Why does the teaching of creation versus evolution in the public schools stir up such controversy?
Creation versus evolution, a divisive topic since the 1960s, closely relates to debates about religious freedom in public schools. The issue began in 1925 when Tennessee passed a law stating that it was illegal to “teach any theory that denies the story of Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animal.”
The creation verses evolution debate rekindled in the late 1950s. The Russian satellite, Sputnik, had just successfully entered space causing the U.S. to realize it was falling behind in science. At that time, the National Science Foundation’s funding of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study influenced the study of evolution in high school textbooks.
In the 1980s, Arkansas and Louisiana passed laws forcing the teaching of creation versus evolution. But in 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these laws unconstitutional because they violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Creation science was considered an expression of religious belief. Hence, because it could not be falsified, it could not be classified as a true science.
The next debate over creation versus evolution occurred during the mid-1990s. Creation science groups, claiming evolution contained multiple contradictions, persuaded school boards to give equal time to creation science.
Parents also objected to the absence of creation instruction. In West Virginia, parents claimed that teaching materials which rejected the theory of creation were offensive. They claimed that by avoiding creationism, the schools were establishing non-religion or “secular humanism” over actual religions.
The schools of West Virginia and Texas considered avoiding evolution altogether. However, judges refused to force schools to teach creationism. They claimed, “Federal courts cannot, by judicial decree, do that which the Supreme Court has declared the legislature powerless to do, i.e., prevent teaching the theory of evolution in public schools for religious reasons.”
Currently, evolution is scientifically accepted and promoted as the instigator of all species, including humanity. If evolution is not taught, scientists believe today’s student will have large gaps of knowledge, and the U.S. education system will fall behind the rest of the Western World.
Also, scientists claim that by teaching creation versus evolution, teachers would be establishing Judeo-Christian principles over other religions. If teachers taught a religious sampling of all different viewpoints of the creation story, they would have no time to teach anything else. However, one point is clear when teaching evolution: it is only a theory and has, therefore, not been proven.
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