Buttars Rebuffed by Utah Board

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 board doesn't issue a position statement officially denouncing human evolution. Instead, the board has gone the other direction:

The state school board's proposed position statement on teaching evolution doesn't give an inch for a state senator's "intelligent design" concepts.

That bothers Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He wants the board to insert language saying humans didn't evolve from any other species...

Its contents were revealed in a school board agenda the Deseret Morning News received this Friday.

"As a fundamental scientific concept, evolution is a necessary part of science classroom instruction, and it will continue to be taught and progressively refined as a key scientific principle," the 1 1/2-page document states.

"Teachers should respect and be nonjudgmental about (student) beliefs, and teachers should help students understand that science is an essential way of knowing. Teachers should encourage students to discuss any seeming conflicts with their parents or religious leaders."

The document also defines the weight of theory in scientific context, cites evidence that the universe and life have changed over time, and notes other ways people glean understanding, such as historical analysis, art, religion and philosophy, which rely upon "other ways of knowing, such as emotion and faith.

"While these ways of understanding and creating meaning are important to individuals and society, they are not amenable to scientific investigation and thus not appropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum," the document states.

That's a tremendously strong statement, far stronger than perhaps one would expect from a school board in such a highly conservative state. One has to admire the school board's courage in the face of what is surely enormous public disapproval. And naturally, Buttars doesn't like it one bit:

Buttars believes the document should include new language: "There is not generally accepted agreement in the scientific community or (evidence) that has stood up to scientific scrutiny regarding the evolution of man from any other species."

"That's all they have to do to make this an acceptable article," Buttars said. "I doubt they'll do it."

One would hope not, because that statement would simply be lying to students. He doesn't think there is generally accepted agreement on human evolution? I would challenge him to name even 5 anthropologists - you know, the people who actually study this subject - who reject human evolution. I can name exactly one in the entire world. If that isn't generally accepted agreement, what on earth would be? Let's leave the science to scientists and not to halfwit state senators.

Hat tip to Bob Becker for emailing this to me.


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The document also defines the weight of theory in scientific context, cites evidence that the universe and life have changed over time, and notes other ways people glean understanding, such as historical analysis, art, religion and philosophy, which rely upon "other ways of knowing, such as emotion and faith.

Why does philosophy constantly get treated by outsiders as though it was nothing more than a secular version of theology? It certainly doesn't rely on "other ways of knowing, such as emotion and faith" and I really think it undeservingly get clumped in with religion when the creationism debate is discussed. Not sure why historical analysis get thrown in there either, I doubt many historians would be thrilled by people saying that their research is based on hunches and faith.

The New Republic has been covering this debate quite a bit recently, and Noam Scheiber has an insightful article (sorry, subscribers only) about the philosophical implications of intelligent design.

For those without access to the article, his point is that ID advocates are adopting a postmodern relativism most commonly associated with the academic left.

From the article:

When a proposition is empirically false, as both creationism and ID (to the extent that it makes empirical claims) are, you're free to assert its truth; you just can't call it science. The creationists had no problem with this; they just rejected any science that contradicted the Bible. But the IDers aspire to scientific truth. Unfortunately, the only way to claim that something empirically false is scientifically true is to question science's capacity for sorting out truth from falsehood, the same way postmodernists do.

In a nutshell, they are fighting against a scientific theory the same way a politician would fight against a public policy issue he doesn't like: by chipping away at people's certainty, muddying the waters, making everything seem relative. At that point the question becomes what people want to believe: do you want to believe that you are a glorified monkey? Or do you want to believe that you were designed in the image of the most perfect being possible?

Scheiber concludes:

If, unlike the postmodern left, the ID movement can enlist mainstream conservatives in questioning science's capacity to produce objective truth, then it's by no means clear the effort won't succeed. In that case, it will end up threatening a whole lot more than just evolution.

PS. Matthew -- Philosophers regularly adopt different first principles, and naturally come to contradictory conclusions even where they are logically consistent. Science has, for the last 400 or 500 years, maintained pretty consistent underlying principles. I think this is a big reason that people see philosophy as wishy-washy. I agree, though, that it is pretty disingenuous to equate philosophy with religion because of that fact. Philosophers tend to be much more up front and rigorous about their first principles.

worm eater at August 27, 2005 04:01 PM

From the article....

I have to admit, I have no idea what Noam Scheiber is saying from the excerpt that you posted. The reason that creationism and ID is not science is because there is no evidence for either of them, and the proponents for them do not propose any mechanism by which evidence can be adduced. The propositions aren't "empirically false," as Scheiber claims, but the fact is that proponents of the propositions have not provided any evidence for them, and, apparently, they have no intention to. Propositions? Yes. Science? No. No evidence, no science.

It appears that Scheiber has a degree in economics and mathematics. http://www.tnr.com/showBio.mhtml?pid=16 I really do wish that, if someone wants to weigh in on issues regarding the sciences, he would at least have an understanding of, and background in, science. It's as simple as that.

I really do wish that, if someone wants to weigh in on issues regarding the sciences, he would at least have an understanding of, and background in, science.

I don't really see where you are disagreeing with him. First of all, he is saying that neither one is science. Second, he is saying that to the extent that each one makes empirically verifiable claims, they are false. It is true that some of the core claims of ID are not empirically verifiable, and he doesn't deny that.

But his overall point is that IDers are not concerned with what is empirically verifiable and what is not, and yet they think their ideas should be taught as science. They, like many postmodernists, consider truth not as something that is discovered through "logical or empirical discourse," but that flows from power.

In any case, I don't think a person should have to have a degree in a certain subject to comment on it.

As a Christian teacher, I don't mind someone mentioning intelligent design in class. However, I prefer someone other than Chris Buttars to promote it. He is only using it as his latest pet poltical agenda, especially against education. He loves to hear himself talk and get quoted and now seems to fancy himself an expert, especially since he got in a national newspaper recently (they must have been hard up for news). We might as well have Yogi Bear promote evolution if we regard Buttars as an expert on ID. Buttars puts his foot in the mouth too much, especially sometimes against his imaginary enemies or saying he has "friends" that have a particular belief that he is against.