Introduction The battle between creationists and evolutionists in America has a long and virulent history in which public schools have been unavoidably involved. This contest between the creationists and evolutionists began with the 1859 publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which Michael Ruse describes as, “one of the most significant and controversial works of the age-of any age -most particularly because the book was seen to challenge long-held views about religion, specifically the Christian religion and its claims about creation and about the nature of God, of humans, and of our relationship to God” (1).
In his work, Darwin emonstrates that existing organic structures developed from much simpler organisms by natural processes. The key to his thinking about evolution was his concept of natural selection, which he defined as the principle, “by which each slight variation if useful is preserved” (61). With the law of natural selection, he theoretically related every living thing genetically. In contrast, creationists believe that some entity miraculously created the world and the life in it out of nothing some six thousand years ago.
They believe this is “a truth of revelation closed to any intellectual inquiry”, that “the odds are overwhelmingly against he emergence of life from a chance combination of chemicals in the right combination of free energy and atmospheric gases”, and that “there is insufficiency of mutation and natural selection to bring about progressive evolution” (Popham, 69). They contend that species’ qualities exist immutable, and that all basic forms of life remain the same as they did when they were created.
Until the early twentieth century, violent disagreement between evolutionists and creationists relatively did not exist. In fact, many devoted Christian scientists found numerous ways to reconcile evolution with a belief in God. Some religious leaders even believed that evolution proved the existence of God. Not until 1925 did Christian conservatives, led by three-time presidential candidate and former U. S. Secretary of State turned fundamentalist evangelist William Jennings Bryan, begin to attack evolution seriously in the public sphere (Wexler, 445).
Bryan’s ‘monkey trial’, Tennessee v. Scopes, became the first of many court cases to deal with the issue of evolution being taught in the public school setting. Through successes of these court cases as well as through the support of multiple distinguished scholars, evolution provides an excellent aradigm for public school science educators to endorse in classrooms across America. The Establishment Clause The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
This is the Establishment Clause and is thought to “prevent government favoritism or religious over secular concerns or favoritism of one religion over another” (Shreve, 52). In order to see if a statute in unconstitutional, according to the Establishment Clause, there exists the Lemon test: “to pass Establishment Clause scrutiny, a statute must have a secular egislative purpose, a principal effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and it must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion” (Wexler, 450).
Establishment Clause litigation has taken place in numerous settings, the most common being the religion-based attempts by state and local government either to block teaching of the biological theory of evolution in public schools or to diminish the effects of such teaching. Such attempts came to life in court cases such as Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), where the Supreme Court ruled that an Arkansas statute banning the teaching of biological volution in public schools violated the Establishment Clause, as its purpose was to advance a particular religious view.
Others cases, such as those dealing with ‘balanced treatment or ‘intelligent design,’ continued to attack the evolutionists’ paradigm. However, current legislation deems Intelligent Design as a religious belief that cannot constitutionally be taught in the public school system because it involves a being who created life and seeks to answer fundamental questions about human existence.
Whether or not Intelligent Design teaches a “nominally scientific theory,” it still violates the Establishment Clause as “an inappropriate endorsement of religious belief, rather than simply the communication of an alternative scientific theory” (Wexler, 444). Evolution as a Paradigm Evolutionists see attacks on their belief as undermining not only modern biology but also much of modern chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology.
Many scientists and science educators view evolution as the “central organizing principle of all the historical sciences” (Lerner, n. p. ). Therefore, they view their entire paradigm to be under attack and argue that alternative approaches to evolution like Intelligent Design or creationism ave no place in a science curriculum. As evidenced in Thomas Kuhn’s work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, students have no alternative but to believe what the textbook presents to them.
If the text includes application of the problems of evolution as evidence, then the very failure of texts to suggest alternative interpretations or to discuss problems for which scientists have failed to produce paradigm solutions would convict their authors of extreme bias. Presenting theories such as Intelligent Design or creationism may illuminate holes in the evolution theory that scientists are still currently working on illing, but these holes may seem to be too big of problems to students learning of the theory for the first time, or it may completely shift the paradigm of those who already believe in evolution.
Why Teach Evolution Three respected national organization have provided model standards for evolutionary content: The National Research Council’s 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES), The National Science Teacher’s Association’s (NSTA) 1992 Scope, Sequence, and Coordination project, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Project’s 1989 Science for All Americans. These standards provide evidence hat evolution has attained its status as a unifying, scientific theme.
Were scientists to dictate the high school biology curriculum, it would cover evolution as these organizations recommend: “as a powerful theory accepted by all in the scientific community, essential to the understanding biology and other scientific fields, and as an illustration for the role the theory plays in the scientific enterprise” (Berkman and Plutzer, 486). The importance of teaching evolution in the public schools lies in its ability to explain three of the most fundamental features of the world: the similarities of living things, the iversity of life, and many features of the physical world.
In terms of evolution, explanations of the phenomena draw on data from physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. Therefore, evolution is the central organizing principle that biologists use to understand the world. According to the National Academy of Sciences, to teach biology without explaining the theory of biological evolution “deprives students of a powerful concept that brings great order and coherence to our understanding of life” (3). Conclusion The battle between evolutionists and creationists has been raging since the early twentieth century.
Through successes of ourt cases, such as Tennessee v. Scopes and Epperson v. Arkansas, as well as through the distinguished scholarship of Charles Darwin, Michael Ruse, Thomas Kuhn, and several others, evolution provides an excellent paradigm for public school science educators to endorse in classrooms across America. As the central organizing principle that biologists use to understand the world, public school science curriculum should not only teach biological evolution but recognize it as almost a universally accepted theory of the scientific community that answers the most fundamental questions of the world and its inhabitants.