Florida Citizens for Science
Creationism has become a possible minor issue here in Florida recently as instructional materials committees conduct a scheduled review of materials and recommend new textbooks for the state’s classrooms.
A book meant for marine science classes contained some unusual language that raised red flags for a couple of members of one committee. “Life on an Ocean Planet” (a Florida edition published by Current Publishing Corp with a copyright of 2011, ISBN 978-1-878663-66-5) contained a two page informational sidebar entitled “Questions About The Origin and Development Of Life” that is packed with good ol’ fashioned creationist language. No, we’re not exaggerating; it’s really packed. For a purported science book, these two pages manage to mangle basic science concepts to a jaw-dropping degree while at the same time injecting a laundry list of tired creationist objections to evolution. Here’s an example:
First, Darwin proposed that natural selection is the driving force for change. It favors organisms with particular characteristics (color, size, etc.) that enhance survival. Those with these characteristics survive and reproduce more that those lacking them. Over time, the favorable characteristics predominate in the organism’s population. For example, suppose there are white and black variations of an insect, and birds eat fewer black ones because they’re harder to see. Over time, the insect population will become predominantly or almost entirely black. This is called microevolution or genetic drift. It is the expression or suppression of characteristics that already exist in the genetic code (DNA).
Wrong. The terms genetic drift and natural selection are not synonymous but describe very different processes in evolution. Genetic drift is a random process not driven by environmental or adaptive pressures. Natural selection is nonrandom and is caused by environmental factors that affect the reproduction of living things.
The example provided in the text of white and black variations of an insect being eaten by a bird describes natural selection and has nothing to do with genetic drift. The statement “This is called microevolution or genetic drift” is a blatant factual error. Students reading this will be misled and confused.
That’s just the beginning. The authors followed the standard creationist script of inaccurately defining macro- and microevolution, insisting that there is a lack of transitional fossils, and claiming that some biological structures are irreducibly complex.
“Skeptics,” another example from the text reads, “observe that general evolution doesn’t adequately explain how a complex structure, such as the eye, could come to exist through infrequent random mutations.”
The “skeptics” are never identified. Earlier in the text the authors’ term “general evolution” is synonymous with “macroevolution,” and it requires “that new information enter the genetic code,” which the authors cast doubt on. And, yes, evolution can produce complex structures.
Another curious quote: “Virtually all scientists accept genetic drift as a valid, well proven theory. General evolution, on the other hand, is the mainstream view in biology, but is not universally accepted among all scientists beyond biology.” As you can see, the grossly inaccurate use of “genetic drift” permeates the text. And what are the authors implying with the “scientists beyond biology” comment? Are biologists the weirdoes none of the other scientists want to talk to at parties?
Florida Citizens for Science president Joe Wolf sent a letter to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith earlier this week requesting that he review this material for himself prior to deciding on whether or not to adopt this text.
“A textbook’s job,” Wolf concluded in the letter, “is to present the current state of science so that students can engage with contemporary science. However, this textbook’s treatment of ‘Origin and Development Of Life’ is clearly bad science and bad pedagogy. The sidebar is simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards, and ultimately irrelevant to marine science. It should be removed entirely, as there is so little information that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining.
We said that this was a “possible minor issue.” First, this is just one textbook out of many working their way through the adoption process. This is an important issue, but not one that requires a “damn the torpedoes” mentality. Second, there is some confusion about the current status of this book in the process. Florida Citizens for Science was informed that the textbook was approved by its adoption committee on a 7-2 vote.
Florida Citizens for Science sent a letter to Commissioner Smith because he has the final say in textbook adoption after the committees submit their recommendations. The committee vote is clouded in uncertainty though, because the Department of Education told the St. Pete Times that the committee approval was with the caveat that “two specific pages,” presumably the sidebar, be removed. Information we have about the committee vote indicates that they voted to approve the textbook overall, and then a second vote was called for to remove the sidebar. That second vote failed but a compromise was reached to “fix” the sidebar.
The sidebar is unfixable. Further muddying of the waters comes from there being two versions of the textbook: an electronic one on CD and a print one. It’s unclear whether the votes pertain to both versions or just one since it looks like the committee only reviewed the electronic one.
We are optimistic that the Department of Education’s statement is a clear indication that the problem is solved. However, Florida Citizens for Science is keeping track of this issue just in case.
Florida Citizens for Science is a statewide, nonprofit, grass-roots organization that supports science-based curricula.
Liana G says
Grown ups who still have an imaginary friend they converse with writing our textbooks! No way!
How is it that when some people choose to talk to their imaginary friend in public they are called crazy yet others are not. I’m confused. I guess the fine line is way tooooooooo…….. fine for me to see.
PC MAN says
I’m glad there is a group like Florida Citizens for Science. The creepy zealots do not care about truth or science, just pushing their agenda.
I’m all about scientific thinking. Science is about observing something real, creating a related inference, and testing that thought, concluding it, and having a great number of other scientist trying to prove you wrong before being able to call it a theory. I love facts; however, let’s not be so quick to spur emotional wars by casting stones back at an apparent dissenter.
I believe in a global, intelligent design; however, I am wholeheartedly against teaching creationism or intelligent design in school. Science is science, period.
I understand that chaos may be a perception, and so too can organization. Anyone could argue that something is inherently complex, but, so is a pile of marbles tossed randomly off of a flight of stairs!
Faith in a omniscient being is personal, yet distincly different from science. While some believers in creation use faith to steer scientific teachings, some of us realize the re-definition of science that would entail. Some of us may pray to this “imaginary” being (or is He a universal consciousness, or the inception of energy itself? it doesn’t matter), but that doesn’t make us less intelligent than those who take (I’ll admit), a more logical approach to the origin of life. I surely know the difference between a scientific theory and a “myth.” :)
Just sayin’, though I appreciate your passion for the value of science, as I’m in total agreement with you on that!
Personal delusional beliefs have no place in scientific textbooks
Liana G says
Dev – I’m simply pushing back at a faction of society bent on stifling us with their religious dogmatism. As a parent of school age kids I have lost count of the number of times my kids have been ridiculed and harrassed for expressing their belief. Thankfully, they’re thick skinned and can dish it right back. This past year alone I have had to ask a math teacher to kindly refrain from preaching god in the classroom. I’ve had to rebuke administration personnel for sending me religious emails. And the only club at this school is a ‘good news club’ (Christian). When my 5th grader approached the Assistant Principal about forming a ‘Book Club’ she was told to “write me up a proposal”. I’m sure this agenda could not have been possible without the approval of the school district, and both local and state gov’t.
Back in May of this year the state of Texas approved the rewriting of the states social studies textbooks. A decision that has historians speaking out because they say many of the changes are historically inaccurate and would affect textbooks and classrooms far beyond the state’s border. They point out that “The curriculum plays down the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state, and claims that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists during the Cold War. Also contentious were changes that asserted Christian faith of the founding fathers. Historians say the founding fathers had a variety of approaches to religion and faith; some, like Jefferson, were quite secular.”
One apparent dissenter – I think not. “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.” – Voltaire
The teaching of ‘were we came from’ and ‘why we are here’ is obviously not an easy one to answer. Nor is there any answer. The history of scientific thought can be taught as it relates to religious thought throughout time in my opinion. In either scenario you will obviously find multiple theories. Take for example, religious teaching and the story of Adam and Eve. Even amongst the various Christian denominations there are multiple teachings on this in terms of creation. Many take the story as a black and white tale of creation. Others however approach the story of a belief that we were brought to be by God and the story denotes the awareness of God by humans in their development. Likewise, it is the story of every religious person’s development in their own personal life and the awareness of God’s relationship to them.
Science also faces similar dilemnas of varying theories such as the Big Bang that are not proved as of yet. All of those theories both religious and science should be touched to help students understand the various theories and the history of where they came from. The idea that one over the other or include one and not the other is very old-school. Have we not progressed anywhere in all these years? Science seeks to explain the ‘what’ in life but can not fully explain the ‘why’ of life which is where religion places it’s focus.
In terms of the Texas decsions in terms of textbooks. Pure rubbish and shame on them. There decisions were solely motivated by rewriting history to paint an ideological thought and group in a much better light. Namely their focus is to portray Republicans and the conservative philosophy in the best light possible including Senator McCarthy as a hero of sorts. If you want to discuss dangerous paths with textbooks and education . . . the Texas actions and decisions are far more dangerous in an educational environment than this constant argument of whether a child might exposed to the notion of God.
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Don’t pray in my school, and I won’t think in your church
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.