Outdated Advice Still Going the Rounds

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Outdated Advice Still Going the Rounds
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura, Netork Project Director
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1998
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
22
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In 1979 attorney Wendell Byrd, a long-time "creation science" advocate and associate of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), wrote a "Resolution for Balanced Presentation of Evolution and Scientific Creationism" that was published as Issue 71 of the ICR's Impact series. The full text of this resolution is still available, either by requesting this Impact issue from ICR, or by viewing this page of the ICR's website at http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-071.htm

The resolution reads in part:

Public school presentation of only the theory of evolution without any alternative theory of origins abridges the Constitution's protection of freedom of religious exercise for students and parents, because it undermines their religious convictions, violates their separatist practices, compels their unconscionable statements, and hinders religious training by parents....

Public school presentation of only the theory of evolution without any alternative theory also violates the Constitution's protection of freedom of belief for students and parents and in doing so hinders the purpose of education by impeding their search for truth, denying them academic freedom, and restricting scientific objectivity.
The resolution was offered "as a prepared resolution for local citizens' groups seeking to obtain a fair presentation of the creation/evolution question." The accompanying text also states, "Please note that this is a suggested resolution, to be adopted by boards of education, not legislation proposed for enactment as law. ICR has always taken the position that the route of education and persuasion on this issue is more fruitful in the long run than that of coercion" [emphasis in original].

These and other points of the resolution are contradicted by six federal and Supreme Court rulings made since 1979. Perhaps the best known is the Supreme Court's 1987 Edwards v Aguillard decision which struck down a "balanced treatment" law passed by the Louisiana legislature.

"Clarifications" of the resolution include the statement, "This Resolution does not require or permit instruction in any religious doctrine or materials" (such a requirement would violate many state constitutions as well as the federal constitution). However, such a "clarification" amounts to mere hand-waving, since courts have already determined that "creation science" is "religious doctrine" by definition. Moreover, districts that have attempted to provide "balanced treatment" have discovered that there simply are no instructional materials for teaching "creation science" that are free of religious overtones.

Even the footnotes present misinformation. For example, footnote 14 lists several "boards of education [that] officially require balanced treatment of evolution and scientific creationism." If they once did, they no longer do so. A school district in Texas is given as one example, but in 1984 the state of Texas and its districts abandoned "equal time" and disclaimer practices after the state's attorney general published an opinion that they were unconstitutional. Texas later went on to adopt its current curriculum standards which require teaching evolution.

This resolution may be of some historical interest, but it is truly unfortunate that it is still sometimes presented as a current alternative. Recently, parents from school districts in the northwest, worried about active discussion of the resolution in their districts, contacted NCSE. The greatest problem, though, is that the resolution, which was at best controversial when it was written in 1979, is now outdated.

While the ICR's stated preference for "persuasion" over "coercion" is laudable, the unfortunate reality is that when such proposals are presented in school districts, the resulting controversy can create a climate of intimidation for teachers. Parents and school board members who oppose evolution need not even be in the majority — just very vocal — to convince some teachers that the best way to avoid trouble is to avoid teaching evolution. If you hear that this policy is being offered to state or local school boards, don't hesitate to ask NCSE to help you look inside the "new bottle" to find out whether the contents are "old wine" that has turned to vinegar.