Sen. Buttars drags Utah back to the dark ages

Sen. Buttars drags Utah back to the dark ages

Sen. Buttars drags Utah back to the dark ages

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 22 2006 5:32 PM

Sen. Buttars drags Utah back to the dark ages

Ever play whack-a-mole, where the little mole pops up out of a hole, you whack it down, and it pops up in another hole?

Welcome to the reality-based community dealing with the fantasy of creationism.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Just four months ago, I wrote in this blog about the Utah school system's Board of Education unanimously supporting a position statement reaffirming their commitment to teaching evolution in high school science classes.

But poof, that's now gone. Utah Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) proposed a bill regulating the discussion of the origin of life in the classroom -- students must consider opposing "scientific" viewpoints when learning about evolution (never mind that there are no scientific oppositions to it). The bill passed one hurdle, and is expected to pass the second as well. When it does, students in Utah get to join the increasingly less-exclusive list of other students around the United States getting screwed out of their education.

If this sounds harsh, then let me show you this quotation in an article about this in the Deseret (Utah) News:

Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem, who supports the legislation, told senators, "It's important we stand up and fight for what we believe."

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When will these guys understand that it's not about what is believed, but what is known to be true and factual, or, in the case of creationism, what is known to be untrue and nonfactual.

I'll be even clearer: belief does not belong in the classroom. It doesn't. Belief is religion, no matter how you slice it. What belongs in the classroom is evidence-based reasoning. That's why we have a First Amendment, and why Judge Jones ruled against the creationists on Dover.

A Senator from Salt Lake tried to help... but I'm glad he failed. He said

"If we are actually going to do those things, we should do it not with just one theory in the biology classroom. We should do it with all theories in the classroom," [Senator Scott] McCoy [D-Salt Lake] said. "The fact it does target one particular theory points to the fact this debate is really about something much different than is being represented."

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He's certainly right in that last point. But as for his idea about applying the bill to all science classes, I think he's misguided. In a scientific setting, with proper discussion, questioning scientific theories is fine. Science is all about questioning what is known, and science classes should certainly include that. But it has to be a scientific debate, and not a religious one. I think that encouraging this at a state level is only going to make it easier for the anti-science brigade to open that door wider. It's like dipping a cut finger into a septic tank.

This is so simple. Science thrives on questioning its premises based on observations, reason, and evidence. But creationists take this simple truth and twist it to their advantage politically, and they are subverting the law to force their faith on others.

"We're trying to protect our kids," Buttars said.

No he's not. He's trying to legislate the teaching of his particular belief. He might think he's trying to protect them, but protecting them is the last thing he's doing. Teaching them science, teaching them to think critically for themselves, teaching them what healthy skepticism is... that's protecting them. If you do that, when they're older they'll be able to tell snake oil from real medicine. What Senator Buttars wants children to do is swallow whatever is given to them. That's not science, that's not healthy, and it's certainly not protecting them.

You can't legislate science. But in Utah, you can legislate fantasy.