Biology Test: Utah Ponders Bill Attacking Evolution

A Utah state senator is bent on ensuring that public school students statewide graduate with a terribly flawed understanding of biology.

Sen. Chris Buttars' bill, called "Instruction and Policy Relating To The Origins of Life," has passed the state senate and drawn media attention. The measure, SB 96, is a slam on evolution intended to muddy students' understanding of biology. It would require the State Board of Education to ensure that its science curriculum teaches students that "not all scientists agree on which theory regarding the origins of life, or the origins or present state of the human race, is correct."

In addition, the bill maintains that the state curriculum must "encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life...." The proposal never mentions "intelligent design," the latest variant of creationism. But the language is clearly meant to leave the impression in students' minds that science has alternative theories to evolution, something the pushers of intelligent design urge all public schools to teach their students.

Buttars' bill, somewhat surprisingly, has not drawn unanimous support in the state legislature. Indeed, as The New York Times reported yesterday, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the legislature have come out in opposition to it.

Republican state Rep. Stephen H. Urquhart announced his opposition to the bill last week, The Times reported. "I don't think God has an argument with science" he said.

The state senate's Republican Majority Leader Peter C. Knudson also opposes the bill, saying it is clearly "about religion."

In late December, a federal judge in Pennsylvania invalidated a Dover, Pa., public school policy that required educators to tell students about intelligent design. Judge John E. Jones III issued a scathing 139-page ruling that lambasted the school board members for adopting the policy and concluded that intelligent design was "nothing less than the progeny of creationism."

Buttars, however, is not dissuaded by the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District ruling. Instead, the senator blasts evolution as unproven and a tool used to degrade humanity. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, he groused about a professor who said humans "evolved from chimpanzees."

"He don't know that," observed Buttars.

In a Jan. 25 editorial titled "Not fit to survive," The Tribune maintained that even if the bill were passed by the legislature and "not made extinct by the veto pen of a governor who wants to enhance rather than ruin the state's reputation as a haven for good science, the legislation stands no chance of survival in the real world."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the parents in the Dover case, is monitoring several creationism controversies nationwide.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Times that the Utah situation is particularly interesting. Because of the state's conservative nature, he said, if the legislation were defeated, "it would be a very strong signal that the issue should be avoided elsewhere."