Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Scientific Ignoramuses of the Week: The Taylor County (Florida) School Board

Will the next group of creationists to stand and be embarrassed please stand up? Apparently the school board of Taylor County is eager to be the next head on the legal chopping block as they released this statement, where on page seven we find ignorance of science on an unfathomable level in a supposedly scientifically literate society.

"Whereas, the Florida Department of Education has drafted and is now proposing new Sunshine State Standards for Science, the Taylor County School Board opposes the implementation of the new standards as currently presented.

Whereas, the new Sunshine State Standards for Science no longer present evolution as theory but as “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported in multiple forms of scientific evidence,” we are requesting that the State Board of Education direct the Florida Department of Education to revise/edit the new Sunshine State Standards for Science so that evolution is presented as one of several theories as to how the universe was formed.

OK folks, let's start at the beginning, literally. The leading scientific theory as to how the universe was formed is called "the Big Bang". This occurred ~14 billion, or 14,000,000,000 years ago, and there are no other scientific theories to teach, although there are vigorous debates over the details of the Big Bang.

Some ~2 billion years later, the evidence suggests that life first formed on earth. This is called "abiogenesis", which is a very new, immature, exciting science. Life forms then changed over time, with 99% of forms going extinct, and modern forms arriving at various times in the past, the best estimates for modern humans being ~200,000 years ago. The theory that deals with the mechanisms and other aspects of this change is called "evolution", and was first written about systematically and fully by Charles Darwin in 1859 (with a nod to Alfred Wallace), and has undergone significant change since then as new information has come to light.

So referring to evolution as a theory "as to how the universe was formed" is flat out wrong, on the order of 12,000,000,000 years, or many hundreds of orders of magnitude. That creationists consistently conflate these issues provides solid evidence that their views are based on religion rather than on science. For where did they get the idea that all life, including human beings, came to be in the same event that created the universe, except from the book of Genesis in the Bible? People in societies without such a religious mythology do not share that view, and for good reason. No one could objectivly observe the world and draw such a conclusion.

Note also their dismissal of the independent, confirmatory evidence from many branches of science, "unsought and unprovoked" in the words of Pope John Paul II. They might as well have stated that the facts don't matter, because clearly they don't to them. They also, as is so tiresomely true of creationists, ignore that "theory" in science does not mean "guess", but is, in sick irony, an underlying concept that explains many facts and has endured much falsifiable testing. So the school board members are criticizing evolution being presented as a scientific theory because they don't understand what a scientific theory is. That is akin to the NFL commissioner not knowing what a touchdown is.

Whereas, the Taylor County School Board recognizes the importance of providing a thorough and comprehensive Science education to all the students in Taylor County and to all students in the state of Florida, it recognizes as even more important the need to present these standards through a fair and balanced approach, an approach that does not unfairly exclude other theories as to the creation of the universe.

This stands the education process on its head. An education is not about "balance", it's about reality, or at least our best approximations of it. "Fair" in science does not mean giving every theory equal support. It means being true to the evidence, where ever it leads. The creationists don't like that it led to evolution, and the explosion of their creation myth, so they cry that it is unfair to only teach evolution in science. Sorry, but there are no scientific alternatives for the variety of life on earth, and giving students the impression that there is would be a gross disservice.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Taylor County School Board of Taylor County, Perry, Florida, that the Board urges the State Board of Education to direct the Florida Department of Education to revise the new Sunshine State Standards for Science such that evolution is not presented as fact, but as one of several theories.

Would you be embarrassed to find one of your elected officials protesting the draft? How about one of them standing under a 55 mph speed limit sign making a speech about how horrible that the limit is 70. I hope Taylor County residents are equally embarrassed by the comments above. The Sunshine State Standards say that evolution should be taught as THE scientific theory of how life changes over time, and that is exactly as it should be. There are no other scientific theories, much less "several". Religious creation myths are not scientific theories. They are not subjected to peer review, they are not subjected to falsifiable testing. They are, in the parlance of science, mere hypotheses, not theories. Dressing them up in sciency sounding language like "specified complexity", "explanatory filter", and irreducible complexity", and publishing lots of popular books on the subject doesn't make it science either.

For people charged with overseeing children's education to be this ignorant of a subject whose answers are part of a basic science education, and readily accessible to anyone with internet access, is gross negligence of the highest order, and would justify removal from office in a sane society. In this one, we'll have to settle with public pronouncements of just how unqualified these people are to fulfill the obligations of their posts, and await they joy of their evisceration in court when they will be called to defend such nonsense where they can't get away with lying about what they say. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster descend upon them as it did to their Polk County neightbors.

Hat Tip Pharyngula

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