Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Evolution in Utah (post 2 of 2)

Evolution in Utah part 2 of 2

People like Utah state senator Chris Buttars may get a fair bit of attention when they talk about plans to introduce legislation to downplay evolution (deservedly so, I do think this is a very newsworthy topic). There are also people in Utah who oppose such attempts.

“ Scott Berryessa, president of the Jordan Education Association, representing about 2,100 teachers, says he more often gets complaints from students and families upset that divine design is mentioned in the classroom.”
(From this article in the Salt Lake Tribune that I referred to in part 1).

I’m very happy to hear that students and their families are complaining when “divine design” is mentioned in the classroom. At least it doesn’t belong in the science classroom, although I can certainly see a reasonable case for it to be included in some sort of social studies class.

Opposition to teaching intelligent design/creationism isn’t anti-religious. This quote from a story by KSL Local News very nicely illustrates that:

"Board member Bill Colbert said he personally believes in intelligent design, but thinks it should not be taught in schools.
‘I believe it needs to be taught in the home and perhaps, religious institutions," Colbert said. "It's a personal issue. Even if we try to teach it in a classroom, (I don't think teachers) can do justice to various beliefs that are out there in our communities.’”

I respect Colbert’s opinion. Intelligent design is an inherently religious proposition (detailed very nicely in Dover verdict), and so can’t be taught without violating the Establishment Clause – teaching intelligent design in public schools amounts to an endorsement of religion by the government. The fact that intelligent design is religious doesn’t mean that it’s invalid – noting that it’s unscientific isn’t the same as saying that it’s worthless (the judge in the Dover case was also careful to mention that he wasn’t ruling on the validity of intelligent design).

The Deseret Morning News also ran a very interesting story that included results from a poll about peoples’ thoughts about teaching intelligent design and evolution, and their religious impacts.

In that story a former science education specialist, and curriculum director for the Utah State Office of Education is reported as being able to “. . .count on his fingers the number of anti-evolution phone calls he's gotten in the past 10 years.” According to a poll of 624 Utahns conducted by a local paper and TV station 64% of Utahns want evolution taught in biology classes, while 70% want creationism taught as well. In addition 44% of Utahns think evolution is definitely or probably incompatible with a belief in God, while 47% think otherwise (and 9% are undecided). This article reports that teachers can, but don’t have to, talk about human evolution, and many choose to omit it to avoid creating controversy. The article quotes Duane Jeffery, a biology professor at BYU states “probably 90 percent of people who are LDS think the church is against evolution. But they don't get upset about it being taught in public schools.” He says the reason for this is that this is what students learn in LDS Seminary (a period of religious instruction that students in 9-12th grade can opt to take). I wrote yesterday about an LDS friend of mine who told me that seminary instructors were told not to take a position one way or another. Unfortunately at the moment that’s really just hearsay. From this article it sounds like some (many?) seminary instructors are going beyond that. Dr. Jeffery also wrote a book “Evolution and Mormonism”

From those poll results, the other stories I referred to, and my personal experiences I think there are:

1) People who view evolution as scientific and intelligent design as religious, and don’t want intelligent design taught as science (this category includes both religious and irreligious people).
2) People who view evolution as scientific and intelligent design as religious, but want intelligent design taught anyway.
3) People who view both evolution and intelligent design as scientific, and want intelligent design taught.
4) People who view both evolution and intelligent design as religious, and want intelligent design taught.

Overall, I’m fairly encouraged by those results. I’d say most of the 70% of respondents who want both creationism and evolution taught fit my category 3 or 4, while the 44% who think accepting evolution is incompatible with a belief in God fit category 2 or 4. As you can probably guess, I think the category 1 people have the right idea. I think there’s a fair bit of misunderstanding about the religious implications of evolution (i.e., evolution = atheism), and this is fueled by organizations like Focus on the Family (more on this later), and people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. The easiest way to refute that notion is to point to organizations like the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), which doesn’t take an official stand on the issue, but whose membership includes a lot of Christians who accept evolution (more on this later too). I think it’s hard to claim that evolution is religious when adherents of many different religions, as well as agnostics and atheists accept evolution. I don’t see how someone could reasonably claim that there’s a Religion of Evolution in light of that observation. I think if more people were aware of this, some of the 70% who want creationism taught would change their mind.

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