Evolution, Intelligent Design Debate Hits Florida Schools

Florida's proposed new standards requiring the teaching of evolution in science classes have many parents and educators demanding that other alternate concepts and theories, such as intelligent design, be taught alongside.

While students in Florida public schools for years have been learning many of the concepts that make up the theory of evolution – such as mutation and natural selection – the state Board of Education will decide in February whether to mandate a more explicit and in-depth teaching of evolution.

Advocates of the new science standards, which were proposed in October, say that the teaching of evolution and other topics required by the guidelines would improve Florida's poor performance in science.

In 2005, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, gave Florida an F grade during a review of science education programs nationwide. The present standards were criticized for covering too many topics for students to fully understand them, education officials say, according to The Associated Press.

At least one board member strongly supports the new standards.

But opinions on the controversial issue are varied.

Opponents of the new guidelines are calling on the state Board to provide for education on other theories on the origins of life – particularly, intelligent design.

"To show it from just one perspective and say this is more important or more accurate than the rest, I'm not so sure I'm in favor of that," state representative Will Weatherford told the St. Petersburg Times.

State board member Donna Callaway said she would vote against the standards, according to an editorial published by Florida Baptist Witness.

She agreed that evolution should be taught in some degree but wanted other theories explored as well, she said in the editorial.

"I firmly believe that a child can deal with the proof of science along with a personal belief in God as the Creator of the universe at the same time. The classroom should allow him, openly, that opportunity," said Callaway, a retired Tallahassee middle school principal with a Southern Baptist background.

The proposed revisions in Florida are part of a national debate on how evolution should be taught in public schools and whether to teach other theories. A recent Harris poll found that less than half of Americans (42 percent) said they believe in Darwin's theory of evolution.

Critics of intelligent design contend that the teaching is motivated by religious beliefs and represents an attempt to introduce Creationism into the classrooms.

Proponents of intelligent design, however, say that scientific evidence shows that the origins of life came from an "intelligent cause." According to the Discovery Institute, a think tank on intelligent design, the teaching does not oppose the evolutionary theory – if "evolution" is defined by "change over time," or "that living things are related by common ancestry." But proponents say they reject claims made by neo-Darwinian evolution.

Parents and educators in Florida have expressed support for teaching intelligent design by contacting the state Board of Education at public hearings and in letters, phone calls, e-mails, and comments on the Department of Education website.

Education activist Kim Kendall agrees with teaching evolution but wants teachers to offer evidence that also contradicts the Darwinian theory.

"They're being very dogmatic," Kendall said, as reported by AP. "They do need to continue to teach evolution, but they need to allow the teachers to teach both the faults and the supports of evolution."

"Students should learn why some scientists give scientific critiques of standard models of neo-Darwinian evolution," framer Fred Cutting, an aerospace engineer from Clearwater, wrote in a letter to both committees.

Two committees of scientists, educators and other citizens that wrote and framed the new standards are expected to consider the public comments before bringing the final draft to the board.

The comment period on the website ends Dec. 14 and two more public hearings are scheduled for Jan. 3 in Jacksonville and Jan. 8 in Fort Lauderdale.