Wise to Introduce Intelligent Design Bill; the Senator Wants It to Balance Florida Science Standards That Require the Teaching of Evolution

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Byline: MATT SOERGEL

Amid much controversy a year ago, the Florida Board of Education approved new standards that require public schools to teach that the scientific theory of evolution is the foundation of all biological science.

But don't think that battle is over. Not even close.

State Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, said he plans to introduce a bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also discuss the idea of intelligent design.

Intelligent design is the concept that life is so complex that it couldn't occur naturally but must have had an intelligent force working to make it happen.

Wise, the chief sponsor of the bill, expects the Senate to take it up when it meets in March. He said its intent is simple: "If you're going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking."

Wise said that if the Legislature passes the bill, he wouldn't be surprised if there's a legal challenge.

"You just never know. They use the courts all the time. I guess if they have enough money they can get it in the courts," he said. "Someplace along the line you've got to be able to make a value judgment of what it is you think is the appropriate thing."

Intelligent design has been in the courts before. In 2005, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching intelligent design in public schools, calling it an example of "breathtaking inanity." The judge, a Republican, wrote that there was "overwhelming evidence" that the theory is a "religious view," not scientific theory.

Wise's planned bill isn't a surprise to those who favor teaching evolution.

"We were expecting some sort of effort to blunt evolution education," said Paul Cottle, a physics professor at Florida State University who helped draft the year-old science standards on evolution. "What you are describing is one of the tools in the standard anti-evolution toolbox."

It won't be the first time the Legislature has addressed the issue.

After the standards were approved in February 2008, the Senate and House each passed bills that would require public schools to teach "critical analysis" of evolution. The majority in both chambers said they wanted to protect teachers from being punished if they questioned evolution.

That effort died in the Legislature, however, because the two chambers weren't able to reconcile their plans into a single bill.

'A LOT OF HATE MAIL'

This time around, though, Wise - a co-sponsor of the 2008 bill in the Senate - said he expects the House plan to be extremely similar to the one he will introduce. That should make it easier to pass, he said.

Wise acknowledges it's a controversial subject. "I got a lot of hate mail last year," he said. "You'd think I'd never gone to school, that I was Cro-Magnon man, that I just got out of a cave or something."

Those bills were a deliberate effort to "undermine" the new Florida standards on evolution, said Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science, a group supportive of teaching evolution. …