News Articles

Debate over evolution in schools spans almost 8 decades since Scopes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–Americans have grappled for nearly eight decades with the question of what to teach public school students about origins science.

In the study of how life began, evolutionists — now politically correctly being called naturalists — claim chemicals came together through random chance and life developed through survival of the fittest, while creationists postulate that God created life.

In recent years, intelligent design has emerged, utilizing science itself in reasoning that living matter is too complex to have been the result of random chance, thus some entity must have purposefully created it.

Congress recently weighed in with its opinion. Other groups as varied as the Anti-Defamation League, Family Research Council and Prison Fellowship also have voiced a position.

“[T]eachers have a constitutional right to teach, and students to learn, about scientific controversies,” Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., said to Congress last December after passage of the 2001 education bill, the No Child Left Behind Act, which included a nudge for putting evolution to the test. According to the Congressional Record, Santorum went on to say, “Efforts to shut down scientific debates as such only serve to thwart the true purposes of education, science and law. There is a question here of academic freedom — freedom to learn as well as to teach.”

The ADL says that intelligent design and other religious theories of creation have no place in science classes. The Family Research Council suggests that since science is not included in the “3 Rs” of education, the question isn’t germane. Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, says evolution’s proponent Charles Darwin taught intelligent design.

But to start at the beginning 77 years ago, John Scopes was convicted in 1925 in a Tennessee courtroom of the crime of teaching Charles Darwin’s 1859 perspective on evolution. Objections to curtailing intellectual freedom in public schools erupted around the nation, and the Supreme Court ruled 43 years later — in 1968 — that states could not prohibit teaching evolution.

A balanced approach — teaching evolution and creation science — became the norm, until the Supreme Court in 1987 determined that requiring the teaching of creation science violated the “establishment of religion” clause of the U.S. Constitution.

A federal appellate court in 1990 pushed the envelope. It determined that a school district could prohibit the teaching of creation science.

One year later, in 1991, retired law professor Phillip Johnson wrote “Darwin on Trial,” which thrust the intelligent design movement into the nation’s spotlight.

Opponents charge that intelligent design is creationism in disguise, and poor science at that. Advocates say intelligent design’s purpose is to broaden origins science.

“Complex systems are found at the very basis of life, and that throws a major monkey wrench into Darwin’s theory,” said Mark Edwards, spokesman for the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which has become a key think tank for intelligent design. “We’re encountering evidence of life that can’t be explained by anything other than an intelligent designer.”

Catherine Candisky in The Columbus Dispatch in February wrote an in-depth article about the origins science controversy and the deliberations of the Ohio State Board of Education, which is reviewing the state’s science standards this year. A subcommittee is looking into the possibility that a study of intelligent design become part of the curriculum.

This follows an aborted reversal of the trend toward teaching evolution only. The Kansas Board of Education in 1999 eliminated references to the theory of evolution and the “big bang” theory on state assessment tests, but voters later ousted board members who supported the measure and in 2001 evolution was restored.

Between the Kansas and Ohio controversies, what is known as the “Santorum Amendment” became federal law on Jan. 8 when President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The amendment states: “The [Senate and House] Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”

The Senate passed the Santorum Amendment by a 98-1 vote.

“This allows parents and teachers to say they have the ability to argue for and against evolution in the classroom; that they have the authority of Congress behind them,” Family Research Council lobbyist Laura McGee told Baptist Press. “This is a huge victory.”

Beth Gianforcaro, a spokesperson for the Ohio State Board of Education, said the science standards subcommittee was referring to the Santorum Amendment in its deliberations.

“We’re going through, analyzing the [Santorum Amendment] now and comparing it to what’s been done,” she said. “It’s possible we’re going to make some refinements, some modifications to be in compliance with the bill.

“The bottom line question before [the state board],” Gianforcaro continued, “is, Should this information be included in the science standards?”