Utah and Human Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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