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An evaluation of the debate over the role of science in public education

An evaluation of the debate over the role of science in public education

An evaluation of the debate over the role of science in public education.
�Justify your choice of topic and the way in which you will explore it or paper with regard to the course
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An evaluation of the debate over the role of science in public education
The debate over the role of science in public education is trending in the modern
American society, particularly from a theological perspective. This paper explores the history
and the legal position of the role of science in public schools in the United States. It inquires into
the various arguments as to the creation-evolution controversy and the current state of science
education in the United States.
Christian fundamentalists are against the evidence of common descent of human beings
and other animals as indicated in modern cladistics, histology, genetics, and paleontology and
other sub-disciplines that are based on the conclusions of modern cosmology, geology,
evolutionary biology and other related fields. Christian fundamentalists support Abrahamic
accounts of creation and they frame it as ‘reputable science’ (Geisler & Anderson, 1987;
Gregory & Miller, 2000).
The controversy over creation and evolution began in North American and Europe in the late
eighteenth century, which was characterized by new interpretations of geology, leading to
several theories of an ancient earth and extinctions retrieved from the fossil geological sequence
that prompted early ideas of evolution. In England, the emergence of scientific ideas was at first
considered as a threat to the already established social order. Thus, both the church and state
repressed them. With time, conditions continued to favor science and in 1844, the idea of
transmutation of species was highly popularized by Robert Chambers’ controversial ‘Vestiges’.
Initially, the scientific establishment and the Church of England dismissed the idea. Many
Baptists, Quakers, and Unitarians who were opposed to the established church privileges argued

in favor of evolution on ground that God was acting through such laws (McComas, Clough &
Almazroa, 2002).
Charles Darwin’s publication of ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection’ in 1959 established more scientific credibility to evolution and made it a highly
respectable field of study. During this period, creationists were majorly a premillenialist minority
and their belief in the imminent return of Christ largely depended on a quasi-reading of Biblical
verses. These minorities placed little significance over the new findings in biology or geology,
and they freely granted scientists any pre-historic time prior to the Garden of Eden to account for
scientific observations as regards geological findings and the fossil sequence (Larson, 2010).
In the following post-Darwinian era, few theologians or scientists opposed the antiquity
of the earth or the sequential personality of the fossil record. Similarly, very few scientists and
theologians attached geological importance on the Biblical flood, in contrast with subsequent
creationists. Skeptical scientists, creationist leaders and evolutionary skeptics often adopted a
figurative reading of the first chapter of Genesis or argued that the six days of creation do not
necessarily imply 24-hour days (Larson & Numbers, 2012).
Science professors from liberal universities almost instantly adopted the evolution theory
and introduced it to their students. Nevertheless, various people in parts of the west and south of
the United States, who had been greatly controlled by the teachings of fundamental evangelists,
were fully opposed to the evolution theory as immoral (Wysong, 1976).
In the United States, the legal controversy as regards teaching of evolution and the role of
creationism in public education has been on since 1925 as decided in the ‘monkey trials’ case of
The State of Tenessee v John Scopes. In this case, the court convicted a high school biology

teacher for violation of a largely ignored and unenforced statute that prohibited teachers from
teaching evolution. Later, in the same year, another similar law was passed in Mississipi. In
1927, Arkansas also passed a similar law. Although the first of the court cases did not deal with
restrictions on the teaching of evolution, they made an indirect implication to the restrictions
(Larson, 2010).
In successive decisions beginning in 1948, the Supreme Court struck down religious
instruction, mandatory Bible readings, and school-sponsored prayers (Wysong, 1976). These
‘anti-monkey’ laws were struck down as unconstitutional in 1968 by the Supreme Court of the
United States due to the fact that they established a religious doctrine that was in violation with
both the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution. These ‘anti-monkey’
laws simply prohibited the teaching of evolution in schools. They did not provide for the
teaching of an alternative theory due to the fact that there was no scientific alternative to
evolution. The Bible was the only available alternative (Larson, 2010).
Since the ruling of the case in The State of Tenessee v John Scopes, times of extreme
public interest, inquiry and publicity have been interspersed with times of comparative tranquil
and general acceptance of the status quo. As from the late 20 th century to the early 21 st century,
there have been renewed political efforts to bring the matter to the face of public concern.
Consequently, various state-specific decisions concerning the teaching of evolution have
emerged, which have led to strong reactions from major scientific and science education-related
professional organizations across the world (Larson, 2010).
With biologists growing more and more confident in evolution as the main defining
concept of biology, there was a subsequent growth in membership in religious denominations

favoring increasingly literal interpretations of scripture. Particularly, the Lutheran Church-
Missouri and the Southern Baptist Convention outpaced all other religious denominations. The
growing and increasing finances also placed these religious denominations in a better position to
promulgate creationist messages using their own broadcast media, publishing houses, schools
and colleges (Larson, 2010).
Subsequently, in 1961, the fore most contemporary creationist book called ‘The Genesis
Flood’ by John C. Whitcomb Jr. and Henry M. Morris was published. According to Whitcomb
and Morris, creation was literally completed in six days, and that human beings lived
concurrently with dinosaurs. These two authors further proposed that God individually created
each kind of life. Regardless of judicial rulings against the inclusion of scientific creationism in
the public school education curriculum, many Americans have continued to accept biblical
creationism of the sort described by Morris and Whitcomb. The 2005 Pew poll showed that
forty-two percent of Americans accept this view (Larson, 2010).
With respect to the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the control of
education by the federal government is subsidiary to the power exercised by the state
government. State boards of education, school districts and individual schools have decision
powers over the public school curriculum. A 1999 decision by the Kansas Education Board to
remove any mention of evolution from the science curriculum of the state established the most
far-reaching efforts by creationists in the contemporary U.S. society to challenge the teaching of
evolution in schools. Although the move did not avert the teaching of evolution, the renewed
efforts in statewide testing and the increasing accountability concerning specifically stated topics
are likely to lead to the deletion of the topic from many classrooms throughout that state. In fact,
various local school boards have considered the adoption of creationist texts (Larson, 2010).

In the contemporary society, a series of important court cases has highlighted the struggle
of religious fundamentalists agreeing to creationism with efforts to legitimize their rejection of
evolution as science within education institutions in the United States. Today, the debate majorly
focuses on what constitutes good science education. The creationism politics currently focuses
on the teaching of creation and evolution in public education. According to a 2014 Gallup survey
report, among ten Americans, more than four continue to argue in line with the belief that God
created human beings in their present form about 10,000 years ago. This perspective has not
changed over the past three decades. Half of Americans are of the view that human beings
evolved; with most of them arguing that God guided the evolutionary process. Nevertheless, the
percentage of those who argue that God did not get involved in creation is rising (Larson, 2010).
The debate is often considered as being between science and theology. However, as the
United States National Academy of Sciences stipulates, in the contemporary society, various
religious denominations recognize that biological evolution has established the diversity of living
things over billions of years in the history of the Earth. In addition, most religious denominations
have given declaratory statements admitting that there is compatibility between evolution and
their tenets of their faiths (Larson, 2010).
Scientists and theologians have made eloquent writings concerning their awe and wonder
over the history of the universe as well as the history of life on Earth. Both sides indicate that
there is no conflict between the evidence for evolution and their faith in God. Theologians who
do not agree to the occurrence of evolution tend to have a strong belief in stringently factual
interpretations of religious texts (Larson, 2010).

However, there is a continuing conflict on the origins and evolution of life by religious
groups and creationist organizations whose desire is to uphold some forms of creationism. These
forms often comprise of the intelligent design, Old Earth creationism, creation science, and
Young Earth creationism. Most of these religious groups and creationist organizations involve
literalist Christians with the belief that the biblical account is inerrant. At least some of these
groups perceive the debate as part of the Christian obligation to evangelize. Some of these
groups perceive religion and science as having diametrically opposed views which are not
capable of being reconciled. Accordingly, there are more neutral perceptions held by most
scientists and most mainstream churches who regard religion and science as distinct categories of
thought that inquires into fundamentally different questions about reality and suggest various
avenues for investing it.
Most recent developments are characterized by the intelligent design movement that has
taken an anti-evolution position that averts direct appeals to religion. Scientists have argued that
the intelligent design fails to make an effective representation on research program within the
mainstream scientific community, and is still essentially creationism. The leading proponent of
the intelligent design, the Dominionist funded Discovery Institute has issued public declarations
stipulating that it was a new science. However, the only article arguing in favor of this was
published in a scientific journal and it was agreed to under questionable conditions (Gregory &
Miller, 2000).
Consequently, the article was immediately disowned in the Sternberg peer review
controversy, whereby the Biological Society of Washington stated that it failed to satisfy the
scientific studies of the journal. The Biological Society further argued that that there was a
‘significant departure’ from the normal subject area of the journal and that the article was

published at the sole discretion of the former editor, in contrast with typical editorial practices.
President Bush expressed the federal government’s viewpoint on the article pointing out that the
teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution was the most effective way of teaching science
on the ground that people could be able to better understand what the debate is about.
Almost a decade ago, Kansas’s state school board banned the big bang theory in macro-
evolution from the topics enclosed in the state science standards. In 2004, Cobb County Public
School Board issued a decree that evolution is just a theory. In 2005, Dover Pennsylvania School
Board made it mandatory for schools to issue an oral disclaimer in relation to the Cobb County
written declaration, although it also implored students to read the creationist text, ‘Of Pandas and
People’, as an alternative account of origins.
Again in 2005, the ruling in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District trial endorsed the
view that the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well other science and
education professionals that proponents of the intelligent design sought to undermine the
teaching of evolution. The court further ruled that proponents of the intelligent design sought to
advance an educational policy for United States public schools that establishes creationist
accounts for the origin of life to public-school science curricula.
In 2009, the Texas Board of Education supported the intelligent design by a vote of
thirteen to two. The Board mandated textbooks to teach intelligent design alongside evolution
and inquire into the validity of the fossil record. The 2009 Texas Education Board hearings were
stipulated in the 2012 documentary referred to as ‘The Revisionaries’.
There is also a controversy as regards to the definition and limits of science. Critiques
such as those drawn from the distinguishing characteristics between fact and theory are

frequently leveled against the unification of concepts within scientific disciplines. Principles
such as the Copernican principle, parsimony or Occam’s Razor and uniformitarianism are
considered as a result of bias within science toward philosophical naturalism that is equated to
atheism by most creationists. To counter these assertions, scientific philosophers use the term
methodological naturalism in reference to the long standing caucus in science of the scientific
According to creationists, supernatural accounts need not be excluded and that scientific
work is paradigmatically close-minded. Since modern science solely relies on minimizing a
priori assumptions, subjectivity and error, in addition to avoiding Baconian idols, it has
continued to remain neutral on subjective subjects such as morality or religion. Mainstream
proponents continue accusing the creationists of conflating religion and morality in a form of
The creation-evolution controversy has increasingly grown in significance over the recent
years, especially due to the Southern strategy of the Republican strategist Kevin Phillips in the
administrations of Nixon and Reagan. Kevin Phillips was of the perception that the Civil Rights
movement had detached many poor white southern voters of the Bible Belt and sought to capture
the electorate through partnership with the ‘new right’ Christian fundamentalist movement.
Science education in public schools has received a mixture of opinions from creationists
and their opponents. According to creationists, it is important on fairness and equality standards
to educate the students about the alleged scientific controversy as to the theory of evolution.
Opponents of creationists majorly comprised of science education organizations and the

scientific community claim that there is no scientific controversy and that the controversy is
existent primarily in terms of politics and religion (Ratzsch, 2010).
The George Mason University Biology Department set out a course on the creation-
evolution controversy. Virtually, the more the students learn about biology, the less convincing
they find evolution. This indicates that ‘teaching the controversy’ as a separate optional course
on philosophy or history of science or ‘politics of religion and science’ would undermine the
criticisms of creationists, and that the resistance to this approach by the scientific community
was bad public relations (Ratzsch, 2010; Yates & Marek, 2013).
In conclusion, during the Darwinian era, there was credibility over the theory of
evolution. In the post-Darwinian era, few theologians or scientists opposed the antiquity of the
earth or the sequential personality of the fossil record. There have been many legal developments
as regards what constitutes science and the extent to which science should be taught in schools.
Today, the degree of support for evolution is very high in the scientific community as well as in
academia, with ninety five percent of scientists showing support for evolution. Accordingly, the
support for religion and other creationist accounts is very low within the scientific community
and virtually non-existent among scientists in particular fields. However, the contemporary
society students tend to perceive evolution as a convincing theory due to the efforts made by the
creationists’ ‘teach the controversy.’



Geisler, N. L., & Anderson, J. K. (1987). Origin science: A proposal for the creation-evolution
controversy. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
This book provides a comprehensive read on the origin of the science, the legal
underpinnings and the proposals by the creationists as to the constitution of science and
the counterclaims to the same.
Gregory, J., & Miller, S. (2000). Science in public. Basic Books.
This book highlights the evolution of science as from the 18 th to the 20 th century and the
statutory and legal provisions concerning science.
Larson, E. J. (2010). The creation-evolution debate: Historical perspectives (Vol. 3). University
of Georgia Press.
This book evaluates the current debate on creation and evolution and shed insight on the
trend in the contemporary United States society.
Larson, E. J., & Numbers, R. L. (2012). Creation, Evolution, and the Boundaries of Science: The
Debate in the United States. Almagest, 3(1), 4-24.
This article demarcates the current legal position and developments in the creation,
evolution and boundaries of science across the various American states.
McComas, W. F., Clough, M. P., & Almazroa, H. (2002). The role and character of the nature of
science in science education. In The nature of science in science education (pp. 3-39).
Springer Netherlands.
This scholarly article has explored the dynamic arena of the nature of science by
examining both its history and ways that the nature of science has informed and should
guide science teaching.

Ratzsch, D. (2010). The battle of beginnings: Why neither side is winning the creation-evolution
debate. InterVarsity Press.
This book is a scholarly compilation of the overwhelming debate and brings out the
credibility of both creationists and evolutionists and the arguments that are more
Yates, T. B., & Marek, E. A. (2013). Is Oklahoma really OK? A regional study of the prevalence
of biological evolution-related misconceptions held by introductory biology teachers.
Evolution: Education and Outreach, 6(1), 1-20.
This article shows that whereas the scientific community embraces the theory of
biological evolution, the general public largely lacks an understanding, with many
adhering to misconceptions
Wysong, R. L. (1976). The creation-evolution controversy. Wysong Institute.
This book provides a comprehensive reading on the creation-evolution controversy and
the positions of various scholars on the matter.

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