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"Divine design" legislation in Utah on hold


Chris Buttars, the Utah state senator who recently announced his plans to introduce legislation requiring instruction in "divine design" in the state's public schools, is now having second thoughts. On July 15, 2005, the Associated Press reported that "after talks with the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington, he's comfortable -- at least for now -- with what Utah classrooms are teaching." According to Buttars, Harrington told him that "we should not be teaching human evolution of any kind," while Harrington herself was quoted as saying, "There is not evidence yet to claim how the earth was created and no evidence to connect the family of apes with the family of man." In a subsequent article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Buttars said, ominously, that his conversation with Harrington assured him that teachers who teach human evolution "will be dealt with". If not, he will consider introducing his "divine design" legislation in the 2007 legislative session.

But the state's director of curriculum, Brett Moulding, told the Tribune that although teaching human evolution is not specifically mandated by the state science standards, it is not prohibited either, adding that no action would be taken by the state against teachers who taught human evolution. Moulding suggested that Harrington's remarks quoted by the Associated Press were misunderstood; she was unavailable for comment. University of Utah professor Dennis Bramble was aghast at the very idea that teachers might be penalized for teaching human evolution: "I think the job of public schools is to present modern science as we know it and inform students about how science works," he said. "The genetic similarity between modern apes and modern humans is extremely high ... That combined with an increasingly complete fossil record ... is compelling."

The Tribune subsequently noted in a July 18 editorial that "the Utah public schools have a state board, a state superintendent and officials and experts of various specialities seeking to do what is, under the best of circumstances, a difficult job. What Utah schools clearly do not need is a Grand Inquisitor, no matter how badly state Sen. Chris Buttars wishes to secure the position." The editorial also argued that while the state standards mandate "the teaching of evolution as exactly what it is, 'central to modern science's understanding of the living world,'" they also stress that "'[s]cience is a way of knowing,' not the way of knowing, and thus the necessary understanding of evolution should not be seen to challenge any religion or other belief system." The Provo Daily Herald was briefer: it awarded a "buffalo chip" to Buttars "for mucking around where religion doesn't belong -- in the public school curriculum."