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The state of Florida is heading toward what may be its most heated debate regarding education. Unfortunately, this debate will not focus on a weak state university system, low teacher salaries or insufficient funding for PK-12 public schools. Instead, it will concern new science education standards that will include the teaching of Darwin’s theory as the foundation of modern biological science.

Since before the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee, the topic of evolution in schools has been controversial. But as science has found evidence for evolutionary processes first propounded by Darwin, proponents of intelligent design and creationism have been fighting to prevent its dissemination.

This bickering in the public realm has taken the focus off of the need to improve science education standards and shifted it to the fear of compromising the spiritual sensibilities of certain people.

The debate was exacerbated when attorney Bill Foster wrote a letter to the Pinellas County School Board connecting evolutionary theory to Hitler and the 1999 murders at Columbine. Foster’s insistence that these murders were motivated by the concept of “survival of the fittest” ignores other factors that played a part in the tragedies. This kind of talk also inspires reactionary defenders of evolution to fight back against outrageous claims with unreasoned passion instead of scientific fact.

While it is understandable that some may want to ensure that Darwin’s theory isn’t the only one taught in science classes, it is illogical to base science education on scripture and speculation instead of observable trends and scientific methodology.

While it is clear that the state should not legislate faith, it should be equally as evident that religious belief does not qualify as evidence.

The desire to teach creationism poses problems. There are many creation myths and it would be offensive and ignorant to teach one to the exclusion of others – especially as none of them rely on scientific findings.

Regardless of its residents’ religious beliefs or personal convictions, Florida should not let the education of its youth fall by the wayside while people seek to turn public institutions into a platform to proselytize.

The plan for schools to focus on an overwhelmingly accepted theory to teach science will not mean religion is being completely removed from the curriculum. Its mention will just be limited to its rightful place: social science, religion and humanities classes.

Families worried that their children won’t learn their religious traditions should teach them at home.

When it comes to science and education, arguments should not be based on lay opinions – whether from the public or the pulpit – but on what takes place in the lab.