[Provo] Daily Herald, Thursday, January 26, 2006
Utah's legislative Inquisition
Now that the Utah Senate has passed a bill ordering the State Board of
Education to establish policies and curriculum requirements that, in
effect, introduce religion into the public schools, it falls to the
House of Representatives to remove the ambiguity and restore common
Senate Bill 96 was initiated by West Jordan Republican D. Chris
Buttars and is being carried in the House by Rep. Jim Ferrin of Orem.
Buttars began by trying to force the schools to teach "divine design,"
a concept that can only be described as a logical non-sequitur. It
says because the universe is complex, an intelligent force (read God)
must have been behind it. Failing at this, Buttars fell back to the
current bill which purports to balance competing "theories" on the
origin of life. His Senate colleagues threw him a bone by approving
the bill 17-12.
There are four main reasons the House should amend or reject S.B. 96:
The bill is flawed because it requires action on a false premise. It
erroneously suggests that there are competing theories on the origin
of life upon which various scientists disagree.
In fact, there is very little science of any kind suggesting how life
began, let alone competing theories. The investigation has only just
begun, and a bit of sketchy chemistry does not a theory make. But if
there are no competing theories, then S.B. 96 is moot on its face and
the State Board of Education should be free to ignore it. It requires
an impossibility. Because multiple theories on the origin of life do
not exist, schools by definition cannot endorse one theory or discuss
the variety of others, even if they wanted to.
Its language is ambiguous and suppresses honest dialog.
Not only does S.B. 96 address the origins of life, it demands
curriculum requirements "on any theory regarding ... the origins or
present state of the human race." The latter phrase is
incomprehensible, but we'd say it attempts to make reference to the
theory of evolution -- which is an actual theory supported by a vast
amount of external evidence. Evolution is widely accepted as fact, as
the Big Bang is accepted as the starting point of the universe. There
is overwhelming physical and mathematical evidence for both. The Big
Bang was spectacularly reinforced by the WMAP probe launched in 2002.
Suppressing a teacher's ability to report the wide agreement on these
points is intellectually dishonest.
Even if the words of every teacher were monitored and controlled by
the Board of Education, this bill would have no meaningful benefit.
The Utah Legislature does not need to protect the religious
sensibilities of students in science classes, nor is this the proper
role of the state. People have been balancing science and religion in
their personal philosophies for centuries. If a teacher says that
evolution is currently a widely accepted fact ... well, that is a
reasonable statement that is not subject to challenge except from a
few on the intellectual fringe. Worries that kids will lose their
faith in droves because of an authoritative secular teacher are
S.B. 96 is a thinly veiled attempt to force religious viewpoints into
public schools. This is not the proper role of government, nor is it
practical. If competing religious notions are treated as scientific
theories, science class will bog down in philosophy.
Faith is the personal and private domain of the individual. In the
quest for truth, one is free to choose science alone, faith alone, or
some combination of the two. But that reconciliation process is a
matter to be worked out by every free-thinking individual. It is not
appropriate to encode this in law.
Science obviously cannot explain everything, nor does it claim to. The
accelerating process of discovery raises questions that outpace
answers as people continue to inquire, hypothesize, theorize and
challenge. In the face of this explosion, all science does is attempt
to explain things in rational -- rather than spiritual -- terms. It is
proper for the public schools to pursue secular science without guilt,
and for the schools to avoid muddying the water with faith-based
arguments. Let that discussion happen outside of school, or at least
in philosophy class.
Religion and science are not necessarily incompatible, but whether and
how they relate is not a matter for the Board of Education or the
Legislature. This is the key. Faith offers some answers that science
cannot. Certainly a great many people are convinced that their
religious views are correct. But a person's sense of certainty does
not turn faith into science.
Science and religion may enhance one another, but reconciliation must
never be forced. That process is properly left to the individual
This bill is badly in need of amendment -- or a quiet death. It is
symbolism at best. At worst, it undermines independent thought and
establishes the Utah Legislature as a tribunal of truth. That is what
the Inquisition did.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A5.