Creationism v Evolution in the US Public School System
With the ratification of the First Amendment and the extension of the Fourth Amendment to fully realize the “separation of church and state” as Thomas Jefferson advocated and to give constitutional protection to the liberties of basic human rights such as freedom of religion versus the perceived idea of most Americans (according to a 2006 study of Pew Research Center) as the United States to be a Christian country, which between creationism and evolution should be taught in the U.S. Public Schools? Consequently, are these bound by the law? Which is constitutional and which is not?
Before we answer those questions, let’s first define the two concepts.
Creationism vs Evolution: The Concept
“Let there be light.”
Creationism is the belief based from the teaching of the Bible that the universe and all forms of life were created by God out of nothing or what is known as “ex nihilo”. Creationists believe in the story told in Genesis of God’s six-day creation.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”
On the first day, light was created. Then on the next day, the sky was created. The dry land, seas, plants, and trees were created on the third day. And on the fourth, the Sun, Moon, and stars were cast into the sky. By the fifth day, creatures living in the sea as well as flying creatures came into life. At the end of the sixth day, animals that live on land and the first human who was made in the image or likeness of God from dust (imago dei) were then created to walk on earth. The seventh day was when God rested and until today, considered a holy day.
Fundamentalist Christians are creationists and believe that the book of Genesis is the single accurate account of the world’s creation. In doing so, they accept no alternatives or supporting scientific theory.
According to Creationism, Earth is only a few thousand years based on the genealogies traced from the creation of Adam, the first man. Although some old creationists believe that there is a higher being responsible for all creation, it’s not necessarily the God of the Bible. Furthermore, they do not also strongly cling on to the story of Genesis as the creation’s literal history which is why they accept and support the scientific evidence in the field of Geology such as fossils. Despite the differences between young and old creationists, they both believe in mutation as the changes involved within a species or coined as the term “kind” in Genesis 1:24. These changes may be upward or positive or its opposite as downward or negative mutation.
What they do not believe though is the development of these changes that would lead simpler species to gradually turn into more complex ones or scientifically called as evolution.
“Survival of the fittest.”
Evolution is a biological concept defined as the change in characteristics of a species observed over a period of time encompassing several generations and relies on the process of natural selection.
The theory of evolution is credited to Charles Darwin. In his theory, he explained that variation in the physical characteristics among individuals in the same species is due to the differences in their genes. In the process of natural selection, individuals with characteristics that are best-suited are more likely to survive as they can adapt well to the environment in terms of finding food, avoiding predators, and resisting disease. Compared to individuals who are not able to change and adapt to their environment. As the most popular line of this theory says, it’s survival of the fittest and only the fittest have the more-likely chance to reproduce and pass their genes to the next generation.
History of Creationism and Evolution and their simultaneous growth as concepts
By the time Charles Darwin published his book entitled “On the Origin of Species” in 1951, it took the scientific community on a new level with his theory of evolution although the community back then had already accepted some form of evolution so this did not really come as a newly introduced concept. (In the 1800s, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, French naturalist, had already introduced this concept although the process was not accepted.) It has also gained the interest of conservative religious groups and brought creationism, as an opposing theory to the science of evolution, into interest as well. At this point though it should be noted that the traditional belief has also been modified.
The traditional belief in the story of creation as told by the Bible held for so long that all of Earth’s inhabitants had been created by God in the Garden of Eden on the sixth day of creation. But 400 years ago, with the unfolding of the scientific revolution, naturalists discovered the fossils and started to catalog these in order of the layers that they were found and soon a pattern emerged which greatly conflicts with the concept of the traditional belief or creationism. If all had been created in the 6-day creation, then fossils in each layer should be the same but scientific evidence suggests otherwise which led to the progress and change in the belief.
This change has really tested the belief of the naturalists who also attempted to reason that such evidence does not require a change in belief. With the concept of extinction and ancient form entering the scene and as such indisputable, creationism then “evolved” into progressive creation. Progressive creation explains the evidence of extinction and ancient form (fossils) as a product of more recent creations.
This view has marked a significant modification to the traditional religious belief and became the dominant of natural historians and according to records, this was even before Charles Darwin started his journey with the Beagle in 1831.
But the discovery of the extinction concept was not the only thing that marked changes in the traditional religious belief. With the progressive studies in Science, the concept of geographical clustering was unearthed. This was one concept that naturalists of that time found difficult to explain in relation to the story of Genesis as it believed that all creation was done on a single locus and that is the Garden of Eden.
This second compromise on the belief was explained that God created species periodically at one center of creation and then jumping to another. This led to a barrage of questions to the story of Genesis specifically questioning if these were periodic creations or the changes that have been observed is actually a product of modified descent. The latter was then proved scientifically by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace through science (differential reproduction based on heritable variation such as natural selection) which provided the final compromise for the creationism concept long held by naturalists. This was a difficult psychological situation as they struggled to merge the facts with the story but not finding any consistency which ultimately leads to the fact that God is not required in all of these.
In 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified wherein the First Amendment specifically grants protection to five liberties namely freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly and petition to the government.
It states that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This can be broken down into two clauses which are (1) Free Establishment Clause which states that federal government is not allowed to impose any religion and (2) Free Exercise Clause which simply states that anyone has the right protected by the Constitution to exercise his or her own belief in public or private.
The Fourth Amendment gives extension to these rights with the statement of prohibition against any act of discrimination towards any religious individual or group and expanded its range from federal government to individual state governments. It specifically states that:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
These amendments have provided protection to religious individuals, communities, and organizations against discrimination and persecution which tey have endured for so many years.
The 20th Century
By the 1900s, despite the constitutional religious freedom provided by the State, there were state legislatures that banned the teaching of evolution mainly because it opposed the biblically-defined creation story which was then the perceived truth. In 1925, following the state legislature, a high school teacher named John T. Scopes was charged and convicted of unlawfully teaching the theory of evolution. This case was famously dubbed as the Scopes Trial or the so-called “Monkey Trial”.
The Scopes Trial
Formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, the facts of the case was that in July 1925, high school teacher John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act which made teaching of human evolution in any state funded school as unlawful. Scopes was actually unsure if he actually did teach that but in the process incriminated himself deliberately to which he paid a hundred dollars as fine. Later on, the verdict was overturned due to a technicality. In actuality, this case was just publicity propaganda to cover the big name lawyers which represented both sides of the case. In addition, this trial has publicized the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy which set a theological contest and trial as Fundamentalists believed in the superiority of Biblical knowledge as opposed to the modernists who believed that evolution was not inconsistent with religion.
This also begged the question whether modern science should be taught in schools.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII released a statement that there is no observed intrinsic conflict between the theory of evolution in context with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church under the condition that Catholics still believed that God created humans and endowed them with a soul. Forty-six years later under the papal governance of Pope John Paul II, he reiterated the position of the Church and reaffirms the statement of Pope Pius XII. Additionally, he confirmed evolution as more than a hypothesis.
By the late 20th century, a view known as Intelligent Design surfaced and advocated by many creationists. This was also advocated as an alternative to Creationism taught in public schools.
This theory holds that an intelligent cause and not an undirected process like natural selection best explains the universe and all living things. It is an empirical effort designed to test and detect whether the apparent design in nature which is acknowledged by scientists is genuine design – that is if it’s a result of intelligent cause. The main framework difference of intelligent design from creationism is that it starts with an empirical evidence while creationism tries to reconcile scientific evidence into religious text. In a way, these two concepts have reverse frameworks.
This test was derived from the landmark Supreme Court case decision in 1971 named Lemon V. Kurtzman. The Lemon Test has been criticized and modified over the years and remains to be the main test in most lower courts in terms of Establishment Clause cases under the First Amendment which includes those involving any form of government aid to parochial schools or public introduction of religion.
It has a three part test to assess if a proposed aid to any religious entity is constitutional – meaning it had a clear secular purpose and its primary effect would not either advance or inhibit any religion. The three steps are as follows: First, it is questioned if the aid has a non-religious purpose (should be secular. Second, it should not promote or favor any set of religious beliefs or organizations. Third and last, it should not overly involve the government with the religion by doing so.
Question: Is it unconstitutional to teach religion in any form in public schools?
No. Public schools are government-funded and are therefore run by the government. Under the First Amendment and with the extension of the Fourteenth Amendment, teaching of religion in any form is a violation of religious liberty as it promotes and imposes a religion. Under the Free Exercise Clause, every individual should have the right to his or her own belief and to freely exercise it.
There is a long standing battle whether modern scientific theory such as Darwin’s theory of evolution should be taught in the U.S. Public schools as opposed to the traditional Genesis creation narrative which was then used in teaching the concept of creation. The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy broke out after World War I wherein several states were debating the teaching of evolution. Some states created laws to ban this although some after long debates decided to not pass such laws. The most popular challenge to the state law was the famous Scopes Trial wherein the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was further popularized into the limelight. After Scopes lost his case (although it was overturned due to a technicality), more states created laws banning the teaching of evolution.
In 1968, another case challenging this law was the Epperson v Arkansas. In this specific case, the court ruled and stated that to allow the teaching of creation and at the same time disallowing the teaching of evolution is a definite violation of the Free Establishment Clause under the First Amendment and therefore deemed unconstitutional.
Due to this, creationists lobbied to get laws passed to teach the controversy instead of the concept of creation in itself but was also struck down in 1987 in a Supreme Court case Edwards v Aguillard. This case argued that if evolutionary science was taught in schools so should be creation science but the court ruled it as violation of the Free Establishment Clause same with the 1968 Epperson v Arkansas case. Furthermore, the purpose of the argument was questioned whether it was a case of teaching kids a variety of theories with a valid secular intent to enhance effectiveness of science as an instruction or was it to promote a religion?
After this, Creationists moved forward to lobby Intelligent Design Theory as an alternative to Creationism but was ruled against in 2005 by a District Court in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.