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Background on Creationism

What is Intelligent Design?

Intelligent design (ID) suggests that life on earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection alone, and therefore must have been "guided" by a "supernatural" or "intelligent" force. Opponents of teaching intelligent design in public school science courses, including the Reform Movement, argue that ID is little more than an attempt by the religious right to continue to promote the concept of creationism in public schools, despite the fact that it has repeatedly been found unconstitutional. Rather, they advocate the teaching of the theory of evolution, which most mainstream scientists agree has been well-tested and supported.

What is the Conflict?

The public debate between proponents of evolution and so-called "intelligent design" has been growing in public schools across the country. Some teachers, school boards, and state legislatures are beginning to incorporate the idea of “intelligent design” into public school curriculum. However, this debate is hardly new. Ever since Charles Darwin published the highly influential book, "The Origin of Species" in 1859 and introduced the theory of natural selection, this conflict between science and religion, tradition and progress has existed. Natural selection and evolution have been controversial ever since, as they challenge long held beliefs and religious ideology, and offer scientific theory to explain natural phenomenon. In the early 1920’s, the anti-evolution movement began to gain momentum. Led by former Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, anti-evolution groups lobbied states to pass legislation banning evolution from the classroom, claiming that it was both "immoral and irrational." Fifteen states introduced the legislation, and several states passed such laws, leading to the beginning of the court battle between the two ideas.

Recent Court Cases

Edwards v. Aguillard

In the early 1980s, the Louisiana legislature passed a law that required teaching "creation science" whenever evolution was taught, claiming that the purpose of the act was to ensure academic freedom for teachers. A group of appellees, including Louisiana parents, teachers, and religious leaders, challenged the constitutionality of the act in Federal District Court. The lower courts ruled against the state, holding that in fact the actual purpose of the legislation was to promote the religious doctrine of creation.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and on June 19, 1987 the Court ruled that the act violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment

Kitzmiller v. Dover

In 2004, members of the Dover, Pennsylvania Board of Education, added the following statement to their 9th grade biology curriculum:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book,Of Pandas and Peopleis available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

The ACLU filed suit on behalf of a group of local parents. The plaintiffs argued that intelligent design is simply a form of creationism, and that the school board policy was therefore in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court agreed, barring intelligent design from being taught in public school science classrooms. Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the case, wrote in his decision that, "the disclaimer’s plain language, the legislative history, and the historical context in which the ID Policy arose, all inevitably lead to the conclusion that Defendants consciously chose to change Dover’s biology curriculum to advance religion. We have been presented with a wealth of evidence which reveals that the District’s purpose was to advance creationism, an inherently religious view, both by introducing it directly under the label ID and by disparaging the scientific theory of evolution, so that creationism would gain credence by default as the only apparent alternative to evolution…."

Meanwhile, none of the members of the Dover School board who voted in favor of intelligent design in science curriculum were re-elected to their positions. No appeal was filed.