Evolution – fact or just one of many theories?

Teaching alternate theories of life’s origin in US public schools

Seminar Paper, 2006

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content

1 Evolution – fact or just one of many theories? Teaching alternate theories of life’s originin US public schools
1.1 Aim and scope of the paper
1.2 Development

2 Different theories of evolution

3 The evolution debate in public education

4 History of the evolution debate
4.1 Evolution trials

5 What does the American public think about teaching evolution?
5.1 he political affiliations of creationists and evolutionists
5.2 Which side does the President take in this controversy?

6 An outlook

7 Personal conclusion

8 Bibliography

1 Evolution – fact or just one of many theories? Teaching alternate theories of life’s originin US public schools

1.1 Aim and scope of the paper

The objective of this paper is to describe the controversy between Darwinism and creationism in public education in the United States. Part One defines key terms such as “creationism“, “Intelligent Design“ and “Darwinism“ and examines the arguments, views and concepts of all schools of thought in the controversy. Part Two gives a brief overview of the present situation in public education in different states and explains the legal status quo in connection with current judgments and trials. Part Three describes the background of the debate and mentions historical key events and court cases concerning evolution. Part Four examines what the American public thinks about teaching creationism and shows how views differ between social groups and political preferences with the aid of recent surveys and opinion polls. In addition to that, it describes President Bush’s opinion and his contribution to the debate up to now. Part Five considers future developments in this matter that are to be expected. Part Six, the conclusion, draws conclusions and describes my personal understanding of the issue.

1.2 Development

For many Europeans, the conflict surrounding evolution, a war between religion and science that is most prevalent in the United States, seems incomprehensible. Why is evolution, one of the central theories of biology, such a controversial issue? For one thing, it undermines and contradicts many people’s belief and worldview, the idea that human beings have a special place and purpose on Earth. That is why many find it difficult to accept that our world should have developed thanks to chance. Some believe that the Bible explains evolution; some simply claim that life is too complex to have developed through natural processes alone. Ever since Darwin published his theory in 1859, it has been a very controversial topic. Although almost universally accepted among scientists, the idea of evolution through natural selection is still questioned by significant segments of American society.

The main bone of contention for Darwin’s critics is, that his hypothesis, natural selection as impulse of evolution, inevitably implies that God was not necessary for the creation of life on Earth, an idea that troubles a multitude of people, not only laities but also biologists and other scientists.[1]

In fact, nearly half of all Americans reject the Darwinian theory of evolution.[2] And it is not only the religious right that doubts evolution: resistance to Darwin can be found across the religious spectrum.

According to a Gallup Poll, conducted in November 2004, 45% of Americans believe that “God created man in present form“, 38% say that “man developed with God's guiding“. Only 13% think that “man developed with no help from God“.[3]

2 Different theories of evolution

As far as evolution is concerned, there are several different schools of thought. On the side of Darwin’s theory of evolution, there are naturalistic evolutionists and theistic evolutionists:

Naturalistic evolutionists do not believe in a supernatural force of any kind in the evolution process and accept Darwin’s theory as a scientific truth, whereas theistic evolutionists do believe in some kind of divine intervention, but also that teachings about God and creation are compatible with the Darwinian theory, which they fully accept. According to them, God used evolution as his tool and the Genesis is not to be interpreted literally, but as a metaphor for evolution.

Creationists generally reject the theory of evolution and believe that a divine being created life, but there are three different subtypes with differing views: Young-Earth creationists, Old-Earth creationists and Neo-creationists. The former claim that modern science confirms the biblical Genesis – which they interpret literally - and reject any evidence or method contradicting their beliefs, such as for example radiometric dating methods.[4]

Their view, that the Earth was created 6.000 to 10.000 years ago within six 24-hour-days, is held by a considerable number of Protestant Christians in the United States. Old-Earth creationists on the contrary believe that God created the universe, but that the Genesis should not be taken literally. Basically, they agree with scientists on the age of Earth, but not on the creation process itself.

Neo-creationists try to distance themselves from other creationist schools and for this purpose have founded the so-called “Intelligent Design“ movement. They do not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, but are convinced that the diversity of life is too complex to have developed through an unguided process of natural selection; ergo, some kind of “Intelligent Designer“ must have intervened in the process of evolution and life has to be a result of a higher power. According to its adherents, Intelligent Design makes no religious claims and they are – in most cases - careful not to mention the Bible in their argumentation, but to find evidence for God in nature. Supporters of Intelligent Design try to present themselves as scientists and have founded numerous think tanks and institutes for their research, like for instance the San-Diego-based “Institute for Creation Research“.

The vast majority of scientists view Intelligent Design as a pseudoscience: according to them, the theory does not qualify as a science as there is no falsifiable, empirically testable data. Science does not assume a theory, in this case the a priori assumption that a supernatural being exists, and then tries to confirm it and find evidence.

The most famous supporter of Intelligent Design and critic of evolution is Michael Behe, professor at Lehigh University. After 23 years of teaching, the biochemist is convinced that Darwin’s theory lacks explanations for several natural developments and contradicts itself in major points. According to him, phenomena such as blood clotting cannot be explained by evolution alone and requires supernatural force of some kind. Michael Behe himself thinks that this divine being is God, but he claims that, since not testable, this was irrelevant from a scientific point of view.[5] In general, Intelligent Design supporters refuse to describe the supernatural force or “designer“ responsible for the diversity of life. Concerning this question, Behe has stated: “(…) while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of the designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel – fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being“.[6] However, unofficial spokesman and “father“ of the movement, Philip E. Johnson, the former law professor who launched the intelligent design movement in the early 1990s, goes one step further: “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get intelligent design – which really means the reality of God – before the academic world and into the schools“.[7]

Since Intelligent Design supporters, such as creationists, presume the intervention of a supernatural being (“God“ or the “designer“) no evidence has been presented until today. Many consider Intelligent Design as nothing more than a “creationist wolf in designer clothing“.[8]

Summing up, there are numerous alternatives to evolution, but only one with a small – but existing – support within the scientific community: Intelligent Design. The only reason why it is by far the most well regarded theory is probably that its proponents make a real effort to exclude God from their explanations.

3 The evolution debate in public education

In private education, the conflict between creationism and evolution is practically non-existent: whereas Protestant religious schools teach creation science as a scientific truth and reject all naturalistic and theistic evolution, Roman Catholic schools accept and teach Darwin’s evolution theory.[9] In private education, the battle is much tougher. As a background, it is important to be aware of the fact that teaching religion in public schools is already a thorny issue itself: although religion plays an – compared with the European average – extraordinarily big role in US life.[10]

In general, public schools can teach about religion, but are not allowed to promote it in any way, given that this would contradict and violate the First Amendment of the American Constitution.

That means that currently, public schools are required to teach evolution and that creation science can only be taught as a concept that some people believe in – not as a scientific fact. Opposed to the European educational policy that is much more centralised, the Government’s involvement in education is rather limited[11] and it provides only about 4% of the funding for public schools.[12] Since there is only a minimum of general standards for education, this system grants the local school boards that can take important decisions concerning curricula a big amount of local control. At present, creationism is in fact being taught in schools, especially in rural areas where the large majority holds rather fundamentalist Christian views. This proceeding leads inevitably to a dilemma for pupils attending schools in these regions, at least for those who plan going to college after their High School certificate: there, they see themselves confronted with facts contradicting their worldview.

In order to resolve this conflict, scientists such as Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), propose that in classes with evangelical Christians, teachers should underline that while they need to learn about evolution, they are not obligated to accept it as a fact. Giving the student the authority to reject what they learn should at least encourage them to discover evolution for themselves. “Accepting evolution doesn’t mean they need to stop believing in God“, claims Scott.[13]

However, according to creationist views, it does: many anti-evolutionists are convinced that belief in evolution and the traditional Judeo-Christian God are incompatible.[14] Among them is Philip E. Johnson, claiming that “if Darwinism is true, Christian metaphysics is fantasy“.[15] “The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God“[16], he explains.

Scientists try to go against this move and in order to demonstrate that church and science are nor at odds, more than 400 churches of many denominations even agreed to participate in “Evolution Sunday“ that was celebrated in February 2006, where hundreds of event took place for promoting evolution and celebrating the 197th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. “There is no reason that people have to choose between religion and science“, asserts organizer Michael Zimmermann, biology professor and dean at the University of Wisconsin.[17]

A growing number of school boards, town councils and legislatures consider proposals to limit the teaching of evolution in several states, such as California or Washington. In the majority of cases, the Supreme Court decided that teaching creationism as well as prohibiting the teaching of evolution theory violates the First Amendment.

However, anti-evolutionists demand that Darwin should be discussed as a controversial hypothesis instead of a scientific truth and that students should be exposed to alternate concepts such as Intelligent Design. They argue that there was no evidence to confirm the biblical creation and that evolution has been confirmed over and over by scientific disciples such as genetics.


[1] Masci, David (1997), p. 757

[2] Masci, David (1997), p. 745

[3] Hudson Jr., David L. (2005)

[4] Masci, David (1997), p. 759

[5] Kleine-Brockhoff, Thomas (2005)

[6] Behe, Michael (2001)

[7] Clemmit, Marcia (2005), p. 639

[8] Hudson Jr., David L. (2005)

[9] Robinson, B.A. (2005)

[10] Mauk, David/Oakland, John (1997), p.365

[11] Mauk, David/Oakland, John (1997), p.305

[12] Mauk, David/Oakland, John (1997), p.306

[13] Masci, David (1997), p. 760

[14] Masci, David (1997), p. 760

[15] Clemmit, Marcia (2005), p. 650

[16] Clemmit, Marcia (2005), p. 654

[17] Matheson, Kathy (2006)

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Evolution – fact or just one of many theories?
Teaching alternate theories of life’s origin in US public schools
University of Brussel  (Institut supérieur de traducteurs et interprètes)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Evolution, Darwinism, Intelligent Design
Quote paper
Mag.phil. Anna Jell (Author), 2006, Evolution – fact or just one of many theories? , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/150385


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