Darwin versus Intelligent Design in US Courts: Does Teaching Intelligent Design in Biology Classes Violate the US Constitution?

By Bradt, Patricia T. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Darwin versus Intelligent Design in US Courts: Does Teaching Intelligent Design in Biology Classes Violate the US Constitution?


Bradt, Patricia T., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Abstract

Darwinian evolution is accepted by the great majority of scientists as the method by which the diversity of earth's organisms, including humans, evolved. Current research continues to expand our knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms. However, certain religious groups, supporting teaching the creation of earth's species as outlined in Genesis ("Creationism"), challenge in US courts teaching only Darwinian evolution in biology classes. The Courts must decide whether teaching creationism violates the Constitution's First Amendment prohibiting government "establishment of religion". In a 2005 challenge (US District Court, Pennsylvania), a local school board mandated a disclaimer be read to biology classes stating there were gaps in Darwin's theory and that "Intelligent Design" (ID), propounded as science, provided a different explanation of life's origins. ID proposes that many living structures exhibit "irreducible complexity", could not have evolved via natural selection and, therefore, exhibit evidence of an intelligent designer. After expert testimony, the judge ruled (12/05) that ID was a form of religion, a modernized concept of creationism, and should not be taught in biology classes because it violated US and Pennsylvania Constitutions. Similar challenges to teaching Darwinian evolution are occurring in at least nine other US states.

Introduction

The Problem in the United States

The first Amendment to the United States Constitution states that:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ".

There are many other issues related to other sections of the First Amendment but this paper will only discuss issues related to this "Establishment Clause", often referred to as the separation of church and state. The 14th amendment to the US Constitution extends to this separation to all states. The Constitution of the Commonwealth Pennsylvania also prohibits the establishment of religion by the state. (1) An action is considered a violation of the First Amendment if the challenged government action (federal, state, local) advocates a particular form of religion. This amendment therefore applies to actions by state or local school boards in determining what should be taught in state supported public schools. If the action conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval of a type of religion, it may be challenged as unconstitutional under the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment. The issue is then decided in US Federal Courts (94 District Courts, 12 Regional Courts of Appeals, One Supreme Court) because these courts resolve cases related to constitutional issues.

Currently in the United States, Fundamentalist Christians and other antievolutionists want "Intelligent Design" (ID) taught in high school biology classes to 15 and 16 year olds, as an alternative to the theory of evolution. This theory of evolution was first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859 and has been greatly expanded and revised by the subsequent 145 years of scientific research.

As political conservatives have gained more public support in the US, and as states are required to have educational standards that include science, there are more challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools. Proposals, of various forms, but hostile to teaching evolution, are being considered in at least nine US states.

Opposition to teaching biological evolution grew out of the religious tradition, Christian Fundamentalism. This fundamentalism began in the US in the 19th century in response to social change, new religious thought and the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species. (2) These opponents of evolution considered these developments as contrary to the teachings of the Bible and objected to Darwin's theory of evolution as a scientific explanation for the diversity of species. (3) In response to an upsurge of the fundamentalist religious movement in the 1920's, religiously motivated groups lobbied state legislatures to adopt laws to prohibit public schools from teaching evolution. …

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