Saturday, January 21, 2006


Buttars strikes back

Chris Buttars' bill (SB 96) has passed its first senate vote. It needs to pass one more, and then it will go to the Utah House. If it passes there it will still need to be signed by Governor Hunstman.

There were two good articles in the Deseret News and in the Salt Lake Tribune. I've also been trying to find some transcript of the Senate proceedings, but I haven't had any luck. The Utah Senate site has audio files, but the won't work on my Mac. I'll fire up the ol' PC some time today and have a listen.

The articles:
Evolution bill debate revolves around religion
Preliminary OK: Utah skeptics of Darwin's theory won on an initial vote
. Salt Lake Tribune, January 21, 2006. (Abbreviated SLT, Jan 21)

Panel OKs bill to add footnote to evolution
Disclaimer: Committee insists there is no consensus on the origins of people
. Salt Lake Tribune, January 18, 2006. (Abbreviated SLT Jan 18)

Evolution: Buttars bill is an embarrassment. Salt Lake Tribune, Editorial, January 18, 2006 (Abbreviated SLT Jan 18 ed)

Senate gives initial OK to 'origins' bill Deseret Morning News, January 21, 2006. (Abbreviated DMN Jan 21)

Buttars claims that his bill isn't motivated by a desire to include religion in science classes. Apparently he thinks that all of his earlier comments and earlier attempts at bills will just vanish in a puff of smoke. I think that's nuts. Those documents and statements will be used as evidence in the lawsuit that will certainly be filed if this bill ever becomes law.

" Two ACLU attorneys who attended Friday's debate said the bill is obviously fueled by a religious, not scientific, revulsion to Charles Darwin's theory. They contend that courts look not only at the letter of the law but the intent of lawmakers when determining if legislation is constitutional.
"We were disappointed in the vote," said Dani Eyer, executive director of the ACLU of Utah. "But we were sitting there watching them make our case in legislative history.""
(SLT, Jan 21)

Buttars' religious motivations are glaringly obvious. Buttars is wasting time and money working on this bill, and he's going to waste a lot more on a lawsuit defending the bill; a lawsuit that I think he'll very clearly lose. Didn't he pay any attention to the Dover ruling? Board members like Buckingham and Bonsell tried to claim that they weren't motivated by the desire to inject religion into science classes (even lying under oath to do so), but they had made statements that they wanted creationism taught. Even though the disclaimer that they required teachers to read didn't explicitly include the word "creationism" their statements clearly showed their intent. Buttars isn't being clever by keeping explicit mention of "creationism" or "intelligent design" out of this bill. His intentions are very well-established.

"Sen. Chris Buttars has tried to eliminate any possibility that his bill questioning the validity of evolution could allow for religious instruction in the classroom - and avoid the legal risks associated with such teaching.
But religion is the reason he proposed the bill and religion drove most of the debate Friday, as the full Senate gave its initial approval to SB96.
Comments on the Senate floor commending God's creation of man and condemning atheists for pushing their "religion," could potentially end up as evidence in court should the bill become law."
(SLT, Jan 21)

" "I challenge anyone to say that somewhere in those lines that I'm trying to promote religious philosophies," Buttars said. "My bill from the get-go never included anything about intelligent design, creationism or any faith-based philosophy."" (SLT, Jan 21)

At this point I want to remind readers that Buttars' earlier bill was about "divine design." Frankly I question his honesty when he says his current bill isn't motivated by religion. That's also clear from this comments:

" But Darwin's theory of evolution is central to the high school biology core curriculum. Buttars has taken issue with that, saying the idea humans evolved from a lower species is not a proven fact. Friday, he noted a woman told him when her children were told "we evolved from a lower kind in school . . . it totally blew up their faith."" (DMN Jan 21)

" Buttars expressed disgust with the idea that humans could have evolved from some "lower animal." He has said he decided to sponsor this bill after parents called him concerned that the teaching of evolution conflicted with religious explanations." (SLT Jan 18)

Buttars is definitely entitled to be disgusted with the idea that humans evolved from other life forms. Buttars is free to teach that to his children, and he's free to try to convince others to share his ideas. Buttars is free to express his religious views. Buttars, and the senators who voted in favor of his bill, are absolutely not free to try to impose those ideas on others.

Buttars and his supporters also had the gall to say that opposition to SB96 was driven by atheists:

" The preliminary Senate vote Friday was 17-12, with all eight Senate Democrats and four Republicans opposing the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Peter Knudson.
Knudson rejected comments by Buttars and Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, that the opposition is driven by "secularists and atheists."
"I will tell you that is not the spirit by which we should be debating this legislation," Knudson said. "There is a place in life for evolution."
He said religious people may also believe in evolution, since "we don't know how God created the Earth.""
(SLT, Jan 21)

" Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said, "I'm amazed that this religion of atheism and secularism, they are so nervous about being able to simply say, not everyone agrees on this (theory). . . . The slippery slope is that religion's imposing view that we can't have a belief in God. I find that offensive, personally."" (DMN Jan 21)

I was so pleased by Knudson's statement. Killpack's, on the other hand, is nothing short of idiotic. The profs. from BYU who spoke against this bill are atheists? Killpack is the sort of Christian who spits in the face (figuratively) of members of organizations like the American Scientific Affiliation (many of whom accept evolution) and the Affiliation of Christian Geologists (many of whom don't accept Flood geology and who are ridiculed and despised by Young Earth creationist organizations for that reason). If belief in evolution is incompatible with Killpack's conception of God that's fine. Killpack really needs to recognize that an awful lot of people don't have a problem reconciling belief in God with acceptance of evolution. Caricaturing your opponents as atheists (which again happened in Dover) is a disgusting trick (and it's doubly bad coming from a state senator).

" "All it's asking is when you get done teaching your evolution, is (say) there is no consensus, and there are other theories. . . . We're trying to protect our kids," Buttars said. "That professor they brought in from the BYU talking about (how) we evolved from chimpanzees, he don't know that."" (DMN Jan 21)

This quote is the reason I'm particularly interested in seeing the transcripts of the Senate discussion. I'd love to read the comments about the professor from BYU, I doubt Buttars is describing them well. It is pretty clear that Buttars' doesn't understand evolution:

"Buttars and other Republican senators agreed that evolution exists but expressed dismay at the idea of inter-species evolution.
"There is evolution within species," Buttars said. "There are big dogs and little dogs, big cats and little cats, but you haven't seen a 'dat.' You don't see intermediate species."
As Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, put it: ''Unless there is something out there that I don't know about, the missing link is still missing.''"
(SLT Jan 18)

A "dat" . . . he actually said a "dat." He actually thinks that conventional biologists think there should be "dats" if evolution occurred. I am disgusted that Buttars hasn't taken the time to learn what conventional scientists actually think before trying to introduce his bills.

" Listening to state Sen. Chris Buttars describe the theory of evolution is like hearing Karl Marx describe capitalism. If it were the only description you heard, you'd probably be as against it as he is." (SLT Jan 18 ed)

" The theory of evolution has been refined since it was first put forward in Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection, but it remains the rock-solid foundation of biological science. Its core principle, that all life on Earth has evolved from common beginnings and has changed over time to meet the demands of different environments, is not challenged by any scientist or scientific body worthy of the name.
Buttars' constant references to the lack of a "missing link" or his insistence that he's never seen a dog change into a cat display a towering ignorance of the subject. That would be his own business, and perhaps a source of comfort to him, were it not for the fact that he is trying to enshrine his willful misunderstandings into state law."
(SLT Jan 18 ed)

Buttars and his supporters also can't claim that they're just trying to teach critical thinking. They are explicitly singling evolution out (another tactic that failed in Dover).

" Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, attempted to strip Buttars' bill of any reference to "origins of life," replacing it and similar statements with "scientific." Lawmakers shouldn't single out evolution, if the aim is for students to critically analyze scientific theories upon which some scientists disagree on, he said.
The amendment failed."
(SLT, Jan 21)

" Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, unsuccessfully proposed amendments to replace references to the origins of life or "present state of the human race" with "scientific" theory. So, the bill would encourage students to critically analyze scientific theories, from relativity to plate tectonics.
"If we are actually going to do those things, we should do it not with just one theory in the biology classroom. We should do it with all theories in the classroom," McCoy said. "The fact it does target one particular theory points to the fact this debate is really about something much different than is being represented.""
(DMN Jan 21)

Buttars religious motivations are transparent, and what's worse, they're clearly documented. This bill should be attached to a flashing neon sign that says "Violates separation of church and state." Buttars isn't trying anything at all that hasn't been tried (and failed) before.

I want to be very clear that I'm not using "religious" as an insult. I am not offended that people are motivated by their religious beliefs. I am incensed when they try to impose their religious beliefs on others. It seems obvious to me that this is the case with SB96.

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