Evolution fray attracts top scientist
By HERALD TRIBUNE
Added: Tue, 15 Apr 2008 23:00:00 UTC
Nobel winner battles plan to let teachers challenge Darwin's theory
By Anna Scott
Published Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE — His mess of white hair rising with the wind, Nobel laureate Harold Kroto delivered what has become his standard speech on evolution:
Humans and fruit flies share the same genes.
"You may not like that but it's not my fault," Kroto, 68, said in front of the state Capitol on Monday.
"It's the way it actually is."
Florida lawmakers are frustrating the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for chemistry. They want to change the way evolution is taught so that teachers are allowed to challenge Darwin's theory.
It is the most absurd thing Kroto has heard since moving to Florida in 2004 to teach at Florida State University. His friends back home in England, where he was a professor in Sussex, have been sending him e-mails asking why he stays, he said.
"We're the laughingstock of the enlightened world," Kroto said.
For months, he has been writing newspaper articles explaining the basic tenets of Darwin's theory, hoping to change minds.
He sits on round-table discussions and hands out booklets on evolution from the National Academy of Sciences.
He races to the Capitol between lectures to give the fruit fly talk.
To Kroto, and mainstream scientists like him, the idea that humans evolved from the world's earliest life forms is as obvious as the laws of gravity.
"The bedrock of all biology," Kroto calls it. "It's beautiful."
But Florida lawmakers and a national movement of mostly religious-based groups believe evolution is less absolute.
State proposals this year would undo a recent decision by the state Board of Education and allow teachers to "present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution."
Kroto and other scientists surmise such legislation would allow teachers to present as credible theories of creationism and intelligent design, basically beliefs that God or a higher being created humans.
Proponents say it allows teachers "academic freedom" to explore a theory, and that laws clearly ban the teaching of religious theories.
The proposals would also protect from punishment students who refuse to accept Darwin's evolution.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, says teachers and students feel too frightened to even discuss intelligent design.
Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, said the theory of evolution "had flaws."
Republicans have voted for the plan to the point where it will be considered by the full Senate, and has only one more committee to pass in the House.
Kroto, whose father was Jewish and fled the Nazis in Germany, said the belief in God has never made sense to him.
"I just think science is the way the universe is and that's how we figure things out," Kroto said.
He won the Nobel Prize for discovering buckminsterfullerene, a carbon molecule with a soccer ball shape that students now call "buckyballs" for short.
He fears the recent debate over evolution is a sign science is becoming irrelevant.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's an abuse of position not to teach science correctly to children," Kroto said. "Today they don't need to know how anything works. The technology is so good if something breaks they get it fixed. There's a large number of kids probably prepared to accept something without being too careful."
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