Statement on Science Education and the Teaching of Origins

Discovery Institute
Discovery Institute
October 23, 2001
Print ArticleIn accordance with prevailing constitutional law, the Discovery Institute supports teaching the full range of scientific views concerning the origins controversy. Regrettably, however, many school boards have been misled into thinking that the U. S. Constitution permits teaching only the Darwinian theory of evolution found in most high school biology textbooks. To remedy this one-sided approach, some state legislatures are now considering legislation that would encourage or require the teaching of alternative scientific theories.

While the Discovery Institute shares the belief that a more open-minded approach to the origins controversy is scientifically and pedagogically superior, the Institute cautions against a misimpression that proposed legislation might create, namely, that teachers need permission to present the full range of scientific evidence. As the U.S. Supreme Court said in Edwards v. Aguillard, “Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.” Rather than pursue the type of legislation condemned in Edwards, which was viewed as having the purpose or effect of limiting opportunities for advocates of Darwinian evolution to present their case, or placing restrictive burdens on teachers, legislatures should enhance the freedom of educators to supplement the Darwinian viewpoint with appropriate contrary evidence and critical scientific voices, as well as with rival scientific theories.

On the other hand, if the determined opposition to a truly scientific approach to this question continues to intimidate local school boards and science teachers from exercising their first amendment rights, state legislators might consider efforts along the following lines:

(1) Encouraging the state attorney general to provide resources, in the form of documents as well as personnel, to defend local school boards against court challenges that are likely to come from advocacy groups that oppose an open-minded approach to the origins controversy.

(2) Legislation that affirms a commitment to open scientific inquiry and reaffirms the constitutional right of local school boards to adopt curricula that promote the teaching of the full range of evidence and scientific viewpoints regarding the origins controversy.

(3) Encouraging the state department of education to assist in preparing supplemental curricula that treat the origins controversy as an opportunity for students to learn about the nature of scientific disagreements and appropriate ways to resolve them.

(4) Legislation that protects teachers who distinguish between inferences based on scientific data on the one hand, and conclusions derived from philosophical assumptions on the other.

Copyright 2001 Discovery Institute. This document may be reproduced without permission provided that it is reprinted in full, with credit to Discovery Institute.