Article Last Updated: 1/18/2006 01:29 AM
Panel OKs bill to add footnote to evolution Disclaimer: Committee insists there is no consensus on the origins of people
By Matt Canham
The Salt Lake Tribune
A Senate committee split along party lines Tuesday determined that evolution should continue being taught in public schools - but with a disclaimer.
SB96, sponsored by West Jordan Republican Sen. Chris Buttars, would require science teachers to specify that the state does not endorse any scientific theory about the origins of life or the present state of man and that scientists are not in complete agreement on evolutionary theory.
The bill passed on a 4-2 vote in the Senate Education Committee and will now go before the full Senate.
"There is no consensus on the origins of life or how man became as he is today," Buttars said. ''All the bill states is 'Don't overstate what you know.' ''
But opponents, including the state Board of Education, look at the bill as an unnecessary attack on a widely accepted scientific theory - though one that is constantly evolving.
"There is little or no debate among credible scientists about whether evolution has taken place," said Brett Moulding, state curriculum director. "However, since our understanding is still incomplete, there is considerable and productive debate about processes of evolution."
Buttars and other Republican senators agreed that evolution exists but expressed dismay at the idea of inter-species evolution.
"There is evolution within species," Buttars said. "There are big dogs and little dogs, big cats and little cats, but you haven't seen a 'dat.' You don't see intermediate species."
As Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, put it: ''Unless there is something out there that I don't know about, the missing link is still missing.''
Moulding disagreed, saying evidence indicates that birds may have evolved from reptiles, something that is taught in Utah's high schools.
The legislation does not push intelligent design, a concept that nature is so complex that an intelligent creator must have some influence. But critics say it would open the door for the concept to be taught.
Tuesday's debate was not devoid of religion, either.
Buttars expressed disgust with the idea that humans could have evolved from some "lower animal." He has said he decided to sponsor this bill after parents called him concerned that the teaching of evolution conflicted with religious explanations.
Buttars stated his support for intelligent design being taught in schools, just not in a science class.
Brigham Young University Emeritus Professor Kent Harrison said he sympathizes with the religious views of the senators, though he opposes the bill.
"But the answer is not to fall into the same trap that these scientists do, of seeing evolution and religion as opposed," Harrison said. "Do not pit them against each other, as SB96 seems to do, in a battle in which religion is often the loser.
"You can not legislate science. Please reject SB96."
Moulding said the state school board encourages teachers to be "nonjudgmental" of students' beliefs in its official position paper.
"Teachers should encourage students to discuss any seeming conflicts with their parents or religious leaders," the statement reads.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah warns that the bill could violate the First Amendment.
Margaret Plane, ACLU of Utah's legal director, points to the language of the legislation that frequently mentions more than one theory and the phrase "consider opposing viewpoints."
Evolution is the only recognized scientific theory, so "the only alternative theories are religious theories," she said. "It opens the door for religion to come into the science classroom."
For Sen. Patrice Arent, D-Murray, the debate doesn't come down to the validity of evolution or even the legality of the bill, but to the role of legislators. She believes lawmakers should not meddle in issues of school curriculum.
"I don't want to be in here every year rereading the biology textbook or the economic textbook," she said. "This is not our role."