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Evolution warning label removed from textbooks in Beebe, Arkansas


by Glenn Branch and Nick Matzke

In a press release issued on February 10, 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the Beebe School District in Beebe, Arkansas, agreed to remove evolution warning labels from its science textbooks. Each biology textbook in Beebe carried stickers which described evolution as "a controversial theory" and referred to an "intelligent designer" as a possible explanation of the origin of life. An attorney for the school district told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (February 11, 2005) that "it was his understanding that the stickers had been placed in the textbooks as long ago as the early to mid-1990s." The school district's decision was prompted by a letter from the ACLU of Arkansas citing the recent decision in Selman v. Cobb County School District, which held that similar stickers used in Cobb County, Georgia, violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. "We commend the Beebe School District for avoiding unnecessary and costly litigation in this matter," said Rita Sklar, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, adding, "However, we are concerned that these stickers may be present in textbooks around the state," and offering her organization's legal guidance to the Arkansas Department of Education. The stickers will be removed at the end of the school year.

The text of the sticker was clearly derived from the "Evolution Warning Labels" promoted by the Eagle Forum in Alabama in 1995. These warning labels were in effect across Alabama from 1996-2001, and have been proposed in many other states, although these proposals are typically defeated. In 2001 the Alabama disclaimer was rewritten and significantly weakened, but is still in effect. The Beebe disclaimer sported a feature not found in the 1996 Alabama warning label: a direct mention of intelligent design.

Most antievolution policies leave the motivating creationist goals unexpressed, probably because they increase the chance of legal challenge on constitutional grounds. For example, the first paragraph of the 1996 Alabama disclaimer simply claimed that evolution was scientifically controversial and only accepted by "some" scientists:

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans.

However, the Beebe warning label took the extra step of proposing an "intelligent designer" as the alternative to evolution:

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans. Many people believe that evolution alone is not adequate to explain the origins of life. For these people, the idea of an intelligent designer seems to make sense.

"Intelligent design" arose after the 1987 Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard. Edwards declared that teaching "creation science" in public schools was unconstitutional.


The full text of the evolution warning label used in Beebe is reproduced below:

A MESSAGE FROM THE BEEBE SCHOOL BOARD

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans. Many people believe that evolution alone is not adequate to explain the origins of life. For these people, the idea of an intelligent designer seems to make sense.

No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact.

The word "evolution" may refer to many types of change. Evolution describes changes that occur within a species. (White moths, for example, may "evolve" into gray moths.) This process is microevolution, which can be observed and described as fact. Evolution may also refer to the change of one living thing to another, such as reptiles into birds. This process, called macroevolution, has never been observed and should be considered a theory. Evolution also refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things.

There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbooks, including:

  • Why did the major groups of animals suddenly appear in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion)?
  • Why have no new major groups of living things appeared in the fossil record in a long time?
  • Why do major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record?
  • How did you and all living things come to possess such a complete and complex set of "instructions" for building a living body?

Study hard and keep an open mind. Someday you may contribute to the theories of how living things appeared on earth.


Links

ACLU Press Release, "ACLU of Arkansas Action Results in Removal of Evolution Disclaimers From Science Textbooks." February 10, 2005.
http://www.aclu.org/religion/schools/16369prs20050210.html

Alabama Citizens for Science Education, History of the Evolution Warning Label
http://www.alscience.org/disclaimer.html

Cynthia Howell (2005). "District to remove stickers doubting evolution." Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. February 11, 2005.

Eagle Forum (1995). "Evolution Warning Labels for Alabama Texts." December 1995
http://www.eagleforum.org/educate/1995/dec95/biology.html

Kenneth Miller. "Dissecting the Disclaimer."
http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/disclaimer.html