Ed Brayton posted Entry 1218 on July 15, 2005 02:30 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1216

Some of you may remember the story of Chris Buttars, the Utah state legislator who submitted a bill to require the teaching of "divine design" in public school science classrooms in that state. That led to a couple of long exchanges between myself and John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute. One of my readers from Utah sent me an update on the story. It seems that Buttars has now dropped his plan because he found out that Utah public schools don't teach human evolution anyway:

The Utah lawmaker who was kicking around the idea that Utah's schools should teach the theory of "divine" or "intelligent" design alongside biological evolution is abandoning the effort.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said Thursday that after talks with the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington, he is comfortable -- at least for now -- with what Utah classrooms are teaching.

"She assured me in a phone call and then followed up with a letter, that we should not be teaching human evolution of any kind," Buttars said Thursday.

The state's core science curricula doesn't teach the evolution of the human species as a scientific fact, Harrington said. It does, however, emphasize that biological diversity is a result of millions of years of evolution.

"Science is a way of knowing and a knowing based up on evidence," Harrington said by telephone from Cedar City Thursday. "There is not evidence yet to claim how the Earth was created and no evidence to connect the family of apes with the family of man."

Yikes. The Superintendant of Public Instruction in Utah doesn't understand the difference between a family and a genus, and thinks that there is no evidence to connect humans and apes. I suppose this might be true if one ignores the incredible genetic similarities, the shared retroviral sequences in our DNA, the well known series of paleo-species that appear in just the right temporal and anatomical sequence showing a gradual increase in brain size, bipedal adaptation, technological sophistication and cultural development leading from the late Miocene primates to modern Homo sapiens. It's one thing to say that one doesn't find such evidence compelling; to claim it doesn't exist is sheer lunacy; and to come up with an explanation for it other than evolution appears to be fantasy. My favorite quote from Buttars:

"It's not fact," Buttars said. "It's a theory. You know, the trouble with the missing link, is that it's still missing."

As a basic rule, anytime you find someone speaking about the "missing link" or using the "it's not a fact it's a theory" argument, you're dealing with someone whose understanding of evolution stopped at about the 5th grade level. Is it really too much to ask that those who want to change science education be at least minimally educated in science?

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Comment #38190

Posted by Unsympathetic reader on July 15, 2005 2:47 PM (e)

I don’t think the superintendent had taxonomic classification in mind when he used the term “family”. But the rest of that sentence *is* troubling.

Comment #38192

Posted by Flint on July 15, 2005 3:03 PM (e)

I don’t think the superintendent had taxonomic classification in mind when he used the term “family”

I agree. The word Harrington was looking for was “kind”.

Comment #38195

Posted by Apesnake on July 15, 2005 3:27 PM (e)

“Is it really too much to ask that those who want to change science education be at least minimally educated in science?”

I am afraid so.

I don’t know which is more frightening, the idea that schools would teach nonsense along side science and give them equal value or that the would refuse to teach science at all. Maybe kids will pick up their science the same way they pick up sex education - from older kids who have nothing to do but hang around with younger kids and lie to them for amusement or from the “abstinent only” programs which are pretty much the same thing.

“If you masturbate you will become pregnant… with a mutant!”

Comment #38198

Posted by Douglas Theobald on July 15, 2005 4:31 PM (e)

As a basic rule, anytime you find someone speaking about the “missing link” or using the “it’s not a fact it’s a theory” argument, you’re dealing with someone whose understanding of evolution stopped at about the 5th grade level

Hey, don’t pick on the kids. I know several younger than 5th grade who understand evolution plenty better than Harrington and Buttarse.

Comment #38202

Posted by ts on July 15, 2005 5:08 PM (e)

> I don’t think the superintendent had taxonomic classification in mind when he used the term “family”.

He?

Comment #38205

Posted by Flint on July 15, 2005 5:16 PM (e)

ts:

He?

Oops, looks like a clear case of gender-linked biological incompetence. Maybe Summers was right.

Comment #38232

Posted by tytlal on July 15, 2005 10:10 PM (e)

“It seems that Buttars has now dropped his plan because he found out that Utah public schools don’t teach human evolution anyway”

Wait a minute, I didn’t read the link but … Buttars does not want to promote Divine Design because evolution is NOT being taught? The Creat, er, DD/ID people only want to teach DD/ID if evolution is being taught? What does this say about their motives, as if there was ever a question?

This is the 21st century, right? Whew. For a moment I thought I was reliving a terrible dream I had last night where witches were burned, lightening bolts were cast down by “God”, the Sun circled the Earth and humans were unrelated to life on Earth.

Comment #38237

Posted by VKW on July 15, 2005 11:37 PM (e)

“It’s not fact,” Buttars said. “It’s a theory. You know, the trouble with the missing link, is that it’s still missing.”

I do believe I’ve found the missing link! He was in Utah all along!

Comment #38238

Posted by ts on July 16, 2005 1:32 AM (e)

> Oops, looks like a clear case of gender-linked biological incompetence.

You know the gender of “Unsympathetic reader”?

> Maybe Summers was right.

It’s not likely.

Comment #38240

Posted by SEF on July 16, 2005 2:28 AM (e)

He was in Utah all along!

Ah, that’s what the Martians were after then. They had soft squidgy palettes rather than dentition and it kept coming out as “Ullah”.

Comment #38253

Posted by Dan S. on July 16, 2005 7:42 AM (e)

“This is the 21st century, right? “
In name only. Otherwise it’s obvious the 19thC just got reused to cut costs …

“Is it really too much to ask that those who want to change science education be at least minimally educated in science? “
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! For the creationists, at least …

The brilliant bit (for a certain definition of brilliant) is the more successful these folks are, the (even) fewer people will have any clue what we’re talking about or why Harrington’s arguments are flawed . .

Comment #38284

Posted by Frank J on July 16, 2005 4:04 PM (e)

Ed Brayton wrote:

Yikes. The Superintendant of Public Instruction in Utah doesn’t understand the difference between a family and a genus…

I agree with the others who said that he didn’t not have the biological definition of “family” in mind. Probably couldn’t define it anyway.

Ed Brayton wrote:

As a basic rule, anytime you find someone speaking about the “missing link” or using the “it’s not a fact it’s a theory” argument, you’re dealing with someone whose understanding of evolution stopped at about the 5th grade level. Is it really too much to ask that those who want to change science education be at least minimally educated in science?

Not at all. But we also have to watch out for those who do know some evolution and deliberately misrepresent it anyway. My guess is that the real reason he abandoned “divine design” is because some of the latter scolded him.

By “the latter” I have in mind Discovery Institute fellows. While I doubt that they would use the term “missing link,” they do use the “theory, not fact” nonsense with a straight face.

Comment #38286

Posted by Frank J on July 16, 2005 4:45 PM (e)

Oops, Chris Buttars is the male senator and Patti Harrington is the female superintendant. That makes 2 that are utterly confused, if not in on the scam.

Comment #38294

Posted by harold on July 16, 2005 5:59 PM (e)

This is a very important discovery.

The original battle in Kansas, in 1999, was over a creationist plan to merely stop teaching evolution, without teaching anything in its place. If we can’t teach creationism, the kids don’t get any real biology at all.

This strategy was chosen for legal reasons. The idea was, they can stop us from teaching creationism, but they can’t stop us from NOT teaching evolution.

I’ve been guilty of saying that this was “probably legal” in earlier posts. In fact, I think it’s clear cut religious discrimination. A major part of science education, which could well be expected or assumed by universities, is cut for all students of all religions, for the supposed benefit of one single religious subset of students only.

It’s no surprise an anti-science legislator would be sastisfied that nothing is being taught. Ignorance is their goal.

What happened in Kansas was that those particular school board members were defeated in the next election, at the Repbublican primaries (they have primaries for school board elections in Kansas, it seems).

The result of THAT was that 6 years later creationists tried again. But whatever the short term outcome in Kansas, their second try has severely injured “intelligent design”, probably fatally.

The response to this news is to get moving on efforts to get contemporary biology IN to the Utah curriculum.

Comment #38298

Posted by Frank J on July 16, 2005 7:11 PM (e)

harold wrote:

I’ve been guilty of saying that this was “probably legal” in earlier posts. In fact, I think it’s clear cut religious discrimination.

IMO, teaching any anti-evolution strategy, including the designer-free phony “critical analysis” of evolution, discriminates against all religions that say “thou shat not bear false witness.” Now if we can only get a good lawyer to make that case.

Scalia and Rehnquist were OK with full-blown creationism. Even if other justices do not side with that extreme view, some might easily take the Santorum position (teach the phony “critical analysis” but not creationism or ID). If that’s the case, the approach that worked in the past could fail next time.

Comment #38317

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 17, 2005 12:32 AM (e)

This strategy was chosen for legal reasons. The idea was, they can stop us from teaching creationism, but they can’t stop us from NOT teaching evolution.

That one is a non-starter — not only have the Federal courts (including the Supreme Court) banned teaching creation “science”, but they also banned removing evolution from classrooms in deference to religious beliefs.

So the courts can, indeed, stop them from NOT teaching eovlution.

Comment #38343

Posted by Frank J on July 17, 2005 8:46 AM (e)

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank wrote:

So the courts can, indeed, stop them from NOT teaching evolution.

I imagine they can, but will they? And if teachers are forced to teach only evolution, what’s to stop them from misrepresenting it with a phony “critical analysis” based on Discovery Institute spin? All it takes is a few choice sound bites to exploit misconceptions that most students have acquired long before taking their first biology class.

See also comment 38298. I hope I am wrong.

Comment #38394

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 17, 2005 3:36 PM (e)

So the courts can, indeed, stop them from NOT teaching evolution.

I imagine they can, but will they?

That is up to *us*. No legal ruling does the slightet bit of good – none at all — if no one enforces it.

It is flat-out illegal to teach creation “science”. It is also flat-out illegal to drop evolution out of deference to religious beliefs. If schools do that anyway, that is OUR fault for not haulign their asses into court. They have no defense to offer and no chance at all of winning. The only reason they CAN get away with it is because our side LETS them.

So I say, stop letting them. Haul their ass into court and sue the crap out of them.

Comment #38404

Posted by SEF on July 17, 2005 4:31 PM (e)

To haul them into court you need evidence. Which may require bugging of classrooms … (at least for those ones who don’t voluntarily/accidentally testify to the crime when writing blogs, books or official documents or appearing as a witness somewhere else!).

Comment #38608

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 19, 2005 7:06 AM (e)

To haul them into court you need evidence. Which may require bugging of classrooms … (at least for those ones who don’t voluntarily/accidentally testify to the crime when writing blogs, books or official documents or appearing as a witness somewhere else!).

“Q. Why is your school board dropping evolution from the curriculum?

A. Because it’s Godless atheism and we are good Christians, all.

JUDGE: Thank you. Case over.”

No need to bug them. Just ask them. They can’t shut up about it. (shrug)

Comment #38614

Posted by SEF on July 19, 2005 8:21 AM (e)

I thought we weren’t talking about school boards making officially documented policies at this point (cf my reference to documents) but of individual teachers sabotaging the education curriculum by ignoring parts of it and/or telling lies to children about evolution (or any other science) and how they as ID/creationist christians personally can’t see/recognise any evidence for it (without that emphasis on their bias and lack of relevant education of course!). You yourself said it was about schools (which has to mean teachers too) dropping evolution like a hot potato anyway regardless of the law.

Comment #38671

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 19, 2005 5:55 PM (e)

Same thing. School board, teacher — makes no difference. No public official is entitled to drop part of the curruculum in deference to religious opinions. Theirs or anyone else’s.

There is already Federal case law specifically regarding teachers to that effect (Webster v New Lennox).

So if individual teachers are sabotaging the curriculum, the legal remedy for that is already there. We just need to get off our collective butts and use it. Haul the teacher’s ass into court and sue the crap out of him/her. And the school board, too, if they knew about it.