Between December 7 and 17 of last year, a historic trial took place in Little Rock, Arkansas. The American Civil Liberties Union charged that the recently enacted Arkansas Act 590 (of 1981), which mandated a balanced treatment of creation-science and evolution-science, was a violation of First Amendment guarantees of the separation of church and state. I was asked to be a religious witness for the state in defense of the constitutionality of the law.
The Essence Of Act 590
The preamble to the act states well its purposes:
An Act to require balanced treatment of creation-science and evolution-science in public schools; to protect academic freedom by providing student choice; to ensure freedom of religious exercise; to guarantee freedom of belief and speech; to prevent establishment of religion; to prohibit religious instruction concerning origins; to bar discrimination on the basis of creationist or evolutionist belief; to provide definitions and clarifications.…
The crucial section of Act 590 is the fourth, which defines the meaning of “creation-science” and “evolution-science”:
Section 4. Definitions. As used in this act:
(a) “Creation-science” means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences. Creation-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.
(b) “Evolution-science” means the scientific evidences for evolution and inferences from those scientific evidences. Evolution-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Emergence by naturalistic processes of the universe from disordered matter and emergence of life from nonlife; (2) The sufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of present living kinds from simple earlier kinds; (3) Emergence by mutation and natural selection of present living kinds from simple earlier kinds; (4) Emergence of man from a common ancestor with apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology and the evolutionary sequence by uniformitarianism; and (6) An inception several billion years ago of the earth and somewhat later of life.
(c) “Public schools” mean public secondary and elementary schools.
Several things should be noted about these “definitions.” First, the lists are parallel and opposing views, point by point. Second, the lists are suggestive, not exhaustive. The key word is “includes,” which does not mean “limited to.” Third, not only are these series of six factors opposing, they are in fact logically opposite.
For example, the universe and life either arose spontaneously, or they were created; there is no third alternative. Also, all living things either have one common ancestry, or they have separate ancestries. The same is true of man (4). Further, either there are changes between fixed kinds or there are not. And the world is either billions of years old, or it is more recent (6). The same contrast is true between “uniformitarianism” and “catastrophism” as explanations of earth’s geology (5). Both cannot be true, since one involves millions of years and the other a very short worldwide flood.
It should also be noted that the Act does not imply that no combinations of choices can be taught. For example, someone holding to points 1 through 4 of “creation-science” might also opt for 5 and 6 of “evolution-science,” or many other combinations. (In fact, I testified in defense of the Act even though for years I have been inclined against “catastrophism” and a “recent” earth. These are viable views, held by credible people who have a right to be heard even if I don’t believe them.) What the Act does insure is that both sides of each issue will be presented.
Another important point is brought out in Section 5:
This Act does not require each individual classroom lecture in a course to give such balanced treatment, but simply requires the lectures as a whole to give balanced treatment; it permits some lectures to present evolution-science and other lectures to present creation-science.
One final point is important (from Section 5):
This Act does not require any instruction in the subject of origins, but simply requires instruction in both scientific models … if public schools choose to teach either.
There is thus always the option of avoiding either evolution or creation and sticking to the observable and repeatable areas of science.
Some Misconceptions About Act 590
An informed reader of Act 590 can see that many of the popular misconceptions of what the Act intends are obviously false. Among these false ideas are beliefs that:
1. It mandates teaching of the biblical account of creation. (It actually forbids that.)
2. It is opposed to teaching of evolution. (It actually mandates teaching evolution alongside creation.)
3. It refers to God or religious concepts. (There is no reference to God and it opposes teaching religion.)
4. It forces teachers who are opposed to creation to teach it anyway. (Actually, teachers do not have to teach anything about origins, and/or they can have someone else teach and give the lectures they do not want to give.)
5. It is a “fundamentalist” act. (Actually, the “fundamentalists” of the 1920s were categorically opposed to teaching evolution and wanted only the Genesis account of Creation taught. This Act is contrary to both attitudes.)
Why I Supported Act 590
My first reason for supporting Act 590 is one uttered by Clarence Darrow, the famous ACLU lawyer for the 1925 Scopes trial. He called it “bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins.” I found it a strange irony to hear the same ACLU 56 years later argue that, in effect, it would be religious bigotry to allow two models of origins to be taught.
This same inconsistency can be seen in the most recent statement of “A Secular Humanist Declaration” (Winter 1980/81, Free Inquiry). It declares admirably:
“The lessons of history are clear: wherever one religion or ideology is established and given a dominant position in the state, minority opinions are in jeopardy. A pluralistic, open democratic society allows all points of view to be heard. Any effort to impose an exclusive conception of Truth, Piety, Virtue, or Justice upon the whole of society is a violation of free inquiry” (p. 4).
And yet only two pages later, in an inconceivable inconsistency, the same declaration says:
“We deplore the efforts by fundamentalists (especially in the United States) to invade the science classroom, requiring that creationist theory be taught to students and requiring that it be included in biology textbooks. This is a serious threat both to academic freedom and to the integrity of the educational process” (p. 6).
For the same reason therefore that I regret the narrow-mindedness of some Christian religionists in the 1920s who opposed the teaching of evolution as a scientific theory, I now deplore a similar narrowness on the part of those holding a humanistic religious perspective (and their sympathizers), who would exclude the teaching of creation as a scientific theory in public schools.
Second, I favor Act 590 in the interest of openness of scientific inquiry. As anyone who has studied the history of Copernicus and Galileo knows, minority scientific opinions are often the cutting edge of progress. Suppression of the “loyal opposition” is seldom if ever good politically, and never scientifically. Academic freedom entails hearing opposing points of view. Many times during the trial I was reminded of the value of the adversary relationship of the courtroom. When only one side of an issue is presented (without cross-examination or rebuttal), a judge or jury would often come to an invalid conclusion.
The same is true when only one view is presented in the classroom: it is a trial without opposing witnesses. Since there are serious religious implications when origins are taught from only one perspective—one that favors humanistic religion—it is necessary as a guarantee to religious neutrality that the opposing view also be taught.
Third, teaching creation is no more teaching religion than is teaching evolution. Creation and evolution are both beliefs that belong to religions, but teaching creationism is no more teaching the Christian religion than is teaching evolution teaching the humanist religion. If teaching a part of a religion is automatically teaching that religion, then teaching values (such as freedom and tolerance) are also teaching religion. But the courts have ruled that values can be taught apart from religion, which may hold the same values. Likewise, creationism can be taught apart from the religious systems of which it may be a part.
The fact that “creation” may imply a Creator while “evolution” does not is no proof that the former is religious and the latter is not. Believing that there is no God can be just as religious as believing that there is a God. Humanists hold, and the Supreme Court has ruled, that belief in God is not essential to a religion (U.S. v. Seeger, 1964).
Fourth, scientific progress depends on teaching alternative models. There would be little progress in science if it were not for minority scientific opinions. Copernicus’s view that the earth revolves around the sun was once a minority scientific view. So was the view that the earth is spherical, not flat. If no alternative models to Newton’s law of gravitation were allowed, then Einstein’s insights (and space travel) would have been rejected and scientific progress retarded.
That creationism may be a minority view among scientists today does not make it wrong, and certainly does not mean it should not be heard in science classes. (Arguing that it should be taught only in social studies classes is like telling someone running for the Senate that he can present his views only to sociologists’ groups, but not to political gatherings.) One of the most despicable examples of intellectual, prejudice I have ever witnessed was when evolution scientists at the Arkansas trial claimed that creationism was not science and that creationists were not scientists. It reminded me of Voltaire’s famous satire in which he described ants on one anthill looking at different colored ants on another anthill and declaring that they were not really ants and that what they were on was not really an anthill.
John Scopes summed up well when he said, “If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything the whole country will eventually have only one thought, be one individual.” I believe it would be (is) a gross injustice for the court to rule it unconstitutional to teach both sides of any issue. Although I would not go as far as some in these matters, one can understand why Francis Schaeffer in his recent book, A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1981), has called upon Christians to engage in civil disobedience and even use force to overcome the tyranny he sees implied in a negative decision in the Arkansas creation-evolution issue.
Norman Geisler is professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, Texas, and the author of several books, including Christian Apologetics (Baker, 1976).
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