Evolution statement excludes 'design'

Buttars threatens public referendum on the issue

Published: Saturday, Aug. 27 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

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.

If the board doesn't, he'll carry a bill that could require intelligent design be taught in public schools to counterbalance human evolution discussions. Or he may go for a public vote on the issue.

"Maybe the way to go is a referendum, and put it on next year's ballot, and let the people tell the schools what to do," Buttars said Friday. "Once again, they could stop this whole mess if they would add something as simple as the line I (propose)."

The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the document next Friday. Chairman Kim Burningham says he likes what he sees so far.

"It says that evolution is accepted as a principle by the scientific community, it should be taught in science classes, it's got credible evidence behind it, but questions still related to it, (and) religion and other methods of knowing . . . should be studied elsewhere," Burningham said. "My first impression is, I'm comfortable with it."

Intelligent design holds that life is far too complex to be explained solely by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection and evolution. Some backers, including Buttars, say the concept should be taught alongside human evolution in public schools. But critics say it's a thin veil for God and creationism, which can't be taught in public schools under a 1987 Supreme Court ruling.

The inclusion of intelligent design has been supported by some local school boards across the nation. In Kansas it has been implemented statewide. Districts in some states, including California and Pennsylvania, have been sued over the issue.

In light of the controversies, Burningham, also president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, asked the Utah board to take a stand on teaching evolution of species — a central part of Utah's high school biology core curriculum.

The proposed position statement was created by a committee of about 25, including state school board members and science educators from the State Office of Education, universities and public school classrooms, state curriculum director Brett Moulding said.

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.

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."

Moulding believes the document touches on Buttars' concerns.

"Sen. Buttars is concerned about children not having their beliefs questioned in public schools," he said. "If you notice there, we have made it very clear that beliefs students bring from home or church should be respected by teachers teaching evolution concepts in biology."

But the document makes no mention of requiring biology students to take philosophy or humanities class where intelligent design can be discussed, as Buttars has suggested.

Thursday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told reporters he believes intelligent design should not be taught in science classes, and that the time to talk about other concepts comes largely at home or in religious settings.

"If it comes up in sociology or philosophy as differing views on creation, I think that's appropriate," Huntsman said. "But that doesn't happen until college or maybe later in high school."

Buttars has asked to address the school board Friday.

So have a couple of Brigham Young University professors, who may share views opposing Buttars', Burningham said.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

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