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Claudia Walls on Evolution and Science Education

Darwin’s theory has been a hard sell to Americans ever since it was unveiled nearly 150 years ago in The Origin of Species. The intelligent-design movement is just the latest and most sophisticated attempt to discredit the famous theory, which many Americans believe leaves insufficient room for the influence of God. Early efforts to thwart Darwin were pretty crude. Tennessee famously banned the teaching of evolution and convicted schoolteacher John Scopes of violating that ban in the “monkey trial” of 1925. At the time, two other states — Florida and Oklahoma — had laws that interfered with teaching evolution. When such laws were struck down by a Supreme Court decision in 1968, some states shifted gears and instead required that “creation science” be taught alongside evolution. Supreme Court rulings in 1982 and 1987 put an end to that. Offering creationism in public schools, even as a side dish to evolution, the high court held, violated the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. ¶ But some anti-Darwinists seized upon Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in the 1987 case. Christian fundamentalists, he wrote, “are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools.” That line of argument — an emphasis on weaknesses and gaps in evolution — is at the heart of the intelligent-design movement, which has as its motto “Teach the controversy.” “You have to hand it to the creationists. They have evolved,” jokes Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which monitors attacks on the teaching of evolution.