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.
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.