More “Intelligent” Challenges to
Historically, several states barred public school instruction
that conflicted with the Genesis account of creation, and the
Tennessee Supreme Court upheld such a law in the famous Scopes “monkey
trial.” But in 1968, the U. S. Supreme Court in Epperson
v. Arkansas struck down an anti-evolution statute under
the Establishment Clause, reasoning that a state cannot bar
scientific information to satisfy religious preferences.
Creationists then focused on passing laws requiring equal
emphasis on the Biblical account whenever evolution is taught
in public schools. In 1987 the Supreme Court in Edwards
v. Aguillard struck down Louisiana’s “equal
time” statute, holding that creationism is not science
and the law discredited scientific information and advanced
religious beliefs. The Fifth Circuit subsequently struck down
a school board’s resolution requiring teachers to tell
students that evolutionary theory is not intended to dissuade
them from Biblical teachings.
Yet, teaching about the origin of humanity remains contentious.
The Kansas State Board of Education in 1999 adopted science
standards that eliminated mandatory instruction or assessment
pertaining to evolution. After a power shift on the state board,
the study of evolution was reinstated in the standards in 2000,
but an anti-evolution majority regained power in 2005. The
Board recently approved changes that authorize criticism of
evolution in science classes.
However, a Georgia federal court in 2005 ruled against a school
district’s effort to add stickers to its new biology
textbooks warning students that since evolution is a theory,
not fact, it should be “critically considered.” Noting
that evolution was singled out for such critical analysis,
the court concluded that the stickers endorsed religion.
Most current disputes focus on teaching intelligent design
(ID), which refutes natural selection and contends that development
of the universe was guided by an unspecified intelligent agent.
Many scientists call ID “creationism in disguise” and
argue that it should be confined to comparative religion classes
since it is not a scientific theory that makes testable claims.
The Dover, Pennsylvania school district made national news
in 2004 by requiring biology teachers to introduce ID as an
alternative to evolution. After teachers complained, the school
board dropped the requirement and instead instructed administrators
to read a statement that evolution is a theory and to refer
students to a book explaining ID as an alternative. This has
been challenged as advancing religion, and the case is scheduled
to be heard this fall.
Currently, anti-evolution measures are being considered in
19 states, and President Bush recently voiced his support for
exposing schoolchildren to ID as well as evolution. Substantial
attention is focused on Ohio’s state board provision
calling for critical analysis of evolutionary theory and allowing
exploration of alternatives, because the curriculum guides
have an anti-evolution orientation. The Seattle-based Discovery
Institute champions “teaching the controversy,” which
is more politically acceptable than mandating instruction in
ID, although most scientists maintain that there is no scientific
controversy. The stakes are high not only for public school
students but also for how we view the nature of science.#
Martha McCarthy, Chancellor Professor at Indiana University,
specializes in education law and policy and directs the High
School Survey of Student Engagement. Recent books include
Public School Law: Teachers’ and Students’ Rights
(with Cambron-McCabe and Thomas) and Educational Governance
and Administration (with Sergiovanni, Kelleher, and Wirt).