Teaching Natural Science I: Relation
between Science and Religion
THE FIERCEST CONTROVERSY over how religious perspectives might figure in public schools has centered on the teaching of evolution, a subject within natural science. In this and the next two chapters, I focus on that controversy, and on general issues about natural science and religion that it illustrates. These three chapters set a model for comparison of teaching other disciplines, which lack criteria of truth and methods as well settled as those of modern science.
Because the debate about evolution has endured so long, because the Supreme Court has twice dealt with laws that restricted the teaching of evolution, and because so much has been written about the persuasiveness of neo-Darwinian theory as compared with creationism and intelligent design, we shall engage this topic in greater detail than the ones that follow.
It may help at the outset to clarify the status of the claims I make in these chapters. I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher of science. As far as constitutional law is concerned, the crucial issue about what is or is not presented in science courses is what amounts to the teaching of religion. As these chapters show, that issue cannot be detached entirely from questions in the realm of science and its philosophy. This means that educators, judges, and scholars addressing the constitutional topic must do their best to appraise the literature that bears on the strength of scientific assertions. Somewhat more precisely, educators and others making curricular decisions will usually make these judgments directly; courts will determine whether the judgments others make about curriculum fall within a permissible constitutional range.
In the course of these chapters, I offer various suggestions concerning the state of scientific knowledge about the history of life on earth. At an initial glance, it may seem that I give more credence to critics of dominant evolutionary theory than would the