Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Creation and evolution in public education
The legal status of creation and evolution in public education is the subject of a great deal of debate in scientific, legal, and religious circles.
Until the late 19th century, creation was taught in nearly all schools in the United States, often from the position that the Bible is inerrant. With the development of the theory of evolution, and developments in other fields such as geology and astronomy, however, public schools began to teach science that was directly at odds with belief in creation.
In reaction, in the early 20th century, people such as William Jennings Bryan introduced legislation in several states prohibiting the teaching of evolution. By 1925, such legislation was being considered in 15 states, and passed in some states, such as Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone who wanted to bring a test case against one of these laws. John T. Scopes accepted, and he taught his Tennessee class evolution in defiance of the Butler Act.
The textbook in question was Hunter's Civic Biology (1914), which explicitly taught white supremacy and eugenics:
- “Although anatomically there is a greater difference between the lowest type of monkey and the highest type of ape than there is between the highest type of ape and the lowest savage, yet there is an immense mental gap between monkey and man … . At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the others in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.” (pp. 195–196)
- “… if such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways of preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.” (pp. 263–265)
Scopes was convicted; however, the widespread publicity galvanized proponents of evolution.
When the case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court overturned the decision on a technicality (the judge had assessed the fine when the jury had been required to). Although it overturned the conviction, the Court decided that the law was not in violation of the First Amendment. The Court held,
- "We are not able to see how the prohibition of teaching the theory that man has descended from a lower order of animals gives preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship. So far as we know, there is no religious establishment or organized body that has in its creed or confession of faith any article denying or affirming such a theory." Scopes v. State 289 S.W. 363, 367 (Tenn. 1927).
The holding illustrated the interpretation of the Establishment clause up to that time: that "Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion" meant simply that Congress could not establish a particular religion as the State religion, as had been common in Europe and the American colonies up to the writing of the Constitution. Consequently, the Court held that the ban on the teaching of evolution did not violate the Establishment clause, because it did not establish one religion as the "State religion." As a result of the holding, the teaching of evolution remained illegal in Tennessee.
Modern legal cases
In 1967, the Tennessee public schools were threatened with another lawsuit over the Butler Act's constitutionality, and, fearing public reprisal, Tennessee's legislature repealed the Butler Act. In the following year, 1968, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that Arkansas's law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was in violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause prohibits the state from advancing any religion, and determined that the Arkansas law which allowed the teaching of creation while disallowing the teaching of evolution advanced a religion, and was therefore in violation of the 1st amendment Establishment clause. This holding reflected a broader understanding of the Establishment Clause: instead of merely prohibiting laws that established a state religion, the Clause was interpreted to prohibit laws that "furthered" religion. Opponents, pointing to the previous decision, argued that this was judicial activism.
In reaction to the Epperson case, proponents of creation in Louisiana passed a law requiring that public schools should give "equal time" to non-evolutionary theories of origin. The Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that the Louisiana statute, which required creation to be taught alongside evolution every time evolution was taught, was unconstitutional.
The Court laid out its rule as follows:
- "The Establishment Clause forbids the enactment of any law 'respecting an establishment of religion.' The Court has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether legislation comports with the Establishment Clause. First, the legislature must have adopted the law with a secular purpose. Second, the statute's principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute must not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 2111, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971). State action violates the Establishment Clause if it fails to satisfy any of these prongs." Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578, *582-583, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 2577 (U.S.La.,1987).
The Court held that the law was not adopted with a secular purpose, because its purported purpose of "protecting academic freedom" was not furthered by limiting the freedom of teachers to teach what they thought appropriate; ruled that the act was discriminatory because it provided certain resources and guarantees to "creation scientists" which were not provided to those who taught evolution; and ruled that the law was intended to advance a particular religion because several state senators that had supported the bill stated that their support for the bill stemmed from their religious beliefs.
The holding, however, did not state that it was unconstitutional to teach creation science in schools. On the contrary, the Court noted:
- "We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. Indeed, the Court acknowledged in Stone that its decision forbidding the posting of the Ten Commandments did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization. 449 U.S., at 42, 101 S.Ct., at 194. In a similar way, teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578, 593-594, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 2583 (U.S.La.,1987)
Therefore, while the Court held that that particular statute was unconstitutional because it was specifically intended to advance a particular religious belief, the Court did not hold that creationistic theories of origins were, of necessity, inherently religious, and therefore inherently unconstitutional to teach in schools. On the contrary, the Court explicitly contemplated that teachers were permitted to teach a variety of theories regarding human origins, so long as they had scientific merit, and were being advanced with the secular intent of advancing scientific education. Thus, if creationism was shown to have scientific merit, it could be taught for the secular purpose of improved scientific education without violating the Constitution.
Movements to teach alternatives to evolution in schools
In the 1980's Phillip E. Johnson began reading the scientific literature on evolution. He concluded that the evidence supporting it was extremely lacking. At the same time, he did not hold to a reading of Genesis that creation necessarily occurred in six 24 hours days. This led to the writing of the influential book Darwin on Trial, which examined the evidence for evolution and challenged the a priori assumption that the only reasonable explanation for the origin of species must be a naturalistic one. This book, and his subsequent efforts to encourage and coordinate like minded scientists and other academics was the start of the Intelligent Design movement. ID asserts that there is evidence that life was created by an intelligent designer. They do not use theological arguments, leaving the identity of the designer as an open question, and thereby seeking to be religiously neutral while providing for the possibility of theistic belief within a secular scientific education. The movement includes people of all religious faiths as well as agnostics. The majority of the scientific community do not agree with ID. Some, who see intelligent design as a form of pseudoscience and creationism, see intelligent design as a "wedge" to enable creationist theories to be taught in schools in a secular manner. This view apparently comes from a misunderstanding of Johnson's views expressed in his book, The Wedge of Truth - Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism . This book states that true science is driven by Empiricism, not the philosophy of Naturalism. Good science accepts whatever the facts tell us, and does not force the facts to fit a naturalistic philosophy.
Many proponents of the Intelligent Design movement do not support requiring that it be taught in the public schools. For example, the Discovery Institute and Phillip E. Johnson, who is considered the father of the movement, support the policy of Teach the Controversy, which entails presenting to students the actual scientific evidence for and against evolution, and then encouraging students to evaluate the evidence themselves. In support, proponents point to popular misconceptions on the evidence for and against evolution, and factual errors and misrepresentations in current textbooks.
While some proponents of ID believe that ID should be taught in schools, many other creationists believe that legislation is not appropriate. Answers in Genesis has said:
- "AiG is not a lobby group, and we oppose legislation for compulsion of creation teaching ... why would we want an atheist forced to teach creation and give a distorted view? But we would like legal protection for teachers who present scientific arguments against the sacred cow of evolution such as staged pictures of peppered moths and forged embryo diagrams ... "
Recent developments in state education programs
In 1999, "the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 in favor of science education standards that contain no mention of biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the Universe ... As a result of the board's vote, evolutionary theory would not appear in state-wide standardized tests and it was left to the 305 local school districts in Kansas whether or not to teach it." . This sparked a statewide and nationwide controversy, and in 2001 the Board reversed its decision and rejected a compromise on Intelligent Design put forward by the creationist backers of the original 1999 decision. 
- 63% of Americans believe public schools should teach both evolution and creation;
- 20% of Americans believe public schools should teach evolution only;
- 16% of Americans believe public schools should teach creation only.
In 2002, proponents of intelligent design asked the Ohio Board of Education to adopt intelligent design as part of its standard biology curriculum, in line with the guidelines of the Edwards v. Aguillard holding. In December 2002, the Board adopted a proposal that permitted, but did not require, the teaching of intelligent design.
In 2002, six parents in Cobb County, Georgia sued to have the following sticker removed from public school textbooks: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." Selman v. Cobb County School District, No. 1:02CV2325 (N.D. Ga. filed Aug. 21, 2002).
- Defense attorney Gunn said, "The only thing the school board did is acknowledge there is a potential conflict [between evolution and creationism] and there is a potential infringement on people's beliefs if you present it in a dogmatic way. We're going to do it in a respectful way."
- Gerald R. Weber, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said "The progress of church-state cases has been that the [U.S.] Supreme Court sets a line, then government entities do what they can to skirt that line. ... Here the Supreme Court has said you can't teach creationism in the public schools. You can't have an equal-time provision for evolution and creationism. These disclaimers are a new effort to skirt the line."
- Jefferey Selman, who brought the lawsuit, claims "It singles out evolution from all the scientific theories out there. Why single out evolution? It has to be coming from a religious basis, and that violates the separation of church and state."
- The School Board said it adopted the sticker "to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion."
On January 14, 2005, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that the stickers should be removed as they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment . The school board subsequently decided to appeal the decision .
In 2004 the town of Dover, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring the teaching of intelligent design in concert with evolution, in order to allow for religious neutrality. This resulted in a firestorm of criticism from scientists and science teachers and began legal procedings to challenge the law based on their interpretation of the Aguillard precedent. Supporters of the Intelligent Design Law noted that the Aguillard holding explicitly allowed for a variety of scientific theories of origins for the secular purpose of improving scientific education. Others have argued that ID should not be allowed to use this "loophole." .
In the United Kingdom, one of the few countries in which teaching religion in state schools is a legal requirement, there is an agreed syllabus for religious education with the right of parents to withdraw their children from these lessons. However, the religious education syllabus does not contain teachings of Creationism, but rather teachings of the central tenets of a selection of major world faiths.  The UK's National Curriculum requires the teaching of evolution as science.
In 2003 the Vardy Foundation sponsored a number of "faith-based" academies where evolution and creationist ideas would be taught side-by-side in science classes. This caused a considerable amount of controversy.
- National Center for Science Education
- List of articles (mostly from Answers in Genesis) on creation education, including many on recent American and other attempts at legislation
- Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences by the Steering Committee on Science and Creationism, National Academy of Sciences, addressing the issue of teaching intelligent design and creationism as science.
- Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science by the National Academy of Sciences.
- Wired Magazine's Article on Creationism and Intelligent Design
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