From Rethinking Schools, Winter, 1997/98, Volume 12, Number 2, See https://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/12_02/create.shtml
THIS IS PART I OF TWO PARTS.
The Evolution Of Creationism
Right-Wing Zealots Attack Science
By Leon Lynn
More than 70 years after the Scopes "Monkey Trial," the scientific theory of evolution is still too hot for some American schools to handle.
In that infamous 1925 case, worldwide attention focused on John T. Scopes, who was on trial for teaching evolution and breaking a Tennessee law which banned teaching "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible." Despite decades of scientific advances supporting evolution since the Scopes trial, despite numerous court rulings aimed at protecting science and educators from religious zealotry, and despite ever-increasing rhetoric about helping students compete in the modern world by giving them the best possible science education, schools all across the country are under pressure to downplay, ignore, or distort one of the fundamental theories of modern science. In at least some of those schools, the pressure is working.
What's more, some observers say, the pressure is getting worse. Right-wingers and religious fundamentalists have been buoyed by newfound political strength in recent years. They are attacking evolution -- as well as the whole concept of a secular, publicly funded school system -- with ever-increasing vigor as they attempt to batter down the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state and stamp their own brand of religion upon school curriculum.
Creationists don't often win outright victories; a court decision or legislative vote eventually stops many anti-evolution proposals. Nonetheless, the enemies of evolution often succeed in sending a message to teachers: If you value your careers, don't teach this. And many teachers, fearing they'll be fired or that their communities will shun them, comply.
Furthermore, in recent years creationists have adopted more sophisticated tactics. In particular, they have repackaged creationism to make such beliefs appear as legitimate scientific theory -- which they then argue should be taught in conjunction with evolution.
What is Evolution?
Simply put, evolution is the scientific theory that all life forms on earth today are descended from a single cell, or at most a very few different cells. The diversity we see among species is the result of biological changes that have taken place over many hundreds of millions of years. During that time, new variations of plants and animals have appeared, through what the National Association of Biology Teachers terms "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process of temporal descent ... ." Those new variations best able to adapt -- to find food, escape predators, protect living space, or produce offspring -- survived to pass along their traits to future generations. This is the process that Charles Darwin termed "natural selection" in his seminal 1859 work, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection."
The scientific community attaches great importance to the theory of evolution. The National Association of Biology Teachers says it's impossible to provide "a rational, coherent and scientific account" of the history and diversity of organisms on earth, or to effectively teach cellular and molecular biology, without including the principles and mechanisms of evolution. Similarly, leading national voices for the reform of science education, including the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, emphasize the importance of teaching evolution as part of a well-rounded K-12 science curriculum. An NSTA position paper on evolution, for example, notes that there is "abundant and consistent evidence from astronomy, physics, biochemistry, geochronology, geology, biology, anthropology, and other sciences that evolution has taken place," making it an important "unifying concept for science." Scientific disciplines "with a historical component, such as astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology, cannot be taught with integrity if evolution is not emphasized," NSTA concludes.
What Creationists Believe
Generally, there's no conflict today between the theory of evolution and the religious beliefs of people who think that a supernatural entity guided the creation of the world. Many scientists and philosophers who accept the validity of evolution are nevertheless devoutly religious. Even Pope John Paul II, in a statement released in 1996, said that while the Catholic church holds that God created heaven and Earth, there is strong scientific evidence to support evolution.
In the realm of U.S. politics and education, however, the term "creationist" is generally used to refer to people actively pushing a particular, fundamentalist Christian religious perspective which rejects the theory of evolution as false. While there are different factions -- some creationists insist that Earth is only a few thousand years old, for example, while others remain open to the possibility that it's much older -- people actively challenging evolution and seeking to promote creationism generally believe that:
* Life appeared on Earth suddenly, in forms similar or identical to those seen today. Humans, therefore, did not evolve from earlier species.
* All life was designed for certain functions and purposes.
* The Bible is an accurate historical record of creation and other events, such as the Great Flood. (Again, however, there are factional differences. Some creationists insist that the "creation week" was a literal seven-day week, while others believe the creation period could have lasted longer.)
Many creationists also believe that because evolution contradicts their interpretation of the Bible, it is therefore anti-God. For example Henry Morris, founder of a leading creationist think tank, the Institute for Creation Research, has written that evolution is dangerous because it leads "to the notion that each person owns himself, and is the master of his own destiny." This, he argues, is "contrary to the Bible teaching that man is in rebellion against God." (See the https://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/12_02/resourc.shtml article for more information on the Institute for Creation Research.)
The Roots of Creationism
In the decades immediately following the publication of Darwin's landmark book in 1859, colleges began revising their curricula "to purge religious influences," says Gerald R. Skoog, a professor of education at Texas Tech University and a past president of the National Science Teachers Association. High schools began following suit around 1900, but the process was by no means swift or comprehensive. In 1925 in Dayton, TN, science teacher John T. Scopes was put on trial for breaking Tennessee's law banning the teaching of evolution. The case became an international spectacle because of the appearances, and impassioned arguments, of lawyer Clarence Darrow on Scopes' behalf and political giant William Jennings Bryan in opposition to evolution. Scopes was convicted, although his conviction was later dismissed on appeal by the state Supreme Court. The anti-evolution law remained on the books in Tennessee until 1967, when it was finally repealed.
In recent decades, numerous state and federal court decisions have sought to protect scientists and educators who advocate the teaching of evolution. At the heart of the decisions is the courts' view that banning the teaching of evolution is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state. Among the more significant decisions:
* The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that an Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional. In essence, the court held that creationists were attempting to foist a particular religious philosophy in the schools.
* In 1981 the Supreme Court rejected a California creationist's claim that classroom discussions of evolution infringed on his right, and the rights of his children, to free exercise of religion.
* In 1987, the Supreme Court tossed out a Louisiana law that required the teaching of creationism whenever evolution was taught in schools, saying the law was an endorsement of religion.
* In 1990, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a school district could prohibit a teacher from teaching creationism and that such a prohibition wouldn't violate the teacher's free-speech rights.
* Similarly, in 1994 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a teacher's First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is not violated by a school-district requirement that teachers include evolution in biology curricula.
* In September 1997, a U.S. district court in Louisiana struck down as unconstitutional a three-year-old policy in Tangipahoa Parish that required teachers to read a disclaimer before teaching the theory of evolution.
Evolution also received a major boost, oddly enough, from the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957. Critics of the U.S. education system seized on the launch, saying America's "defeat" in the space race was due to poor schooling. This issue quickly became part of the national political agenda, and schools began putting new emphasis on math and science education.
Despite these court decisions, however, and the resurgence of interest in science education that flowed from the space race, evolution remains a popular target in school board meeting rooms, legislative halls, and courthouses from Virginia to California. The last decade in particular has seen a surge in creationist political activity.
THIS IS PART I OF TWO PARTS - THE NEXT PART FOLLOWS SHORTLY.