Intelligent Design, Creation, and Evolution in Public Education

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Religion and scientific theory don’t necessarily have to exclude each other, nevertheless it’s in public schools where you’ll find the battlefield between opposing groups that tend to see this as an either/or scenario. Many faiths hold strong convictions on particular scientific doctrine and have worked to alter or altogether do away with any curriculum that may contain those ideas. Opponents in education and science have fought against the attempts of religious groups to shut down any teaching that runs contrary to their faith-based understanding of the world, usually citing this country’s historic separation of church and state.

Evolutionary theory finds itself at the forefront of this debate.  Or specifically, a dogmatic and lockstep version of Darwinian evolution generally adhered to by schools and scientific bodies, which generally asserts that life developed through millennia of natural mutations and even genetic mistakes that resulted in species adaptation and development over eons. Church organizations opposing evolution or at least the fact that evolution teaching is treated as some dogma beyond discussion, usually promote intelligent design or creation science, the concept that life began and then morphed with the assistance of a conscious creator.

Evolution Under Fire

The Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas from 1968 stemmed from a law that forbade public schools from teaching of evolution in the classroom. The public school teacher Epperson filed suit, claiming that the law prohibiting evolution scientific theory was a violation of his 1st Amendment right of free speech. Epperson found agreement from the courts and further it was determined that the section of the law allowing the teaching of creation violated the 14th Amendment’s protections for Due Process and even the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, which bar the state from promoting or advancing any religion.

Creationism Requiring Equal Time in the Classroom?

In 1982 parents and teachers sued in the case of McLean v. Arkansas because of the ruling that made it so public schools would have to provide equal teaching time to evolution-based and creation-based scientific theories. The law was then overturned as unconstitutional – a violation of Due Process, Free Speech, and Equal Protection guarantees covered by the 1st and 14th Amendments.  Epperson was frequently cited by the court in explaining its ruling.

Other court cases filed in Louisiana and other states also mirrored the McLean decision.  In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled against laws requiring biology instructors to teach creation in addition to evolution, still citing the nature of such a policy as “unconstitutional” and sometimes condemned as a veiled attempt to bring religious teaching into the classroom.

Intelligent Design

The concept of intelligent design has been picking up momentum in the education science and even finds some favor among scientists – including theoretical physicists, generally a very non-religious group.  It could be argued that what intelligent design does right is that it is not beholden to an Abrahamic monopoly on the understanding of what a “creator” is or could be.  A conscious entity assisting in the creative process of the universe and life on Earth is not necessarily constrained to biblical prescriptions and understandings.

Proponents of ID as it’s known argue that Darwinian Evolution is only a theory itself and no more provable than their conjecture that life began via the intercession of an intelligent designer. The instances of “irreducible complexity” they argue, are not explainable without the inclusion of a greater consciousness. Although, those opposed to ID claim that it does not follow the scientific method and so therefore is not really science – it’s not based upon the new discovery of causes of natural occurrence through testing and observation. Evolutionists also tend to get rankled when their doctrine is referred to as only a “theory”, claiming that it’s merely technicalities that keep it from being presented as a scientific law.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was the first time Federal courts got involved in the intelligent design debate back in 2005. Dover, Pennsylvania was the center of the action where the school board voted to make it a requirement that teachers had to read a statement on intelligent design before starting lessons on evolution in high school biology classes. In this case the judge ruled against the school district.

Creationist Wins and Losses

In many of the court cases that rule against intelligent design and creationism being taught in schools we can see that it’s often the approach of the pro-ID forces that ultimately shuts down their progress.  What we argue for is not the promotion of theories that don’t fit the scientific protocol – not at all!  That’s a loser every time!  Instead we at are saying that neo-Darwinian evolution can not be elevated to some status of dogma that can never be challenged.

We should note that not all actions designed to make greater influence on how schools teach evolution have been unsuccessful. Pennsylvania, Alabama, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, and South Carolina now require that students critically analyse the major tenants of evolutionary theory within their science curriculum. Furthermore, states like Mississippi and Louisiana have laws allowing students and teachers to discuss scientific evidence that is critical of, or even refutes, the standard theory of evolution.  New Mexico has been pushing for a resolution on this as well since 2010.

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