Only two people out of the dozens who attended Friday's meeting sided with Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, and his proposal to allow teaching "intelligent design" as a theory to explain the origins of life.
Intelligent design asserts that an intelligent force created the universe. Though advocates claim the theory does not attempt to identify the designer, many of them are affiliated with explicitly Christian-centered organizations.
One, William Dembski, who heads the Center for Theology and Science at Louisville (Ky.) Southern Seminary, even argues in his book, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, that the designer must be the god Christians worship.
The school board ignored Buttars' complaint that board members never invited proponents of intelligent design to participate in drafting the position statement.
The board also chose to decline his request to delay voting on the document until the senator could give a two-hour presentation arguing for intelligent design.
During the public comment period, Buttars repeated his intention to either introduce legislation to require intelligent design be a school topic, or place the issue on next year's ballot in the form of a referendum.
Speaking to board members, 10 scientists and researchers representing disciplines including biology, chemistry, geology, paleontology and engineering tried to dismantle the contention that intelligent design is based on sound science.
Instead, many called it pseudoscience and agreed with Duane Jeffery, a Brigham Young University biology professor, who put it in the same category as astrology and pyramid power.
"By definition, science does not attempt to explain the world by invoking the supernatural," University of Utah bioengineering professor Gregory Clark told the board.
"Intelligent design fails as science because it does exactly that - it posits that life is too complex to have arisen from natural causes, and instead requires the intervention of an intelligent designer who is beyond natural explanation. Invoking the supernatural can explain anything, and hence explains nothing."
Such attacks are nothing new, said Casey Luskin, a policy analyst at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute Center for Science & Culture, a right-leaning nonprofit policy and research organization.
"Intelligent design is not just a negative argument against evolution," he said. As an example, Luskin cited the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in California. Its Project Phoenix uses radio telescopes in places such as Australia, West Virginia and Puerto Rico to "listen" for signals that would provide evidence of other technological civilizations in the universe.
"SETI is an attempt to identify intelligent design in radio signals from outer space, signals with an intelligent origin rather than a natural origin," he said. "If we can try to detect intelligent design in signals we receive from outer space, why can't we detect intelligent design in genetic codes we see in biology?"
Buttars insisted that all he wants is equal time in the classroom - and it doesn't have to be the science classroom.
"Whenever anyone challenges the evolution people, they go berserk," he said. "[Evolution] is not a fact . . . We're dealing with censorship here. If we only taught Shakespeare in English class, that wouldn't be fair."
Some of the scientists retorted that science is not a democracy.
"Legitimacy is not determined by public opinion polls, radio and TV talks shows, privately published books and, most certainly, not by legislation," said Richard Tolman, a professor of biology and science education at Utah Valley State College.