Senator wants to change how evolution is taught
A West Jordan lawmaker says he will soon attempt to rein in high school science teachers who present the theory of human evolution in their classrooms as fact. "I wanted to tell the school, don’t do that, you don’t know that, nor do you even know how life began," state Republican Sen. Chris Buttars told The Park Record.
He has filed a bill that would require teachers discuss different theories and opposing viewpoints of the origins of life. Human evolution shouldn’t be taught as the gospel truth, Buttars said. "Human evolution is a theory, not a scientific law," the senator continued.
But a U.S. District Court judge recently ruled that science teachers in a Pennsylvania school district could not teach so-called divine design in their classrooms. Divine design claims some aspects of the natural world are too complex to be explained by the concepts of species evolution propagated by Charles Darwin in the 1800s.
"[The Big Bang] is one theory and there are several others. One, that life crawled out of the slime somewhere," Buttars said. "Yes, I agree with divine design, but I’m not going there this time, necessarily." Buttars says he began crafting his legislation about a year ago after "several" parents asked him "how come my kid’s coming home and telling me that in his high school biology class he’s being told that we evolved from some kind of a primate?" "They shouldn’t be doing that," Buttars said.
He supports divine design but says courts wouldn’t allow science teachers in public schools to present the concept.
"There hasn’t been a track record established, yet, where that can go forward and stand constitutional muster. I’m not planning on being the test case," Buttars said. "President Bush came out and said, ‘I think it ought to be taught.’ And I agree with that. But I have never said that it ought to be taught in a science class, nor have I ever said it would be in the bill."
But lawmakers shouldn’t regulate what teachers say in their classrooms, Park City School District board member Kim Carson said, adding that state and local school board members should design curricula. "I feel our science teachers should be left to teach science," Carson said. "I bet you will have some people contest it." Some supporters of divine design claim their beliefs do not violate the separation of church and state because unlike the concepts of creationism, a god didn’t necessarily create everything. The national debate on the origin of life is expected to erupt on Utah’s Capitol Hill this year and lawmakers are already expressing their opinions.
"I haven’t seen the bill but I’m asking why we want to stir the pot right now," said state Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas.
However, setting moral guidelines for public education does fall under legislators’ purview, he said. "I think it will be an interesting debate, but, this divine design, my position is that there are things that ought to be taught in the home and ought to be taught in the theology environments of the world and those are personal choices," opined state Republican Sen. Beverly Evans, the Senate’s assistant majority whip who represents western Summit County.
Buttars has not discussed his bill with the Senate’s Republican caucus and Evans hopes he’s not just trying to make a media splash. "We’re going to have some of these issues and I hope that doesn’t dominate the Legislature, because that’s such a small part of what we’re there to do," Evans said. "I hope we don’t get caught up in a lot of these things that create a lot of media events. I hope we don’t have that control us."
But Buttars’ bill could clear the way for biology teachers to one day teach divine design alongside human evolution. "I know there’s evolution within species that’s a fact," Buttars said, adding that many scientists disagree about human evolution.
Members of the state Board of Education weren’t sympathetic to the senator’s concerns about their curriculum. "We’ll see about that," Buttars countered. The senator has started moral debates on the hill in the past, having vigorously pushed a constitutional amendment in 2004 the beefed up Utah’s ban on gay marriage. Park City School District board member Lisa Kirchenheiter is comfortable with the way teachers present the theories of human evolution. "I wouldn’t be comfortable with them being told that humans evolved from apes, because it’s not part of the curriculum," Kirchenheiter said. "As far as evolution goes, I think there is enough scientific, physical evidence, personally as a parent, that that is what I teach my children. When I go to church I teach them about what the Bible says about the origins of man."
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