Buttars on a Roll

Here comes Chris Buttars again, putting his rank ignorance and utter lack of critical reasoning skills on display in an op-ed piece in USA Today. Buttars has it all figured out, folks. Evolution is all about destroying God and that's that. We might as well close up the Evil Atheist Conspiracy right now; a halfwit State Senator from Utah has nailed us.

The campaign to eliminate God from the public forum has been going on for decades, having accelerated greatly since the Supreme Court's ill-advised decision in 1963 to eliminate prayer from public schools. And I believe those fighting against the teaching of intelligent design in schools have an ulterior motive to eliminate references to God from the entire public forum.

First of all, Mr. Buttars, the Supreme Court did not eliminate prayer from schools in 1963, they eliminated government-mandated and compulsory prayers from schools. People pray in school every single day around the nation, saying grace before lunch, uttering a silent prayer before a test, or meeting in bible studies and prayer groups on school grounds in hundreds of communities. No one tries to stop them.

The argument over classroom discussion of evolution vs. divine design is just the latest attack on everything that would mention a belief in God. If you talk against Darwinian evolution in the classroom, you immediately incur the rage of those who don't want God discussed in any way, shape or form.

Well see, there's a problem here. It assumes that one must be anti-God to reject ID or to support evolution. And that is simply false. Some of the biggest critics of ID are in fact Christians. Ken Miller is probably the most prominent and he is a devout Catholic. Howard Van Till, my colleague on the MCFS board, is a committed Christian and has been his entire life. Yet both think that ID is false and has no place in science classrooms. The fact is that this argument from Buttars is nothing more than an ad hominem - "they're all atheists and their only motivation is to destroy God, so don't listen to them" - designed to distract attention from the substantive issue of whether ID has any merit as a scientific theory. The reason why Buttars introduces this ad hominem is because, when he does attempt to address the actual evidence for evolution he quickly displays his complete ignorance on the subject:

These vehement critics claim that there are mountains of scientific proof that man evolved from some lower species also related to apes. But in this tremendous effort to support Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in all these "mountains of information," there has not been any scientific fossil evidence linking apes to man.

The trouble with the "missing link" is that it is still missing! In fact, the whole fossil chain that could link apes to man is also missing! The theory of evolution, which states that man evolved from some other species, has more holes in it than a crocheted bathtub.

I realize that is a dramatic statement, so to be clear, let me restate: There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man.

This is denial on a Baghdad Bob scale, like standing in front of a car dealership and proclaiming that there is no evidence for the existence of automobiles. Buttars is about as wrong as it is possible to be. There is extraordinary evidence tying humans to primates, both from fossil evidence and from the molecular and genetic sequencing data which shows homologies like shared endogenous retroviruses that cannot be explained by anything other than evolution. I would be most interesting in hearing Mr. Buttars attempt to explain the sequence of hominid species from the Australopithicenes to the various species within the genus Homo and why they happen to appear in just the right temporal and anatomical order that evolution would predict, and why they show a gradual evolution in all of the key diagnostic traits of humans - dentition pattern, bipedality, brain size (and brain to body size ratio), use and manufacture of tools, and cultural sophistication. How does Buttars explain those species? Was God tinkering around, making an almost-almost-almost human, then an almost-almost-human, then an almost-human and then finally making us? That hardly seems necessary for an omnipotent God.

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Chris Buttars, the eternally clueless Utah state Senator, certainly didn't get the answers he wanted from the Utah state school board. Buttars has been threatening to submit a bill to mandate the teaching of "divine design" - a slightly more honest version of intelligent design - if the school…

And USA Today gives him a national forum? Aiy!

But -- having read and immensely enjoyed this blog for a few months now, there's something I wonder about more and more as time passes. You can refute these people logically, resoundingly, and to your own satisfaction, every time they utter or write a word, and that won't make the slightest dent in their own self-satisfaction or in their appeal to their core audience. What's worse, though, is that the subject matter is so complicated that the idiocies being spouted, especially the more sophisticated-sounding ones, surely may have quite a bit of appeal beyond the core audience as well. People are not going to spend a lot of time trying to understand the details if one side or the other has strong gut appeal for them.

If you/we really want to make a difference politically in the long run, it would be nice to have some very clear analogies to simpler things, maybe along the lines of: if we built bridges the way ID constructs its "science," the bridges would fall down the first time someone drove over them. The car dealership one is a bit like what I'm thinking of, but isn't really enlightening as to the process of how science works and ID doesn't.

Also and again, it's all very well, and incredibly appealing and satisfying, to squash these idiotic arguments logically and to ridicule their perpetrators. But there's a powerful psychological side to this issue that I don't think is reachable by logic. I'm not sure how to analyze it, but the analogy might be the psychology of "us/them" and the "evil other" that's in play in relation to gay issues in the public arena (I'm gay, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, unlike the issue of evolution in the schools). We can pass all the laws we want, and that helps in some ways, but it doesn't get at the root of the problem (note the survival of sometimes vicious racism 142 years (?) after the Emancipation Proclamation). The thing that worries me is that though ridicule, nastiness, and a strong sense of our own clever superiority won't make any difference one way or the other in the minds of the people who already think ID doesn't belong in schools, or in the minds of the ID crowd (because they're playing and enjoying the same game), they may make a lot of difference in the reactions of the undecided, middle ground, gray area folks watching. And not in our favor.

Ed -- I'd be curious to hear some stories and thoughts about how you approach your work with school districts, not in terms of subject matter and content, but in terms of the psychological and interpersonal side of that work......

By TheWeaver (not verified) on 10 Aug 2005 #permalink

Weaver: you're absolutely right about the "powerful psychological side to this issue" not "reachable by logic." But debunkings such as this do serve to isolate the hard-core IDiots and demagogues from those who are open to reason (or at least don't have strong pre-conceived opinions). The more places attack such foolishness, the less willing its perpetrators will be to go public with it; and the more ashamed others will be to be seen near it.

Also, many creationists allege that their "theories" have gone "unquestioned" by reputable scientists. We need to make it obvious that they WILL be questioned wherever they appear.

A lot of the political drive for phony science consists of outright bullying, and the best way to neutralize bullies is to fight them publicly, and let everyone know that we are able and willing to fight them, and keep on fighting them until they are defeated.

You should probably put this on PT, with a note that this guy is straying quite far from the DI approved script, thus annoying the hell out of them.


You write, Was God tinkering around, making an almost-almost-almost human, then an almost-almost-human, then an almost-human and then finally making us?

He/She must obviously have been modeling draft revisions for all of my students.

'Ken Miller is probably the most prominent and he is a devout Catholic. Howard Van Till, my colleague on the MCFS board, is a committed Christian and has been his entire life. '

See this is funny. It also shows the flexibility of Christianity, which could be argued is a reason for it's survivability.

But in truth both of these men are IDers. Not the notion put forward today, but definite IDer's. I don't have a problem with it, but often what Miller says and does makes less sense than what the current crop of ID proponents put forward.

And his position on why Christianity is the 'correct' religion as opposed to the others is simply laughable.

Buttars on a Roll??

I Just got that!!

*LOL* (though don't know if it was intentionally punny)

Chance wrote:

But in truth both of these men are IDers. Not the notion put forward today, but definite IDer's. I don't have a problem with it, but often what Miller says and does makes less sense than what the current crop of ID proponents put forward.

You're conflating "believing in God" with being an "IDer". They are not the same thing. ID is not simply belief in God, ID is a set of criticisms of evolution and a bad god of the gaps argument, which neither Miller nor Van Till accept.

Yes, it was intentional. I wondered if anyone would get it.

I can't see the name "Buttars" without having a brief South Park moment, anyway.

[quote]You're conflating "believing in God" with being an "IDer". They are not the same thing. ID is not simply belief in God, ID is a set of criticisms of evolution and a bad god of the gaps argument, which neither Miller nor Van Till accept.[/quote]

Right I said that here:

[quote]Not the notion put forward today, but definite IDer's.[/quote]

They think an intelligent force is behind it all-God. They think the current version of ID is unscientific and it is, but they still by ID just not the version presented here.

If you believe in God on some level you believe in a form of ID, well, I guess not in all belief systems but in the ones mentioned.

Ok. Here's my ultimate solution to this wingnutamania.

1. God visualized in his mind all of the possible ways in which creation could be actualized.
2. One of those possible worlds (or ways) started out with a set of specific natural laws, given initial conditions and a Big Bang, and then, at some much later point, one of the tiny planets in that universe evolved human beings via natural selection.
3. God dug that possible world the most.
4. Since he dug that one the most, God actualized that possible world -- don't ask me which fork of the Euthphyro dilemma he is satisfying... :)
5. Thus, it is true that we evolved from apes and from some primordal slime, and we did so through purely mechanistic means via natural selection. It is also true that God "guided" the fact that we were the result by actualizing that possible world over other ones.

Whalla! The God folks are happy, the evolutions are happy, and the ID folks get squeezed out in the process while, in a way, "acknowledged" since God did, in a way, have a hand in things. But not in the way they want.

"If you believe in God on some level you believe in a form of ID"

Chance, this is only true if you use a definition of ID that makes it synonymous with belief in God.

It is entirely possible for a person to believe in God and accept science. ID'ers apprently think that's not the case, but that's because they're idiots immune to reason. Many believers in God are not immune to reason.

No, I understand that is the case. I'm just saying that for most believers, when you get to the core and this includes Miller and his ilk, you think the entire process is due to a God.

It's not ID, but on some level it is splitting hairs.

To be honest it's almost worse. When you read Miller and his blending of Christianity with evolution you get a sweet smelling pile of doo-doo as opposed to the rank smelling doo-doo of the typical creationist's. Not on the science end mind you, but on the apologist theology end.

In fact his theology, it could be argued, is far less sensible than the YEC.


While I have no doubt that God might predict the course evolution would take, it must be stated emphatically that this does not imply that humans can predict that course. Individuals, programmed by their genome to develop and act purposefully, are different in this regard from populations, which evolve in response to selection pressures on variation. That variation arises randomly. We can predict the course that an individual will take because the genetic program controls the development, physiology, morphology, and, to some extent, the behavior of the organism. Of course the genetic program is very open and the course is affected by the environment, but the evolution of species is, as Lewontin says, variational rather rather than developmental (transformational). Chemical processes, animals, plants, cells, planets, solar systems, galaxies, and even the universe itself evolve transformationally, but species (and economies, perhaps?) evolve variationally. Any change in any system due to intrinsic factors, such as potential energy, or the posession of a genetic program, evolve developmentally. The evolution of populations, however, proceeds by the selection of certain varieties from populations consisting of unique individuals. This depends on the production of new variation in each generation. The sources of variation (recombination, errors in DNA replication, developmental homeostasis) are so complex that we cannot yet predict the variation landscapes arising in each subsequent generation, along with the complex nature of selection pressures, means that we certainly cannot predict in which direction the genetic equilibrium will shift. Thus, the future course of populational evolution cannot be predicted. Even subjecting two populations to the same selection pressures may lead to different results because of the different variation landscapes arising in them. This is why biologists are typically skeptical of the possibility of many 'human'-like intelligent species evolving elsewhere in the universe, compared to physicists who, despite the statistical nature of modern physics, still often hold to an outdated model of determinism.


I'm not sure what you are objecting to. My argument does not assume that humans can predict the course of evolution, only that God could.

Well, see, I find it incredibly amusing on one level that this guy, Buttars, is from Utah, and is a Mormon.

See, Utah is a geology and evolution playground. Disneyland for botanists and geologists.

And Mormons? Well, don't forget "Dinosaur Jim" Jensen, the great paleontologist from Brigham Young University who was such a prolific digger that, when he retired, he left a quarter-million specimens stored under Cougar Stadium just waiting for graduate assistants to chip the beasties out of the rock and get famous for writing them up. See, Mormons got no truck against evolution. In fact, preaching against evolution has been interpreted as "preaching false doctrine," a major infraction of the rules of preaching in Mormonism. (They have to have solid rules because they have lay clergy, you understand.)

So Buttars goes against the tourism and academic businesses in the state, and against his own church, which can be quite authoritarian in its own way.

But he is apparently unaware of all of this. He's as clueless as they come.

And we're supposed to take him seriously?

When I lived there, I thought Utah was a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there. Now I wonder whether it wouldn't be at least fun to go visit, to take the kids to see Chris Buttars. I mean, Shasta the Liger, the attraction at Salt Lake's Hogle Zoo, is long dead. Oddities like Shasta, and Buttars, need to be seen to be appreciated.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 13 Aug 2005 #permalink