Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Text of Buttars’ Bill

Utah State Senator Chris Buttars has released the full text of his new bill. As expected, it’s a train wreck. Throughout the last few months, he has seemed quite confused as to what exactly he wanted to argue against. First he indicated that it was the teaching of evolution itself, which he wanted to balance with “divine design”. Then he narrowed it down to opposition to human evolution specifically. Finally, he indicated it was the origin of life he had a problem with. I don’t think he knows yet:

What I have wanted to do all along is stop opinionated teachers from teaching human evolution as fact. Scientists disagree on the origins of humankind. Young students should have a fighting chance to appreciate the difference between theory and law.

Wow, where do you even start with such a bizarre combination of words? First, I love the word “opinionated” in there, as though what was taught in school was just a matter of opinion rather than scholarly consensus. You know, it’s just like whether you prefer Larry Bird or Magic Johnson as a basketball player, just a matter of personal preference. Second, I love the fact that he refers to “scientists” rather than “scientists in the relevant field”. When he says that scientists disagree on the origins of humankind, he is talking specifically about the field of physical anthropology. Can he name a single anthropologist in the entire world who rejects human evolution? I can only think of one, a German.

Lastly, he contrasts theory and law as though they were mutually exclusive things. This, I suspect, is because Buttars, like most uneducated Americans, thinks that in a scientific context the word “theory” means “wild guess” or “highly suspect conclusion”. That, of course, is completely false. Now, on to the text of his bill:

(1) 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 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.

Hmmm. Let’s rewrite this slightly:

(1) In order to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the position, location and motion of the Earth, consider opposing viewpoints, and 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.

That’s how a geocentrist would perhaps write such a bill, and it would be based upon precisely the same reasoning. All scientists don’t agree, of course. You can find as many astronomers who deny heliocentrism as you can anthropologists who deny human evolution (exactly one in each case), and all it takes is one holdout to insure that not all scientists agree on any one theory. For that matter, why stop there? Why not:

(1) In order to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the causes of human disease and illness, consider opposing viewpoints, and 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.

That might be how a follower of Mary Baker Eddy would word such a bill. After all, there is an entire religion which denies that microbes are the source of illness and disease and refuses to follow the findings of mainstream medicine. I’m sure there are a few scientists among its adherents, meaning that not all scientists agree on that one either.

And after all, we wouldn’t want some “opinionated” teacher making students think that they should use antibiotics when they have a bacterial infection. No, we should let students “form their own opinion” and encourage “critical thinking” by presenting “both sides” of the “controversy”. For that matter, the same rationale would justify teaching flat earthism, holocaust denial and the “stork theory” of baby formation. See how easily this rhetoric can be used in pretty much any setting? There is no field, save perhaps basic math, where you have total unanimity of opinion on anything. It’s interesting that Mr. Buttars only applies such rhetoric to an idea he personally opposes.

Comments

  1. #1 Mr_Christopher
    December 27, 2005

    Looks like he is just following his Discovery Institute orders. Quit promoting intelligent design creationism and now that they have lost in court, just bang the “teach the controversy” drum.

    I hope someone in Utah suggests they use Judge Jone’s 139 page ruling as a part of any science discussion on evolution so students will be able to better understand the issue at hand.

  2. #2 Martin Striz
    December 27, 2005

    Or schools should include this disclaimer:

    http://striz.org/pics/elements.jpg

  3. #3 goddog
    December 27, 2005

    Ed, your logic looks like exactly the argument that should be used in any lawsuit to strike down this pathetic law if in fact there are enough boneheads in the Utah legislature to pass it.

    Legal question: Would the court recognize that – 1. since the supreme court has struck down the anti-evolution rhetoric of “creationism”, and 2. now the Dover judge has struck down the EXACT same anti-evolution arguments under the guise of “intelligent design”, and 3. Buttars’ bill, using yet the EXACT same anti-evolution “teach the controversy” rubric, actually started out under the brilliant name of “devine design” – then this bill ultimately is of the same origin and intent as the previous incarnations of the same arguments against evolution, and is also then unconstitutional on its face?

    A little off-topic, but do you think the aged Bill Dembski of the year 2040 will look back at his life and wonder WHAT THE HELL he was thinking?

  4. #4 Inoculated Mind
    December 28, 2005

    I find the position (or non-position) of Mormons on evolution very strange. Mormons are so very interested in genetics, and the concept of family, and whenever I talk to proselytizing mormons about evolution, they say they don’t believe in it, but the church has no position on it. And I’m like, ummm GENETICS! Shouldn’t they extend their love of genetics into the hordes of evidence for the relatedness of humans and chimpanzees to one another? We are one big happy family.

    Utah is a strange place, though. In Arches National Park, Utah, there is a huge red rock phallus that I went to see (and showed Behe when he came on my show back in May) and no one, not even the park rangers, seem to acknowledge that it is there. With all the postcards implying that gOD created every last fantastic geological feature, what does that mean about that great erection?

    On Dembski:
    1. Who was I fooling with that swath of hair covering my balding areas?
    2. At least the book sales paid for the appendix surgery.
    3. I always hated Pandas.

  5. #5 Dave S.
    December 28, 2005

    I’ve always disliked atomism, because as we all know, “Atomism is incompatible with Judeo-Christian principles because atomism views matter as independent of God, either because it exists from eternity and denies creation by an Intelligent Designer, or because its motions and events are independent of control by a Sovereign Being.”

    But don’t be fooled, this is all about the science and there is even many many scientists who champion these views.

    And growing.

    Atomism is a theory in crisis.

    Teach the controversy!!

  6. #6 Tice with a J
    December 28, 2005

    Inoculated Mind, I’m sorry the Mormons you’ve met are so confused on the subject of evolution. I can assure you that they teach evolutionary biology at Brigham Young University without any “just a theory/ consider ID” disclaimers, and I have no problem reconciling my Mormon faith with good science.

    By the way, why do you hate pandas? They’re so cute and fluffy!

  7. #7 Inoculated Mind
    December 28, 2005

    Well I don’t know about the Mormons I’ve met, but I meant just the proselytizing ones I’ve talked to about it. Strangely enough, after I wrote a column comparing religion, using a couple mormons that came to my door as an example, to viral replication, two Mormons emailed me saying they liked it and agreed.

    Sorry, I guess I confused you about the numbered list: Each item with a number is a separate thought of Dembski’s in 2040, as per the question.

    As for my feelings, pandas are cool. I just hope the after taste from Of Pandas And People wears off quickly. Maybe I should watch some Ranma or that South Park episode with the “Sexual Harrasment Panda”

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