Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Buttars Finally Offers a Bill

The recent spasms of reaction from Utat state Senator Chris Buttars in many ways echoes the entire ID movement over the last few years. If one were to describe the strategic plans of the ID movement in that time, it might well be called the Incredible Shrinking Agenda. First they wanted ID taught alongside evolution with equal time, but it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. Then in 2002, in the middle of a fight over ID in Ohio, they suddenly changed to just wanting to “teach the controversy”. More recently, they’ve been arguing for just having the “evidence for and against evolution” taught. And now their strategy seems to be evolving toward bills to “encourage critical thinking” about evolution.

With each subsequent step, they have sought to make the target smaller and smaller to give our side less to shoot at and make their real goals look unrelated to the policies being advocated. And Buttars himself has gone through a similar series of ever more vague proposals on the subject. In June, he wanted to eliminate the teaching of evolution, especially human evolution, and require the teaching of ID instead; the state school board quickly squashed that idea and reaffirmed the importance of teaching evolution. For the last 3 months, he’s been promising to initiate a bill to require the teaching of “divine creation”, but the state’s attorneys have no doubt told him he’d have a serious problem with that. So now he has finally come up with a bill and it doesn’t do much:

A West Jordan Republican who long has promised to push a bill requiring that intelligent design be taught in Utah schools along with evolution has finally made public a draft of his measure, but it makes no mention of the controversial concept.

Instead, Sen. Chris Buttars’ draft bill released Friday requires Utah schools to “avoid the perception that all scientists agree on any one theory, or that the state endorses one theory over another,” when it comes to the origins of life.

The funny thing about this is how completely pointless it is. If you’re going to tell students that not all scientists don’t agree on how the origin of life took place, then why stop there? There is no issue – not even something as obvious as gravity – on which all scientists agree. There are always holdouts, some of them cranks and some not, who refuse to give their assent to what is perfectly obvious to everyone else. Even as successful a theory as heliocentrism, on which our entire space program are based, has holdouts. I’ve mentioned Gerardus Buow before, an astronomer who believes the Earth is the center of the universe and does not rotate on its axis at all.

For that matter, why stop with science? You can find a historian to disagree with almost anything in historical scholarship if you look hard enough. Are we going to teach in history that not all historians agree that the American revolution was a good thing? Should we teach Gary North’s position that the Constitution was an illegal document drawn up by what amounts to a Satanic conspiracy?

The bottom line is that Buttars is just looking for anything – anything that will cast doubt upon evolution. And he is looking for that not because he knows anything at all about evolution – his statements on the subject betray rank ignorance of the subject – but because he is looking to protect his religious beliefs from an idea he perceives to be threatening to them.

Comments

  1. #1 Ed Darrell
    December 26, 2005

    Rep. Buttars’ bill is opposed by the Republican governor, opposed by the state education officials, opposed by the biology departement at Brigham Young University, and generally reported in the humor and gossip columns of Utah’s newspapers.

    It may be worth tracking the bill to see the growing schisms between Mormons and other Christians of the extreme right. Write your Utah legislator, but this bill is not the threat to science that is posed daily by the Texas board of education. Laugh, but keep your hand on the throttle and your eye upon the rail . . .

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    December 26, 2005

    I agree with you, Ed. I’m following Buttars mostly for the amusement of it. He’s so clearly just flailing around trying to find something that will work and it’s funny to watch.

  3. #3 Tim Makinson
    December 26, 2005

    “…avoid the perception that all scientists agree on any one theory…”

    All that teachers need to do to get around this is come up with some boiler plate statement along the lines of “although the vast majority of scientists agree with evolution, a small minority disagree with it. The justifications they have given for these disagreements have largely been discredited by mainstream science.” Just because it requires them to present the disagreement, doesn’t mean they have to present the dissenters positively.

    The bill is likely to be ineffective as well as unconsitutional.

  4. #4 jcw
    December 26, 2005

    Give it some time. Eventually ID will evolve into evolution. Like other readers here I am a Christian that believes in evolution. There are some missing pieces in the timeline but the overwhelming evidence for evolution is hard to argue. The thing that irritates me most about some of the religious arguments is that they will accept science that can be observed and tested currently but don’t try to use those observations to look into the past. For some reason they think we can learn lessons from recorded history but not from unrecorded history.

  5. #5 Matthew
    December 26, 2005

    Well I don’t think anyone would have a problem if on the first day of the class the teacher/professor gave some vague critical thinking speech, which of course would fit in with what ID advocates say they want, but they want this qualifier to be directed at evolution specifically. So if you just put it in the syllabus to always think critically, students might get the wrong idea that they need to think critically of everything and not just, you know, whether or not we’re just monkeys.