Public Education, Religious Establishment, and the Challenge of Intelligent Design

Download PDF at Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy, Vol. 17

In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Louisiana statute (the Balanced-Treatment Act) that required the state’s public schools to teach Creationism if evolution was taught and to teach evolution if Creationism was taught.’ That decision was the culmination of a series of court battles and cultural conflicts that can be traced back to the famous Scopes Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.2 Although many thought, and continue to think, that Edwards ended the debate over the teaching of origins in public schools, a new movement, made up of largely well-educated and well-credentialed scholars, has given it new life.

The main thrust of this new movement, known as Intelligent Design (ID),’ is that’ intelligent agency, as an aspect of scientific theory-making, has more explanatory power in accounting for the specified, and sometimes irreducible, complexity of some physical systems, including biological entities, and/or the existence of the universe as a whole, than the blind forces of unguided and everlasting matter.

The purpose of this paper is to provide an answer to the following question: Given the Supreme Court’s holding inEdwards, current Establishment Clause jurisprudence, and the nature of ID, would ID pass constitutional muster if it were permitted or required by a government entity to be part of a public school’s curriculum? In order to answer that question, we must first present the case for ID.

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies at Baylor University, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy and Resident Scholar in Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). With his appointment in Baylor’s Department of Philosophy, he also teaches courses in medical humanities, political science, religion, and church-state studies. From July 2003 through January 2007, he served as the Associate Director of Baylor’s J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.