SALT LAKE CITY — Public schools in Utah won't have to change the way they teach evolution, after the state's House chamber on Monday gutted, and then killed, a bill that would have required science courses to mention alternative claims.
Senate Bill 96 failed in the House on a 28-46 vote, after a lengthy debate that saw the bill changed twice.
The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Chris Buttars, had said it was time to rein in teachers who were rattling the faith of students. The Senate passed the measure 16-12.
House sponsor Rep. Jim Ferrin started Monday's debate with a substitute bill, which removed the phrase about teaching the "origins of life." Ferrin, a Republican from Orem, said the phrase should come out because current state curricula only includes teaching the origins of species, not human evolution.
Ferrin had no trouble getting support for his substitute, but House lawmakers weren't as eager to support the bill's underlying premise.
Rep. Scott Wyatt, a Republican from Logan, said he feared passing the bill would force the state to then address hundreds of other scientific theories — "from quantum physics to Freud" — in the same manner.
"I would leave you with two questions," Wyatt said. "If we decide to weigh in on this part, are we going to begin weighing in on all the others and are we the correct body to do that?"
House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Urquhart suggested amending the bill to leave it with just one sentence that read, "The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements, consistent with Subsection 1, relating to scientific instruction of students on the origins of species."
"I think it's appropriate to leave this up to the Board of Education," Urquhart said.
Ferrin argued against the amendment, saying that he wasn't trying to stop the teaching of evolution in schools, nor suggesting that religious thought should be taught.
"However, if that scientific instruction goes to the origin of species, when it postulates that humans, apes, snakes, cows whales or whatever all evolved from a common ancestor. Then I would say, if that can be empirically proven, let's teach it as such," Ferrin said. "But if it's merely an inference, then let's teach is as inference."
The amendment passed 44-31 and was followed quickly by the vote that killed the bill itself.
Buttars monitored the debate from the House floor. Afterward he said he was disappointed.
Buttars said he doesn't believe the defeat means that most House members think the Darwinian theory of evolution is correct.
"Absolutely not. It means the vote was wrong in my opinion," Buttars said. "I don't believe that anybody in there really wants their kids to be taught that their great-grandfather was an ape."
In fact, evolutionary theory does not assert that humans were descended directly from apes, but rather holds that apes and humans — and all other species — are descended from common ancestors.
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