florida House of Representatives recently 11 lawmakers were bogged down in a lengthy discussion concerning biological evolution. A bill specifically singling out the subject of evolution as taught in the public school classroom dominated well over an hour in the Friday Schools and Learning committee meeting. Despite the scrutiny, there was one important question that went unasked, and the bill’s presenter, Rep. D. Alan Hays, got a free pass as a result. The bill, which casts doubt on the theory of evolution by deceptively invoking the phrase “critical analysis”, thus passed the committee on a 7-4 vote.
Hays protested again and again that his bill does nothing more than protect teachers. He said, “This amendment says absolutely nothing about teaching religion.” That statement seems clear enough if taken at face value. He even admonished Rep. Martin Kiar for his line of questioning on the religion subject by demanding that Kiar not read something into the legislation that is not already there. That scolding leads to a significant problem for Hays, though. It was never made clear what actually is there.
The question that is probably the most important one to ask is: What are some examples of critical analysis of evolution that have no religious connotations and are also legitimate, up-to-date scientific ideas? This is where Hays got a free pass. He read from prepared remarks and then also talked off the cuff about critical analysis of evolution needing to be scientific. He went to great lengths to distance critical analysis from religion. However, to give his bill any validity it would be necessary to give some examples. He introduced the bill; he should know what the critical analysis he is proposing means in some detail.
Parent and vocal advocate of Hays’ cause, Kim Kendall, has been criticizing the teaching of evolution for months and was prominent in the media during the state science standards approval process. She spoke during the public comment period Friday about three unnamed teachers complaining that they don’t have the freedom to introduce information critical of evolution. Once again the pertinent question goes unasked: What were these teachers telling students? Kendall mentions several times the Cambrian explosion and gaps in the fossil record, although it’s unknown if these were the actual points the teachers in question used. If these are ideas teachers are passing along to students, then, yes, they should be denied what they’re dishonestly calling “academic freedom.” A later speaker, Barry Golden, was one of those who wrote the brand new state science standards. He briefly and authoritatively corrected Kendall by saying that the Cambrian explosion supports evolution, not refutes it. (The Cambrian explosion is an historical timeframe during which many of the earliest fossils of life are found.)
As a matter of fact, points like the Cambrian explosion and so-called gaps in the fossil record are well-documented, old creationist talking points that have been floating around for decades. These and similar points were proven to be hollow and blatantly dishonest by the scientific community back when they were first proposed. They persist despite being discredited because the general public, and in this specific case Florida legislators, have never heard them before. Kendall’s use of these tired examples weakens her case. They connect her support of the bill to creationism.
It can be argued that Kendall’s statements might not reflect Rep. Hays’ intent. That then still leaves open the question of what exactly Hays wants taught under the guise of critical analysis. The final speaker at the meeting, ACLU representative Courtenay Strickland, made an important point: The bill opens the door to teaching religious beliefs as science in the classroom. Calling something science doesn’t necessarily make it science.
As such, Florida Citizens for Science makes this public challenge to Hays: Give examples of critical analysis of evolution that have no religious connotations and are also legitimate, up-to-date scientific ideas. If Hays refuses to give a straight answer, or even worse cites discredited, unscientific ideas, then the intent of these bills is questionable at best and the bill needs to be dropped.