Make us your home page

Diane Roberts: Floridians seem content in a state of ignorance

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859; it wasn't until this February that Florida's state Board of Education voted to allow teachers to utter the word "evolution." But Sen. Ronda Storms, ever a vigilant foe of egghead secularism, has filed a bill to strike a blow for biblical science.

According to the "Ain't Kin to No Monkey Act" of 2008 (also known as S 2692), teachers would be protected from "discrimination" for presenting "scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins." In other words, instead of learning how natural selection is the fundamental principle of biological and medical knowledge, if an instructor tells students there's a "debate" over evolution and "alternatives" to natural selection, he or she won't get fired or reassigned to the comparative religions classroom.

"I would love to know what the 'scientific alternatives' are," says Joe Travis, evolutionary biologist and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at FSU. "I don't know of any. Not unless I change my definition of 'science' to include the supernatural."

Let's be clear: There's no credible debate among the vast majority of scientists, no peer-reviewed research challenging the basic tenets of evolution. As Harold Kroto, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for chemistry, puts it, "Not only were Darwin's original observations explained, but every pertinent observation made since has fitted perfectly."

Nonetheless, Donna Callaway, a member of the state Board of Education, voted against the new standards, telling a Baptist newspaper that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories." John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council pouted that students need to know "the flaws with evolution." Sen. Stephen Wise, co-sponsor of Storms' bill, advocates teaching creationism with evolution.

But why stop with Darwin? How about including theories of gravity other than Newton's? Should decent, God-fearing people allow their children to be exposed to algebra (that's an Arabic word, by the way) without presenting other points of view? How about pitting Copernicus' heliocentric model against Ptolemy's version of the universe, the one where Earth's in the center?

Ignorance troubles neither voters nor politicians. According to a recent St. Petersburg Times survey, only 22 percent of Floridians want schools to teach evolution only, while fully 50 percent prefer only intelligent design or the Bible. "In Florida we love to establish the facts by voting on them," says professor Travis.

Some of the same legislative leaders who claim they want Florida to have a "world class" education system recently slunk off to watch an antievolution "documentary" presented by game show host Ben Stein. For some reason, members of the public and the press were not admitted. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was shown at Tallahassee's Challenger Learning Center, an organization dedicated to, er, knowledge. Stein, a veteran of the Nixon White House and star of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, insisted the film was about "freedom of speech."

Storms, Wise et al. insist their bill is also about freedom of speech. Why not throw the Word of God up against Darwin in biology class? Never mind that Genesis has differing accounts (Gen. 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-24 — check it out) of the creation. Never mind that knowledge of ancient Hebrew myth won't go far in getting you a job at Scripps or Torrey Pines. Speaker of the House Marco Rubio claims he wants Florida to become the "Silicon Valley" of energy diversification and biotech industry. But he told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper, "I don't want a school system that teaches kids that what they're learning at home is wrong."

Which impulse will win out with the Republican leadership, Sunshine Silicon or Ain't Kin to No Monkey? Here's a hint: Check the poll numbers above. Our students don't need no stinking science. They'll have God. He'll tell them all they need to know. And if they ever travel beyond the Floridian Theocracy, He'll protect them from falling off the edge of the Earth.

Diane Roberts is the author of Dream State, a book about Florida.

Diane Roberts: Floridians seem content in a state of ignorance 03/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 3:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours