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Origins of species, etc.

A brief history of the conflict
between evolution, creation
& U.S. Constitution.

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Prior to 1925:

Creation Science was the prevailing belief system before the rise of geology in the late 18th Century. Early European scientists, from Copernicus to Galileo to Newton believed (as did almost all Christians in their time) in a literal interpretation of the Bible's account of creation: that God commanded the universe into existence.

Historians have made many estimates for the date of creation, including 3761, 3928, 4004, and 4456 BCE. The most widely accepted date was by Bishop Ussher: 4004-OCT-22 BCE

Belief in Usher's date continued among Christian scientists, until the early 18th century, when it became obvious to most researchers that geological processes were exceedingly slow, and must have been accomplished over incredibly long periods of time. An earth that is only 6,000 years old was simply not possible. One definitive piece of evidence for a much older Earth was discovered by scientists counting annual tree rings an annual layers of ice in glaciers.

As geologists promoted theories which indicated that the earth's age predated the Biblical creation story, opposition arose in many religious organizations. For example, Ellen G. White, an early prophet of the Seventh-day Adventists, reacted to the debate about the fossil record of past species by stating that they were deposited during the flood during Noah's time.

Friction between scientists and theologians increased when Darwin published The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). Many mainstream and liberal clergy found evolutionary theory quite compatible with their faith. They simply viewed evolution as the mechanism that God used to develop the various species. However, more conservative clerics were highly vocal in their condemnation of evolution as leading to Atheism and immoral behavior.

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Scopes' Trial

An important event in the history of this conflict occurred in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher was on trial for contravening the state's Butler Act. That legislation forbade the teaching of "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." 5,6 The trial quickly degenerated into a media circus. One of the main protagonists was a leading conservative religious spokesperson, former US Secretary of State and Presidential candidate: William Jennings Bryan. Opposing him was a leading intellectual and lawyer: Clarence Darrow.

During the Scopes trial, Bryan had been able to name only two creationist "geologists." One had recently died; the other George M Price, had had no formal geological training. For several decades, however, Price remained the foremost voice of creationist opposition to evolution in the US.

Although Scopes was found guilty, it was generally felt that he and Darrow had won a moral victory. Nonetheless, popular opposition to evolution remained high, with the result that most textbooks made little or no mention of evolution until the early 1960's. Those that discussed it often omitted it from their index.

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Developments in the U.S.: 1950-1975

The Roman Catholic Church had never formally condemned the theory of evolution. However, in 1950, Pope Pius XII issued a papal encyclical letter Humani Generis which discouraged belief in evolution because he felt that it played into the hands of materialists and Atheists. Since approximately that time, the Church has taught that the Genesis creation story should not be interpreted literally, but symbolically.

The National Science Foundation funded the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study during the late 1950's. It was instrumental in emphasizing the theory of evolution in high school biology textbooks. In the 1960's, in response to the widely-spread perception that the Soviet Union had gained the upper hand in science and technology, evolution gained prominence in American public schools. Instruction in biology was now framed explicitly in evolutionary terms. Indeed, the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote:  "At this time opposition to evolution seems only a very distant memory."

Yet the early 1960's were also marked by the beginning of a modern revival of creationism by fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian groups. John C Whitcomb, Jr., a conservative Old Testament scholar, and Henry Morris, a professional engineer and university professor, co-authored "The Genesis Flood." This book sparked renewed interest in creationism and remains today a very important text among creation scientists.

Inspired by this revival, several major creationism ministries were formed. Four are:

  • The Creation Research Society (CRS; St. Joseph MO; Website: was organized in 1963. It publishes the Creation Research Society Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal. This publication gives an outlet for the research findings of creation scientists who are unable to publish their creation-oriented papers in "regular" geology and biology periodicals. The CRS operates the Van Andel Research Center in Arizona to promote research into creation science.

  • The Institute for Creation Research (ICR; San Diego CA; Website: was organized in 1970. They have since been active sponsoring heavily attended seminars across the U.S. and Canada, organizing tours of the Grand Canyon, distributing numerous publications, broadcasting a weekly radio program, encouraging local advocacy groups, and providing expert witnesses for court cases.

  • Creation Ministries International is a group of autonomous creation science ministries. It started with an Australian ministry in 1977 and has since expanded to include groups in New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, UK/Europe, and the U.S. They sponsor public lectures, seminars, family camps, live-in conferences, etc., that concentrate on Genesis and its relation to the gospel message. See:  They have two periodicals: Creation magazine that can be accessed at:, and their Journal of Creation that at

  • In 1993, Ken and Marylin Ham left the ICR to form a new creationist ministry: Creation Science Ministries in Florence KY, almost a suburb of Cincinnati, OH. It was renamed Answers in Genesis (AiG) in 1995. In spite of opposition from local secularists, ICR was able to have a parcle of land adjacent to the Cincinnati Airport rezoned so in order to construct a creation museum. AIG now has many outreaches, including the Answers radio program, Answers magazine, the creation museum, and seminars. A full-sized Noah's Ark was constructed south of Cincinnati, and opened during mid-2016.

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American court trials, 1980-1990

An Arkansas state law (#590), passed in 1981, mandated the teaching of Creation Science in schools. Equal time was to be given also to evolution. A court action 1 was mounted (McLean vs. Arkansas, 1981) to overturn the law. Scientists and many main-line Christian Churches were pitted against conservative Christian groups. The law was declared unconstitutional.

A similar "Creationism Act" was passed in Louisiana. It required that either both or neither evolution and creation science be taught in the public schools. Some Louisiana parents, teachers, and religious leaders challenged the Act's constitutionality in Federal District Court. They won an injunction which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. 2 By a 7 to 2 vote, the act was found to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution.

The Supreme Court found:

"...the Act evinces a discriminatory preference for the teaching of creation science and against the teaching of evolution by

bullet requiring that curriculum guides be developed and resource services supplied for teaching creationism but not for teaching evolution,

bullet by limiting membership on the resource services panel to 'creation scientists,' and

bullet by forbidding school boards to discriminate against anyone who 'chooses to be a creation-scientist' or to teach creation science, while failing to protect those who choose to teach other theories or who refuse to teach creation science.

The Act's primary purpose was to change the public school science curriculum to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety. Thus, the Act is designed either to promote the theory of creation science that embodies a particular religious tenet or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects. In either case, the Act is seen by courts to violate the First Amendment."

The Amendment requires that a wall of separation be maintained between church and state. It reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

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More recent developments

In recent years, creationism has made considerable gains in the United States and Australia where it has been heavily promoted by fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian groups. It has had made few inroads in Canada and Europe. Creationism is also popular in Turkey -- the only predominately Muslim country that allows evolution to be taught in the schools.

Perhaps in response to their failure to have creation science taught in the public schools, creation scientists adopted a new strategy in the mid-1990's. They attempted to persuade school boards to give equal time to "scientific evidence against evolution." 3,4  This approach concerned many scientists, because they feel that teachers and students may well be unable to recognize that many claims of evidence against evolution are in reality pseudo-science, and are easily refuted.

More recently creation scientists have tried a new technique: to have schools describe what they see as inadequacies in the theory of evolution:

bullet Many Intermediate, transitional species have not yet been found.
bullet The improbability of the earliest form of life evolving out of non-life. 
bullet etc.

On 1996-OCT-23, the Pope sent a formal statement to the Pontifical Academy of Science which stated that "fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis." He did not identify the source or content of this new knowledge. Italian newspapers reported this development as front-page news. Il Messaggero published the headline "The Pope Rehabilitates Darwin". Il Giornale printed "The Pope Says We May Descend from Monkeys." The "descent from monkeys" suggestion started back in the 19th century even though no supporter of evolution then or now agrees with the concept. Still, the misquote has continued until the present time and is probably will be around for many decades in our future. Rather, supporters of the Theory of Evolution view humans and monkeys as having had a common ancestor.

In 1999, conservative Christian members of the Kansas state school board voted to change the state's science education policy. Students would no longer be tested on their knowledge of evolution. This would inevitably lead to evolution being no longer taught in that state, because many teachers are disinclined to teach topics that their students will not be tested on. The board's decision was criticized by the Governor of Kansas and was ridiculed by many in the media and sciences. The 2000-NOV election replaced all most of the school board members who had supported creation science. In 2001-FEB-13, the board voted 7 to 3 to overturn its 1999 decision.

During the mid 1980's a new concept was formed, called Intelligent Design (ID). Its supporters include both individuals who believe in a "young earth" -- one that was created less than 10,000 years ago -- and others who believe in an "old earth" -- one that started to coalesce out of space debris circa 4.5 million years ago. Most believe in what they call "microevolution" -- the belief that major changes can and do occur within species. However, they deny that one species can evolve into another without the intervention of a outside intelligence, perhaps a deity. They argue that certain structures in animals could not have developed as a result of many minor changes over a long time; they must have been specifically designed by a super-human intelligence, and then implemented.

The detailed results of the Human Genome Project were announced at the annual meeting on 2001-FEB of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The data on the structure of human DNA have been interpreted by essentially all biological scientists as very strong evidence for evolution. The data tie human origins to earlier forms of life, as far back as primitive bacteria. John Staver, a professor at Kansas State University, co-chair of the Kansas school board's science writing committee, and director of Kansas State's Center for Science Education commented:

"Evolution is the sole scientific theoretical framework that provides a coherent structure across the life sciences, and it's obviously a very powerful scientific tool for problem-solving. The folks who produced and have now documented the human genome have mentioned that in their papers and in their discussions." 7

Intelligent Design suffered a major setback in Dover, PA during late 2005. A federal court judge ruled that teaching ID in the local high school biology classes is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

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Internet & Article References

  1. The text of the Arkansas court decision "McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education" (1982) is at:
  2. The text of the US Supreme Court decision in a Louisiana case "Edwards, governor of Louisiana, et al. v. Aguillard et al." (1987) is at:
  3. Karen Schmidt, "Creationists Evolve New Strategy", Science 273: 420-422, 1996-JUL-26
  4. "Teaching Evolution", a series of letters responding to the above article, Science, 273:1321-1322, 1996-SEP-6
  5. "Tennessee vs. John Scopes: The 'Monkey Trial,' " at:
  6. "Monkey Trial: Debate over creationism and evolution still with us," at:
  7. "State school boards grapple with evolutionary theory," Newsroom, 2001-FEB-23. See:
  8. "Grand Canyon Geology" has links to Grand Canyon tours, information about its geology, and interpretation by creation scientists. See:
  9. "Snapshots - 'Creator'," Crossroads Community Church, 2006-JUL-23, at:

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Copyright 1999 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-OCT-31 (by coincidence, Halloween)
Author: B.A. Robinson

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