Conflicts regarding evolution, intelligent
design & creationism in U.S. public schools
Protestant religious schools: There is little conflict over evolution within
Christian home schooling programs and Christian religious schools. Creation science
and Intelligent Design are taught there as the only valid
belief systems concerning the history of the world, its life forms and the rest
of the universe. Naturalistic and theistic Evolution is generally rejected.
However, there seems to be an increasing trend among some Christian high schools
and colleges to abandon creation science in favor of theistic evolution -- the
concept that evolution of the species happened on earth over billions of years,
and that God used evolution as a tool to create the species that we see today.
"Experts say theistic evolution is showing up in a growing number of
Christian colleges. For example, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., recently
invited a guest speaker from Kansas State University to lecture on the topic.
And Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., also presents biology and geology
from that point of view." 1
John Mark Reynolds, of Biola University in La Mirada, CA, suggests that parents
check out the purity of school teaching by inquiring whether the entire faculty
believes in a literal Adam and Eve, by studying the course descriptions
carefully, by examining the student newspaper for discussions on evolution, and
by using an Internet search engine to find and study any papers that school
professors have written about origins.
Roman Catholic schools: Among parochial (called "separate
schools" in Canada) schools, there is also little discord.
The schools have accepted, and taught evolution and the origin of the species
for decades. However, the Church teaches that humanity once consisted of one man
and one woman, called Adam and Eve in the Bible, and that specially created human souls
for the first parents and all their descendents. In this way, God differentiated humans from the lower animals.
Public schools: It is in the U.S. public schools that the battle between
evolution and creation science has raged. It has taken many forms:
After the Scopes Trial (Tennessee, 1925) the theory of evolution gained much public support.
2However, this did not translate into evolution being taught widely in the
public schools of America.
State creationism laws were passed during the 1980's in Arkansas and
Louisiana, to force the teaching of creationism in place of evolution. In a 1987
case, Edwards v. Aquillard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these laws were unconstitutional because they violated the establishment
clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. constitution. Creation science was
seen to be a expression of religious belief. It was judged to be not a true
science because it could never be falsified -- i.e., it was firmly held as a
religious belief by its adherents that no amount of contradictory physical
evidence could change.
With the launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik in the late
1950's, many became convinced that the country that the U.S. was falling behind
in science. The National Science
Foundation funded the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, which was
influential in returning evolution to high school biology textbooks. In the
1960's, evolution began to be widely taught.
During the mid 1990's, creation science groups started to
persuade school boards to give equal time to creation science.
In recent years, the emphasis has been on encouraging teachers
and students to be skeptical of the theory of evolution. Various legislatures
have introduced bills to encourage teaching that the theory of evolution
contains internal contradictions. These are typically called "academic freedom"
bills. By the end of 2008, they had been introduced in about seven states and
failed in all but Louisiana. More details.
Can the conflict be solved?
The battle between evolution and creation science will not be settled in the foreseeable future:
Most conservative Protestants believe in the
literal truth of the stories of creation found in the book of Genesis in the
Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). They interpret the Hebrew word "Yom"
as implying that creation took six actual 24-hour days. This implies an earth that is less than ten
thousand years old.
A minority of conservative Protestants, most liberal
Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church, and most scientists accept
either theistic evolution or naturalistic evolution. Both accept that
evolution of the species has happened, and that the earth is over 4
billion years of age -- some 500,000 times older than young-earth
creationists believe. Supporters of theistic evolution believe that God used evolution as a tool to guide the development of the species; supporters of naturalistic evolution beieve that evolution was caused by unguided natural processes.
Over 95% of scientists generally, and over 99% of scientists
in the fields of biology and earth sciences, accept the theory of evolution.
These beliefs estimate the earth to be about 4.5 billions of years old. More details.
General acceptance of creation science would mean that the entire
foundational structure and inter-relationships of many sciences (geology, biology, astronomy,
nuclear science, etc.) would become meaningless, and would have to be
General acceptance of theistic or naturalistic evolution requires people to interpret
Genesis symbolically or to reclassify the creation stories as myths.
However, the creation stories are closely tied to the
fall of man and to
original sin. The latter are two key beliefs among many
Christians. If Genesis is interpreted as symbolic, as a myth, fable or
fantasy, then the entire role of Jesus would have to be reinterpreted.
Without original sin, there is no obvious need for a savior. Jews
do not have this problem; although they share Genesis with Christians, they
never developed the concept of original sin. Liberal Christians also have no
problem; most have already concluded that Genesis is a myth. But the
rejection of original sin would shake conservative Christianity to its
knees, and so is unlikely to happen.
one religion as superior to any other religion, or that
religion is superior to a secular lifestyle.
Creation science could be taught in the public schools in a
comparative religion curriculum. It can be argued that
it is important that it be taught in order that the students become fully
aware of the range of beliefs about origins among different religions. But, in order to be
constitutional in the U.S.:
Creation science can only be taught as a concept that
some people believe in; it cannot be taught as actual truth.
Creation science based on the biblical book of Genesis
cannot constitutionally be discussed in isolation. The beliefs
of other religions, and of secular movements would have to be
taught along with the Judeo-Christian-Muslim belief. Otherwise, Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam would seen as being promoted by the school as superior to
other religions and to a secular lifestyle.