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Religious Tolerance logo

Teaching the origin of species in schools

Recent evolution /creationism
conflicts in U.S. public schools

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Public opinion polls:

1999-AUG: ABCNEWS.com quoted The Gallup Organization's most recent results relating to public opinion about the teaching of creationism in public schools: 1
Item In favor Opposed No opinion
Teach creationism and evolution 68% 29% 3%
Teach creationism instead of evolution 40% 55% 5%

DYG Inc, a opinion research firm, conducted a public opinion poll among U.S. adults in the wake of the Kansas Board of Education's decision to not require evolution to be taught in the state's public schools. The poll was sponsored by People for the American Way. They found that :

"There is broad agreement that schools should acknowledge that some people have creationist beliefs and even teach about those beliefs - but not as science.  There is also a strong consensus not only that schools should teach evolution, but that how they handle the subject along with creationist beliefs should be a matter of national policy, not just a local matter to be decided by each state or school district." Specific finding were:
bulletAlmost half of American adults have never heard of "Creation Science."
bullet60% oppose the decision by the Kansas Board of Education to drop evolution from state science standards.
bullet83% believe that evolution should be taught in public schools. Of these:
bullet20% say that only evolution should be taught in schools.
bullet17% say that only evolution should be taught in science class; creation science could be taught in other, non-science, classes
bullet29% would allow the teaching in science class of both evolution as a scientific theory and creation science as a belief.
bulletAbout 70% feel that evolution and creation science can be harmonized.
bulletFewer than 30% want creation science taught in science class as a scientific belief.
bullet13% want creation science and evolution taught together as science.
bullet16% want creation science to be taught as the only scientific theory. 2

2002-JAN: Channel One news supplies a cable news program to about 12,000 public schools in the U.S. They conducted a non-scientific, online poll of student's attitudes towards the teaching of origins. 3 They asked: "...which theory should be taught in school? Creationism, Evolution or Both?" Results were:

Teach creationism only Teach evolution only Teach both
31% 17% 52%

Unfortunately, the poll did not sample students' opinion on how origins should be taught. Some might prefer creation and evolution to be taught side-by-side in science class, as alternative belief systems. Others might prefer that evolution be taught in science class, because essentially all earth and biological scientists accept the theory. Creation stories from various religions could then be taught in a comparative religion course.

Recent battles in the war:

Some of the recent bills and laws considered by state legislatures are clearly unconstitutional. They place local school boards in a difficult position. If they refuse to implement the laws, their funding may be cut. If they follow the laws, they become vulnerable to lawsuits that they will undoubtedly lose. The cost of these court actions could impoverish small school districts. They also cause conflict for individual legislators: If they vote in favor of some of these laws, they will be violating their oath of office which is to uphold the state and national Constitution; if they vote against some of the laws, they will lose significant voting support in the next election. 

A sampling of past developments in the teaching of evolution in public schools:

bullet1987: National: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public schools cannot teach creationism in science classes.
bulletLate 1990's: State school boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska have tried to either
bulletno longer mandate the teaching of evolution, or
bulletde-emphasize the teaching of evolution 4
bullet1998: North Carolina: The North Carolina House passed a bill which mandates that evolution be presented as a theory, not as a fact. Among scientists, "theory" means an established well documented concept. Within the general public, a "theory" is a hunch. The Legislature is apparently hoping that the public will use the latter definition.
bullet1999: Kansas: The Kansas Board of Education abandoned the recommendations of their own science panel and established new state science standards. They announced that students would not be tested on their knowledge of evolution. "Studies of data regarding fossils, geologic tables, cosmological information are encouraged. But standards regarding origins are not mandated.5 This policy was overturned in 2001 after the election of a new board.
bullet1999: Kentucky: The Kentucky State Education Department substituted the term "change over time" for "evolution" in their curriculum.
bullet2000: Louisiana: The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Tangipahoa Parish school board's disclaimer to be unconstitutional. The board had required its teachers to announce that evolution was just "presented to inform students of the scientific concept and [was] not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept..."
bullet2001: Hawaii: Denise Matsumoto, chair of the Regular Education Committee, of the Hawaii State Board of Education proposed that evolution and creation science be taught as competing theories in science class. It was unanimously rejected by the board.
bullet2005: Georgia: A federal judge ordered that the Cobb County school board remove stickers that they had ordered placed on science text books. The stickers state: "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." 6
bullet2006-JAN-10: USA: Clergy Letter Project: This project promotes the teaching of the theory of evolution in American public schools. The Project notes that: "...numerous clergy from most denominations have tremendous respect for evolutionary theory and have embraced it as a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith." It started with an effort in Wisconsin to have Christian clergy sign a pro-evolution statement. It has since gone nation wide, and has as received 10,266 signatures as of JAN-05. 7
bullet2007-SEP-17: Christian professor criticized for supporting evolution: The National Center for Science Education commented on a conflict in the Olivet Nazarene University involving Richard Colling, a professor of biology, and his book "Random Designer." 8 In his book, he writes:

"It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods [when they say evolutionary theory is 'in crisis'] and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. Such statements are blatantly untrue. ... evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny."

bullet2008-MAY-21: Hearing at the Louisiana state legislature re: ID: Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert in the history of creationism, testified on the proposed Science Education Act. It would permit teachers and school boards to teach non-scientific alternatives to evolution, including  intelligent design (ID)

The act lists evolution, global warming, the origins of life, and human cloning as worthy of "open and objective discussion." She criticized this provision as an attempt to misrepresent evolution as being scientifically controversial.

The bill was later passed by the state's legislature: by 94 to 3 in the House and by unanimous vote in the Senate.

On 28 June, Governor, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal (R), signed the bill into law. 9

Many state legislatures have introduced "Academic Freedom" acts to promote skepticism towards evolution. As of early 2009, all but Louisiana's bill died.

For more information, see our recent news items
about the conflict over the teaching origins in schools

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Kenneth Chang, "Evolutionary beliefs," ABCNEWS, 1999-AUG-16. Available online at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  2. "Poll: Public Wants Evolution, Not Creationism, in Science Class," Greenwich Academy, 2000-MAR-10, at: http://mail.greenwichacademy.org/
  3. Stuart Shepard, "Poll: Students Favor Teaching Creation," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/
  4. David Miles, "Kansas drops evolution," Associated Press, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  5. Bill Brewster & Kenneth Chang, "Latest evolution battlefield," ABCNEWS at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  6. Tim Harper, "Darwin beats God in red America," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-14, Page A17.
  7. "Welcome to the Clergy Letter Project," at: http://www.uwosh.edu/

  8. "Christian professor embattled for supporting evolution," National Center for Science Education, 2007-SEP-17, at: http://ncseweb.org/

  9. Amanda Gefter, "New legal threat to teaching evolution in the US," New Scientist, 2008-JUL-09, at: http://www.newscientist.com/

Copyright © 1999 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-FEB-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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