Copyrighted material


by Mark Weisenmiller

Evolution Hearings End In Kansas

(IPS) TAMPA -- Darwinian evolution -- the 19th century geologist and naturalist Charles Darwin's acclaimed theory of natural selection of species and the origins of humanity -- is apparently still a source of controversy, most recently here in the state of Florida.

Last week, the Florida Legislature ended debate on two bills that would have amended the new science curriculum recently adopted in the state's public schools describing evolution as a fundamental concept underlying all of biology.

One bill would have required that school instructors teach "scientific critical analysis" of evolution, while the other would prevent school administrators from "punishing" instructors who used "scientific information" to teach anti-evolution courses.

In the end, both bills died in committee, but the controversy is certain to arise again when the legislature returns after its summer recess.

"I expect we will talk about it this next session," said State Representative Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, which is north of Orlando.

"There's a permanent misconception in both of these bills. Most people think that we want to have teachers stop teaching evolution and that's just not the truth. Those people think that we're trying to force in intelligent design and we're not," insisted Hays, whose full-time job is as a dentist.

Intelligent design is the argument put forth by a religious lobby, overwhelmingly Christian, that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." In essence, it is the idea of Biblical creationism, although that term is not used because courts have determined the teaching of creationism to violate the separation of church and state enshrined in U.S. law.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has stated that "intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life" are not science because they cannot be tested by experiment, do not generate any predictions, and propose no new hypotheses. The U.S. National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have deemed it "pseudoscience."

The creationism versus evolution battle is not restricted to Florida. Campaigns to teach "theories" other than evolution are also being waged in Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director of the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, has had considerable experience defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. He was one of three attorneys for the plaintiffs in the 2005 federal case of Kitzmiller v. Dover (Pennsylvania) Area School District.

This case was the first direct legal challenge of the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in the United States. In the week before Christmas 2005, presiding Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favour of the pro-evolution plaintiffs, noting in his decision that "the evidence at trial demonstrates that ID (Intelligent Design) is nothing less than the progeny of creationism (the belief that God created the world and everything in it)."

"These two bills [in Florida] wouldn't be the first or last cases to eventually come before the courts," Walczak told IPS. "It's been happening since the Scopes trial of 1925. The arguments change from some people over the years, to get creationism, or some form of it, taught in the public schools. Intelligent design is just the latest attempt to do so."

Walczak was referring the case of John Scopes, a public school teacher in rural Tennessee who was charged with teaching evolution from a school textbook. That was a violation of a state law which forbade the teaching in public schools of any theory that was not creationism.

Scopes was found guilty of the charge on Jul. 21, 1925. Yet the verdict was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court due to a legal technicality. The Tennessee Attorney General at the time told reporters that he would not seek a retrial. The Butler Act, as the anti-evolution state law was known, was not repealed until 1967.

Both Hays and Republican State Senator Ronda Storms, who drafted the Florida senate bill, are Baptists. The many denominations of Baptism have thousands of members in Florida.

IPS asked Professor Harold W. Kroto of Florida State University and a co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry whether, as Storms argues, "the full range of the critical analysis of evolution" should be taught in Florida public schools.

"On the face of it this seems to be perfectly reasonable," Dr. Kroto said. "The problem is that I, and the National Academy of Sciences, know of no shortcomings of Darwin's theory (of evolution) that negate it. Senator Storms should write a paper clearly outlining in detail her critical analysis, submit it for peer review as all scientists do, (and) present her critical analysis to the top evolutionary biologists and the National Academy of Sciences."

Still, proponents of intelligent design are determined to press their case. "The courts have decreed that you can't mention the Bible in schools and we understand that, but the teachers shouldn't fear retribution (for teaching other theories about the origins of life)," said Hays. "A true scientist will put a theory before a group of people and say 'There it is. Let's talk about it.' Well that's what we're (Florida legislators) are trying to do. We want to put this issue in front of people and say 'There it is. Let's talk about it..'"

While evolution is indeed a scientific theory -- as is, for example, gravity -- critics believe that emphasising that terminology is a tactic to mislead people who associate the word "theory" with some degree of doubt.

"In everyday language, a theory means a hunch or a speculation," noted the National Academy of Sciences. "Not so in science. In science, the word 'theory' refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by many facts gathered over time."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   May 7, 2008   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.