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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific." Because science can only use natural explanations and not supernatural ones, science teachers should not advocate any religious view about creation, nor advocate the converse: that there is no possibility of supernatural influence in bringing about the universe as we know it.
Several judicial rulings have clarified issues surrounding the teaching of evolution and the imposition of mandates that creation science be taught when evolution is taught. The First Amendment of the Constitution requires that public institutions such as schools be religiously neutral; because special creation is a specific, sectarian religious view, it cannot be advocated as "true," accurate scholarship in the public schools. When Arkansas passed a law requiring "equal time" for creationism and evolution, the law was challenged in Federal District Court. Opponents of the bill included the religious leaders of the United Methodist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, African Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist churches, and several educational organizations. After a full trial, the judge ruled that creation science did not qualify as a scientific theory (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255 (ED Ark. 1982)).
Louisiana's equal time law was challenged in court and eventually reached the Supreme Court. In Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578 (1987), the court determined that creationism was inherently a religious idea and to mandate or advocate it in the public schools would be unconstitutional. Other court decisions have upheld the right of a district to require that a teacher teach evolution and not teach creation science: (Webster v. New Lennox School District #122, 917 F.2d 1003 (7th Cir. 1990); Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, 37 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994)).
Some legislatures and policy-makers continue attempts to distort the teaching of evolution through mandates that would require teachers to teach evolution as "only a theory," or that require a textbook or lesson on evolution to be preceded by a disclaimer. Regardless of the legal status of these mandates, they are bad educational policy. Such policies have the effect of intimidating teachers, which may result in the de-emphasis or omission of evolution. The public will only be further confused about the special nature of scientific theories, and if less evolution is learned by students, science literacy itself will suffer.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Project 2061. New York: Oxford University Press.
Daniel v. Waters. 515 F.2d 485 (6th Cir., 1975).
Edwards v. Aguillard. 482 U.S. 578 (1987).
Epperson v. Arkansas. 393 U.S. 97 (1968)
Laudan, Larry. 1996. Beyond Positivism and Relativism: Theory, Method, and Evidence. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. 529 F. Supp. 1255 (D. Ark. 1982).
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 1996. A Framework for High School Science Education. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.
NSTA. 1993. The Content Core: Vol. I. Rev. ed. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.
Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District. 37 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994).
Ruse, Michael. 1996. But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Webster v. New Lennox School District #122. 917 F.2d 1003 (7th Cir. 1990).
Task Force Members
Gerald Skoog, Chair, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
Randy Cielen, Joseph Teres School, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Linda Jordan, Science Consultant, Franklin, Tennessee
Janis Lariviere, Westlake Alternative Learning Center, Austin, Texas
Larry Scharmann, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education, Berkeley, California