Proponents of SB96, the amended "origins of life" bill presently in Utah's House, have made a number of points in the bill's defense which need clarification.
1. Claim: Since the bill itself does not mention "intelligent design," "divine design" or anything relating to "faith-based interests," the bill is therefore immune to legal challenge.
This is quite incorrect. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the legislative history of such bills is of paramount interest and that religious intent renders a bill unconstitutional. The recent case in Dover, Pa., underscored that point, as the religious motivations of the school board were a major factor in the court declaring their actions unconstitutional.
Statements by both SB96's originator and present proponents make it very clear that religious concerns motivate their actions. The bill is thus very vulnerable to legal challenge and could easily involve the state in a legal battle.
2. Claim: There are no transitional fossils.
This is also incorrect. In the vertebrate lineages, for example, there is a virtually solid line connecting all major groups from fish to humans. Consult any good vertebrate paleontology book. Critics exploit discussions about transitions between individual species, where the issue becomes a matter of definitions and subtle differences in expert opinion. For the major groups (families, classes, etc.) definitions are much clearer and transitional fossils documenting such macroevolution are well-known and recognized. As one example, recent newspaper accounts of dinosaurs with feathers, which connect those stocks to birds, have been well-publicized.
3. Claim: Evolutionists cling to their theory because they don't wish to believe in a Creator.
Reality: Virtually any academic discipline can be used as an anti-religious battering ram: history, literature, economics, art, etc. But such confrontation is not inherent in the disciplines. Nor is it inherent in science. Science is neither theistic nor atheistic; it is non-theistic, just as are mathematics and statistics.
Deity is simply not subject to scientific analysis, and science cannot address the issue directly at all. Many evolutionary scientists have deep religious faith and hold their views in science because of the overwhelming mass of evidence that undergirds modern evolutionary biology, not because of some alleged theological fear. Further, many religious leaders find no major difficulty between their faith and evolutionary science, as today's Evolution Sunday celebrations across our country attest.
4. Summary. First, the Utah State Board of Education already has in place an official position statement that clearly covers all legitimate interests of SB96. It makes clear that science is always subject to refinement, and that religious viewpoints shall be treated with respect and sensitivity.
Second, 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.
SB96, in both original and amended versions, sends precisely the wrong message. It is not a healthy contribution to Utah's future.
Duane Jeffery teaches integrative biology at BYU. Other signers include nine scientists at Utah colleges and universities and the state paleontologist.