Continues Over Teaching Evolution
Martha McCarthy, Ph.D.
than 75 years after John Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution
in violation of Tennessee law, such instruction remains controversial.
Indeed, about 20 states considered anti-evolution measures in
the 1920s and in the 1990s!
After the Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas law barring instruction
in evolution in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), some proponents
of the Genesis account pursued different strategies. They pressed
for disclaimers in texts and curriculum guides, stipulating that
evolution is a theory and cannot be taught as fact, and they had
some success in this regard. Also, they argued that the Biblical
account deserves equal treatment whenever evolution is taught,
as both are theories. The Supreme Court addressed this argument
in 1987, striking down a Louisiana “equal-time” statute in Edwards
v. Aguillard. The Court reasoned that the intent of the law
was to advance religious doctrine in science classes and not to
protect academic freedom as asserted.
Given the Supreme Court’s position, those challenging evolution
have recently focused on political remedies. The Kansas State
Board of Education attracted national attention in 1999 when it
rejected proposed science standards emphasizing evolution and
adopted an alternative set eliminating the requirement that local
school districts teach or test students about evolution. The standards
removed any references to evolution or the earth being billions
of years old, but did not actually ban teaching evolution, and
most Kansas school districts continued to teach this subject.
Developments in Kansas received the most publicity, but the Kentucky
Education Department deleted the word “evolution” from the state
science curriculum and replaced it with the phrase “change over
time.” Other states, such as Alabama and Nebraska, changed their
policies to allow for discussion of theories that challenge evolution.
But the New Mexico State Board in 1999 voted to endorse the teaching
of evolution as the only approach to the origin of life in the
statewide science curriculum, which was a direct response to the
contrary action in Kansas.
And success of anti-evolution forces in Kansas was short lived.
In the 2000 state board election, there was a shift in power to
create a moderate majority that approved new science standards
reinstating the study of evolution. More recently, a Colorado
local board of education voted that a charter school had breached
its contract when it adopted a policy prohibiting teaching human
evolution. Also, the Supreme Court declined to review a Minnesota
court’s decision that teachers cannot refrain from teaching evolution
simply because they have religious objections.
The newest argument is that instruction in evolution should be
augmented by the theory of “intelligent design,” which denies
natural selection but recognizes that the earth is older than
stipulated in the Bible. The Ohio State Board of Education is
considering the claim that the state science standards should
include intelligent design, but critics view this as another ploy
to insert theism in public schools. Although current policies
favor evolution, controversies over this topic are likely to continue,
and possibly the issue will still be unresolved a century after
the famous Scopes “monkey trial.”#
McCarthy, Ph.D. is the Chancellor Professor, School of Education,
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
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