Teaching the Origins Controversy

Science, Or Religion, Or Speech?

One can hardly imagine a more contentious issue in the American culture wars than the debate over how biological origins should be taught in the public schools. On the one hand, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, and the American Civil Liberties Union have insisted that any departure from a strictly Darwinian approach to the issue constitutes an attack on science itself, and even an unconstitutional intrusion of religion into the public school science curriculum. On the other hand, many parents and religious activists have long rebelled against what they perceive as a dogmatic attack on their religious beliefs. Beginning in the 1970s, such activists sought to promote a Bible based curriculum — known as “scientific creationism” — as either a complement or an alternative to the standard Darwinist curriculum advocated by the National Academy of Sciences. And so the battle lines were drawn. When confronted with a conflict between establishment science and religious fundamentalism, most lawyers have assumed that the law clearly favors the former. And indeed, although the creationists won some battles in state legislatures during the 1980s, they clearly lost the war in the courts. In McLean v. Arkansas Board of Educ.1 and Edwards v. Aguillard,2 the courts ruled that teaching “scientific creationism” or “creation-science” would have resulted in an unconstitutional advancement of religion. Media reports have portrayed all subsequent local controversies as reruns of these earlier battles — some even invoking imagery from the Scopes trial from the 1920s.3


David K. DeWolf

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
David K. DeWolf is a Professor of Law at Gonzaga School of Law in Spokane, Washington and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, Professor DeWolf has clerked for the Honorable Stephen Bistline of the Idaho Supreme Court. He has written a briefing book for public school administrators, Teaching the Controversy: Darwinism, Design and the Public School Curriculum.

Stephen C. Meyer

Director, Center for Science and Culture
Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He is author of the New York Times-bestseller Darwin’s Doubt (2013) as well as the book Signature in the Cell (2009) and Return of the God Hypothesis (2021). In 2004, Meyer ignited a firestorm of media and scientific controversy when a biology journal at the Smithsonian Institution published his peer-reviewed scientific article advancing intelligent design. Meyer has been featured on national television and radio programs, including The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS's Sunday Morning, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, Good Morning America, Nightline, FOX News Live, and the Tavis Smiley show on PBS. He has also been featured in two New York Times front-page stories and has garnered attention in other top-national media.