Florida approved science standards that actually use the word ‘evolution’, but as I noted at the time, the creationist compromise was that it had to be referred to as “the scientific theory of evolution”. It was weird: it is the scientific theory of evolution, as opposed to the non-scientific guesswork of creationism, so what was the advantage to the creationists? All I could imagine is that they somehow thought this enthroned their misunderstanding of the word “theory” as official policy.
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.
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.
You might argue that that is only Wired‘s interpretation, and that maybe the creationists actually have some secret nefarious plan to turn that bit of language into a propaganda victory. We’ve got confirmation, though: the Discovery Institute is furious, and Casey Luskin is squeaking madly about how they were tricked into a compromise that added a harmless phrase to the standards, while allowing the “dogmatism of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS)” to stand.
This may have an added benefit. Creationists have benefitted from the public’s colloquial understanding of the meaning of the word “theory,” which differs from the scientific meaning. Now they’re getting chastised by their own for screwing up and mistaking their own quirky ignorance for a useful strategem. We’ve been yelling at them for years that a scientific idea that has reached the status of a theory is a good thing — it means the idea is powerful tool for integrating many lines of inquiry — but maybe now the message will sink in.
Now we just have to do this a few more times.
Creationist: There are no transitional whale fossils!
Scientist: Oh, dear, really? That’s terrible! We should teach the students about that, don’t you think?
Creationist: Yes, we should. That information must go into the science standards for our state.
Scientist: I quite agree. When we mandate that our teachers must offer instruction in the details of whale transitional fossils, the gaps will be so obvious.
Creationist: Good. Let’s insert, “Teachers will discuss the nature of evolutionary transitions, emphasizing the kinds of evidence needed to support claims that land animals evolved into whales, and that cats give birth to dogs.”
Scientist: Well, as a compromise, let’s leave out the bit about cats and dogs, and we’ll have to clean up and standardize the language in committee, but let’s do it. The committee might even make this broader, pushing for discussion of all kinds of transitional fossils, which, of course, are absent. Boy, you sure got me over a barrel, forcing me to include discussion of an evolutionary flaw in our public schools. I hope you aren’t going to continue to outwit me with your Mastery of Science.
Creationist: <preening smugly> Ha ha, our cunning plan is working!