Schools balk at 'intelligent design' study

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 11:49 p.m. MDT

If human evolution is taught in biology class, then the idea of an intelligent force creating the universe ought to be taught in philosophy or another required class, a Utah senator told state school officials Wednesday.
But State Office of Education leaders, who met with Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, on the matter, don't want to add that instruction, curriculum director Brett Moulding said.
If the two sides can't compromise, Buttars says he'll carry a legislative bill to make sure that they do.
"Legislation is a last resort," Buttars said. "I'm still working on it, but I'm really not highly hopeful we'll come to a consensus."
The issue surrounds human evolution and the concept of "intelligent design," based on the idea that life is too complex to be explained solely by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection and evolution.
Critics say intelligent design is a thinly veiled reference to God and divine creation. And state education officials say that can't be taught in public schools under a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Buttars, however, says intelligent design says nothing about God. Intelligent design reportedly has gained support in school districts in 20 states.
Evolution of species is central to Utah's high school biology core curriculum. While the curriculum doesn't single out human evolution, Moulding says humans are classified within the animal kingdom. Teachers' lessons may vary on the subject.
"I think our teachers respect individual students' beliefs they bring to the classroom," Moulding said. "So, they're very supportive of teaching evolution as a science, as a way of knowing that's distinct from other ways of knowing, such as religion."
But Buttars says some parents don't like what's happening in classrooms.
"I'm not willing to continue to get calls and e-mails and faxes from parents saying, 'Why are they teaching my kid we evolved from apes in school as a fact? (and that) it's causing great conflict in our family,' " Buttars said. "Kids are very impressionable. They look up to schoolteachers."
Wednesday, Buttars met with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington, State Board of Education member Tim Beagley, State Associate Superintendent Christine Kearl and Moulding. The meeting, which Moulding said lasted 30 minutes, was described by both sides as cordial.
Buttars said intelligent design should be taught to balance human evolution talks. It wouldn't have to be taught in science but possibly a required philosophy or humanities class.
Moulding, however, said the state office supports its current approach. "At this point in time we have no plans to put intelligent design in the curriculum."
Next month the State Board of Education will discuss a position statement that likely supports the curriculum and includes language on teacher sensitivity to student beliefs, Moulding has said.
The position statement was requested six months ago by state board chairman Kim Burningham, president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, who saw the issue playing out nationwide.
"As I understand and as I read, the intelligent design concept is a concept that many of us have sympathy with, but it's not one based on science, and to put it in a science curriculum seems to me would be a misplaced position," Burningham said. "We always (try to) separate in this state very carefully our religious beliefs (from state operations). That general philosophy, it seems to me, needs to continue."
Buttars says he'll address the board next month. Meanwhile, he hopes for compromise.
If there is none, he said, "there will be legislation."

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

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