Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (05-08-12)
The 1999 Kansas Board on Education decision brought the evolution debate back into the national spotlight, stimulating a growing number of challenges to the teaching of evolution in state legislatures and school boards around the country. The challenges come in many forms. Despite being rebuffed in the courts, some seek to give equal time in classrooms to alternative theories of earth and life history, including the Biblical account of creation. An increasingly popular approach is to seek inclusion of Intelligent Design (ID), a brand of creationism that emphasizes the role of a creator in establishing order in the natural world. Numerous attempts have been made through legislation to remove the teaching of evolution and earth history from classrooms, or to require that textbooks include prefacing statements that question the soundness of scientific theories contained therein. These efforts fly in the face of science, and it is essential for scientists -- and geoscientists especially -- to continue to inform the public of the scientific method and the importance of the theory of evolution and deep time to our understanding of the Earth as a whole. This update provides information on recent evolution challenges in the states, as well as links to additional resources on this topic.
Click on any state in yellow to read the details of how evolution is being challenged in classrooms, school districts and state legislatures across the country.
The teaching of evolution in schools has long been a contentious topic, particularly among evangelical Christians who make up the so-called "religious right." They believe that it is narrow minded to exclude "alternative theories of human existence" by not exposing children to creationism in science classes. Periodically, the issue is raised to the state legislative level, but through the efforts of concerned citizens and scientific organizations, the efforts of creationists to remove the topic of evolution or to include creationist dogma in science standards and textbooks have been contained. The most well publicized effort took place in Kansas in 1999, when the State Board of Education approved science standards that contained no mention of biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the universe. The reaction of the scientific community was forceful and broad-based. More detailed information on the Kansas debate is found in an earlier version of this update at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/evolution.html.
Other states continue to have events similar to those in Kansas. In July 2000, the Pennsylvania Board of Education changed their science standards to require students to "analyze... studies that support or do not support the theory of evolution" and to require teachers to present theories that "do and do not support the theory of evolution." In April 2000, the Oklahoma legislature approved a bill with amendments that required science textbooks to include "acknowledgment that human life was created by one God of the universe" and gave the textbook committee the power to insert one-page summaries or opinions in any textbook. The Oklahoma attorney general overturned the law, ruling that the textbook committee lacked the constitutional power to require a disclaimer that evolution is a "controversial theory" in new textbooks. A 1994 bill in Louisiana required the reading of a disclaimer whenever evolution was to be presented that said, "the scientific concept [of evolution is] not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept." The federal district court and the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of parents who challenged the disclaimer. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case on June 19, 2000. In October 1999, the Kentucky Department of Education replaced the word "evolution" with "change over time" in state school standards. New Mexico faced a Kansas-like experience in 1997 but emphatically endorsed the teaching of evolution in its 1999 science standards. In 1996, Alabama's science curriculum attracted national attention when the Board adopted a disclaimer on the theory of evolution that was pasted in all biology textbooks. Part of disclaimer stated that evolution was a "controversial theory" presented by "some scientists" as a "scientific explanation for the origin of living things." New standards were adopted in February 2001 that removed the disclaimer requirement, but the standards are still not satisfactory in the eyes of many scientists who support the teaching of evolution. The scientific community must continue to be informed of these trends and promote the teaching of science and the scientific method in classrooms.
A poll commissioned by the People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) in the spring of 1999 reported that 83% of Americans think that evolution should be taught in public school science classes. About 13% feel that creationism should be taught alongside evolution is science classes. About 30% of those are of the opinion that creationism should be discussed as a belief, not as science. About 70% of Americans feel that the Bible and evolution go hand in hand -- contrasted with creationists who argue that the two are in conflict. According to the poll, 60% of Americans reject the Kansas Board's 1999 decision to take evolution off of its list of state science standards. This poll differed from previously conducted polls because it focused solely on the evolution/creationist issue instead of including it in a broader list of topics.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
The American Museum of Natural History
Geotimes Magazine, a publication of the American Geological Institute
California Science Teachers Association
Geological Society of America
The National Academies
National Association of Geoscience Teachers
National Center for Science Education
Paleontological Research Institution
University of California Berkeley
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
"The Constitutional Debate over Teaching Intelligent Design as Science in Public Schools" by Anne Marie Lofaso, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, December 2005.
"Intelligent Design: It's Not Even Wrong," by The Honorable Rush Holt (D-NJ), U.S. House of Representatives, September 8, 2005.
"The Battle over Evolution: How Geoscientists can Help," (PDF) by Glen Branch, National Center for Science Education. Article published in the September, 2005 issue of The Sedimentary Record, a publication of SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology.
"Why Intelligent Design Isn't," H. Allen Orr, The New Yorker, May 5, 2005.
"Shakespeare or the Monkey?" by Fred Schwab, Geotimes, April 2005.
"Evolution, Creationism and the Courts: 20 Questions", Randy Moore and Karen L. Miksch, The Science Education Review, 2003 - summary of U.S. court cases relating to the teaching of evolution in public classrooms. Contact Randy Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy of the paper.
"Evolution and the Fossil Record",
John Pojeta, Jr., and Dale Springer, produced by AGI and the Paleontological
"Geologic Time", U.S. Geological Survey, 2000.
and Time", Lucy E. Edwards and John Pojeta, Jr., U.S. Geological
Pope John Paul II, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 1996, on evolution.
"The Origin of Species", Charles Darwin, 1859.
"Science, Evolution, and Creationism" Committee on Revising Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2008.
"Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition", Steering Committee on Science and Creationism, National Academy of Sciences, 1999.
"Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science", Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences, 1998.
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Associated Press, Association for Women Geoscientists, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Duluth News Tribune, Kansas Geological Survey, Library of Congress, Maryville Tennessee Daily Times, National Academies, National Center for Science Education, National Science Teachers Association, Wichita Eagle, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rocky Mountain News.
Contributed by Linda Rowan, Director of Geoscience Policy; Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Geoscience Policy Staff; Marcy Gallo, Geoscience Policy Staff; Emily Lehr Wallace, Geoscience Policy Staff; Katie Ackerly, Geoscience Policy Staff; David Applegate, previous Director of Government Affairs; Mary Patterson, 2001 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern; Heather Golding, 2002 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern; Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Anne Smart, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; John Vermylen, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy Program.
Last updated on May 8, 2012