The Rise and Fall of the Louisiana Creationism Law


Part 1: A Bold Trick


[Republished, with the kind permission of the author and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, from the July/August 1988 issue of the museum’s magazine Terra, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 20–22, 24–27.]

Creationism is a political arm of fundamentalism. The creationists seek to impose onto the population at large, by political means, a body of religious beliefs derived from literal readings of the King James version of the Holy Bible-both the Old Testament and the New. The name creationists reflects their special emphasis on the creation narratives in the Book of Genesis, their insistence that these be presented in public schools as accurate reports of historical events, and their correlative insistence that any contrary findings of science be suppressed.

In the summer of 1981, creationists in Louisiana secured the enactment of a statute authorizing the teaching of “creation-science” in the schools of that state. The term creation-science denotes a pseudoscience that creationists have been using as a strategic device since the early 1970s. This pseudoscience purports to furnish technical validation for prominent episodes in the Bible and hence for various fundamentalist doctrines. It also purports to refute evolutionary views of the universe, of Earth, and of living things.

The Louisiana statute said that evolutionary science and “creation-science” were to receive “balanced treatment”: If a school’s teachers or textbooks or library materials offered information about evolution, they would have to make a countervailing presentation of “the scientific evidences for creation.” This dictum applied to instruction and materials dealing with the humanities as well as the sciences. A curriculum for presenting “creation-science” would be devised with the help of seven “creation scientists,” who would be chosen by the governor.

On June 19, 1987, the Supreme Court of the United States, ruling in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard, declared the statute to be unconstitutional. The Louisiana creationists had sought to defend the statute by asserting that “creation-science” was not religious but scientific and that “balanced treatment” would enhance academic freedom. The Supreme Court had perceived that “creation-science” was not scientific but inescapably religious and that teaching it in public schools would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution. That clause declares that the Congress shall make no law that would establish an official religion. The same prohibition was imposed on state legislatures by the Fourteenth Amendment adopted in 1868. The amendment had the effect of extending to the states most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, which comprises the First through the Tenth Amendments.

The Court firmly rejected the creationists’ invocation of academic freedom, observing that the statute did not engender any flexibility that teachers did not already have; that it actually reduced academic freedom by imposing a new constraint onto instruction about evolution; that it mandated the development of curriculum materials for teaching about “creation-science” but not for teaching about evolution; and that it erected protections for teachers who might choose to teach about creation but not for teachers who might choose to teach about evolution or about anything else.

In nullifying the Louisiana law, the Court fulfilled the expectations of many observers, including some prominent creationists. The more astute creationists had known for some years that the political strategy embodied in the Louisiana law was moribund. By the time when the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard, they had already turned their attention back to the activities that historically had yielded creationism’s most substantial, though least publicized, successes: attacks on local school boards, individual schools, and individual teachers.

Even so, the ruling was dramatic, for it unequivocally ended the creationists’ long campaign to inject “creation-science” into schools through “balanced treatment” legislation. That campaign had attained various stages of development in various states of the Union. It had been the most conspicuous, and potentially the most destructive, element in the creationists’ assault on public education.

The Louisiana case had become the crucial test of the entire undertaking, because the creationists in Louisiana had enlisted the boldest conceivable tactics for hiding the nature of “creation-science” and for circumventing the body of constitutional law that deals with the establishment clause. When they failed, the creationists’ legislative campaign collapsed everywhere.

The Supreme Court’s decision was reported prominently by the press. It inspired the opening stories for many news broadcasts on the evening of June 19, front-page articles in metropolitan newspapers on that evening or on the next morning, and major stories in the news magazines. Much of this reporting, though, was superficial and even misleading. Few reporters tried to convey the crucial history and significance of the Louisiana statute or the structure of the case that the statute had engendered. Typical stories concentrated on falsely comparing the Louisiana case to the Scopes case of 1925 (to which it bore no resemblance at all) and on quoting simplistic reactions to the Supreme Court’s pronouncement, while ignoring the Louisiana case’s central facts and grand theme.

Those facts and that theme deserve much attention, however. They teach some valuable lessons about creationism and creationists, and they are indispensable to an understanding of how and why the creationists are reshaping their attack on science education.


The political goals of today’s creationists are routinely underestimated by the popular press and the public, who still are influenced by memories of the creationists of the 1920s. Those early creationists, whose efforts led to the Scopes trial, had simple and narrow objectives: to stifle knowledge of biological evolution and to secure state laws that would ban that subject from schoolrooms and schoolbooks.

Today’s creationists have a much broader, much bolder program. They seek to bring all of science education and’ all of science itself under fundamentalist control and censorship, and they hope ultimately to turn science into [p. 21] what they believe it to have been a few centuries ago—a handmaiden of religion, devoted to confirming biblical stories and doctrines. They have conceived these brazen aspirations for two reasons.

First, the strategy of the early creationists was vitiated in 1968, when the Supreme Court ruled (in Epperson v. Arkansas) that a state could not outlaw instruction in evolutionary biology. Evolution was a matter of science, the Court said, and censoring science to promote religion was unconstitutional.

Second, creationists have come to recognize that information contradicting biblical literalism is prominent not only in biology but in a score of other disciplines—from physics, chemistry, and astronomy to geology, geography, archaeology, and linguistics. They have come to understand, then, that they must evict all meaningful education in science from the public schools and that they must chain and gag science itself.

With those distant goals in mind, the creationists strive to undermine the public’s understanding of science’s precepts, processes, findings, and achievements. Their principal efforts are aimed at influencing the development of curricula and textbook standards by state agencies and by local school districts. They seek the adoption of curricula and books that will conceal the nature and history of science, will depict science as a collection of arbitrary beliefs, will exclude or obfuscate various scientific topics (especially in astronomy, geology, paleontology, biology and anthropology), and will include servings of “creation-science.”1

“Creation-science” can be traced to fundamentalist writings of sixty or seventy years ago.2 It has been developed most vigorously during the past twenty years or so, however, by religious groups that display names like the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation Research Society, the Creation-Science Research Center, and the Bible-Science Association. It has been presented and promoted in many publications by creationists3 and has been analyzed and exposed in many publications by scientists.4

In principle, “creation-scientists” may undertake to verify anything that reflects fundamentalist religious beliefs; and indeed, the range of subjects that they have addressed is very broad—astonishingly broad if we notice that active, identifiable “creation-scientists” seem to number no more than one hundred. One recent “creation-science” publication told how fossils and Bible-reading both showed that all the dinosaurs had been created as herbivores.5 (Carnivores would have upset the peace and perfection of the Garden of Eden.) Another contemplated whether and why God had devised pathogens that cause things like measles, polio, and smallpox.6 (No, God had not created harmful microbes. But after humans became sinful, God may have ordered some bacteria and viruses to begin expressing “already-created characteristics which result in disease.”) A third wondered whether Earth might be the center of the solar system and of the whole universe, after all.[7] (The case seemed strong: A gyroscope would work even if Earth were standing still; Descartes never had accepted heliocentricity; and Joshua had commanded the sun, not Earth, to stop.)

Other essays in “creation-science” have considered whether dyslexia is a relic of the debacle at the Tower of Babel, whether plants really are alive and capable of dying, and whether comets and other celestial objects are remnants of a watery “canopy” that the biblical god placed over the newly created Earth. (See the article on page 23.)

Despite this impressive diversity, however, most of “creation-science” is devoted to supporting a few major doctrines: that the universe was created supernaturally, from nothing, only a few thousand years ago; that living things were created, and persist, as separate and immutable “kinds” (a term from the King James translation of Genesis); that organic evolution, if it occurs at all, can merely cause minor variations in the kinds; that humans and apes are different kinds, separately created and quite unrelated; and that many phenomena of geology, including the fossil record, were generated during the great flood described in Genesis 7 and 8.

All the exercises of “creation-science” revolve around a simple, false dichotomy. All of them assume axiomatically that there are precisely two possible ways to explain nature and that the two ways are comparable but mutually exclusive. One way comprises the Bible’s descriptions of supernatural acts and events. The other way comprises the explanations offered by contemporary science. One of these must be quite right, the other quite wrong.

Equipped with those axioms, “creation-scientists” generally eschew laboratory research and field work. (Prominent exceptions occur in their vigorously publicized hunts for the remains of Noah’s ark8 and for fossilized footprints that would show that humans and the great dinosaurs lived, very recently, side by side.9) Nor do “creation-scientists” give much attention to building coherent explanations of the natural world. Instead, they devote most of their efforts and their publications to finding presumed defects in science and especially in the science of the past 150 years.

These defects include such things as unanswered questions, disagreements among scientists about the interpretation of data, and the revision of prevalent theories to reflect new information. While scientists regard such things as necessary parts of the scientific enterprise, “creation-scientists” depict them as failures of that enterprise and as de-facto endorsements of biblical literalism.

“Creation-science” exists today in two versions. One of these, for use in fundamentalist ministries, is explicitly biblical. It continually invokes biblical personages, events, and beliefs, often with citations of biblical chapters and verses. The other version is secular. It presents the same material but omits the citations, omits proper nouns, and uses some obfuscatory synonymy—such as “a catastrophe” or “a worldwide catastrophe” to denote the biblical flood.

The secular version was developed specifically as a device for carrying a fundamentalist view of nature into public schools, where it would neutralize evolutionary views. Some “creation-science” publications, in fact, exist in two editions: a “general” or “Christian school” edition that is explicitly biblical, and a “public school” edition that is ostensibly secular.10

[p. 22] In trying to get their pseudoscience into public schools, the creationists advocate what they call the “two-model” approach.11 As its name tells, this is a political extension of their axiomatic dichotomy. There are two “models” for explaining nature, they say, and science education must accord equal representation to both. They refer to this as “balanced treatment,” and the Louisiana legislature used the same term in its “creation-science” statute.


The Louisiana statute was founded on a bold trick. The Louisiana creationists foresaw that any description or documentation of “creation-science” would identify it as a restatement of biblical religion, so they produced a law that promoted the teaching of “creation-science” but refused to say what “creation-science” was.

Everything that followed, from the day when the statute was adopted until the day when it was nullified by the Supreme Court, sprang from efforts to sustain that trick. For several years the people defending the statute posed as the champions of an intellectual endeavor—a science—so important that it deserved to be installed in public schools by force of law. They refused, however; to tell what that science was or how anyone could learn about it.

This remarkable history began in 1980, when bills promoting the teaching of “creation-science” were sponsored in the legislatures of both Louisiana and Arkansas. The two bills were similar, for both had been derived from a model written at the Institute for Creation Research. Both bills mandated “balanced treatment” for “creation-science” and “evolution-science.” Both defined “creation-science” by listing, in secular terms, some of its tenets. These included the statements that the universe had been created suddenly and from nothing, that the universe and Earth and living things had come into existence only recently, that plants and animals existed as created “kinds,” and that Earth had undergone a worldwide flood.

The Arkansas bill became law in March 1981. In May it was challenged as unconstitutional in a suit filed in the federal district court at Little Rock.

As soon as that suit was filed, the sponsors of the Louisiana bill (which still was pending) sterilized their text. They excised the descriptive definition of “creation-science,” and they replaced it with one sentence: “‘Creation-science’ means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences.” They said nothing about the meaning of “creation.”

The sterilized bill became Louisiana law in July 1981, and it too was challenged promptly as a violation of the First Amendment. The plaintiffs included educators, religious leaders, and parents of public-school students. Their suit-filed at Baton Rouge, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana-named the Louisiana Department of Education and several Louisiana officials as defendants. It asked the court to enjoin implementation of the new statute. The case acquired the title Aguillard v. Treen. The namesake plaintiff, Don Aguillard, was a public-school teacher; David C. Treen was Louisiana’s governor.

The Arkansas “balanced treatment” statute was nullified in January 1982, after a trial that had spanned 11 days. In declaring the statute to be unconstitutional, Judge William Overton produced a long, analytical opinion telling that “creation-science” failed as science and was simply biblical literalism in disguise. Here is a part of his explanation of why “creation-science,” as described in the statute’s Section 4lal, did not meet the essential characteristics of science:

First, the section revolves around 4(a)(1) which asserts a sudden creation “from nothing.” Such a concept is not science because it depends on a supernatural intervention which is not guided by natural law. It is not explanatory by reference to natural law, it is not testable and it is not falsifiable.
If the unifying idea of supernatural creation by God is removed from Section 4, the remaining parts of the section explain nothing and are meaningless assertions....
Section 4(a)(5) refers to “explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood.” This assertion completely fails as science. The Act is referring to the Noachian flood described in the Book of Genesis ....
The methodology employed by creationists is another factor which is indicative that their work is not science. A scientific theory must be tentative and always subject to revision or abandonment in light of facts that are inconsistent with, or falsify, the theory. A theory that is by its own terms dogmatic, absolutist and never subject to revision is not a scientific theory.

Overton’s analysis immediately was recognized as the definitive exposition of “creation-scienceand it soon was reprinted in a number of publications.12

Arkansas did not appeal.

In Louisiana, the federal district court’s consideration of Aguillard v. Treen was delayed while the Louisiana Supreme Court studied a suit alleging that the “balanced treatment” statute violated the Louisiana Constitution’s grant of authority to the state’s board of education. The Louisiana court ruled in 1983 that there was no violation. The federal district court could now consider the First Amendment challenge.

The plaintiffs asked the district court to use summary judgment, a mechanism by which a court can decide a case without convening a trial. Summary judgment is subject to several constraints, and one of them is this: it can be employed only if the case to be decided presents no significant questions of fact.

In seeking summary judgment, the plaintiffs contended that the only facts needed for assessing the constitutionality of the Louisiana statute were the meanings of “creation” and “creation-science” and that these were beyond questioning: “creation” meant a religious concept involv-

Continued on page 24

[p. 23 contains as a sidebar Jack Hitt’s “What Did Noah Do with the Manure?” reprinted with permission from Washington Monthly, February 1987, pp. 25–28. Hitt’s article is not reproduced here but is available (PDF) off-site.]

[p. 24]

Continued from page 22

ing supernatural acts by a supernatural being; “creation-science” meant an identifiable body of religious doctrines, including those that had been listed in the Arkansas “creation-science” law and analyzed in the decision by Overton.

The defendants denied all this and opposed the granting of summary judgment. They asserted to the court that there were important questions about the intended meanings of “creation” and “science” and “creation-science” and that the resolution of these questions would require a trial. They even explicitly denied that the “creation-science” of the statute revolved around a creation from nothing, a worldwide flood, or any of the other tenets that had been cited explicitly in the statute’s original text.


In that denial the creationists announced the strategy that they would use at every step, all the way through the U.S. Supreme Court. Extending the technique used by the Louisiana legislature, they simply would refuse to say what “creation-science” was. They would, however, tell insistently what it was not.

The result was bizarre. The creationists ultimately produced hundreds of pages asking the courts to uphold the teaching of “creation-science,” but they never told how “creation-science” could be identified, never cited any publication about it, never named any “creation-scientist,” never cited a journal in which a “creation-scientist” had published a finding or an idea, and never identified an institution associated with “creation-science” work.

The only affirmative information that they offered in characterizing “creation-science” comprised some vague, even weird, statements suggesting that “creation-science” had to do with the “abrupt appearance” of natural entities “in complex form.” (I shall quote some typical statements later.) They never told what “abrupt” meant, and they never told why they thought that an interest in abrupt events was unique to “creation-science” or could serve to identify it. Nor did they provide any comprehensible idea about the meanings of “creation” and “created,” although they used those words often.

This “abrupt appearance” material was an after-the-fact invention, vague enough to be meaningless, by which the defendants, their allies, and their lawyers could pretend to be telling about “creation-science” while they actually were telling nothing at all. There was nothing in the legislative record to suggest that Louisiana’s lawmakers ever had imagined “creation-science” to be an ill-defined fascination with abrupt appearances, and there was much in the record to show that they had known “creation-science” to be a specific body of explicit doctrines.

The defendants embellished their allusions to “abrupt appearance” with declarations that “creation-science” involved such concepts as morphology and isomers and probability and anatomy and biomolecular systems and other arcane-sounding things, but the embellishment too was meaningless. Morphology and isomers and all the rest of those things recur in various scientific disciplines including disciplines that already were represented in Louisiana’s science curriculum. Saying “morphology” or “isomers” did nothing to tell how “creation-science” could be recognized or how it could be distinguished from the “evolution-science” that it was to counterbalance. The creationists’ invocation of such terms merely amplified the spectacle provided by their refusal to explain the terms that mattered: “creation-science” and “creation.”

That spectacle was complemented by another: the defendants’ effort to propagate false ideas of what “creation-science” was not. This effort had three parts. The first was to convey that Louisiana-style “creation-science” was not a religious endeavor of any kind. The second was to convey specifically that Louisiana-style “creation-science” was not Arkansas-style “creation-science” (which already had been declared, in the unappealed decision by Overton, to be religion in disguise). For both of these tasks, the defense lawyers enlisted simple assertions. They simply announced that their “creation-science” was not religious, that the “creation” in its name was not a religious concept, and that it did not require doctrines like the ones that had been listed in the Arkansas law. They did not try to support these announcements with evidence.

The defense lawyers’ third task was to convey specifically that Louisiana-style “creation-science” was not orthodox “creation-science”—the well-documented religious enterprise that had been elaborated for at least two decades, in scores of publications, by the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation Research Society and other fundamentalist groups.

The tactic that they adopted here was wonderfully brash: they ignored orthodox “creation-science” entirely, as if it could not possibly be relevant to the case. They never abjured it, they never acknowledged it, and they surely never explained how their own “creation-science” had come to share its name. For them, the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society seemed not to exist.

A proper appreciation of the defense’s performance requires knowledge of some auxiliary facts:

  • The defense was led by Wendell Bird, a lawyer from Georgia who was functioning as a special assistant attorney general of Louisiana. In one of his earlier roles, Bird had been the chief lawyer for the Institute for Creation Research.
  • Although the defense was conducted in the name of Louisiana, the money that supported it came from a private body: the Creation Science Legal Defense Fund, headquartered in Shreveport. The fund’s motives and goals, as expressed in its solicitation letters, were overtly religious. The fund called itself a “ministry” and sold fundamentalist tracts by mail.
  • The fund’s “Board of Reference,” listed on its letterhead, included two men who were officers and employees of the Institute for Creation Research, as well as people affiliated with the Creation Research Society or the Bible-Science Association.
  • The principal exposition of “creation-science” offered [p. 25] to the Louisiana legislature, before the adoption of the statute, had come from a fundamentalist group called the Pro Family Forum. Representatives of the forum, urging adoption, had proffered a list of seven books that might be used for training teachers in “creation-science.” One of the books had been issued by the Creation Research Society. The rest had come from the Institute for Creation Research or from its publishing affiliate, which has been known as Creation-Life Publishers, Master Book Publishers, Master Books, and CLP, Inc., among other names. The legislative record showed that the forum had described “creation-science” in terms of a worldwide flood, “kinds” of plants and animals, and a “relatively recent inception” of Earth. (The record also showed, of course, that those items had appeared in the original text of the Louisiana statute but later had been excised.)


To bolster their representations about Louisiana-style “creation-science,” the defense submitted five affidavits to the district court. All five were irrelevant to the case, as the Supreme Court eventually would explain quite clearly. They were irrelevant because they had been written after the adoption of the Louisiana statute and because the people who had written them had taken no part in the Louisiana legislature’s deliberations. Hence they could signify nothing about the legislature’s intent or about what the legislators had thought “creation-science” was.

Despite this, the affidavits were engaging documents. They told with admirable clarity that the defendants’ case was a sham, and they said a great deal about creationists and about the people who lie down with creationists.

The outstanding property of each affidavit, and of the five taken together; was that no affiant claimed knowledge of “creation-science.” Each affiant wrote about “creation-science,” giving assurance that it was not religious, that it was a mere preoccupation with abrupt events, and so forth; but no affiant suggested how he had learned any of this. No affiant said that he himself was a “creation-scientist.” No affiant named a “creation-scientist” whom he had consulted, or even one whom he had not consulted. No affiant named any “creation-science” publication that he had seen, or even one that he had not seen. In every affidavit, as in everything else that the defense produced, every statement about “creation-science” was just a naked assertion.

This was especially striking because each affidavit began with formal, enumerative statements about the affiant’s education, experience, and attainments. No affiant showed any education, experience, or attainments in “creation-science.”

Two affidavits were very short and did not even try to define “creation-science.” One was provided by Robert J. Clinkert, an assistant superintendent of an unspecified school district in Illinois. The other came from William G. Most, a theologian at Loras College, a Catholic school in Iowa. The theologian avoided the nature of “creation-science” but gave a few words to creation: “The concept of creation is not inherently religious and is nonreligious when defined as abrupt appearance in complex form. The concept of a creator is also not inherently religious, although it can be stated in religious terms; and it is not religious in its relation to creation-science.” That was all that he said about it. He did not suggest whether he had considered what a “creator” might be if “creation” meant nothing more than abrupt appearance.

Of the three longer affidavits—those that ostensibly defined “creation-science”—one came from Terry Miethe, who called himself a philosopher and theologian. “Creation-science,” Miethe wrote, “refers to abrupt appearance in complex form of biological life, life itself, and the physical universe.” If his definition seemed obscure, that would be too bad; he had nothing more to say about the matter. He added, however; that “creation-science” had “changed in content over the past decade.” He did not describe the original content, the new content, or the change.

The outstanding feature of Miethe’s affidavit was his failure to tell where he was working. This was remarkable because his biographical introduction gave many other details, including his grade-point averages at two schools. As it happened, and as eventually would be told during proceedings in the U.S. Supreme Court, Miethe worked at Liberty University (in Lynchburg, Virginia), a Bible college operated by the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell.

W. Scot Morrow, who teaches chemistry at Wofford College (in Spartansburg, South Carolina), wrote an affidavit that said this:

Creation-science is a scientific model or hypothesis that attempt[s] to account for the “origins” of material entities or systems in our world by means of their relatively sudden or abrupt appearance in complex form with the passage of time. It is intrinsically non-gradualist in emphasis, and relies strongly on catastrophic events occurring in nature, rather than uniformitarian alternatives [emphasis in the original].

Morrow, who said that he was neither a creationist nor a fundamentalist, did not explain “creation,” although he did not hesitate to use that word. The focus of his effort comprised four short paragraphs, each stuffed with science words, that purported to describe biological creation, biological evolution, biochemical creation, and biochemical evolution. Here is the whole text of one such paragraph:

Biochemical Creation. Biochemical creation also is based on plausible scientific data and analysis, and does not involve religious concepts. This evidence and analysis includes information content (which is immense in simple organisms and their genetic coding systems), probability (which is minuscule for biochemical evolution), isomers (which can be said to point to creation), and thermodynamics (involving entropy considerations).

Had the “evidence and analysis” come from “creation-scientists”? Why could isomers “be said to point to creation”—whatever creation was? Did entropy considerations and isomers and probability have something to do with “abrupt appearance”? Morrow did not say.

[p. 26] The longest, most revelatory affidavit came from Dean H. Kenyon, who teaches biology at San Francisco State University. Kenyon embraced fundamentalist religion some years ago, and since then he has become a prominent and unique attraction in the creationists’ show. He is a member of a respectable department of science, but he explicitly has endorsed various tenets of “creation-science”—that the Bible is inerrant, that the universe was created supernaturally and recently, and that fossils are relics of a worldwide flood.13,14

In 1981, Kenyon went to Little Rock to testify in defense of the Arkansas “balanced treatment” law, though he then left town before he could be called as a witness.15

In 1982, he contributed the foreword to a book by two leaders of the Institute for Creation Research. The book was called What Is Creation Science?16

When he wrote his affidavit for the Louisiana case, however, Kenyon seemed unable to give any lucid answer to the very question that the book’s title had posed. “Creation-science,” he said, “means abrupt appearance in complex form, and includes biological creation, biochemical creation (or chemical creation), and cosmic creation.” He saw no need to define “creation.”

Kenyon next made some assertions about what “creation-science” was not and did not. (These included the assertion that it did not have catastrophism among its essential elements—a revelation that might have surprised W. Scot Morrow.) Then he undertook a long essay that consisted almost wholly of material that had appeared often in secularized publications of the Institute for Creation Research. The essay provided many treats for the careful reader, and I should note a few.

Either plants and animals evolved from one or more initial living forms (biological evolution), or they were created (biological creation). Either the first life evolved from nonliving molecules (biochemical evolution), or it was created (biochemical creation).

But what did “creation” mean? Did it mean abrupt appearance? If so, did “was created” mean “was abruptly appeared”?

The striking anatomical similarities, e.g., in skeletal structure, among the vertebrates are interpreted by evolutionists to be indications of common ancestry. … Creationists, on the other hand, see the same data as evidence of a common structural plan or of basic conditions for life.

Kenyon seemed to not know that evolutionary scientists regard anatomical similarities as evidence of a common structural plan, just as surely as creationists do. The difference between the scientists’ view and the creationists’ view would have been clear if Kenyon had told how creationists explain the common plan: they say that it bespeaks a supernatural inventor who adopted a limited number of designs, then varied them somewhat as he invented different organisms.17

It is possible that new species, genera, and occasionally even families, may have arisen by natural means since the occurrence(s) of creation, ....

By counterposing “natural means” and “creation” Kenyon disclosed the very thing that the creationists were trying so hard to conceal: whatever “creation” was, it was not natural. It was supernatural, and “creation-science” was supernaturalism.


On January 10, 1985, Judge Adrian Duplantier, of the district court in Baton Rouge, granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs and declared the Louisiana statute to be unconstitutional. He found that the statute showed no legitimate secular purpose—as a law must do if it is to survive the First Amendment’s rule against the establishment of religion—and that it had been devised solely to promote a religious doctrine. His opinion said, in part:

Whatever “science” may be, “creation,” as the term is used in the statute, involves religion, and the teaching of “creation-science” and “creationism,” as contemplated by the statute, involves teaching “tailored to the principles” of a particular religious sect or group of sects [a thing proscribed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas]. As it is ordinarily understood, the term “creation” means the bringing into existence of mankind and of the universe and implies a divine creator. ...
The state may not constitutionally prohibit the teaching of evolution in the public schools, for there can be no non-religious reason for such a prohibition .... If the state cannot prohibit the teaching of evolution, manifestly it cannot provide that evolution can be taught only if the evolution curriculum is “balanced” with a curriculum involving the tenets of a particular religious sect ....

The defendants promptly appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.


The case reached the appeals court under the title Aguillard v. Edwards, for the governor of Louisiana was now Edwin W. Edwards.

In their argument to the court, the lawyers defending the “balanced treatment” statute asserted again that the case presented unanswered questions of fact. They insisted that the district court’s granting of summary judgment, therefore, had been an error. They pointed to their affidavits, and they emphasized that these had not been controverted by the plaintiffs. (This was true. The plaintiffs knew that the affidavits were worthless and that replying to them might dignify them, blur their irrelevance to the case, and open the case to issues that otherwise would not exist.)

A panel of three judges considered the appeal, and their decision was issued on July 8, 1985: The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

The panel’s opinion noted, among other things, that the Louisiana statute showed its lack of secular purpose by its [p. 27] failure to promote “creation-science” as a genuine subject for academic study:

If primarily concerned with the advancement of creation-science, the Act, it certainly appears to us, would have required its teaching irrespective of whether evolution was taught. Thus a primary academic interest in creation-science would seem to be gainsaid because the Act requires the teaching of the creation theory [sic] only if the theory of evolution is taught.
Finally, this scheme of the statute, focusing on the religious bête noire of evolution, as it does, demonstrates the religious purpose of the statute. Indeed, the Act continues the battle William Jennings Bryan carried to his grave. The Act’s intended effect is to discredit evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism, a religious belief. The statute therefore is a law respecting a particular religious belief....

The defense now submitted a suggestion for a rehearing en banc—a reconsideration in which the appeal would be weighed by all the judges on the court, rather than by a panel of three. This suggestion itself was weighed by the full court, and it was denied by a narrow margin: 8 to 7.

The denial, issued on December 12, comprised one paragraph but was accompanied by a long dissent presenting the view of the seven-judge minority. The dissent had been written by Judge Thomas Gee, who apparently had credited all that the creationists had offered—from the idea that there were only two views of “origins” to the notion that some of the creationists’ affidavits had come from “highly qualified scientists.” Gee believed that the Louisiana statute required only “that the whole truth be taught,” and he thought that the teaching of science without “creation-science” would be the teaching of half-truths.

To advocates of sound education in science, the fact that seven judges had joined in the dissent was disheartening. It underscored the tenuous status of an education system that is subject to officials who themselves have not had, or cannot apply, a competent education; and it showed that, in the Fifth Circuit, official ignorance dwelt in some rather high places. When petty politicians or local school-board members are gulled by “two model” nonsense, or show that they have no idea of what science is and how it operates, or imagine that anyone who uses unfamiliar words must be a learned scientist, these things are deplorable but not really surprising. When federal judges do such things, however, we must be surprised and alarmed.

On December 20, 1985, a week after the narrow defeat in the court of appeals, the creationists took their case to the Supreme Court.

In Part 2 of this article, to be published in our next issue, William J. Bennetta will describe proceedings in the Supreme Court and will tell how the Court struck the Louisiana law down. Then he will explain the principal methods by which the creationists, deprived of their “balanced treatment” strategy, will continue their assault on science education in the public schools.

William J. Bennetta is a scientific consultant, a professional editor, and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. His interests include evolutionary biology, the interactions between biology and public policy, and the influence of the press on the public’s understanding and misunderstanding of science.


Items bearing one asterisk were issued by the Institute for Creation Research. Items bearing two asterisks were issued by the institute’s many-named publishing division.

1. See, for example:

T. H. Jukes. 1984. Quackery in the classroom: the aspirations of the creationists. Journal of Social and Biological Structures 7: 193–205.

W. J. Bennetta. 1986. Crusade of the Credulous. California Academy of Sciences Press. San Francisco.

W. J. Bennetta. 1986. The dirty little secret. Palaios I: 523.

D. Nelkin. 1984. The Creation Controversy. Beacon Press. Boston.

2. R. L. Numbers. 1982. Creationism in 20th century America. Science 218: 538–544.

3. See, for example:

H. M. Morris. 1974. Scientific Creationism, general edition. Creation-Life Publishers. San Diego.**

G. E. Parker. 1980. Creation: The Facts of Life. Master Book Publishers. San Diego.**

H. M. Morris. 1985. Creation and the Modern Christian. Master Book Publishers. El Cajon, CA.**

4. See, for example:

N. Eldredge. 1982. The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism. Washington Square. New York.

P. Kitcher. 1983. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA.

T. H. Jukes. 1984. The creationist challenge to science. Nature 308: 398–400.

A. Montague, editor. 1984. Science and Creationism. Oxford University Press. New York.

5. P. S. Taylor. 1987. The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible. Master Books. El Cajon, CA.**

6. P. A. Bartz. 1987. Did God create disease-causing organisms? Bible-Science Newsletter 25(6):16.

7. J. Hanson. (undated; distributed in 1986.) A New Interest in Geocentricity. Bible-Science Association. Minneapolis.

8. See, for example:

J. Morris. 1977. Noah’s ark goes to Hollywood. Impact 47: i–iv.*

J. Morris. 1983. Noah’s ark: The search goes on. Impact 116: i–iv.*

Anonymous. 1984. Helicopter to be used in ark search. Acts & Facts 13(8): 4.*

Anonymous. 1987. Results of 1987 search for Noah’s ark. Acts & Facts 16(10):3.*

9. See, for example:

J. Morris. 1980. Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them. CLP Publishers. San Diego.**

J. R. Cole and L. R. Godfrey, editors. 1985. The Paluxy River footprint mystery—solved. (Seven articles, published in Creation/Evolution 5(1), in which scientists analyze and debunk fundamentalist claims about fossilized tracks near the Paluxy River, in Texas.)

10. Institute for Creation Research Publications. (Catalog issued by the I.C.R. in March 1986.)*

11. See, for example: R. B. Bliss. 1978. Origins: Two Models. Creation-Life Publishers. San Diego.**

12. For example: Science 215: 934–943 (17 January 1982).

13. R. Salner. 17 December 1980. Professor teaches a supernatural creation of world. San Francisco Examiner.

14. Anonymous. 19 December 1980. Creationist theory [sic] arouses critics. The Register (Santa Ana, CA).

15. J. Weatherly. 1982. Creationists lose in Arkansas. Christianity Today 26(2): 28–29.

16. H. M. Morris and G. E. Parker. 1982. What Is Creation Science? Master Book Publishers. San Diego.**

17. See, for example: J. N. Moore and H. S. Slusher, editors. 1970. Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity.  Zondervan Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI.


Part 2: “Nonsense on Stilts”


[Republished, with the kind permission of the author and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, from the September/October 1988 issue of the museum’s magazine Terra, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 16–23.]

Summary of Part 1. Creationism is a political arm of fundamentalism. The creationists seek to impose onto the population at large, by political means, a body of religious beliefs derived from literal readings of the King James version of the Holy Bible. The name creationists reflects their special emphasis on the creation narratives in the Book of Genesis, their insistence that these be presented in public schools as accurate reports of historical events, and their correlative insistence that any contrary findings of science be suppressed.

During the early 1970s, the creationists adopted a political strategy that emphasized “creation-science.” This is a religious pseudoscience that purports to furnish technical validation for prominent episodes in the Bible and hence for various fundamentalist doctrines. It also purports to refute evolutionary views of the universe, of Earth, and of living things.

In Part 1 of this article, published in our July/August issue, William J. Bennetta described “creation-science” and told how creationists in Louisiana secured, in July 1981, the enactment of a statute saying that evolutionary science and “creation-science” were to receive “balanced treatment” in that state’s public schools. If a school’s teachers or books offered information about evolution, they would have to make a countervailing presentation of “the scientific evidences for creation.”

The statute was founded on a bold trick. The creationists in the Louisiana legislature foresaw that any description of “creation-science” would identify it as a restatement of biblical religion, so they provided no definition of “creation-science” or of “creation.” The statute assiduously promoted the teaching of “creation-science,” and it even required Louisiana’s governor to choose seven “creation-scientists” who would help in the development of a curriculum, but it refused to say what “creation-science” was.

A suit challenging the statute was filed, later in 1981, in the federal district court in Baton Rouge. The plaintiffs, who included educators, religious leaders, and parents of public-school students, told that “creation-science” was simply fundamentalist religion in disguise. They asserted that the Louisiana law violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution, which forbids any law that would establish an official religion.

Early in 1982, an Arkansas “balanced treatment” law—very similar to Louisiana’s and derived from the same model—was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court in Little Rock.

The defense of the Louisiana statute was led by Wendell Bird, a fundamentalist lawyer from Georgia who now functioned as a special assistant attorney general of Louisiana. Bird and his allies adopted the same strategy that the legislature had used. They refused to say what “creation-science” was, who practiced it, or how anyone could learn about it. They made vague statements suggesting that it somehow involved “abrupt appearance” of natural entities, but they gave most of their energy to saying what it did not involve. It did not involve religion or supernatural acts or the Bible, they said.

Their assertions were rubbish and their case was a sham, just as the Louisiana statute itself was an exercise in deception.

To bolster their evasions and their misleading claims, the defense team produced five evasive, misleading affidavits. These were remarkable because the affiants wrote about “creation-science” and said that it was not religious, but no affiant told how he had learned about it. None claimed to be a “creation-scientist,” to have met a “creation-scientist,” or to have seen a “creation-science” publication. The most revelatory affidavit came from Dean H. Kenyon, a fundamentalist who teaches at San Francisco State University and has been a prominent attraction in the creationists’ show for some years. His text was long, disingenuous, and nonsensical, but it also contained a gem: Kenyon inadvertently admitted that “creation-science” was supernaturalism.

On January 10, 1985, the district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs and declared the Louisiana statute to unconstitutional. The defendants appealed. On July 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. On December 20, the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court.

When the Louisiana “creation-science” case reached the Supreme Court, it was retitled Edwards v. Aguillard. Louisiana’s governor, Edwin W. Edwards, who had been the namesake defendant in the lower courts, was now one of the appellants—the parties who had initiated action in the Supreme Court. Don Aguillard, who had been the namesake plaintiff in the lower courts, was now one of the appellees.

On March 12, 1986, the appellants filed a jurisdictional statement asking the Court to reverse the action of the district court—either because the use of summary judgment had been a procedural error or because the district court had misapplied the First Amendment—and to order a trial.

The appellees opposed this. On April 14, they filed a motion for the Court to affirm the proceedings that had culminated in the court of appeals.

The next events of importance came in the middle of the summer, as the Supreme Court received amicus curiae briefs. These were briefs from parties who were not involved in Edwards v. Aguillard but who had an interest in its outcome and who wanted to present facts, analysis, and recommendations that might help the Court to resolve it. Sixteen such briefs were filed: four supporting the appellants, twelve supporting the appellees. Collectively they bespoke the importance that the case carried now that it was before the highest arbiters of constitutional law. In each of several instances, a single brief for the appellees represented a long list of amici that included some of the most prominent scientists, scientific organizations, and educational organizations in the United States.

An outstanding brief was the one that spoke for seventy-two Nobel laureates in natural science, joined by twenty-four scientific organizations.18 One reason why it was outstanding was that its sponsors had made it so. On the day when they filed it (August 18), they convened a press conference at which three scientists explained why the Nobelists had undertaken to advise the Court. These spokesmen explicated “creation-science.” denounced the Louisiana statute as a deception, and told how the teaching of “creation-science” would deceive children and would undermine science education. The conference was covered well by the press, and stories based on it appeared in many publications.19

[p. 17] The brief was outstanding too because there never before had been a document, about anything, endorsed by so many Nobel laureates. They represented many and diverse disciplines, including cosmology, theoretical physics, experimental physics, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, molecular biology, genetics, physiology, cytology, and virology. Their participation in the brief had been organized by Murray Gell-Mann, of the California Institute of Techno1ogy, who had won a Nobel Prize for his work in the physics of elementary particles.

In the brief’s introductory statement, the Louisiana case was described as crucial to the future of science education throughout the country:

Teaching religious ideas mislabeled as science is detrimental to science education. It sets up a false conflict between science and religion, misleads our youth about the nature of scientific inquiry, and ... [will] strip our citizens of the power to distinguish between the phenomena of nature and supernatural articles of faith. “Creation-science” simply has no place in the public schools.

The body of the brief offered two principal arguments, of which the first focused on the legislative record. It showed that the “creation-science” of the statute was, and had been understood by the Louisiana legislature to be, orthodox “creation-science”—not the “abrupt appearance” construct suggested by the appellants. It also told how the functional definition of “creation-science” had been removed from the statute’s original text. (My own account of that event, in Part 1 of this article, was based on the account in the Nobelists’ brief.)

The second argument concentrated on a feature of the statute that I have not mentioned heretofore: its mandating that scientific knowledge of evolution must be “taught as a theory, rather than as proven scientific fact.” That prescription, or something like it, has occurred in virtually all the laws, regulations, curriculum restrictions, and textbook restrictions that fundamentalists have secured in recent years for stifling the teaching of evolutionary science in public schools.20

The Nobelists showed that the prescription had no basis in science and could be explained only as an effort to disparage evolutionary science for the sake of fostering sectarian religious beliefs. The “taught as a theory” rule required schools to misrepresent facts as theories, misuse the word theory, and distort the way in which facts and theories were related. Moreover; the rule applied only to the science that addressed “origins”—as if that science were less respectable and less reliable than all other science:

The conclusion is clear: the Act, however construed, is structured “to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” … Scientists do not single out “origins” for characterization as a “theory.” Holders of a particular religious belief do.

A brief by the National Academy of Sciences was given partly to dissolving the cosmetic, one-sentence paragraph in which the Louisiana statute said that its purpose was “protecting academic freedom.” The Academy, explaining that the statute really would do the opposite, called attention to what, perhaps, had been the creationists’ major objective from the outset: not to promote “creation-science” but to establish an atmosphere of anxiety that would dissuade teachers from mentioning evolution.

The Act does not require the teaching of either evolution or creationism, but does require that “creation-science” be taught if evolution is taught. Science teachers who wish to avoid confusing, misinforming or manipulating their students may choose to avoid areas which trigger the Act’s “balanced treatment” requirement by refraining from teaching evolution altogether. Creationists would thereby have achieved the results forbidden by this Court’s ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas, … which held that a state could not ban instruction in evolution, Academic freedom is badly served by an Act which ... persuades [teachers] to abandon the teaching of the best theoretical framework science currently has to offer.

The statute’s unique and disparaging treatment of evolutionary science was condemned also in a brief from twenty-five amici that included People For the American Way (a civil-liberties group), the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the American Society of Biological Chemists, the American Society of Zoologists, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. (This last has some 26,000 members, all elected in recognition of their scientific attainments.) Here is an excerpt:

The Balanced Treatment Act is a unique incursion by the Louisiana legislature into the public school classroom. The Act is not part of any general legislative program of curriculum oversight or designation. It singles out creationism, alone among all the alternative explanations of origins, labels it “science” and requires that it be taught whenever evolution is taught. By so doing, the Act accords to creationism a favored status. This special status is enhanced by the Act’s prohibition of discrimination against those who teach creationism and its failure to afford the same protection to those who teach evolution ….
By thus singling out creationism for favored treatment and evolution for disfavored treatment, the Act reflects a legislative purpose to further one particular religious doctrine.

The State of New York, joined by the State of Illinois, sent a brief that emphasized textbooks and described the predictable way in which publishers of textbooks would respond if the Louisiana law were allowed to stand. The publishers, the brief told, do not honor “principles of scholarly integrity”; they simply do whatever may help them to gain markets. If the Louisiana law were enforced, and if other states passed similar laws, publishers would not hesitate to put “creation-science” into the science books that they sell throughout the country. As a result, even New York and Illinois would be forced to use books that foisted religious dogmas, labeled as science, onto students in public schools.

[p. 18]


The oral argument in a Supreme Court case is a one-hour proceeding that typically includes much give-and-take: the justices pose substantive questions to the lawyers representing the litigants and may even debate with them about legal theory and doctrines.

The Court heard oral argument in Edwards v. Aguillard on December 10, 1986.

Wendell Bird, for the appellants, conceded that some of the Louisiana legislators who had supported the “balanced treatment” bill might have had religious motives. He insisted, however, that the primary purpose of the statute was to advance academic freedom. This effort eventually evoked a hypothetical question from the bench: suppose that a legislature were hostile to the teaching of German and that it therefore adopted a statute requiring that any teaching of German be balanced by instruction in French as well; would such a rule advance academic freedom?

Bird’s effrontery did not fail him: “Yes, it would,” he answered.21

The appellees were represented by Jay Topkis, of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (in New York). Topkis, who had entered the case in response to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union, iterated that the Louisiana statute’s only purpose was religious: blocking the competent teaching of the science that fundamentalists anathematized. In supporting this contention, he made a telling point by disclosing the connection between Jerry Falwell’s Bible college and Terry Miethe (the self-proclaimed philosopher and theologian who had provided one of the creationists’ affidavits), and by noting that Miethe had concealed this connection when he wrote his affidavit. Topkis scorned Bird’s assertion that the “creation” in the statute was something different from the religious concept of creation, and he compared Bird to Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass:

“He wants words to mean what he says they mean,” Topkis said. “And that didn’t fool Alice, and I doubt very much it will fool this court.”

“Don’t overestimate us,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist replied. His remark evoked much laughter in the courtroom, as was noted in news reports about the session.22 It was more than funny, however. It was also prophetic.


The Court issued its decision on June 19, 1987. Dividing 7 to 2, it affirmed the proceedings in the lower courts and thus affirmed that the Louisiana statute was unconstitutional. The dissenters were Rehnquist and the newest member of the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Court’s opinion, written by Justice William Brennan, made these principal points:

  • The statute was patently unconstitutional because (as the district court had found) it had no clear secular purpose. It did not enhance academic freedom, did not enhance the flexibility of the science curriculum, and did not even promote the “fairness” that the Louisiana creationists had invoked in defending it. Instead, it showed a discriminatory preference for the teaching of “creation-science” and against the teaching of evolution. The statute sought to discredit evolutionary science by offsetting it at every turn with “creation-science.”
  • The statute impermissibly endorsed religion by advancing the religious belief that humans had been created by a supernatural being. The legislative record showed that the Louisiana legislature had understood “creation-science” to embrace that belief. The statute’s primary purpose was to change the public-school science curriculum in a way that would give persuasive advantage to a religious doctrine that entirely rejects the concept of evolution.
  • The district court had not erred in granting summary judgment. The Louisiana creationists, in trying to preclude summary judgment by alleging that there were unanswered questions of fact, had relied on the affidavits of Dean H. Kenyon and the four other affiants. These affidavits, composed after the enactment of the Louisiana statute, could not illuminate the Louisiana legislators’ purposes: none of the affiants had participated in, or contributed to, the enactment.


Even so, those affidavits made two more appearances, for they were invoked twice in the long, fantastic dissent issued by Rehnquist and Scalia. Written by Scalia, it contended that the record in Edwards v. Aguillard did not justify the majority’s finding that “creation-science” was supernaturalistic or that the primary purpose of the Louisiana statute was to promote a religious doctrine.

Scalia said that “creation-science” was clearly a “term of art”—a term from the lexicon of a particular art, trade, or profession; and he pointed out that Louisiana law required that such a term be interpreted by its “received meaning and acceptation” among practitioners of the pertinent occupation. Then:

The only evidence in the record of the “received meaning and acceptation” of “creation-science” is found in five affidavits filed by appellants. In those affidavits, two scientists, a philosopher, a theologian, and an educator, all of whom claim extensive knowledge of creation-science [sic!], swear that it is essentially a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that the physical universe and life within it appeared suddenly and have not changed substantially since appearing. ... At this point, then, we must assume that the Balanced Treatment Act does not require the presentation of religious doctrine.

Scalia next cited some earlier Supreme Court cases and extracted two principles from them. First, he announced the “purpose” of a legislative action meant “the ‘actual’ [p. 19] motives of those responsible for the action.” Second, Scalia divined, a statute could be nullified under the secular-purpose criterion only if it had no secular purpose whatever. If any secular purpose could be inferred or suspected, the simultaneous existence of religious purposes would not justify nullification.

[In the upper left-hand portion of p. 19 appears a cartoon of a theropod dinosaur grimacing at fruit hanging from a tree, not reproduced here, with the caption: “Creationist dinosaurology: ‘In the original Creation dinosaurs were certainly not vicious or troublesome. When God finished making the animals he said they were all ‘very good’. … Originally, dinosaurs must have been harmless—designed to delight man and benefit the world, just like all other animals. When first created, all dinosaurs ate only plants and fruits. From Paul S. Taylor. 1987. The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible. Master Books. El Cajon, CA.”]

Against that background, Scalia offered an analysis of the legislative record. He summarized five themes, all dealing nominally with science or with education, in testimony that the Louisiana legislators had heard before they adopted the “balanced treatment” bill. All the testimony that Scalia chose to cite had come from Bill Keith (the state senator who had introduced the bill) or from witnesses who affected “academic credentials that may have been regarded as quite impressive by members of the Louisiana Legislature.”

Scalia observed that Bill Keith had denied that he was seeking to advance a religious doctrine. He noted that the appellees had dismissed such statements by Keith as pure fantasy, but he did not find that dismissal credible. Why not? Because the appellees had not provided evidence of fantasy when the case was in the district court, but the appellants had “submitted the affidavits of two scientists, a philosopher, a theologian, and an educator, whose academic credentials are rather impressive.” (And. with that, the affidavits took their last bow.)

In Scalia’s version of the legislative record, the Pro Family Forum never appeared; the legislature never heard about books from the Institute for Creation Research; Bill Keith’s bill never listed doctrines about a creation from nothing, a young universe, biological “kinds,” or a global catastrophe; and the bill was never sterilized by the removal of that list. The legislative record itself had now been sterilized, and by Antonin Scalia.

The effect was worst, perhaps, when Scalia cited Bill Keith’s denials of religious motives but ignored statements in which Keith had said the opposite. Some of those statements had been noted by William Brennan in the opinion of the Court’s majority. Brennan wrote:

The sponsor of the Creationism Act, Senator Keith, explained during the legislative hearings that his disdain for the theory of evolution resulted from the support that evolution supplied to views contrary to his own religious beliefs. According to Senator Keith, the theory of evolution was consonant with the “cardinal principle[s] of religious humanism, secular humanism, theological liberalism, aetheistism [sic].” ... The state senator repeatedly stated that scientific evidence supporting his religious views should be included in the public school science curriculum to redress the fact that the theory of evolution incidentally coincided with what he characterized as religious beliefs antithetical to his own.

If Antonin Scalia knew about any of that, he surely did not tell about it.

News reports about the Supreme Court’s action were predictably shallow and obsequious in their treatment of Scalia’s effort. Nearly all of them said something about it, and many quoted passages from it. (The New York Times seemed to be truly infatuated: along with its news story, it printed 20 column-inches of excerpts from the opinion of the Court, but 39 column-inches from the dissent.23)

As far as I know, however, no story even suggested what was most material: for whatever reason, Scalia had written not about Edwards v. Aguillard but about an imaginary case that he himself had created, complete with imaginary experts and an imaginary record. Even if his legal theories were engaging, his facts were fantasies.

Scalia’s exercise fared less well with the columnists who published analytical pieces during the ensuing week or so. George F. Will, for example, in the Washington Post for June 25, commented:

In a dismaying dissent, Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, suggests that it is unfair to infer a non-secular purpose to Louisiana’s protection of “creation-science.” Scalia takes seriously the legislature’s words about “protecting academic freedom.” But no one wants to protect academic freedom by requiring the teaching of flat-earth doctrines in geography classes or alchemy in chemistry classes. The difference is that no one reads those doctrines into the Book of Genesis.
[p. 20] Scalia says the views of the court “about creation science and evolution are (or should be) beside the point. Our task is not to judge the debate about teaching the origins of life, but to ascertain what the members of the Louisiana Legislature believed.” Scalia’s formulation is nonsense because “creation-science” is nonsense on stilts. .. .there is no scientific “debate” about whether evolution is a fact. The debate is about how evolution happens.24

Charles Krauthammer, writing a day later in the same paper, offered this:

Having spent 27 pages discerning the Louisiana legislators’ purpose in passing this law and assuring us that it is secular {academic freedom), Scalia then argues, in the alternative, that the “purpose test” ought to be thrown out in Establishment Clause cases because “discerning the subjective motivation of those enacting the statute is, to be honest, almost always an impossible task.” But Scalia concedes immediately that “it is possible to discern the objective ‘purpose’ of a statute” (as opposed to the subjective psychological purpose of the individual lawmaker) which he defines as “the public good at which its provisions appear to be directed.” Well, in this particular case the public good, the objective purpose, is perfectly clear: to bring the Genesis story to schoolchildren. The purpose is patently religious. Scalia’s case, as he defines it himself, collapses.25


In Part 1 of this article, I said that the facts and grand theme of the Louisiana case teach some potent lessons about creationism and creationists. One lesson is that the ideologues and strategists of creationism are not honorable unfortunates or good-willed ignoramuses; they are smart charlatans and educated tricksters. Another lesson is that they will spare no deception in their efforts to force their religion into public schools while forcing science out.


The Louisiana case was melodramatic and important, but it also was anticlimactic. The campaign to force “creation-science” into schools by legislation had been broken in 1982, when the Arkansas version of a “balanced treatment” law had been nullified. In Louisiana, the creationists were fighting a desperate rear-guard action that was bold, dirty, and doomed. The issue was not whether the Louisiana statute would be struck down but when—when and how and in what judicial setting.

If the creationists had prevailed in the Supreme Court and had secured an order for a district-court trial, they would have ensured that their statute would be tested not only against the secular-purpose criterion but against others as well. One of these says that a law is unconstitutional if, regardless of its purpose, its principal effect is to promote religion. Another forbids any law that, regardless of its purpose, creates an excessive entanglement of religion and government.

The very strategy on which the Louisiana creationists built their defense—the refusal to tell what “creation-science” was—signified that their statute, even if it had withstood the challenge posed by Don Aguillard and his allies, could not have been implemented without being destroyed.

Implementing the statute would have required that the governor appoint “creation-scientists” to give advice about a “creation-science” curriculum; that each local school board adopt curriculum materials in “creation-science”; that school libraries buy “creation-science” books if they owned any books about evolution; and that teachers actually present “creation-science” in classrooms if they taught about evolution. These provisions surely could not have been effected without identifying some of the substance, the literature, and the practitioners of “creation-science.” And as soon as those things had been identified, new and irresistible First Amendment challenges would have been posed.

Did Wendell Bird and the others recognize this as they conducted their defense? It seems reasonable to speculate that they did, and it seems reasonable to speculate that they knew what they would do if, by some miracle, the day came when the statute could be enforced. They would produce a few “creation-science” pamphlets and a few “creation-scientists” that would indeed speak, with suitable circumspection, about “abrupt appearance.” They would use these in the initial implementation of the statute. Only later would they bring real “creation-science”—orthodox “creation-science”—into the schools, presenting it as an elaboration of “abrupt appearance” and hoping that nobody would understand what was happening. I speculate, then, that their vision was much like their defense action: bold, dirty, and doomed.

In fact, some creationists had begun to work on an “abrupt-appearance” version of “creation-science” when the Louisiana case still was young.26 It could be found in creationist literature as early as the summer of 1983, when a prominent creationist advised his fellows to avoid several of their traditional topics and to focus on how the fossil record shows “the abrupt appearance of various life forms.” The “abrupt appearance tenet,” he said, was at the very core of “creation theory.”27

We shall hear more about “abrupt appearance,” whether it is called by that name or another one, as the creationists recover from the collapse of their legislative campaign and turn their energies back to the activities that historically have produced their biggest successes. Those activities have been aimed not at legislatures but at administrative agencies—local ones especially.

Some prominent creationists have been re-emphasizing local action since the time of the Arkansas case. They said then that legislative spectacles would not work for them because such spectacles must ultimately force them to [p. 22] confront the U.S. Constitution, skillful lawyers, perceptive judges, and expert witnesses who really are experts. They have embraced safer alternatives, therefore, including some that are new variations on old themes. Here are some of the things that the creationists will be doing most assiduously during the coming decade:

  • The creationists will intensify their attacks on local school districts, individual schools, and individual teachers. They will use novel, specious assertions about civil rights, as well as their traditional tactics of harassment and intimidation, in demanding that evolutionary views of nature be excluded from curricula and classrooms.
  • Alternatively, the creationists will demand that any presentation of evolutionary science must include “all the evidence”—their euphemism for various doctrines of “creation-science.”

In the context of paleontology, for example, telling “all the evidence” means telling students that the fossil record shows no evolutionary intermediates at all, and that it therefore indicates that all organisms appeared on Earth suddenly. That assertion is a mainstay of “creation-science,” but it is simply false.

In evolutionary biology, telling “all the evidence” means telling students that a law of physics makes biological evolution impossible. No such law exists, however. In geology, telling “all the evidence” means reciting a fictitious story about errors in the radiometric dating of some Hawaiian lava, and then telling students that this story discredits all the radiometric determinations that have shown Earth to be billions of years old. In anthropology, telling “all the evidence” means telling students that all scientific inferences about ancient hominids have been shown to be erroneous fancies or deliberate tricks, like the Piltdown hoax. In genetics, telling “all the evidence” means telling students that biologists do not know of any way in which a genetic change could produce a truly new feature in a lineage of organisms. And that statement, too, is simply false.

The pseudoscience and phony history that creationists promote under the title “all the evidence” is uniformly nonsensical, but it can be effective in generating confusion and anxiety among school officials. (If anyone doubts this, he or she should call some members of local school boards, or some superintendents of local school districts, and ask them to describe some fossils of evolutionary intermediates or to recite some laws of physics.) This is the goal that the creationists will be seeking: to cause so much confusion and anxiety that educators will yield to them and will censor, distort, and corrupt the science curriculum.

  • The creationists will propagate their pseudoscience directly to science teachers, striving to sow misinformation about the content and status of evolutionary science in general and of evolutionary biology in particular. This effort will extend and exploit the successes that creationists gained many years ago in suppressing the presentation of evolutionary biology in public-school classes and public-school textbooks. Because of those successes, many of the people who now are teaching science know very little about biological evolution. They will be highly susceptible to the creationists’ propaganda if it is presented with some trappings of respectability.

In this context, attention must be given to a very cogent article by the biologist Michael Zimmerman, of Oberlin College (in Oberlin, Ohio). Zimmerman questioned high-school biology teachers in Ohio, and he found them to be sorely ignorant of, or confused about, organic evolution:

For example, when asked to choose the sentence best describing evolutionary theory from five choices offered, almost one-quarter indicated that evolution involved some sort of purposeful striving toward “higher life forms.”
Such a view, by postulating an externally directed purpose and direction to evolution, is antithetical to its main principles and is also beyond the realm of science. Only 11 percent [of the teachers] selected the right choice: that evolution occurs because individuals produce different numbers of offspring. Furthermore, only three-quarters of the teachers indicated that evolution bas a valid scientific foundation. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if such erroneous views were presented to public school students in any other subject.
What can one survey from Ohio tell us? Just this: that even in a northern industrial state that has experienced little pressure from creationists in recent years, creationist viewpoints are finding their way into public school classrooms. It tells us that the level of scientific sophistication, even among high school biology teachers, leaves much to be desired. Many of our teachers cannot successfully educate our children when they themselves display such ignorance of fundamental biological principles.28
  • As a part of their campaign to confuse and deceive educators, the creationists will try to place pseudoscientific articles into journals published by state or local associations of science teachers. Creationists cannot easily get their material into the journals of national organizations, such as the National Association of Biology Teachers, because those publications generally have plenty of good manuscripts from which to choose, as well as expert reviewers to winnow them. The journals of many state or local associations, however, suffer chronic shortages of manuscripts and reviewers alike. Creationists sometimes succeed in placing articles into such journals, if the nominal authors of the articles seem to have some connection with science or with education.

Another tactic, though a costly one, was tried recently by a religious organization that misleadingly calls itself the American Scientific Affiliation. The ASA is unusual among creationist groups because it seems to accept the fact that Earth is not thousands but billions of years old, and because it seems not to care about Noah’s flood. It rejects evolutionary biology, however, and it denies that there is persuasive evidence that humans and apes share an ancestor. So, starting in the autumn of 1986, it mailed copies of a handsome, 48-page booklet of creationist pseudoscience to more than 50,000 high-school teachers.

The booklet was a deft attempt to convince teachers that scientific inferences about the history of life on Earth were just flimsy fancies. It was called Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy, and it was framed as an appeal for “integrity” in education.29 The writing was notably [p. 23] restrained, sometimes even subtle, but the content was classic creationism: misrepresentation of facts, principles, and terms; distortive misquotations of scientific literature; and, of course, presentation of the Piltdown hoax as the didactic example of “bow science works.”30

  • The creationists will try to inject their pseudoscientific books and other religious tracts directly into public school libraries and classrooms.

In one recent case, Teen Mission, U.S.A.—a fundamentalist group in Lexington, Kentucky has tried to put a rather slick “creation-science” book into high-school libraries and to have it classified and displayed as a scientific publication. The book is The Creation-Evolution Controversy, by a creationist named Randy L. Wysong. In the flier that Teen Mission has sent to school librarians throughout the country, Wysong’s work is falsely depicted as an objective work of science and scholarship. Teen Mission has offered a free copy of it to any librarian who wants one, with the proviso that the book must be placed “in the Science Reference section of the school’s library.”

Would any school librarian really order a “science” book from an outfit named “Teen Mission, U.S.A.”? Could any librarian fail to grasp the significance of Teen Mission’s repeated insistence that the book must be classified as a reference work about science? Could any librarian fail to understand why Teen Mission is unwilling to entrust classification to the librarian’s own judgment?

The answer to each question, I think, is yes. I know that some earlier campaigns, similar to Teen Mission’s, have succeeded in putting creationist tracts into school libraries and municipal libraries. 1 know too that many educators are still remarkably naive about creationism and about creationist methods, if only because their experience as educators has not equipped them to understand endeavors that are founded on continuous dishonesty.

While Teen Mission has been offering Wysong’s book, Films for Christ (in Mesa, Arizona) has been offering two “creation-science” videotapes. Perhaps because the name “Films for Christ” is so blatant, this organization has not promoted its wares directly to educators; instead, it has offered the tapes to individual fundamentalists who will try specifically to have them shown in public schools. Films for Christ will lend the tapes, for that purpose, without charge. The tapes are entitled The Great Dinosaur Mystery and The Fossil Record.

The Great Dinosaur Mystery (which I consider to be the more interesting of the two) runs for some 18 minutes and consists almost entirely of illustrations and narrative from the book The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible, by Paul S. Taylor. Taylor is a functionary of Films for Christ. His book was issued last year by the publishing division of the Institute for Creation Research.31

The tape makes some references to biblical passages about big creatures, but it omits most of the stridently religious material that dominated the book. For example: it does not (as the book did) say that “Like Adam, the bodies of the first dinosaurs were formed (directly by God) from the dust of the earth.” It does not (as the book did) show Adam with a dinosaur in the Garden of Eden. It does not (as the book did) tell that all the dinosaurs were placid pets that “ate only plants and fruits.” It does not (as the book did) show dinosaurs marching into Noah’s Ark. And it does not (as the book did) declare that “Dinosaur fossils are reminders of the Great Flood” or that “The Flood reminds us of God’s punishment for sin—death” or that “There is nothing that you can do to save yourself. Only Jesus can save you.”

Paul Taylor’s book did all those things, but the videotape neglects them. It concentrates instead on the fanciful and deceptive material by which Taylor tried to convince children that humans and the great dinosaurs have lived in the same time. That doctrine (as I noted in Part 1 of this article) is a conspicuous item of “creation-science” and is derived from the fundamentalists’ notion that Earth is only 6,000 years old.

In accordance with the creationists’ devotion to deception, the closing credits of The Great Dinosaur Mystery does not mention Paul Taylor’s book or Films for Christ.32

The creationists will produce a new version of their pseudoscience, and they will try to induce respectable secular publishers to issue books incorporating the new material. They will hope to use the books for validating their litany about teaching “all the evidence” and for validating the misinformation that they will be spreading among science teachers.

Because the term “creation-science” has been sullied, most recently in Edwards v. Aguillard, the creationists’ new pseudoscience will carry a new name, or perhaps several new names. Its content will be fully sterilized: it will avoid explicit supernaturalism, and it will speak not of any god but of a nebulous “intelligence” or “intelligent cause.” It will be much more sophisticated than orthodox “creation-science” because it will shun created “kinds,” a worldwide flood, and other topics that clearly point to episodes in the Bible. Its literature will avoid blatant references to the literature of orthodox “creation-science” and will be untainted by any obvious connections to fundamentalist ministries or to fundamentalist publishers.

The development of this new material began seven years ago, and the most notable work has been done by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, a creationist group in Richardson, Texas. So far, the outstanding product of the Foundation’s effort has been a book called The Mystery of Life’s Origin. The Foundation sponsored the writing of the manuscript, then arranged for it to be published by Philosophical Library, a trade-book company.33

The Mystery of Life’s Origin was an interesting work. Much of it was a respectable critique of experiments and hypotheses related to current scientific thought about the beginning of life on Earth. Only in their summary and epilogue did the authors betray the religious principle and purpose that had animated them. Their principle was this: because existing organisms are terribly complex, and because scientific attempts to explain the origin of these complex things are fraught with difficulty, some other approach should be invoked. Their purpose was to propose that all of science should be divided into two discrete endeavors. One of these, “operation science,” would seek to explain how the universe is operating right now; it would be naturalistic and uniformitarian, and it would [p. 24] correspond to what now is simply called science. The other endeavor, “origin science,” would consider how the universe worked in the past; it would not be constrained by naturalism or by the canons of scientific reasoning; and it could invoke, at will, the notion of an intelligent manipulator or creator.

The authors did not suggest how the line between present and past, or the line between “operation science” and “origin science,” could be drawn in a practical context. They seemed not to have thought of such questions, and their exercise was as foolish as it was transparent.

Astute reviewers perceived easily that The Mystery of Life’s Origin was merely a new essay in creationist pseudoscience, albeit a rather slick one, Some reviewers, however, were not astute (or did not read to the last chapters), and the book received some favorable notices. It probably has gulled a lot of ordinary readers, too—readers who could not have known the true significance of its carrying a foreword by “Dean H. Kenyon, Professor of Biology, San Francisco State University.”

The Foundation recently has been seeking a publisher for another manuscript, Biology and Origin. One of the two authors is Dean Kenyon; the other is P. William Davis, who teaches biology at Hillsborough Community College, in Florida. The content of the manuscript is just a sterilized restatement of traditional creationist material about organisms, fossils, and biology, and essentially all of it has been seen, many times, in earlier creationist tracts. To a reader who knows its sponsors and purposes, it seems unremarkable. Much more interesting is the way in which the Foundation has been trying to recruit a publisher.

The Foundation wants Biology and Origins to become a school book and to carry its sterilized fundamentalism directly into public-school science classrooms. Accordingly, the Foundation wants the manuscript to be published by a company that already has a reputation for issuing respectable books and that will market Biology and Origin to educators. As a part of its effort to place the manuscript with such a company, the Foundation sponsored, in the spring of 1986, an antic “opinion poll” of biology teachers. The poll was manifested in a questionnaire that (the Foundation says) was mailed to teachers in several states. It comprised fifteen substantive questions that had been contrived, rather grossly, to elicit some kind of support for what the Foundation, since then, has been telling to prospective publishers. Most biology teachers, the Foundation says, think that creationist doctrines should be brought into science classes to countervail evolutionary views, and most would welcome a supplemental text that would help them to present creationist doctrines in their own classrooms!

In truth, the questionnaire never asked specifically whether the teachers thought that creationism belonged in science classes; it merely asked how they would treat an unspecified “plausible alternative to the dominant scientific theory.” Nor did it ask whether teachers wanted a supplementary book about creationism; it merely asked whether they would welcome material that would analyze “the dominant theory” and the unspecified “plausible alternative.” The Foundation, however, has interpreted the questions, and the alleged results of the survey, in a very free and misleading way. Equipped with those results, it has been promoting the Biology and Origins manuscript vigorously.

I do not know, at this writing, whether the Foundation has found a publisher. I do know that it has made a fine demonstration of its thought and ethics. It also has made a fine demonstration of some techniques that creationists will be favoring now that their adventure in Louisiana is finished.

Acknowledgments Thomas H. Jukes, of the University of California at Berkeley, criticized drafts of both parts of this article, and he made many valuable suggestions. Beth S. Kaufman, of the law firm of Caplin and Drysdale, in Washington, provided copies of many legal documents related to Edwards v. Aguillard. My description of amicus curiae briefs filed in Edwards v. Aguillard was derived from a report that I wrote in 1986 for the California Science Teacher’s Journal. I thank David Stronck, the editor of the Journal, for his permission to adapt that material.


18. Amicus Curiae Brief of 72 Nobel Laureates, 17 State Academies of Science, and 7 Other Scientific Organizations, in Support of Appellees, in the Supreme Court of the United States, case 85-1513; filed on 18 August 1986.

19. See, for example:

P. J. Hilts. 19 August 1986. Nobelists assail “creation science” law. Washington Post.

R. Engleman. 19 August 1986. Top scientists urge ban on “creation science” courses. Houston Chronicle.

S. Taylor, Jr. 19 August 1986. 72 Nobelists urge high court to void Louisiana creationism law. New York Times.

J. Palca. 1986. Nobel laureates go into battle. Nature 322: 675.

20. See, for example:

Textbook Evaluation Form—1985 issued by the Curriculum Development and Supplementary Materials Commission of the California State Board of Education.

W. J. Bennetta. 1985. Looking backward. Pacific Discovery 38(4): 23–29.

W. J. Bennetta. 1985. Faking it. Pacific Discovery 38(4): 29–34.

21. Official Transcript … Dkt/Case No. 85-1513. Alderson Reporting, Washington.

22. See, for example: Anonymous. 11 December 1986. High court hears opposing views on “creation” law. New York Times.

23. Anonymous [editor]. 20 June 1987. Excerpts from Supreme Court opinions in creationism case. New York Times.

24. G. F. Will. 25 June 1987. Good grief, Scalia! Washington Post.

25. C. Krauthammer. 26 June 1987. The last monkey trial? Washington Post.

26. F. Edwords. 1982. The incredible shrinking creation model. The Humanist 42(5): 44.

27. L. D. Sunderland. 1983. Evolutionist tactics. Bible-Science Newsletter 21(6) :6.

28. M. Zimmerman. 1 September 1987. That court ruling won’t stop the creationists. Washington Post.

29. D. Price, J. L. Wiester, and W. R. Hearn. 1986. Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy. American Scientific [sic] Affiliation. Ipswich, MA.

30. For analyses of some of the distortions, misrepresentations and pseudoscientific fables that were promulgated in the ASA’s booklet, see:

W. J. Bennetta. 1987. A question of integrity. California Science Teacher’s Journal. 17(2): 8–13, 17.

W. J. Bennetta (editor). 1987. Scientists decry a slick new packaging of creationism. The Science Teacher 54(5): 36–43.

31. P. S. Taylor. 1987. The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible. Master Books. El Cajon, CA.

32. My description of the recent antics of Teen Mission and of Films for Christ has been adapted, with permission, from an article that I published earlier in this year: W. J. Bennetta. 1988. Telling a you-know-what for you-know-whom. California Science Teacher’s Journal 18(3): 10–12.

33. C. B. Thaxton, W. L. Bradley, and R. L. Olsen. 1984. The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. Philosophical Library. New York.

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