Newswise — The first high-level public discussion of teaching science in the public schools—in light of the recent federal court ruling on the intelligent design challenge in Dover, Pennsylvania—will be conducted by a nationally known panel of scholars at Florida State University on May 17.
The panelists, leaders in fields including theology, biology and constitutional law, will explore in particular the continuing debate over how and what to teach K-12 students about the origins of life. More than a dozen states have announced their intention of rethinking the standard rules of biology instruction. The panel will consider the future of such efforts in the aftermath of the widely reported decision by federal Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. The Dover Area School District, et al.
On Dec. 20, Jones handed down a detailed, 139-page decision that declared unconstitutional the Dover, Pennsylvania school board's attempt to force teachers to read a statement to students that suggested intelligent design (ID) is as valid a theory as evolution to explain life's beginnings. Jones wrote that what he saw presented at the six-week-long trial showed "overwhelming evidence...that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." Requiring the teaching of ID thus violates the First Amendment's proscriptions for separating church and state issues, he said.
As the nation's first trial of the ID theory, the case became a magnet for media attention. Scientists and other scholars hailed Jones' ruling as a landmark decision in their struggle against anti-evolution groups throughout the country that dates to the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. But intelligent design advocates dismissed the decision as that of an activist judge, promising further attacks on the teaching of Darwinian-based evolutionary theory.
Those issues will be considered by the FSU-based forum, moderated by Deborah Blum, professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist. Blum will moderate a panel of six scholars, including Eugenie C. Scott, executive director for the California-based National Center for Science Education; Robert T. Pennock, an associate professor of philosophy at Michigan State University; John F. Haught, a theologian from Georgetown University; along with three scholars from the FSU faculty: Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science and history; Joseph Travis, an evolutionary biologist and dean of FSU's College of Arts and Sciences; and Steven Gey, a specialist in constitutional law involving church/state issues.
Blum said that the two-hour panel will address the implications of the Dover decision on ID and other religious-based initiatives under way in numerous other states. Although Jones' ruling is legally binding only in one central Pennsylvania school district, already the decision reportedly is having a chilling effect on ID initiatives elsewhere, as backers scramble to solve the constitutional issues raised in the Dover case.
But the panel also will address other issues related to the ongoing debate over evolution, she said, including what many opponents decry as evolution's perceived rejection of religion and personal beliefs in an "intelligent designer" or God. "There are a lot of misunderstandings about what science really says, and a lot of mistaken beliefs that make the conflicts appear greater than they are. I hope that this discussion, with such a high-caliber panel, will illuminate the fact that we really don't live in an either-or world."
The panel will be locally televised but also will be carried live via a Web cast originating from FSU, beginning at 8 p.m. May 17. The event will take place in the auditorium of FSU's College of Medicine.
FSU's Office of Research and the University Research Magazine Association is sponsoring the event in conjunction with the Tallahassee Scientific Society.
For complete information about this program and profiles of the panelists, visit http://www.research.fsu.edu/Dover/.