A bill that would regulate how the origins of species could be taught in public schools didn't survive the House on Monday thanks to a fatal amendment during a debate that one supporter described as a "political ballgame."

SB96, sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, would have required the State Board of Education to establish curriculum requirements stressing that the scientific theory about the origin of species and evolution is not empirically proven.

"Nobody can empirically prove or disprove the theory, and the bill makes a very clear statement as to how I believe we ought to instruct students," said Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, the bill's House sponsor.

But legislators in the House said they were concerned about singling out the theory of evolution and stepping on what could be the State Board of Education's turf.

House Majority Whip Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, amended the bill deleting all language save two lines that reinforced the state board's role in establishing scientific instruction.

The amended bill failed on a 28-46 vote, and there were no indications that it would be revived.

"I don't believe anybody in there really wants their kids taught that their great-grandfather was an ape, and yet you try and clarify that and they confuse the issue saying that it was going to challenge all of science," Buttars said.

Rep. Scott Wyatt, R-Logan, said he agreed with every aspect of the bill but questioned if emphasizing one unproven theory might provide added weight to other theories.

"Not much of science is absolute rock-solid scientific proof," Wyatt said. "If we decide to weigh in on this one particular theory, are we going to begin weighing in on all theories, and are we the correct body to do that?"

Urquhart said that the issue is something best left in the realm of science and it should be left out of the political arena.

"We should leave this up to the State Office of Education — they've been tasked to do this, not us," he said

Brett Moulding, curriculum director for the State Office of Education, said education leaders have already set the standard for teaching the origins of life and agreed any change to that method should go through his office and not through legislators.

Currently, state high school curriculum states students will learn that "biological diversity is a result of evolutionary processes."

"The board has been opposed to this bill from its inception," Moulding said.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Eagle Forum, said not only did lawmakers have a right to legislate what is taught in school, but they had an obligation and they owed Buttars a little more than just gutting the bill and then failing it.

She said he put his life at risk for the bill since Buttars was supposed to be in the hospital the day he presented it in the Senate. Buttars has been absent much of the session with an undisclosed illness.

"It was a simple bill that said they had to teach other views when they teach the origins of life. What possible reason could they not want that?" Ruzicka said. "They were playing a political ballgame here, and Sen. Buttars was their target. I think they owed him more than that."

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com; estewart@desnews.com