homepage logo

Evolution in class debate leads to bill; Protects teachers who discuss ‘creationism’

By Staff | Mar 26, 2008

In the 1920s the infamous “Monkey Trial” addressed the teaching of evolution in a public high school. John Scopes, a teacher in Tennessee, was brought to trial for teaching his students about Darwin’s theory of evolution.

And while this trial was a major milestone in education, a new Senate bill being addressed today may offer protection for those teachers who discuss divine creationism to students.

The bill was introduced after some teachers in Florida feared that they could be punished for discussing both sides of the evolution debate in their classrooms — Darwin’s theory of evolution and the concepts of creationism or intelligent design.

While creationism says that life, Earth and the universe were created by a deity, intelligent design asserts that the universe had to have been created with an intelligent purpose and not by natural selection.

According to the bill, referred to as the Academic Freedom Act, “The Legislature finds that the current law does not expressly protect the right of teachers to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding evolution.” The bill is being presented today at the Senate Pre K-12 Committee.

While in the past many teachers may have been intimidated, harassed or fired for presenting arguments based on the likelihood of Darwin’s theory, today it seems the issue has turned on its face with teachers feeling pressure for presenting views contrary to evolution.

In February, the Florida Board of Education decided to include the word “evolution” in curriculums across the state for the first time ever, but only after conceding to the religious conservative opposition throughout the state that it would be categorized as a “theory.”

Science classes across the state had been briefly touching on Darwin’s concept before the official decision to include “evolution” in the state curriculum, explained Rick Tully, the Lee County School District’s coordinator for Science and Environmental Education. The difference was that before February’s decision it was referred to as “biological changes through time.”

But if the Academic Freedom Act passes through the Legislature, science teachers across the state could be shouldered with the responsibilities of presenting the concepts of creationism or intelligent design.

“Currently, we do not teach creationism, it is against the law and is not science,” said Tully. “It’s not the kind of concept that can be addressed in a science classroom.”

The fundamentals of science education, he explained, is being able to apply natural observation with empirical research or investigations to discover new trends and concepts.

“Creationism or intelligent design can’t be tested with any scientific methodology,” said Tully. “Science as a discipline is an attempt to look at the natural world with observable fact.”

And with academic science placing an emphasis on testing and proving an idea, teachers across the state may have to present concepts in their classroom that cannot be scientifically tested and cannot be proven true or false.

While the Academic Freedom Act would protect those teachers who want to present different sides of the concept, science educators have noticed that the bill would only bring academic freedom to the debate on “evolution,” while others such as atomic theory, cell theory or gravitational theory are not up for discussion.

In fact, because of the current evidence that exists, scientists are more comfortable with asserting the reality of the theory of evolution than gravitational theory.

In the past, federal courts have consistently ruled that teaching creationism or intelligent design in a public school violates the constitutional mandate of separating church and state.

In 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design could not be covered in a high school biology class because it was “creationism in disguise.” An older decision in 1987 by the U.S. Supreme Court also said that public schools could not teach creationism.

It is unclear how the state Legislature will be able to pass the Academic Freedom Act when previous court decisions have ruled that creationism or intelligent design cannot be taught in school.

Groups such as the Florida Family Action have been advocating across the state that this bill be passed to protect teachers and to offer an objective scientific education.

The main sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, was in a committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon and was unable to comment.