A Classic Evolution Policy Blunder

Original Article

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law last year an act that sets parameters for teachers who introduce scientific supplements on Darwinian evolution, global warming, human cloning and other controversial subjects. The state’s Science Education Act encourages “open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied.” It specifically prohibits religious instruction or interpretations (or irreligious interpretations, for that matter). The law is simple, reasonable and avoids constitutional and scientific mistakes that afflicted earlier laws in Louisiana and elsewhere.

But in Livingston Parish, east of Baton Rouge, some enthusiasts for a literal Biblical account of creation decided that the new law gives them authority to teach creationism — the account from Genesis. That view clearly violates the law and also the U.S. Constitution as it long has been interpreted. Reported statements from Livingston school board member David Tate were so fallacious and confrontational that they could have been scripted by his supposed adversaries if they were looking for ways to make him look bad.

“We just sit up here and let them teach evolution,” Tate orated, “and not take a stand about creationism. To me, how come we don’t look into this as people who are strong Christians and see what we can do to teach creationism in schools. We sit back and let the government tell us what to do. We don’t pray to the ACLU and all them people: we pray to God.”

Tate’s fulminations are not characteristic of the educators and legislators who passed the new Louisiana law, but you can be sure that the Darwinist opponents of the law will try to make them sound representative. The same thing happened in Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005 when school board members decided to grab onto the phrase (not the reality) of “intelligent design” to promote religious doctrine. The board members, as in Livingston, Louisiana, were as ignorant of the limits of the scientific case against strict Darwinism as they were of the content of intelligent design theory. The scientists and political scientists at Discovery Institute — colleagues of mine — who actually know something about intelligent design, tried to dissuade them, but to no avail. The Dover board members did not believe that a court could stop them. But a central Pennsylvania federal judge, John E. Jones, did stop them.

Where public school districts have been willing to stick to scientific evidence for and against Darwinian theory, and ignore religious implications in the classroom, Darwinian opponents have not sued, let alone sued successfully.

Darwin’s theory of evolution, as its main advocates assert it, presumes that there can be no scientific evidence against a totally unguided and unintelligent course to evolution. Evidence to the contrary is ruled out ahead of time. This causes Darwinists to label practically anyone a “creationist” who refuses to take the standard line. That of course includes young Earth creationists who think the world is only a few thousand years old, but also scholars who make a more limited critique that Darwin’s theory cannot account for evidence of purpose and design in nature and the origins of the universe. Even “theistic evolutionists” — who claim to adopt Darwin’s theory, but still see a prior purpose of some kind guiding evolution — are subject to Darwinian censure if they make that claim too boldly in a classroom.

To clear the air of Darwinist cant and enter a debate on the actual evidence, no religious assertions are necessary or desirable. Obviously, there may be religious implications to repudiation of Darwinism, just as there may be irreligious implications to the theory itself. Plainly, emotions on all sides are stirred up by those implications. But science is not supposed to be about religious implications, but about the evidence; and scientific evidence, though illuminating, can only take one so far.

Science class — in public schools, at least — should leave religious implications at the school door. Even if one doesn’t agree with that policy, the federal courts are clear on the matter.

Someone should explain the facts of life to the Livingston Parish school board.


Bruce Chapman is president of Discovery Institute.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.