TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's public school science standards for the first time will use the word "evolution,'' although the biological concept already was being taught under code words such as "change over time.''
The new standards, part of a set of overall science changes adopted by the State Board of Education Tuesday on a 4-3 vote, require schools to spend more class time on evolution and teach it in more detail.
The standards state that evolution is "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.'' That statement rankled opponents, some of whom had urged the board to add an academic freedom provision that would have allowed teachers to "engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.''
Evolution supporters, including mainstream scientists and clergy, told the board the academic freedom proposal was a wedge designed to open the door for injecting religious arguments into science studies.
"We know what's going on here,'' said board member Roberto "Bobby'' Martinez, a Miami lawyer. "What we have here is an effort by people to water down our standards.''
Opponents of evolution denied they had a religious motive, arguing that there are flaws in the scientific theory of evolution and that students should be allowed to explore them.
As a compromise, the standards refer to evolution as a scientific theory, explaining that a theory is a well-supported and accepted explanation of nature, not simply a claim.
The vote was the latest in a long line of public debates over evolution dating back to the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, when a teacher was convicted of violating Tennessee's evolution ban. That verdict was reversed on technicality, but courts later ruled evolution could be taught.
Courts subsequently barred teaching the biblical account of creation along with evolution. Most recently, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design, which holds the universe's order and complexity is so great science alone cannot explain it, also was a religious theory and could not be taught in public schools.
John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, objected to calling evolution the only fundamental concept underlying biology. He wrote in an e-mail to Education Commissioner Eric Smith that Baptists firmly believe there's evidence of a "Creator-initiated origin of life'' but did not object to teaching evolution. He argued, though, its scientific weaknesses should be taught as well as its strengths.