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Florida science standards

The Florida Board of Education eventually adopted the science standards with “evolution” in them (details here, here and here). Their compromise to the creationists was to preface the word “evolution” with “scientific theory of”; the good thing about that was the decision to preface evolution and other concepts with the phrasing “scientific theory”. As PZ says, the creationist may have scored an own goal. He writes

Well, the word is out that the creationists screwed up big time, and their own ignorance has turned around and bit them on the ass. They really did think inserting the word “theory” would help discredit evolution (it may still do so, as they try to frantically spin it in their church newsletters, but it’s only going to work among their true believers), but it’s going to have the opposite effect in the public schools.

Creationists love to spit the epithet it’s just a theory at evolution. Obviously evolution is both fact and theory, but it’s the theory that’s the interesting bit, because a theory allows you to make non-trivial predictions in a way that observations (“facts”) do not. There’s no slur in calling evolution a theory in a scientific context – a scientific theory is a very well supported hypothesis. The creationists’ point, of course, isn’t to call evolution a scientific theory, it’s to call evolution an unsupported conjecture. It amounts to playing games with language.

But these games have the potential to misfire. Blogging at Wired (in a post wonderfully titled Evolution Wins as Creationists (Accidentally) Switch Sides in Florida), Brandon Keim wrote:

The 4-3 vote was obtained by including a last-minute amendment to the standards. Suggested last Friday by religious conservatives and dubbed the “academic freedom proposal,” the amendment required that the curriculum’s references to “evolution” be replaced by the “scientific theory of evolution.”

The amendment’s supporters called the language change a victory — and it is, though not in the way they imagine.

Not only will Florida’s students learn about evolution; they’ll also learn that the scientific definition of a theory is different from the everyday definition, referring not to wild-eyed speculation but to a vast body of observation and testing that confirms a hypothesis so strongly that it might as well be considered fact.

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