Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

By Conor Bulkeley-Krane ’16

Despite the widespread acceptance of evolution as a valid, scientific explanation for the origin of humans, today, teaching evolution is contested in many public schools.

Until the late 19th century, public schools taught creationism to students in middle school to explain how their world was formed using a literal interpretation of the Bible.

In the 1860s, the scientific method of asking a question, constructing a hypothesis, experimenting, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions became the standard for what is to be expected from a public school education.

“The theory of evolution." (Photo: Wikimedia)

“The theory of evolution.” (Photo: Wikimedia)

Classes like geology and astronomy began to emerge in public schools, however curriculums were adjusted so that these new classes could be taught side by side with creationism.

After World War I, many American Christian groups underwent division in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy, where Christian’s had to decide whether the bible was merely a collection of myths or verbatim history history. The result of this division was that some Christian groups became more moderate, while others became increasingly radicalized.

This idea that the truths in the Bible were the only truths resulted in many states introducing legislation that would ban evolution from public schools. In 1922, this legislation was defeated in Kentucky and South Carolina. However, in 1923, it passed in Oklahoma, Florida, and Tennessee.

In Tennessee, the decision was especially significant, as it was passed with the Butler Act, which prohibited public school teachers from denying the Bible as the main explanation for humanity’s origin. Various groups and organization challenged this law many times, but it remained intact until 1967, when Tennessee feared another expensive, time consuming and drawn out lawsuit, and repealed the Butler Act.

During the following year Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that Arkansas’s law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court reasoned that the Arkansas law which allowed the teaching of creation while denying the teaching of evolution boosted a specific religion and must be banned.

Starting in 1989, religious groups produced textbooks that did not name God, but rather used terms such as “intelligent design,” and “creator.” These textbooks would devote long chapters to overtly criticizing and undermining evolutionary biology.

This strategy was effective for many years, but it culminated in a legal clash that occurred in 2005. The decision resulted in a mandate that teaching intelligent design (ID) was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Their decision was groundbreaking, because their reasoning was that regardless of religious views, Creationism does not teach students the type of logic and thinking that traditional science programs do.

Even though the battle between evolution and creative design has reached a tentative moment of stability, the debate is far from over, and could change any day. According to a Princeton study, four in ten Americans believe in strict creationism. In a different Princeton study conducted in 2007, they found that approximately 20 percent of students are taught neither creationism nor evolution in their high school biology courses. And even though biology is taught in many places, 60 percent of public school biology teachers want to avoid controversy, and neither advocate evolution nor explicitly endorse nonscientific alternatives according to an article in the academic journal Science. Even though the law is changing towards evolution, clearly the war is not over.