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Utah rejects bill requiring mention of challenges to evolution

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–The debate over science standards in public schools moved on to Utah Feb. 27, where the House of Representatives rejected by a 46-28 margin a bill that would have required teachers to present differing views about the origin of life.

Evolution supporters claim the vote was a significant defeat for proponents of Intelligent Design, given the overwhelming conservatism of the Utah House. But the Discovery Institute, a leading think tank on Intelligent Design, did not particularly support the bill to alter the science curriculum in the proposed manner.

“Discovery has never favored disclaimers, either in the classroom or on textbooks,” Robert Crowther, director of communications for Discovery’s Center for Science & Culture, told Baptist Press. “Instead of telling students there is a problem with Darwinian evolution, show them what the problems are. The scientific literature is full of unresolved issues and challenging problems for Darwinian evolution, and we think students should be learning about that.

“If a 10th-grade student can understand evidence that supports Darwin’s theory, they certainly can understand the evidence that challenges it,” he said. “It’s too bad that whenever attempts to teach both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution come up, there is a howl of protest from the Darwin-only lobby that bullies schools and legislatures into shutting down the discussion.”

Supporters of the Utah bill said the decision had more to do with politics than education.

“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,” Sen. Chris Buttars, a Republican and sponsor of the measure, said.

House members against the bill had contended that by singling out the theory of evolution, the government would soon have to address hundreds of other scientific theories.

“It was a simple bill that said they had to teach other views when they teach the origins of life,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Eagle Forum, told the Deseret Morning News. “What possible reason could they not want that? They were playing a political ballgame here, and Sen. Buttars was their target. I think they owed him more than that.”

Buttars said the bill was necessary because many evolution lessons in Utah schools contradict religious instruction, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, and the state’s Senate had passed the bill after conservative senators rallied against a “religion of atheism.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union had threatened a lawsuit if anything opposing evolution was mentioned in schools.

The bill was amended and redrafted at least five times, The Tribune said, and the teaching of Intelligent Design was never included. By the time the bill was up for a final vote, only one sentence remained: “The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction.”

Students in public high schools in Utah currently are taught that “biological diversity is a result of evolutionary processes.”

The Campaign to Defend the Constitution, an “online grassroots movement to combat the threat posed by the religious right to American democracy,” commended the House.

“We are pleased that Utah’s lawmakers supported science over extremist religious ideology in the state’s public school classrooms,” the group, which had launched a petition generating more than 450,000 e-mails to Utah legislators, said in a Feb. 28 news release.

Mormons, who are the majority population in Utah, have no definitive position on the origins of life, according to a new book by two Latter-day Saints scientists who studied the issue in detail by reviewing numerous historical documents. They concluded that stances on the issue have themselves evolved over time and while most commentary on the subject “carries an anti-evolution flavor,” many Mormons are misinformed about their church’s beliefs.

“The scriptures tell why man was created, but they don’t tell us how,” William Evenson, an administrator and physics professor at Utah Valley State College and coauthor of the book “Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative Statements,” said.

The book mentions LDS President Joseph F. Smith’s 1911 editorial in the church’s “Juvenile Instructor,” The Tribune reported.

“The church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in his creation of the world,” Smith wrote. He personally opposed the idea of evolution, The Tribune noted.

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