Saturday, December 24, 2005

 

Buttars’ New Evolution Bill

After reading stories on the bill in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, it seems to me that Buttars is trying to take something like a “teach the controversy” approach when teaching evolution.

Buttars is quoted in the Deseret News:

"It doesn't hinder them about talking about evolution at all," Buttars said. "They can talk about evolution from the Big Bang or life crawled out of the slime somewhere. But what they can't do is . . . tell students, 'This is how it happened, how you became man, you evolved from an ape.' That is all I asked the State Board of Education to do in the first place, and they thumbed their noses at me.
"You don't know how life began; nobody does in the scientific community," Buttars said. "Therefore, you can only teach these things as theories. It's a small step, but it's a big step, and I can pass this bill."


“The proposed bill begins with a statement:
"In order to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race, consider opposing viewpoints, and to form their own opinions, the Legislature desires to avoid the perception that all scientists agree on any one theory or that the state endorses one theory over another."”


Also from that story:
“When asked if it opens the door to intelligent design discussion, Buttars said: ‘I'm staying right out of that.
"This does not talk about intelligent design, this does not talk about faith-based theories," Buttars said. If teachers do talk about it, "they're on their own risk, aren't they," he said. "I'm talking about the scientific community and two things they do not know regarding evolution.’”


State officials responded:
“"It is a bill trying to force intelligent design on the school districts through the State Board of Education, when the state board has voted unanimously against imposing it as a scientific theory. I think he believes that by not saying (in the bill) science classes and not saying intelligent design that it's somehow constitutional," said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the State Office of Education. "My (bottom line) is, the state board still has constitutional issues."”

And:

“But the proposal concerns state curriculum director Brett Moulding.
"The bill avoids talking about specifically the theory of evolution or intelligent design, but it's clear it's asking for other theories to be discussed, and there are many, many theories about the origin of life that have no scientific basis," he said.
While the bill is silent on intelligent design, Lear notes Buttars has discussed that concept at length, and she said the courts have considered discussion leading up to bills in determining a law's constitutional muster.
"I don't want to put words in his mouth. I'm just saying his comments before certainly factor into this discussion and the constitutionality of this bill. And he hasn't been subtle . . . in his desire to promote, and he has called it, intelligent design," Lear said. "He believes in it. This is just sanitized language."”


From an article in the Salt Lake Tribune:

“ Lear warns that while the bill doesn't directly mandate the teaching of intelligent design, Buttars' past statements could be used against
him if the bill became law and were challenged in court.
"He has been very clear he likes creationism theories and intelligent design theories. Just because now this bill is sanitized doesn't take it out of the arena of constitutional challenges,"”


Buttars is trying to make his bill survive by making it very vague. If he wants teachers to tell students that “scientists” don’t agree on “any one theory” he’s going to have to specify what those other “theories” are. That will lead to intelligent design/creationism, which will make it clear the bill is in violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment. I really hope someone asks him what other theories he has in mind. I think it’s very clear from his past statements that he’s pushing intelligent design.

Just as in Dover case, Buttars past statements and pieces of legislation can be used as evidence of his intentions regarding this bill. If he denies his religious motivation, I think it’ll be straight forward to show he’s wrong (it’s really hard to come up with any other meaning of “divine design”).

I’m also frustrated that Buttars is misusing “theory” (confusing the scientific and vernacular usage), and is equating the origin of life with evolution. All in all he hasn’t come up with a very strong bill. All of the angles he's taking (disclaimers, teach the controversy, etc.), have already failed.

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