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Back to Dec. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 227 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS DECEMBER 2004

May Evolution Be Called Theory, Not Fact?  
Some Say No in Recent Cases
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Does a sticker on the inside front cover of a textbook, stating that evolution is a theory, not a fact, violate the U.S. constitutional separation of church and state?

A federal district court in Georgia held a trial on this issue in November after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the Cobb County, GA school district's practice of placing a sticker on the inside front cover of science textbooks. The sticker states: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." The practice began after a mother collected 2,300 signatures to a petition challenging the treatment of evolution in the textbooks.

Even though the wording makes no mention of God or religion and teachers are legally required to teach only evolution, the ACLU argued that the stickers have the effect of advancing religion. Under the U.S. Supreme Court's so-called Lemon test dating from 1971, for the suit to be dismissed the school board would have had to show that the disclaimer was adopted with a secular purpose, that its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion, and that it does not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion.

The judge ruled last April that he was satisfied that the school board had a secular purpose but ordered a trial on the second and third prongs of the Lemon test.

Two dozen scientists in the state of Georgia alone signed an amicus brief acknowledging the importance of learning about the scientific controversy over neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories. However, the defendant school district inexplicably did not have any scientists serve as rebuttal witnesses to the ACLU's scientist witness.


Wisconsin board criticized 
The Grantsburg, WI school board in October called for "various theories/models of origins" to be incorporated into the district science curriculum. The superintendent observed that the curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory."

An outcry ensued as 43 state university deans and 300 other educators signed letters objecting to allowing any criticism or alternatives to evolution and urging reversal of the board decision. The Associated Press article covering the flap accused the officials of allowing the teaching of creationism. (11-6-04)

Wisconsin law mandates that evolution be taught, but school districts are free to create their own curricular standards. In 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court held that creationism is a religious belief that may not be taught in public schools along with evolution.

State education officials in Georgia, Minnesota and Kansas in recent years have debated how much to mention evolution in curricular or testing standards.


'Intelligent design' update 
The Dover, PA school board is believed to have become the first in the nation to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design" theory, which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power. The state ACLU chapter is reviewing the case for a possible legal challenge.

Statewide science curriculum standards approved by the Pennsylvania education board ask students to "analyze data . . . that are relevant to the theory of evolution." When the standards were revised three years ago, the board considered but rejected language that would have required students to consider evidence that did not support evolution.

Last March, the Ohio Board of Education approved lesson plans that some scientists asserted incorporated parts of intelligent design.


Tax-funded group uses religion 
A website supported by a federal grant actually encourages teachers to use religion to promote evolution. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), whose mission is "defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools," created the "Understanding Evolution" website earlier this year with the help of $450,000 from the National Science Foundation.

The website asserts that most religious groups have no conflict with modern evolutionary theory, and that understanding evolutionary theory "actually enriches their faith." Teachers are directed to statements by a variety of religious groups giving their theological endorsement of evolution.

Statements from religious groups and scholars who take issue with Darwinism because of its claim that the development of life was an unguided process are not included. Nor does the site disclose that polls indicate the vast majority of Americans are skeptical of the theory of unguided evolution.

"Apparently the NCSE thinks mixing science and religion is okay after all — as long as religion is used to support evolution," notes Seattle Pacific University political science professor John West. (nationalreview.com, 4-1-04)


 
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