Monday, February 27, 2006

Buttars’ anti-evolution Bill SB 96 is dead! Victory!

I didn’t expect the House to do it, but they came through. They killed the Bill! The Salt Lake Tribune records its death.

The evolution bill is no more.
The Utah House of Representatives voted 46-28 to kill SB96, which cast doubt on the teaching of evolution.
"There are a number of influential legislators who believe you evolved from an ape. I didn't," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the bill.
He said it was "doubtful" that he would try a similar bill in the future.
The bill would have required a teacher to say the state does not endorse evolution and that the controversial theory is not a proven fact before teaching Charles Darwin's ideas.
SB96's deep religious roots fostered outspoken support among some, such as Rep. LaVar Christensen, and just as fervent opposition from others, like Rep. Stephen Urquhart.
Urquhart, a St. George Republican, first amended the bill, stripping any reference to 'origins of species." The gutted bill simply read: "The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction."
Urquhart opposed Buttars' bill because he doesn't feel that science conflicts with religion and said it was misleading to single out one theory as unproven.
The House voted down the gutted SB96 to stop the Senate from having the ability to revive the issue.
The NCSE, and Panda’s Thumb also mention the defeat.

Now I can really enjoy the rest of my vacation here in Sedona. See you all later in the blogosphere.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another poll

Yup! The Deseret News has done another poll, and it looks like things are improving a little for those of us opposing this bill. Now only 55% of Utahns want this bill. That’s down from the 66% in the last one.

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Funny thing about this anti-evolution bill – it does more evolving than we do. Carol Lear points this out, and notes that it’s still a stupid bill.

The bill also still comes from a "poisoned well" of legislative intent based on religious beliefs, said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the State Office of Education.

"This is just an evolution . . . from the earlier bill found unconstitutional several times. It isn't sanitized because it's substituted and resubstituted and amended and re-amended," she said.

Email war!

When it rains – it pours!

It seems the folks over at DefCon America are making a frontal assault on SB 96, by trying to crush it with the sheer weight of their emails. Rebecca Walsh over at the Salt Lake Tribune’s Planet Legislature brought out this story:

Backlash

Most lawmakers don't like to be bombarded with emails -- unless, of course, they agree with the writers' sentiments.

But when your legislator doesn't, watch out. Some contrarian lawmakers will vote a certain way just to spite you.

That's what Rep. Brad Dee says he will do in response to a barrage of more than 220,000 emails -- most from out of state -- opposing legislation that would change how teachers talk about evolution.

Teri Sandiford, a stay-at-home mom from Wake Forest, North Carolina, wrote urging the Washington Terrace Republican to vote against SB96. "Our children need schools that teach science, not religious ideology, as they prepare for the challenges of a new century," she wrote. "Please uphold scientific integrity in Utah's schools."

Sandiford and other members of DefCon America, a grassroots organization focused on separation of church and state and limiting the power of the religious right, apparently shut down the House of Representatives' computer server with their chain emails.

But Dee, who was tired of getting the copycat letters, picked one and responded: "I will vote for this bill only because of all the mass emails I have received from your group. Thanks for helping me to make my decision."

Consider it playing defense. After getting more than 17,000 emails -- all worded virtually identically -- House computer techs shut down the server Wednesday morning to block the attack. Another 204,000 emails were sent but not forwarded to lawmakers.

Sandiford, upset by Dee's "childish and petulant" response, forwarded the exchange to The Tribune. She was unaware of the problems her email and others caused. "Whether you agree with the letter I wrote or not, I think you can agree that Rep. Dee's response isn't a thoughtful, considered, adult response."

And sending 220,000 emails is?
Comedy!

BTW, Rep. Brad Dee shouldn’t be so touchy over his flooded inbox – at least he isn’t being condemned to hell like those of us who oppose this bill are.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Our legislature is failing

With this bill having passed the House Education Committee, it is looking like the only thing that has a real chance of stopping this bill from becoming law is Governor Huntsman’s veto.

Bagley draws it like he sees it:

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Also in the Salt Lake Tribune, Duane Jeffery, teacher of integrative biology at BYU, and nine other scientists in Utah colleges and universities, as well as the state paleontologist, signed the following opinion published yesterday. One point they mention that I have not written on much here, I think is important to note:

… if developments reportedly appearing in other states (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kansas) were to happen in Utah, our scientific and economic futures could be compromised. Top-flight scientists and research organizations (and their funds and accomplishments) are reluctant to come to states where science is treated with suspicion and where their children would not receive a high-quality education. Rather, they are attracted to states where science is valued and viewed with openness and public support.
They could have gone on to mention that several others, like myself, who aren’t as tech minded and who resent the religious stereotyping and judgment that goes along with these kind of “developments”, also might think twice about this place. I think it kind of sad that several Senators, Gayle Ruzicka and her eagle chicks consider it a “family value” to condemn other Christians and accuse them of atheism. They really should stop imitating the Pharisees in that respect.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

"It's a good bill. Just vote for it."

I can smell the baloney wafting off the capital all the way out here in Sugarhouse. The stench is incredible. The quote above from Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, reminds me of another similar situation (the serpent told Eve, “It’s good for you, and useful. Just eat it.”)

There are a few articles out today concerning the House Education Committee’s vote yesterday to pass the ‘Origins of Life’ bill on to the House floor where I am sure it will easily pass. Here are a couple of the highlights I noted, first, despite efforts to keep the discussion off religion, the Deseret News quotes Carol Lear calling it like she sees it in this bill’s inexorable march to a courtroom,

… Education Office attorney Carol Lear fears the bill opens the door to religious discussion in science classes.

"Proponents of the bill want to make sure there's an opportunity for intelligent design or creationism . . . to have some moment in the classroom. I think (this bill) certainly allows for that. One of the questions is, does it require it," said Lear, director of school law and legislation for the State Office of Education.

"This discussion has been so involved with people's religious points of view . . . (that) it becomes a discussion about legislation with a religious viewpoint," she said. "The court in reviewing that gets to look at the whole discussion, even how people perceive the discussion, and you can't just say . . . King's X, this isn't about religion."
Also, in the Daily Herald it mentions that Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, who is one of those who voted against the bill yesterday as saying,

… she was worried literature and history topics would be at risk if the Legislature were allowed to establish the curriculum requirements on biology.

"I think we're heading down the wrong track here, and it's a dangerous one," she said.
Some might think she is being a little alarmist, but I don’t think her fears are unfounded, nor off the mark. Take a look at what’s happening just over the border in Colorado. Parents out in Bennett are declaring music teacher Tresa Waggoner something evil for showing their children a “satanic video” that “glorifies Satan” and traumatizing them. Some are demanding that she be fired. I just loved what this one parent, that the Denver Post quoted, had to say,

"Any adult with common sense would not think that video was appropriate for a young person to see. I'm not sure it's appropriate for a high school student," said Robby Warner, a mother of two children who saw the video.
What kind of unadulterated Satanic evil, something so unrighteous, could warrant such scorn? This…

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Hand puppets that sing opera and go to hell! The music teacher Mrs. Waggoner found this piece of wholesome goodness in her own elementary school’s music room.

What would our Utah legislature do with this, especially with religiously motivated pressure groups knowing that they can have their way with them?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It has been indisputably proven…

Ya know, I believe I am not dreaming, but I hope I am, or at least I wish I was, but I am next to certain that I am not dreaming right now. As a matter of fact, I think I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I am not dreaming right now. But to indisputably prove it, even to myself, that I cannot do, no matter how many times I pinch myself.

But there is one thing I think I can do… I can indisputably prove that our Representatives cannot make a more worthless nor ridiculous bill than the one they made to substitute SB96 and passed to the House floor.

Read it for yourselves, here is SB96 Second Substitute for your review:

53A-13-101.7. Curriculum and policy on instruction relating to the origins of life.
(1) In order to encourage students to critically analyze scientific instruction regarding the origins of life and the origins of species, to consider differing scientific viewpoints, and to form their own opinions, the Legislature desires to avoid the perception that any scientific theory, hypothesis, or instruction regarding the origins of life, or the origins of species has been indisputably proven, or that the state endorses any one theory or hypothesis.
(2) The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements, consistent with Subsection (1), relating to scientific instruction of students on the origins of life and the origins of species.
(3) The curriculum requirements described in Subsection (2) shall require that if scientific instruction is given to students regarding the origins of life, or the origins of species, then that instruction shall stress that no scientific theory, hypothesis, or instruction regarding the origins of life or the origins of species has been indisputably proven.
(4) The State Board of Education shall:
(a) make rules, pursuant to Title 63, Chapter 46a, Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act, to fulfill the requirements of this section; and
(b) ensure that all policies and positions of the State Board of Education relating to scientific instruction regarding the origins of life or the origins of species:
(i) do not endorse any particular theory or hypothesis; and
(ii) stress that no scientific theory, hypothesis, or instruction regarding the origins of life or the origins of species has been indisputably proven.
I wish I was dreaming. Comedy!

Monday, February 06, 2006

SB96 rescheduled for Wednesday

The House Education Committee was scheduled consideration SB96 this morning, but I see it has been rescheduled for Wednesday, February 8th, at 2:00 pm. I imagine it’s because Buttars is not out of the hospital yet.

Despite my dislike for the bills he tries passing, I do hope he is getting better.

SB96 in Slate

I noticed the word is spreading. Slate also mentioned the NYTimes article to the rest of the world. Here is William Saletan’s comment, with an interesting question:

Opponents of evolution are meeting unexpected resistance in Utah. The state senate narrowly passed a bill requiring teachers to tell students that scientists disagree about the origins of life, but some key Republican lawmakers are fighting it. Supporters' views: 1) If some scientists dispute evolution, we should say so. 2) The bill isn't religious; it just about "not overstepping what we know." Opponents' views: 1) God has no problem with science. 2) Mixing faith and science will corrupt faith. 3) Mormons, being a minority, should beware religious majoritarianism. 4) Mormons, believing in progress and spiritual transcendence, have no problem reconciling a higher future with a lower past. Question: If creationists are telling kids to respect dissent regardless of its evidentiary merits, aren't they the new soft-headed pluralists?

New York Times article

The New York Times had an article out this Sunday in regards to our haggling over evolution here in Utah.

Here are a few quotes of worth:

Advocacy groups who follow the battle over the teaching of evolution nationally say that what happens here could be important beyond state borders.

''It's being watched very closely because of the very conservative nature of the state,'' said the Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, based in Washington. ''If the legislation is rejected in Utah, it would be a very strong signal that the issue should be avoided elsewhere.''
And if we pass it, we will be the laughingstock of the nation.

Further down the article,

… one important supporter of the bill, state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said her convictions had been underlined in recent days. ''A number of scientists have been in touch with me, and I can verify that not all scientists agree,'' Dayton said.
I wonder what “scientists” she has been talking to. But what does it matter now, the House Education Committee is determining things as I write this. They are discussing SB96 this morning.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The real effect of SB96: It’s a religion test

I have mentioned this topic briefly before, but I thought I would mention it again since the bill will be going before the House Education Committee in a few days.

But first, I would like to introduce you all to Kim, she’s a “very concerned student” over at West Hills Middle School, who posted a comment over on the Senate Site the other day (comment #95). It’s nice to see a Utah public school student speak up about a bill that more or less directly affects them. It’s nice to see them learn about and participate in the political process. And I think her comment is really choice for the context of this bill.

Here is her comment in full:

I want to thank Chris Butters for standing up for all of us who do believe in God and do what to have that truth taught in public schools. I go to a public school and I wish that I could have the same rights as the atheists by having my beliefs also taught. I also want to say something to Governor Huntsman, I DO believe Butters is fighting for a good cause, if I am not mistaken you are Mormon. I believe that you have a certain obligation to your church and to your God to stand up for the things that are in this bill. As a Mormon, I believe that you are suppose to take this opportunity and try to help our Great state of Utah find some truth, some light in the dark world of Science!
Beautiful, isn’t it. I felt sorry for her. It brought a tear to my eye. She’s such a victim. She doesn’t have the same rights as atheists apparently do, to shove her beliefs down other people’s throats. It’s your “obligation to your church and to your God” to promote this bill. Obviously those who don’t promote this bill should either have the veracity of their religion seriously questioned or they are just atheist scum.

The primary effects of this bill have little to do with its effects on science education in the state. Honestly, this bill won’t even dent the reality of evolution teaching as real science, nor do I believe that any students will actually “convert” either way to one side or the other because the state of Utah can’t make up its mind. No, the primary effect of this bill if it were to pass is to let the fanatics out of the closet. It justifies them. It gives them permission to condemn others with different beliefs. How does it do this? Creationism and ID as “scientific theories” cannot be separated from their “biblical” roots that also include religious condemnation for all those who don’t believe.

But we don’t have to wait for this bill to become law for it to have this effect, it’s already here. Just the mere presence of it draws out the divisiveness. This war in Iraq, and Buttars’ other bill on gay clubs (SB97), are having similar effects. Some people are actually dropping out of church because they are being condemned for their lack of support for these political issues. That condemnation is real.

When I hear my local senator tell folks that the theory of evolution is just atheist teaching, and that only atheists would bother to stand against the “truth” that’s in this bill, I feel like sharing a little with my elected representative right on back - Hey, peace to you, buddy! [flipping you the bird with love] (But that wouldn’t be very Christ like of me now would it. So I’ll just forgive him.)

Anyway, religious divisiveness, that’s the only real effect this bill will have.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Waiting…

While you wait for the House Education Committee to review SB96 (which they received yesterday) here is some light reading for you. Think of these as the magazine selection you might have in a dentists waiting room before you go see him and that drill.

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For some good background on the bigger picture in which Buttars’ bill fits into, here is the Event Transcript of Edward J. Larson’s discussion “The Biology Wars: The Religion, Science and Education Controversy”, from December of last year, put on by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The Seattle Weekly has a brief article this week on the Discovery Institutes creation of the Intelligent Design Movement.

Here is Sen. Chris Buttars opinion letter in USA Today, August 8, 2005. (Please note: this letter has nothing to do with Buttars campaign to eliminate God from his bill.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Interesting Statistic

In an article showing the disparity in positions held on various issues by Utah's Mormons and non-Mormons I found this interesting statistic – although not really surprising, published today in the Daily Herald from a poll done earlier this month by the Salt Lake Tribune.

[Utah's Mormons and non-Mormons] are split on evolution…, with 60 percent of Mormons supporting a Legislative proposal that would require public schools to teach that evolution is a theory on which scientists disagree, and 40 percent of non-Mormons supporting it.
I have to admit, I actually expected the numbers to be far more polarized.

Friday, January 27, 2006

SB96 "Sideshow" Legislation

The Deseret News quotes Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as having said on Thursday,

"Sometimes, the frivolous and the less important capture headlines," Huntsman said. "The longer-term issues that we face as a state are those surrounding job creation, education, basic mobility, transportation, quality of life — we need to stay focused on those."
As governor, Huntsman said, "that's exactly where my focus is. I'm not going to get side-tracked on any sideshows."
I’m glad our governor is staying focused on what’s really important, because I’m obviously not. This website is all about the frivolous antic sideshow that is Buttars bill. I am the headlines! Ya! :^)

More down to earth, the Daily Herald had a great editorial opinion yesterday concerning this frivolous sideshow in which they detailed four reasons the House should kill bill:

The bill is flawed because it requires action on a false premise. It erroneously suggests that there are competing theories on the origin of life upon which various scientists disagree.

In fact, there is very little science of any kind suggesting how life began, let alone competing theories. The investigation has only just begun, and a bit of sketchy chemistry does not a theory make. But if there are no competing theories, then S.B. 96 is moot on its face and the State Board of Education should be free to ignore it. It requires an impossibility. Because multiple theories on the origin of life do not exist, schools by definition cannot endorse one theory or discuss the variety of others, even if they wanted to.

Its language is ambiguous and suppresses honest dialog.

Not only does S.B. 96 address the origins of life, it demands curriculum requirements "on any theory regarding ... the origins or present state of the human race." The latter phrase is incomprehensible, but we'd say it attempts to make reference to the theory of evolution -- which is an actual theory supported by a vast amount of external evidence. Evolution is widely accepted as fact, as the Big Bang is accepted as the starting point of the universe. There is overwhelming physical and mathematical evidence for both. The Big Bang was spectacularly reinforced by the WMAP probe launched in 2002. Suppressing a teacher's ability to report the wide agreement on these points is intellectually dishonest.

Even if the words of every teacher were monitored and controlled by the Board of Education, this bill would have no meaningful benefit.

The Utah Legislature does not need to protect the religious sensibilities of students in science classes, nor is this the proper role of the state. People have been balancing science and religion in their personal philosophies for centuries. If a teacher says that evolution is currently a widely accepted fact ... well, that is a reasonable statement that is not subject to challenge except from a few on the intellectual fringe. Worries that kids will lose their faith in droves because of an authoritative secular teacher are misplaced.

S.B. 96 is a thinly veiled attempt to force religious viewpoints into public schools. This is not the proper role of government, nor is it practical. If competing religious notions are treated as scientific theories, science class will bog down in philosophy.

Faith is the personal and private domain of the individual. In the quest for truth, one is free to choose science alone, faith alone, or some combination of the two. But that reconciliation process is a matter to be worked out by every free-thinking individual. It is not appropriate to encode this in law.

Science obviously cannot explain everything, nor does it claim to. The accelerating process of discovery raises questions that outpace answers as people continue to inquire, hypothesize, theorize and challenge. In the face of this explosion, all science does is attempt to explain things in rational -- rather than spiritual -- terms. It is proper for the public schools to pursue secular science without guilt, and for the schools to avoid muddying the water with faith-based arguments. Let that discussion happen outside of school, or at least in philosophy class.
(Now speaking for myself, I think an appropriate place to bring this topic up in a public school is in a government & politics class. It can be used as a case study on how public opinion is manipulated and how legislatures use deceptive language in an attempt to maneuver around the law.)

Religion and science are not necessarily incompatible, but whether and how they relate is not a matter for the Board of Education or the Legislature. This is the key. Faith offers some answers that science cannot. Certainly a great many people are convinced that their religious views are correct. But a person's sense of certainty does not turn faith into science.

Science and religion may enhance one another, but reconciliation must never be forced. That process is properly left to the individual alone.

This bill is badly in need of amendment -- or a quiet death. It is symbolism at best. At worst, it undermines independent thought and establishes the Utah Legislature as a tribunal of truth. That is what the Inquisition did.
Personally, I think a quiet death is best. Amen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Some article updates

Here is a short update linking a few articles that have come out over the past few days and earlier today in case you haven’t read them.

Here is some more welcome editorial opinion in the Salt Lake Tribune. Just letting us know just how extra worthless this bill is.

I mentioned this Deseret News article in my previous post, but I wanted to highlight a few things. Rep. Steve Urquhart is definitely showing himself to be one of our more thoughtful representatives:

House Majority Whip Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said Tuesday that he cannot support the bill because it does not clarify those competing theories, especially regarding evolution. At the same time, he doubted that those other theories could be clarified because there is only one, intelligent design, which fills the gaps in evolutionary theory by crediting a higher power.

"God has no argument with science, and science does not have an argument with God," Urquhart said. "For many of us, each explains the other."

While the bill does not mention religion, creationism, intelligent design or God, Urquhart said he does not see how it could not be intended to bring those elements into a scientific discussion. But if it truly is a bill devoid of religion, then he wants the scientific explanations.

"The backers of this bill are saying this bill has nothing to do with faith or religion," Urquhart said. "If that's the case, and we're only dealing with this on the basis of science, this becomes a very easy decision: There's only one scientific theory regarding the diversity of the species. That theory is evolution."
Gayle Ruzicka proves she is less thoughtful:

Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said that religion is not an element of the bill and that anyone who reads it will find that there is nothing to dispute. In fact, the bill only requires that "as long as it's scientific, they can talk about it," but teachers do not have to discuss religious viewpoints.

"We talking about the origins of life," she said. "Some say that we started with monkeys, others say we climbed out of the slime — if you look at everything that has been said, all you can do is point out that there are competing theories."
Slime and monkeys… just another theory… one among many.

Another article in the Deseret News the other day notes that many folks making the decisions up there in the capital don’t really know what this bill will really do. But one thing we do know – Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, gave his thoughts on what this bill will do, “I don't think it does a whole lot of anything”. But for some reason that didn’t stop him from voting for it.

Of special note, those funky creationists over at Answers In Genesis (you know, those guys who have found evidence that some dinosaurs were domesticated animals) well, they have taken notice of our little quarrels as well.

Will SB96 be killed in a House committee?

I was reading a Deseret News article this morning and sat down to try and do a little math. I figure SB96 will land on the table of the House Education Committee here before long. (Please correct me in the comments below if you find any of my thinking wrong here.)

The members of that committee are:

Rep. Margaret Dayton, Chair
Rep. LaVar Christensen, ViceChair
Rep. Ron Bigelow
Rep. Duane E. Bourdeaux
Rep. John Dougall
Rep. James A. Ferrin
Rep. James R. Gowans
Rep. David L. Hogue
Rep. Kory M. Holdaway
Rep. Gregory H. Hughes
Rep. Bradley T. Johnson
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss
Rep. Merlynn T. Newbold
Rep. LaWanna Lou Shurtliff
Rep. Stephen H. Urquhart

Of these 15 members, an 8 to 7 ratio is all that’s needed to either send the bill to the House floor or kill the bill in committee. I figure if all the Democrats vote against the bill, as they did in the Senate, and the article notes that both Urquhart and Holdaway of the Republicans are against the bill, then that’s already 6 votes against the bill. Only 2 more are needed to kill the bill in committee.

Now of course Ferrin is for the bill, and the article mentions that Hogue believes we need to have an “open mind”, which can be translated as he is for it to, who does that leave us?

I figure that amongst the following Representatives all it takes is two of them going against the bill to kill it in committee:

Rep. Margaret Dayton, Chair
Rep. LaVar Christensen, ViceChair
Rep. Ron Bigelow
Rep. John Dougall
Rep. Gregory H. Hughes
Rep. Bradley T. Johnson
Rep. Merlynn T. Newbold

Does anyone know where these folks stand on this bill?

Monday, January 23, 2006

SB96 goes on to the House

Well, no surprise, the Senate passed it. SB96 is on to the House.

It looks to me like there are 17 senators who are dead set determined to lower Utah school's science standards to fit their religious beliefs. If this bill ever becomes law I hope the federal judge who shoots the law down will require these Senators to retake their high school science classes or he will revoke their high school diplomas.

Those “opposing scientific viewpoints” are condemning evolutionists to Hell

Now this is what I really oppose! This is a letter to the editor published in the Cache Valley’s Herald Journal the other day (1/19/06):

To the editor:

I wasn’t going to read the anti-intelligent design Soapbox article by Richard Criddle until I noticed the very last line that stated he was a member of the LDS Church. I wondered why a member of the LDS Church would be against intelligent design, so I read it.

It quickly became apparent that he does not believe in the creation as expounded in the scriptures or by our prophets. That led me to wonder why he wants to be identified as a member of the LDS Church.

I understand those who don’t keep the commandments who want to be identified as members. All of us have our various weaknesses. I also understand those who are less motivated to attend on a regular basis. Some are not as motivated as others. This letter is not about either of those groups.

One of my favorite things is to talk to others about what they believe and why. People’s beliefs are based on what they consider to be facts, their own logic and their feelings. The key to understanding others is to understand what they believe and why. With that in mind, this letter is to those who don’t believe that President Hinckley is a prophet and who still want to be considered a member of the LDS Church.

The LDS Church has come out strongly on a number of issues. Three of those are: God created this earth and all things on it; homosexuality is a sin; and abortion is wrong.

This letter is not addressed to those who disagree with those stances, it is addressed to those who disagree and still want to be considered members of the LDS Church.

Do you believe that President Hinckley is a prophet except on evolution, or except homosexuality, or except some other point? How is that possible? Prophets speak for God, so is God also wrong?

To me, there is a huge difference between those who struggle with, for example, a Word of Wisdom problem and those who make a considered decision that the prophet is wrong. Again, this letter is not addressed to those who have weaknesses or who have decided to leave the LDS Church.

The belief that the president of the LDS Church is a prophet is probably the most key belief that makes the LDS Church different from every other church. So, if you don’t believe that he is the prophet of our savior, Jesus Christ, why would you call yourself a member of the LDS Church?

This letter is a sincere request to have someone explain to me why this group would want to be identified as members of the LDS Church.

What benefit do you expect to receive when you don’t believe?

Joe Maynard

Smithfield
Our state Representatives would do well to pay close attention to the utterly foolish words of Mr. Maynard here. We need to realize that the “opposing scientific viewpoints” that Buttars and other Senators want our high school students to consider will condemn those who don’t agree with them to Hell and Damnation. Take special note of this – where ID goes, so goes Hell and Damnation for those who disagree.

Friday, January 20, 2006

KUTV reports some interesting things said on the Senate floor

My computer doesn’t allow me to listen to the Senates fine audio online. So I have to rely on online news.

KUTV reports that Buttars amended his own bill for clarification. He said, “By inserting these two words, it becomes 100 percent clear that we're talking about various scientific views.'' That’s baloney – see my previous post. Plus, several of the Senators apparently used religious reasons to justify their “yes” vote.

But of special interest was the comment made by Senate Majority Leader Pete Knudsen, R-Brigham City,

"I thought I heard in (Buttars') statement that if one doesn't vote for this, then one could be considered an atheist. If that was the implication, that concerns me greatly. That is not the spirit in which we should discuss this legislation," he said. "There is a place for evolution in life, it's a part of life. It saddens me that one's faith would be challenged on a vote of this bill. I vote no."
A prophecy no doubt of just how divisive this bill will become. I applaud Sen. Pete Knudsen for taking a stand for what is right.

The amendments to SB96 don’t really help

Here are just a few of my initial thoughts on the amendments to SB96.

I can see what they are trying to do by amending the bill to say scientific viewpoints and scientific theory, scientific as opposed to religious viewpoints and religious theory, but this clarification fails to make this good legislation.

First, since there is only one legitimate scientific theory, the theory of evolution, what other scientific theory/viewpoints are there to truly consider? This bill basically requires there to be other scientific theories, but the fact is there isn’t.

Second, there are no doubt several teachers out there who are creationist/ID believers who firmly believe that their religious beliefs are “scientific”. This bill if passed will only do the disservice of encouraging them to introduce their so-called “scientific” theories into the classroom. The bill in a since still gives them “permission” to do that.

What are some of your thoughts?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Articles to read today

A couple of good articles and some thoughtful editorial opinion came out today.

First off, in the Deseret News article it notes that a new book on how Mormonism relates to evolution is available, Mormonism and Evolution: the Authoritative LDS Statements, written by Utah Valley State College physics professor William E. Evenson and Brigham Young University biology professor Duane E. Jeffery. It is described as “a compilation of statements made by or sanctioned by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from 1909 to 2004.” (Note: this book appears to be different from a book published a few years back with a similar title with Duane Jeffery as one of the authors.)

The Salt Lake Tribune has been speaking with several of our local scientists who describe the plentiful evidence for evolution that Sen. Chris Buttars and Sen. Mark Madsen can’t seem to find.

The Salt Lake Tribune also takes direct issue with Buttars Bill in an editorial calling it a “downright lie”. And mentions concerning Buttars mouth, “…every time the West Jordan Republican opens his mouth to address the subject [of evolution], he removes all doubt about the fact that he has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.” His references to evolution “display a towering ignorance of the subject.”

Unlike Buttars display of his need for some more education (at least where evolution is concerned), the Deseret News notes how Carol Lear, of the USOE, has been doing her homework on how Buttars Bill lacks intelligent design from a federal courts point of view.

Even though the Buttars bill mentions neither intelligent design nor the Bible, some observers think it was motivated by religious concerns. "If you look at State Board of Education minutes from last summer, Buttars made comments like 'my religion doesn't believe that we descended from apes,' " said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the Utah Office of Education. "I don't know how he can disavow his religious motives."

Lear points to a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Wallace v. Jaffee, in which the court struck down an Alabama law requiring a "minute of meditation or voluntary prayer" at the start of each school day. The court ruled that the law violated the First Amendment because the sponsors of the law had religious motives.
The Tribune concludes its editorial with some good advice that may unfortunately become necessary to stop this Bill from becoming law.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is trying to improve both the fact and the reputation of Utah schools in the areas of math and science. But our state's reputation for educational excellence will only devolve if the Legislature is foolish enough to pass Buttars' bill.

The governor should have his veto pen at the ready for this one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Well, it looks like SB96 has found a House co-sponsor

The guilty party is - Rep. James A. Ferrin, District 58.

SB96 is going to the Senate floor

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Based on articles in the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, and the Daily Herald here are a few comments on the Senate Education Committees discussion on SB96.

As Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, put it: ''Unless there is something out there that I don't know about, the missing link is still missing.''
No amount of evidence can ever be shown. No matter how convincing, or irrefutable. If you brought the fossils, the genes of millions, even if you brought the “missing link” itself and put it on the table right in front of them, they would still say, “the missing link is still missing”. It can never be found. Their literalist interpretation won’t allow it.

Kent Harrison, BYU professor, spoke with far more wisdom,

"There are really no competing theories," he said. "It is a great, unifying idea. The basic idea of evolution is not in question."

"But the answer is not to fall into the same trap that these scientists do, of seeing evolution and religion as opposed," Harrison said. “Evolution and religion can be compatible. Do not pit them against each other, as SB96 seems to do, in a battle in which religion is often the loser.”

"There are many scientists, like myself, who accept both a belief in God and evolution. Evolution is simply the method that God used to create the human body."

"You can not legislate science. Please reject SB96."
Larry Madden, of the Utah Science Teachers Association asked the obvious question,

"Whose viewpoints on the origins of life are we going to talk on? Everyone's?"
Now the Deseret News says that Sen. Mark Madsen “noted nothing in the bill requires any other theory to be introduced.” But I don’t think Madsen is thinking things through here. The stated purpose of the Bill is “to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race, consider opposing viewpoints, and form their own opinions”. I would imagine that in order to do that the student would ask the obvious question, “What other theories, besides evolution are there?” Just what does Madsen propose the teacher should talk about?

The ACLU mentions the obvious answer to Madden’s question and the warning that goes with it,

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah warns that the bill could violate the First Amendment.
Margaret Plane, ACLU of Utah's legal director, points to the language of the legislation that frequently mentions more than one theory and the phrase "consider opposing viewpoints."
Evolution is the only recognized scientific theory, so "the only alternative theories are religious theories," she said. "It opens the door for religion to come into the science classroom."
Despite this the Deseret News notes that Senate President John Valentine, has said the bill is likely to pass in the Senate.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Evolution and losing ones faith

Okay, I’m back in. Those three day weekends ya-know. Now what was I going to say? Oh yes, Buttars Bill. That’s right, a few comments on things from the past few days.

Chris Buttars spoke at the Eagle Forum convention this past weekend. The Daily Herald quotes Buttars concerning his understanding of macroevolution as saying,

"You have big dogs, and you have little dogs," he said. "And you have big cats and little cats, but you don't have a dat."
Truly profound. This shows just how little Buttars and his audience really understand evolution. They don’t even understand what they are attacking.

Also in, from the Associated Press:

Teaching evolution while leaving out creationism "hurts young people,” Buttars said.

He cited a mother who said her two daughters were told by a teacher that they evolved from animals, and, "It totally destroyed their faith.”
Now this is what I really want to comment on - the idea that teaching evolution destroys faith in God. Well it’s not true, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Two things come to mind.

First, people will sometimes lose their faith in God when confronted by evolution because they think it proves the Bible wrong. But it’s not the Bible that is being proven wrong at all. If anything it is our human interpretation of the Bible, which we often mistake for the Bible itself, that is being proven wrong. It’s when we raise our human interpretation to the level of dogma, holding to our interpretation as the absolutely true interpretation, that we run into trouble. When confronted with evidence that our inflexible interpretation is wrong, rather than reinterpret things in a new light, we move to discredit it and ultimately to suppress it, or unfortunately we just lose faith. The solution here is not to discredit and suppress evolution. The solution is to display a lot more humility in how we read and interpret the Bible.

Second, if Buttars & Co. is so concerned about kids losing faith they can do a whole lot better than creating legislation banning evolution. Want to know what the number one reason teens drop their faith, and it’s a big one, there isn’t even a close second – it’s called hypocrisy. Legalism, people trying to just act the part, paying lip service to loving your enemies and others, but demanding “doctrinal correctness”, etc., that is what destroys faith far more than “teaching evolution”. When teens see their elders in the faith acting like jerks, declaring themselves righteous, without being righteous, and then, and this is the key, not repenting, well, teens often just call things like they see them – fake. It seems to me that the church would do a whole lot better to look inside itself and repent than to try to legislate “righteous teaching” to others.

(And lest anyone think that since I am not a Mormon, that I am just attacking the Mormon Church with this accusation of hypocrisy, let me say that the Mormon Church holds no copyright on hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is one of the most universal and non-denominational aspects of Christianity and is far more widely practiced than many of us would like to admit.)

Well, now that I’ve gotten totally off topic, the Deseret News reported,

The Senate president said again there's GOP support for one of those bills, an effort to ensure evolution is taught in schools only as a theory.

But Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said he believes the Democrats will be "totally opposed" to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan.
Since there aren’t many Democrats in this state, this is bad news.

Also, this morning SB96 went to the Senate Education Committee (room W130), and they voted on it. Now we know who the good guys and the bad guys are don’t we. And I notice my neighbor and Senate rep Mark B. Madsen sitting pretty amongst the bad guys :^)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Very brief update & a question

The City Weekly has responded to Buttars anti-evolution Bill again with their usual candor.
… Senate Bill 96, which although only a few short sentences, would dramatically alter the state’s science curriculum. It would require that educators, when presenting any theory on the origins of life must stress that there is no consensus on the theory’s validity.
CW gets some commentary on the Bill from Larry Madden, a representative for the Utah Science Teachers Association, “This whole thing is just ridiculous”.

Amen.

Before I let you go, I have a few questions for you. Just how “dramatically” do you think this Bill will really alter the state’s science curriculum? What will the actual effect be? Especially considering there are so many science teachers like Larry Madden who think the Bill is ridiculous? Or do they think it’s ridiculous? The Pandas Thumb mentions a situation developing in Ohio in a blog post:

Already there are rumors that some creationist teachers are going beyond the ID-based lesson plan to “supplement” it with more blatantly creationist material, with the excuse that “the state board says it’s OK”.
If this Bill passes, would it have the same effect, to encourage certain teachers to “supplement” current materials?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Deseret News Poll

I see from the poll numbers that things haven’t changed much since the last poll they did back in March (mentioned below). On the bright side, the Deseret News article mentions, “Utahns overwhelmingly — 71 percent — want Utah schools to keep teaching evolution in high school biology classes,” which is good news. But the fact that at least 66% of Utahans want to lower our schools science standards by having a religious pseudoscientific theory taught as well is sad to see.

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I am encouraged by what our state curriculum director Brett Moulding had to say,

While 66 percent of Utahns surveyed favor intelligent design lessons to balance those on evolution, the state curriculum boss says such discussions don't belong in science class.

"What is accurate science is not determined by a public opinion poll, but rather by what the scientific community comes to consensus," state curriculum director Brett Moulding said. "We do, in fact, have released time . . . for students to pursue instruction in religious ideas, and I would hope that parents who want their children to have some instruction along the lines of the religious way of knowing would take advantage of that."
I do hope the legislature will ignore their constituents for once (what am I saying, duh… they do that all the time) and do the right thing. Scientists and the scientific community determine what science is, not parents and fringe groups with good PR campaigns.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A question for Chris Buttars. Honest.

I have a question for Sen. Chris Buttars,

I see the stated purpose of the Bill is “to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race, consider opposing viewpoints, and form their own opinions”. With this in mind, if a student where to ask his science teacher the critically analyzing question, “what opposing viewpoints to evolution are there, and which scientists are disagreeing with it?” - What would you suggest should be that teachers answer?

A. Tell the kid straight up “Intelligent Design, of course, and here’s Micheal Behe’s book to read (if you’d like to).”

B. Silence, look dumb, play dead, or some similar variation.

C. Lie to the kid, and say, “I don’t know”, and try to look really smart.

D. Tell the kid to go talk to his pastor or bishop for more information on science.

E. Tell the kid that it’s against federal law for the teacher to answer that question (then proceed with answer B or D above).

F. Other: ________________________
Readers of this blog (and that includes any of you Eagle Forum lurkers here): What would your answer be?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Buttars on the radio, and some articles on his Bill

Okay, a quick update. Some of it’s a little old, but I have been busy. Here are few articles and a radio broadcast to listen to:

Buttars was on KUER's Radio West today, it will be rebroadcast at 7pm for those of you like me who missed it earlier in the day.

Duane Jeffery, BYU professor, had a new article out the other day in the Daily Herald, definitely worth reading.

And both the Salt Lake City Weekly and the Salt Lake Tribune dish out their opinions on Buttars Bill.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What legitimate secular purpose is served by creating doubt in evolution?

Here’s a question I hope to generate some discussion on if anyone would like to comment.

I think it is obvious that the motivation for supporting this Bill is purely religiously based, and despite the exclusion of certain language in order to avoid a direct run in with the Establishment Clause, I think a good case can be made to show that the only purpose for this Bill is religious and that it is basically designed to aid Biblical Literalists in proselytizing on public schools in order to convert students to their religious point of view. (Got to save them from all that damning atheistic evolution ya-know.) Of course this would violate the “lemon test” and the Establishment Clause, and would ultimately kill the Bill.

In order to have any chance of avoiding this, proponents of Buttars Bill have to show some legitimate secular purpose for the Bill. But what legitimate secular purpose is served by this Bill? What legitimate secular purpose is served by creating doubt in evolution? Beyond the possible argument that it helps students to somehow think more critically, I can’t think of one. But I’m open to hearing other ideas.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Indeed, it has begun! Comedy!

Well, well, what do we have here? A big thanks to Ned Weeks for posting this fine piece of evidence on the Senate Site concerning all those cute comments that magically appeared the other day all the sudden like. See Exhibit A (Comment #61):

Utah Eagle Forum Alert:

Date: Fri, 30 Dec 2005 16:39:43 -0700
From: "Utah Eagle Forum Alert"
To: "+ UEF Alerts ?hotmail.com Alerts"
Subject: EAGLES!!! URGENT URGENT ALERT!!!

EAGLES --
PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO POST A POSITIVE COMMENT!!!

Senator Chris Buttars is sponsoring a bill on "Intelligent Design" this year.

It is SO IMPERATIVE that we give support to help get it passed.

The issue is this -- the "separation of church and state people" will NEVER let us have Creationism taught in schools. But purpose of Senator Buttars' bill is to add balance to the teaching of the origin of life -- if the THEORY of Evolution is taught, it should be balanced by the teaching of "Intelligent Design".

The bill is currently being processed -- I don't have a bill number, nor can I direct you to the bill text as yet . . .

However, please go to this link and post a positive comment based upon what you know about the issue. Thus far, the only comments posted are negative ones. http://senatesite.com/blog/2005/12/chris-buttars-bill.html

IT HAS BEGUN!

Thanks for all you do,

Maryann

Unfortunately, It’s time for a little reality

I go on a little vacation and look what happens, the monkeys come out of the trees. I notice several new bloggers who obviously arrived on the Senate Site by request in order to show a little support for Buttars Bill.

Ahh, but what did you expect.

Since it’s the new year, time to make those resolutions, I guess this would be a good enough time to take a little reality check. Reality: despite a tech savvy group of folks who totally oppose this Bill, there is (or will be) a lot of popular support for this Bill. What am I talking about? Let’s take a closer look at a poll published by the Deseret News back in March:

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This is basically saying that 70% of Utahans believe that Creationism/ID “definitely” or “probably” should be taught alongside evolution in high school biology classes, and only a mere 25% of Utahans think that it at least probably should not. Basically, if Buttars Bill where to be put to a popular referendum, it would easily win and pass into law despite what any Judge in Pennsylvania might say, or even the Federal Supreme Court.

Also, though we may not like to admit it, Gayle Ruzicka, and her minions in the Utah Eagle Forum, carry a lot of political weight. And in just a few days, they are going to get energized for the battle by the fruitcake supreme herself - Phyllis Schlafly. If you want a little taste of what she is going to be dishing out read this!

So you know what this means. It’s time to make that new years resolution – use your democratic rights and write your representatives, protest, throw a fit if you feel you need to, before we waste thousands of our hard earned tax dollars rehashing this old debate.

Ahh, but that’s already to late isn’t it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Where have all the Bill’s defenders gone?

Ethan over at SLCSPIN has posted a great insight yesterday, concerning why no defenders of Buttars Bill have shown up to defend the Bill (at least on the Senate Site):

In the past, sites that have brought up ID have received many different opinions. But then again, those were debates on Intelligent Design.

One excellent comment left at The Senate Site by Cliff was "in an attempt to avoid any reference to creationism, Mr. Buttars has produced a bill that actually says NOTHING."

I think that is the more compelling explanation for the silence. Intelligent Design is getting nowhere nationally right now so to avoid the problems of other states, Senator Buttars left out ID/Creationism which made the bill meaningless to the many ID supporters who normally show up for the debates.

ID supporters know that if they show up for this bill, they will fight a full Creation/Evolution debate in the Utah Capitol. But at the end of the day, even a hard fought victory brings them no closer to their goal.
Come to think of it, the only real defender of the Bill that has put pen to paper that I have seen has been a few letters to the editor in the Daily Herald (here, and here), by one Michael Dalton, a resident of Orem. (Please correct me if there have been others.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kill Buttars Bill: vol. 1

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I noticed Buttars bill is being slaughtered over at the Senate Site. I think the number of comments, both there and in other places, represent at least a few more people to out-weigh the “‘eight or 10’ calls from parents statewide complaining their children are being taught they evolved from apes” that the Deseret News reports Buttars having mentioned receiving.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A few of my thoughts on Buttars Bill

With a few modifications for clarification, this is my comment on the Senate Site concerning Buttars Bill (BB).

BB: do not endorse a particular theory; and

The State of Utah and its Board of Education should endorse a particular theory. They should endorse the theory that the mainstays of the scientific community uphold, not the theories of fringe groups. If a fringe group is correct, then they will be able to show that scientifically and change what the scientific community believes, as so many other theorists have done in the past with other theories (including evolution). Since Creationism and Intelligent Design have not even come close to showing that their theories hold up scientifically they shouldn’t be considered on a par with evolution.

BB: stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct

Just what scientists are we talking about? I saw Dr. John Morris, from the Institute of Creation Research, speak the other day here in SLC at the local Calvary Chapel. He’s a geologists who wants you to believe concerning the origins of life and man just what the Bible says, which is a literal six-days of creation. His theories concerning the “origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race” won’t just wipeout evolution, but all of the earth sciences and most of chemistry with it. Geology as currently taught in class is practically a ploy of Satan, making people lose faith in the Bible. He’s out there trying to prove “scientifically” that his creation theory is correct, but he is only succeeding in proving his theory with pseudoscience.

Just because a “theory” has a good PR campaign to back it up doesn’t mean it is good science, nor should evolution be put into doubt just because pseudoscience says something different.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Buttars Bill itself

Well, Chris Buttars has posted his Bill on the Senate Site. Thank you. Here is a copy of it for your viewing pleasure. I’ll have to comment later, but don't let this stop any of you (my faithful readers) from commenting below.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Utah. . .

53A-13-101.7. Curriculum and policy on theories relating to the origins of life.

(1) In order to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race, consider opposing viewpoints, and form their own opinions, the Legislature desires to avoid the perception that all scientists agree on any one theory, or that the state endorses one theory over another.

(2) The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements, consistent with Subsection (1), relating to instruction of students on theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race.

(3) The curriculum requirements described in Subsection (2) shall require that instruction to students on any theory regarding the origins of life, or the origins or present state of the human race, shall stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct.

(4) The State Board of Education shall:

(a) make rules, pursuant to Title 63, Chapter 46a, Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act, to fulfill the requirements of this section; and

(b) ensure that all policies and positions of the State Board of Education relating to theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race:

(i) do not endorse a particular theory; and

(ii) stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct.

Yes, more on Buttars bill

I have a few quick comments on the following Salt Lake Tribune article out on the December 24th. (article’s quotes bolded)

If teachers are required to teach that scientists don't agree how life originated, then it could lead students to wonder and ask what the other theories - including intelligent design - are. Buttars believes that would be a good thing.

Educators, however, fear the requirement could lead to discussions about religion in public schools, which the Utah Board of Education wants to avoid.


I wonder why educators would fear that.

“The almighty God that backs up my theory is bigger and greater and certainly much more true than the puny god that backs up yours! Therefore, my scientific theory condemns you and your theory to hell!”

Future science class essay question: If some other un-named theory is true, does that mean those who believe in evolution will be damned to Hell or to Outer Darkness (depending of course on which Utah religion you adhere to) or is there some hope for them?

"The bill almost says what should come out of the mouths of teachers . . . it's absurd," [Carol Lear] said. "I think this is a thinly veiled attempt to make the state board do what the board has unanimously said it does not want to do."

Proposing legislation that deals with curriculum is something Buttars can do, he said.

"The state Board of Education is not sovereign. There is only one sovereign and that is the state," he said.


You are Wrong, Buttars! God is the one sovereign, not the state. Heresy! (Isn’t it great when we mix politics and religion together.)

Rep. Margaret Dayton, R.-Orem, chairwoman of the House Education Standing Committee, said the bill is uncharted territory for Utah, but she does think what is taught in schools should not be left up solely to state or federal guidelines.

"There should be local control . . . and parents should be able to have some say and involvement in curriculum in various communities," she said.


I agree, except when it comes to science we need to stick to science, not some pseudoscience with a good PR campaign.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Buttars Bill

It looks like Buttars bill has been leaked, and both Deseret News and KSL have published portions of it as it stands now. I don’t have much time today so let me just make a few quick comments on some portions of the Deseret News article.

[Buttars proposal] aims to halt teachers from telling students they evolved from apes, Buttars said.

Maybe this isn’t all that significant, but evolution doesn’t say we evolved from apes. It says both humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor. Of course I am probably just splitting hairs here, but if you’re going to criticize evolution at least criticize it correctly.

"It doesn't hinder them about talking about evolution at all," Buttars said.

Neither did the Kansas School Board’s change of policy, nor Dover’s statement for that matter. But that didn’t stop the justified criticism and a court judgment.

“It's a small step, but it's a big step…”

And you can add – it’s a first step. If this bill passes there will be others. The goal being to get their foot in the door and to pry it open bit-by-bit.

Buttars says he has received "eight or 10" calls from parents statewide complaining their children are being taught they evolved from apes

That’s it! Eight to ten people! I wonder how many calls he has received from folks who think his ID idea is bad. I know he has received at least one – a letter from me!

After a local TV station reported about the bill, Buttars agreed to give the draft to the Deseret Morning News, saying "obviously, it's been leaked."

If anyone would be kind enough to pass me a copy of that bill, or post it on the web and let me know where it is, I’d be grateful. I’d like to read what it says as a whole.

[From the bills opening statement] In order to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race, consider opposing viewpoints, and to form their own opinions…

I think people are forgetting something that I know from experience (and I know this would be a little controversial to say, but I think it should be discussed more in relation to this issue) – propaganda works, peoples opinions are being manipulated, and many of those who are backing ID and creationism are much more adept at propagandizing than those who support evolution. So the idea to let teens “form their own opinions” may sound altruistic, but the goal here is to suppress good science for religious purposes.

"The bill avoids talking about specifically the theory of evolution or intelligent design, but it's clear it's asking for other theories to be discussed, and there are many, many theories about the origin of life that have no scientific basis," said [state curriculum director Brett Moulding].

The goal is obvious – to discredit evolution, a solid scientific theory, to reduce it to just one among many “theories”, and thus allowing the door to open for other pseudoscientific theories to compete with it on an equal footing.

Now I could get nasty here and exclaim that this opens up the door for people to teach Navajo creation stories in science classes, but that would be hyperbole. None the less, for those interested, I might recommend a book, Dine Bahane: The Navajo Creation Story, by Paul G. Zolbrod, it’s got good reviews on Amazon (an authority on quality books) and it looks like it would make a great textbook for science class. Plus, that theory has historical precedence for Utah – it’s been taught here longer than biblical creationism or evolution combined. And the teens I am sure would love to experiment with some of those puberty rite rituals that are related to the “theory”.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

“This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror”

Okay, this classic quote in regards to Judge Jones decision on ID is brought to you by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. And those creationists accuse us evolutionists of vilifying them and their ID theory. Well, there is a reason why we sometimes do that, and here is part of it:

"This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that's coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito, … This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries -- if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung."
Oohh, don’t you just feel that Christ-like love!

Brief update for Utah

I read the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial and whole heartedly support its position. Also, check out Bagley’s cartoon!

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I wrote this letter to the editor concerning another letter in the Daily Herald:

In his letter, Michael Dalton assumes way too much about evolutionists who believe in God, his comment that evolutionists “cannot brook even the slightest hint that a creator might have been involved” in the creation and design of life is simply not true. I, as both a Christian and an evolutionist, have a very big view of God. To us on a human level, the “pure chance” of evolution may seem chaotic, out of control and beyond the pale of divine order, but I doubt God is even bothered by it. I am sure he positively understands it and sees chaos, randomness and chance as just another part of his created order. I can imagine he is even constantly amazed by it, especially considering his limitless attention span and his incapacity for boredom. When I think about it I stand in awe of God when I look at his extraordinary creation and design of evolution.

And here are a couple of excerpts from articles concerning the testability of ID. The first are comments made by Michael Behe in an interview in Beliefnet:

Judge Jones argues that while Darwinian theory "cannot yet render an explanation on every point" of the natural world, that "should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classrooms." So he says intelligent design is untestable and therefore not a scientific method. What do you say about that?

I think that's simply untrue. Intelligent design is testable. Some scientists have tried to argue that it is false—[but] you can't say that intelligent design is falsifiable, as some scientists have argued and that it is untestable.

Is it verifiable?

Can you confirm it? Well, intelligent design is an inductive argument. In other words, whenever we have seen a particular kind of phenomenon, it has always been produced by a particular kind of cause. So whenever we see complex functional systems, it's always been our experience that they arise by purposeful design. And the way one refutes an inductive argument is by finding an exception to it. For example, if you say that all swans are white, the only way you can test that proposition or falsify it, is to find a swan that is not white. It doesn't do to keep on finding more swans that are white.

In fact, a number of philosophers of science have argued that scientific theories are tested more by withstanding falsification than they are by confirmation.

You're saying that the argument for intelligent design is falsifiable?

Yes, but it has not been falsified.

On what basis do you contend that it is falsifiable?

If somebody went into a laboratory and showed that random mutation and natural selection produced some new, complex system, then it would be falsified on that basis, because intelligent design, at least as I have formulated it, says that these complex systems that we see in the cell require intelligent activity to produce them. So that would show that they did not require intelligent activity
But William Saletan in his article in Slate makes some interesting comments concerning this testability:

… some folks have argued that ID is testable. Michael Behe, the chief scientific witness for ID in the Dover trial, says you could watch a bunch of bacteria in a lab to see whether, through evolution, they produced a flagellum. If they did, it would show that natural causes can account for the flagellum. If they didn't, it would show that natural causes can't account for it, so the cause must be supernatural.

Three months ago, when the trial was getting started, I said this testability claim was a ruse. Here's my argument: The theory that's being tested in the flagellum experiment is evolution. If it fails, ID would be vindicated only to the extent that ID consists of saying evolution would fail. That doesn't make ID an explanatory theory.

Jones makes the same point. "ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed," he writes. He cites a 1982 court ruling that shredded this "contrived dualism"—the bogus assumption that "all scientific evidence which fails to support the theory of evolution is necessarily scientific evidence in support of creationism." He notes that another scientist who testified for ID in the Dover case admitted this: Irreducible complexity, the problem posed by the flagellum, "is not a test of intelligent design; it's a test of evolution."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Buttars is unfazed by Dover decision

The Deseret News has the best coverage on how Judge Jones decision will affect Utah. They report in regards to the decision:

But that won't affect a Utah legislator's plans to challenge how evolution is approached in public schools here.

"That ruling won't affect my bill at all. . . . My bill isn't written in that manner," Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said. "Never did I say I thought we ought to teach any other faith-based program in a science class."

Last fall, Buttars did propose teaching intelligent design — the concept that life is too complex to be explained by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution alone — in a separate class, such as philosophy or humanities.

But he said even that idea will not be contained in his bill, which he revealed in a private Senate Republican caucus meeting Tuesday but declined to discuss publicly.

"It does challenge the school board, that they're going to have to rewrite their position on evolution to some degree," Buttars said. "Let me put it this way: There is no consensus in the scientific community regarding how life began . . . (so) to have a teacher teaching how life began and calling it fact really offends me. . . . I'm going to stop that. That's all I'm going to say right now."
He’s doing a Kansas maneuver folks – take out “natural causes” and make the school boards position statement deliberately vague. The point is to get their foot in the door, open things up for ID without mentioning those dangerously pesky little words, words like ‘intelligent design’, ‘creationism’, or Buttars personal choice ‘divine design’, or possibly the one we will probably be seeing more of here in the future ‘sudden-emergence theory’, words that can get his legislation in trouble with a federal court. Buttars bill will make Utah like Kansas – a laughing stock in the science world. Who would want to be like Kansas! Of all places – Kansas! Why would we want to do that to ourselves? There’s a bunch of crazy fundamentalist rednecks out there!

Also, in the news the Salt Lake Tribune cues in, the Daily Herald gives their opinion and Utah Representative Steve Urquhart blogs on the issue.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dover: ID is judged and found wanting

The judgment on Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District was issued this morning by Judge John E. Jones, III, and he has ruled in favor of those opposing ID in schools. Here from the conclusion of his 139 page decision. (Pages 136-138, bolded portions are my emphasis, with a few comments of my own which are un-indented.)

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
This is one of the saddest and most repulsive aspects of this trial – Christians using deception, a smoke and mirrors game, in order to try to maneuver around the law. I am grateful that the Judge makes special note of this.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.
Proponents of ID wasted no time in calling Judge Jones an activist judge, vilifying him and his decision.

Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
The people of Utah deserve better as well. Hopefully, Sen. Chris Buttars will rethink his legislation against evolution and drop it.

Also, I would like to comment on a couple of additional things in the above blog article by proponents of ID mentioned above.

Luskin pointed out that the ruling only applies to the federal district in which it was handed down. It has no legal effect anywhere else. The decision is also unlikely to be appealed, since the recently elected Dover school board members campaigned on their opposition to the policy. "The plans of the lawyers on both sides of this case to turn this into a landmark ruling have been preempted by the voters," he said.
Unfortunately, this will probably be true. So this ruling in the end only makes a good club in which to hit ID folks upside the head with.

"Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world," continued West. "Americans don't like to be told there is some idea that they aren't permitted to learn about.. It used to be said that banning a book in Boston guaranteed it would be a bestseller. Banning intelligent design in Dover will likely only fan interest in the theory."
This may also prove to be true, but ultimately will prove detrimental to Christianity, which proponents of ID won’t like. As interest in intelligent design grows, so will the evidence against it – as more and more of that irreducible complexity is reduced to something explainable. The end result unfortunately being ‘evidence’ proving that the Bible is ‘incorrect’.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Book Discussion: Inherit the Wind

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I thought I would mention here for any of my Utah readers that my book discussion group has picked Inherit the Wind to read for the month of February. Inherit the Wind is the classic play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee that is very loosely based on the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’. It’s the epic courtroom drama of creationism vs. evolution. We meet every 3rd Thursday of the month to discuss the book picked. Everyone is welcome to come, just read the book (or watch the movie) and come discuss.

Discussing: Inherit the Wind
We meet at: Cool Beans, 51 E Main St, Lehi
When: 7:00 p.m., Thursday, February 16th, 2006

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The culture war’s broader front

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The Economist has an article out this week that gives us a bigger picture of which the debate over Intelligent Design is merely the most publicized portion of. It discusses the court battle that some Christian schools are having with the University of California school system over admittance requirements, but puts it into its broader context.

In a lot of ways the Intelligent Design debate is just the tip of the iceberg. The fundamentalists are trying to portray the debate as a student’s right to “freedom of speech and thought” and ‘freedom of choice’ as some commenters on this blog have mentioned. As I see it, and have experienced it, those freedoms are already there. What’s really being sought is evangelism, just another form of proselytizing of their limited and human interpretations of the Bible, and a demand that their views not only be respected, but accepted by others as well (for ‘salvation’).

Besides evolution in biology classes, other subjects are also under threat. It’s only a matter of time before Wallbuilders & Co. will seriously try to revise American history classes into a fundamentalist image. Literature needs to be cleaned up. Government classes as well. And of course stuff like geology is practically satanic. It all starts with just getting your foot in the door, with Intelligent design and ‘teach the controversy’.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Labeled: Theistic Evolutionist

The term ‘theistic evolutionist’ has recently been applied to me by my pastor who is a young earth creationist. But I have to admit I am a little wary of applying this term, or label, ‘theistic evolutionist’ to myself. I mean, in general, I agree with it – I believe in God, and I believe in evolution, therefore I am a ‘theistic evolutionist’ – but the problem I have with it is it is a loaded term. Ted Peters, in a current article in Sojourners Magazine, mentions that the term ‘theistic evolutionist’ is “a phrase actually coined by the creationists as a term of derision” who they “accuse of selling out to the enemy”. Now I honestly don’t know how true that is, but it does give me pause before applying it to myself.

By way of example, I have similar feelings about the term ‘evangelical’, which in many ways has been hijacked by right-wing religious politicos. I currently go to an evangelical church here in Utah, but I can’t apply the label ‘evangelical’ to myself, for it has lost much of its previous meaning and has now come to represent someone who is pro-Republican, pro-Bush, pro-war, and anti-gay anything, someone who has practically sold their soul to the devil in order to end abortion, who demand that doctors keep brain-dead bodies alive, and yet they are pro-death penalty, and of course, creationist. The term ‘evangelical’ today conjures up many of these concepts in people when they hear the word, but none of them really apply to me.

The label ‘theistic evolutionist’ is similar, but unlike the term ‘evangelical’ it is mostly defined by its detractors, not its advocates. Because of this there are few positives to the term. It carries connotations of being a half baked compromiser who can’t make up his mind what he wants to believe. Either he has no real faith, and/or he simply can’t see reality. I disagree, of course.

Anyway, just musing over some terms and how they are used, anyone else with some thoughts?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An interview with Richard Dawkins on Beliefnet

An interesting interview of Richard Dawkins is available on Beliefnet. I took note of a few points he makes. In regards to many Christians understanding of evolution he says:

They need to understand what evolution is about. Many of them don’t. I was truly shocked to be told by two separate religious leaders in this country [the U.S.] a few weeks ago--they both said something to the effect that, “I’ll believe in evolution when I see a tailed monkey give birth to a human.”

That is staggering ignorance of what evolutionary science is about; if they think that’s what evolutionists believe, no wonder they’re skeptical of it. How can a civilized country have adult people in positions of leadership who know so stunningly little about the leading biological concept?
This is half the problem. So many Christians have so little real understanding of what evolution is really all about. They don’t understand it, write it off as ‘false teaching’, denounce it with zeal, and often question the ‘Christianity’ of those Christians who believe in it.

Is atheism the logical extension of believing in evolution?

They clearly can’t be irrevocably linked because a very large number of theologians believe in evolution. In fact, any respectable theologian of the Catholic or Anglican or any other sensible church believes in evolution. Similarly, a very large number of evolutionary scientists are also religious. My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.
It’s nice to know that one of the world’s most outspoken atheists can recognize that atheism is not the ‘logical extension’ of evolution. Why can’t so many churchmen recognize the same thing? Evolution doesn’t in itself cause atheism. Many atheists today would be atheists anyway in spite of evolution. Honestly, one of the biggest causes of atheism in folks today is probably the stubbornness of so many churchmen who will not let go of their human interpretations of the Bible, despite mounting evidence that they are wrong.

You talk about how your words have been twisted by religious people in the past. Which words of yours have been twisted?

Whenever I begin an argument by saying something that sounds as though it's creationist, something like "the Cambrian Explosion is a sudden explosion of fossils almost as though they had no history," I'm obviously saying that as a prelude to explaining why.

But these people quote selectively. It's a demonstration of their fundamental dishonesty. They’re not actually interested in truth, they’re interested in propaganda. [italics are mine]
Unfortunately, I have found this to be true in several instances. It is so sad to see Christians stoop to this level. When seen for what it is this kind of deceitful propagandizing has caused many to lose faith in Christ.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Update on that Kansas University class…

They cancelled it. Bummer! Too controversial. I had blogged earlier about the class that KU had announced, Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism.

New Duane Jeffery article

Duane Jeffery, BYU professor of zoology, in an article yesterday in The Daily Herald takes a lesson out of the history books to help us get a better picture of the dangerous ground biblical literalists are walking on.

Decades ago it was popular in both science and religion to ponder the merits of something called the "universal ether."

This was supposed to be a marvelous something that filled the entire universe, necessary to carry radiation from the sun to heat the earth, etc.

Numerous religionists asserted that the ether was the method by which God kept in contact with his creations; it was allegedly the medium of the Holy Spirit.

Here in Utah those latter ideas were propounded by both prominent scientists and leading churchmen. Though universal ether is no longer so taught, there is a message here that is directly relevant to our present society.

The intent was not only to relate religious matters to then-current secular concepts but also to use the prestige of science to validate religious doctrine. And that is precisely the intent of the "Intelligent Design" (ID) movement today. So, before we Utahns get overly wrapped up in ID, we'll do well to reflect on some history.

Eventually the concept of universal ether was disproven and discarded. And where did that leave the argument for deity? Compromised, frankly, and the credibility of those who taught the relationship clearly damaged. Employing science to validate one's religious views was shown to be quite unwise. Let's learn from that; isn't that a major reason to study history?
Jeffery recommends a book, The History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by Andrew Dixon White, available on Amazon.com and online. He summarizes White’s ideas on the conflict of the Bible and science with,

White's thesis was that science and religion did not have to be enemies; it was the arguments of theology and scriptural (mis)interpretation, not scripture or religion themselves, that generated conflict. Multitudinous biblical interpretations fiercely defended in earlier times are laughable today.

We all recognize that science changes and matures; too often we are loathe to recognize that religion evolves also and that our descendants will be bemused by many ideas that presently we consider immutable.
Science and the Bible get along just fine, but science and certain interpretations of the Bible don’t. We Bible believers need to realize that when we perceive a conflict between the Bible and science it is most likely our all too human interpretation that science is in conflict with, not the Bible itself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Articles in The New Yorker

There is a great article in this week’s The New Yorker (Dec. 5, ’05), that gives a great overview of what lead up to and what happened at the recent ‘Intelligent Design’ trial in Dover, PA - Darwin in the Dock: Intelligent design goes to school, by Margaret Talbot, (not available online).

But there is an interview Q&A of the article's author, Margaret Talbot, available online. One of the questions I think has direct relevance for us here in Utah:

Intelligent-design proponents also tout another approach to the issue, which is the “teach the controversy” movement. Can you talk about that a bit?

The Discovery Institute has been a big proponent of that language, which is subtler and perhaps constitutionally safer. The idea is not to say anything as blunt as, “Intelligent design is a good alternative,” but, rather, to emphasize criticisms of evolutionary theory. It’s funny, because a lot of people associate “teaching the controversy” with the left-wing academy, but now it’s rhetoric associated mainly with trying to introduce doubts about evolution. It sounds kind of appealing—the free marketplace of ideas, let a thousand schools of thought bloom, that sort of thing. But most scientists don’t like it, because they say there is no real debate over the fundamental validity of evolutionary theory, though there are certainly unanswered questions and debate about the relative importance of various mechanisms of evolution. As Steven Gey, a law professor who has written about the intelligent-design movement, said to me, “It’s like saying we want to be able to teach that the earth is round, but also that it’s flat, that it revolves around the sun, but also that the sun revolves around the earth. Science doesn’t work that way. We know these things are wrong.”

Intelligent-design advocates often present themselves as revolutionary thinkers who are going up against the scientific establishment, and they like to point out that a lot of people thought the big bang was a crazy idea, too. But as evolutionary scientists counter, Well, maybe you do have a revolutionary idea, but, if so, then do the experimental work to prove it, and publish that work in peer-reviewed journals, which the intelligent-design people have not done. Don’t try to get it taught in high schools—even as part of a “teach the conflicts” approach—before you’ve done the science. “The interesting question is not whether revolutionary ideas occasionally win out in science” is how Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown, put it at a forum recently. “The interesting question is, How do revolutionary ideas win out? And the big bang won out because of scientific research, because Arno Penzias [and Robert Wilson] found the background radiation to the big bang. They completed the theory. They stitched it together. It is a predictive theory that said you ought to go out and find this in nature. Now, the curious thing is that the advocates of that theory did not try to get this injected into the curriculum. They did not produce pamphlets on how you could get the big bang taught in your school and avoid the constitutional questions. They did research. They won the scientific battle.”
It’s this “teach the controversy” approach that we here in Utah will no doubt have to deal with.