Abstract

Abstract

The journal Science has documented the evolutionist–creationist controversy since it began publication in 1880. The annual number of references suggests the intensity of the public debate. Peaks occurred in response to the Scopes trial (1925) and trials in California (1979–1981), Arkansas (1981), and Louisiana (1982–1987). Although evolutionists won the last three outright, and public opinion largely supported science in the Scopes trial, dissenting opinions in the Supreme Court in the most recent case seem to have given impetus to new creationist activity—the intelligent design movement. Arguments have changed only slightly in the last century and a quarter. Fundamentalist opposition to teaching evolution remains strong. Scientists have consistently suggested better education as the solution to the dispute; however, to date, evidence does not support that position. Differences between science and fundamentalism appear irreconcilable, and no obvious end to the acrimonious debate is in sight.

Science has reported creationist opposition to Darwin's theory since its first publication in 1880. With a consistent, decidedly pro-evolution editorial perspective, Science noted creationist activity when attempts were made to sway public opinion. From the early days of publication through William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial, and continuing today, more than 250 articles—often from the news and comments sections of the journal—directly addressed the public and scientific debate on Darwin's theory, and the adamant fundamentalist religious opposition. Papers, essays, book reviews, and news reports from Science, and its sister publication The Scientific Monthly (1915–1957), demonstrate that creationist and evolutionist positions have changed little over time. Scientific developments continue to solidify the evolutionist position, but creationists remain unmoved.

Evolutionary theory has been discussed, perhaps more than any other scientific concept, throughout the publication runs of Science and The Scientific Monthly. Eminent scientists and philosophers defined the debate, writing with clarity and grace, representing the best in scientific reporting and commentary. Selections from these two journals reflect the creationist–evolutionist controversy in the United States. Occasionally, creationist letters were published, more as comic relief than as serious opposition to evolution. Nevertheless, creationist activity was viewed as a threat to good science; considerable space was allocated to its coverage. Only articles dealing directly with the controversy are cited in this review; technical papers describing details of the development of evolutionary theory were disregarded. Figure 1 shows the annual distribution of references.

Published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science is the most widely distributed general science journal, with a weekly circulation of approximately 150,000. The journal was founded in July 1880 by a group that included Thomas Edison. The AAAS affiliation began in 1900, in part to provide a publication outlet for association activities. The journal attracts a wide readership within the scientific community, publishing both technical scientific advances—with details often accessible only to practitioners in the field—and precise commentary on important broader scientific and political issues. Archives of Science and The Scientific Monthly are available for online searches through JSTOR.

This abbreviated review of the creationist–evolutionist debate shows that, in spite of scientific developments, communications between the scientific community and the public are no better, and perhaps even worse, than at the turn of the previous century. Scientists have consistently suggested better education to resolve the controversy.

Early days of the controversy: 1880–1920

The second issue of Science, July 1880, included a report of T. H. Huxley's lecture to the Royal Institute, “The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species,” on the 21st anniversary of Darwin's publication (Anonymous 1880, Huxley 1880). Near the end of his lecture, Huxley stated, “Evolution is no longer a speculation, but a statement of historical fact.” Others would disagree—and have now for well over a century.

Several early articles discussed relationships between religion, atheism, and evolution. Science's first editor (John Michels) clearly did not believe that atheism was a requirement for evolutionists:

It is possible to believe strongly in the theory of evolution and accept every scientific fact that has ever been demonstrated, and yet receive no shock to a belief in a Divine Providence, while the accumulation of scientific facts in our opinion all tend to confirm such belief, and to demonstrate scientifically that an intelligent Creator has designed and pre-arranged the order of both matter and mind…. Lastly, we say emphatically, that there is no real conflict between Science and Religion at this present day. (Michels 1882, p. 2)

An overview of Alfred Russel Wallace's lectures on protective coloration was the first largely technical presentation of evolutionary theory to appear in Science (Wallace 1886). Wallace noted that species were recognized before Darwin, and that several others had questioned the fixity of species. Darwin was the first to propose a mechanism for change. Wallace briefly summarized the Darwinian theory, consisting of three principles and an inference. The principles are that (1) the high rate of multiplication makes it impossible to sustain all offspring and creates a struggle within and between populations, (2) significant variation occurs within a species, and (3) variation is heritable. The inference drawn from these principles is that the most fit organisms, and their offspring, survive to reproduce. Wallace exempted the human mind from the process and suggested that man's “soul springs from a higher source” (Wallace 1886).

That evolution had entered the mainstream of scientific thought was demonstrated by E. W. Morse's retiring AAAS presidential address, describing the contributions of US zoologists to evolutionary theory (Morse 1887). Darwin prompted the study of man as a mammal, “from the solid standpoint of observation and experiment, and not from the emotional and often incongruous attitude of the Church.” Information in scientific journals was “hidden from the public eye as much as if they had been published in Coptic.” Nevertheless, public interest in evolution was significant, partly because of religious opposition. Morse's summary was direct:

Judging by centuries of experience, as attested by unimpeachable historical records, it is safe enough for an intelligent man, even if he knows nothing about the facts, to promptly accept as truth any generalization of science which the Church declares to be false, and, conversely, to repudiate with equal promptness, as false, any interpretation of the behavior of the universe which the Church adjudges to be true. (Morse 1887, p. 75)

Addressing the American Society of Zoologists, W. C. Curtis discussed scientific progress and the utility of scientific discoveries (Curtis 1918). Beyond material progress, scientific theory provided an important perspective, changing the human view of nature from a thing of caprice to a system ruled by order. Curtis described the development of the theory of evolution and said, without reservation, that “evolution has won its fight.” The authority of science, he said, had replaced that of “book or pope.”

Showdown in the courts: 1921–1960

Antievolution bills were introduced in at least 15 states after 1920. The prominent role of William Jennings Bryan in many of the efforts, and the frustrations he aroused in scientists and intellectuals, were reflected in contemporary accounts.

A controversy erupted when William Bateson, the English zoologist and geneticist, speaking to the AAAS meeting in Toronto, described how evolution had driven scientific thought and influenced his early study of Balanoglossus 40 years earlier. According to Bateson, embryology had given way to genetics as the field most likely to define evolutionary processes; although questions of process remained, they did not change the acceptance of evolution among scientists. Enemies of science, obscurantists, used the disputes within the community of biologists to say science had no answers to the origin of species (Bateson 1922).

Creationists used selections from Bateson's address as evidence of the falsity of evolutionary theory and its rejection by men of science. Morning-after headlines in the Toronto Globe read, “Bateson Holds That Former Beliefs Must Be Abandoned—Theory of Darwin Still Remains Unproved and Missing Link Between Monkey and Man Has Not Yet Been Discovered by Science.” Henry Fairfield Osborn responded by describing the difficulties of presenting science, particularly controversial science, to the public (Osborn 1922). Huxley had told Osborn that for popular addresses, he would carefully write out the entire presentation to ensure that, in the heat of the moment, he would not say anything that could not be supported. Osborn believed that Bateson had presented his opinions of the state of evolutionary questions, and that some in the audience could not properly evaluate those opinions.

Bryan, quoted in the New York Times, contended that every effort to discover the origin of species had failed; all lines of investigation ended in disappointment (Anonymous 1922). In accepting evolution, he argued, scientists were falling back on faith; and faith in the creation of man by a separate act of God was a more rational position. Bryan objected to Darwinism, he said, not only because it was groundless but also because it was harmful, since it undermined faith in the Bible. Further, Christians did not object to freedom of speech; biblical truth could stand on its own. The Bible had been excluded from the classroom because the teaching of religion was prohibited in schools paid for by taxes. Why then should the enemies of religion be allowed to teach irreligion in the public schools? Christians who wished to teach doctrine funded their own schools. Why shouldn't the atheists be forced to do the same? Bryan concluded, “As religion is the only basis of morals, it is time for Christians to protect religion from its most insidious enemy” (Anonymous 1922, p. 243).

T. V. Smith, of the Philosophy Department of the University of Chicago, cutioned that the attention Bryan was receiving pointed to the large and widening gap between science and the public (Smith 1923). Research relied on public funding and approval; science would suffer without public support. Bryan was supported by a large, but perhaps declining, portion of the population, whose concerns he clearly reflected and understood. Smith's assessment of Bryan was harsh: “Bryan's aversion to change is motivated in…reluctance to endure the pain of thinking” (Smith 1923, p. 509). According to Bryan, science books changed constantly; only the word of God revealed in the Bible did not change. Smith ended with a charge to science to do a better job in education of the average man. Science could not meet its goals without popular support. Only through communication with the public, on the part of science, could that support be expected to develop (Smith 1923).

In a lengthy article in The Scientific Monthly entitled “Why I Teach Evolution,” Dartmouth professor William Patten countered arguments that teaching evolution produces disastrous moral and religious effects (Patten 1924). According to Patten, evolution provides a logical, unifying concept for all natural phenomena, accepted by virtually all who study nature. Teaching of evolution brings a living God into “fields of human thought and experience from which the teachings of ‘high-brow’ philosophy and ‘low-brow’ religion are excluding Him with extraordinary thoroughness and rapidity.” Finally, “methods of evolution exemplify the successful usage of the highest ethical and moral principles” [italics in the original]. The essence of evolution, Patten argued, is an infinite, democratic, and creative process. Studying evolution provides an appreciation for the significance of existence and should strengthen religious feelings. Students looking for meaning had experienced this as a result of their studies and described it to Patten. Scientists, he claimed, had brought the current state of affairs upon themselves by failing to communicate the true nature of evolution to the public. Patten vividly described the effects of evolutionary thought: “With a little insistent pressure the point of this subsoil plow will eventually penetrate the cold gumbo of the freshman's mind deep enough to break up its hardened crusts of prejudice and prepare a naturally fertile soil for further cultivation” (pp. 637–638).

Patten suggested that the biblical statement that “every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire” could be taken as an example of the process of natural selection. To Patten, the study of the whole of evolution helped minimize antagonism between religious and scientific viewpoints.

Edwin L. Rice's address to the AAAS meeting in December 1924, “Darwin and Bryan—a Study in Method,” was reprinted in full in Science (Rice 1925). As a scientist, teacher, and Christian, Rice was disturbed by Bryan's campaign to restrict or remove the teaching of evolution at both high school and college levels. Rice rejected Bryan's allegation that acceptance of evolution precluded an acceptance of religion. He argued that the loss to science of a few students who chose religion, when confronted with Bryan's alternative, was of little consequence; however, the loss to religion of students who chose science was a much greater and unnecessary loss. Movements that split religion rather than sought harmony were unworthy.

With this perspective, Rice compared the methods used by Bryan and Darwin. Bryan's exceptional skill as an orator, and his moral earnestness, gave him significant potential influence on public opinion. According to Bryan, a hypothesis equals a guess; therefore, Darwin's theory was “mere guessing.” Bryan had repeated the phrase often enough that it had taken on meaning beyond its merits. Bryan rejected any form of evolution applied to man, and, since evolution for other organisms rested on similar evidence, he also rejected general evolution. Darwin had presented several categories of evidence supporting evolution; Bryan offhandedly ignored or rejected them all. Bryan cited the statement from Genesis that “reproduction is according to kind” as evidence that change was impossible. Likewise, Bryan was impervious to evidence from geology. His literal interpretation of the Bible, and his perception of its text as infallible, precluded any consideration of alternate explanations (Rice 1925).

Darwin went to great lengths to find evidence opposed to his theory and did not ignore weaknesses in his ideas, an approach that made acceptance of his ideas so rapid among scientists. Bryan, in both his writing and his public speaking, simply rejected the possibility of evolution without considering the evidence. Bryan professed belief in biblical in-errancy, yet refused to consider inconsistencies, even in the two biblical accounts of creation in Genesis (Rice 1925).

He criticized Darwin for using limiting words or phrases such as “apparently,”“probably,” or “we may well suppose,” saying, “The eminent scientist is guessing.” Bryan missed the point that scientific theories and writing are by nature provisional, subject to revision with the accumulation of further evidence. Bryan believed that evolution had driven Darwin from religion. Rice suggested that the storm of criticism that formal religion heaped on the release of Origin of Species could easily have turned Darwin away (Rice 1925).

Rice ended with the suggestion that the controversy over evolution was not strictly the fault of theologians. Materialistic scientists were also contributing to the controversy, seeing an opportunity to criticize religion. Rice considered two benefits of the controversy: first, evolution was being discussed in public more intelligently than ever before, and second, prominent men of science were coming forth and professing their religious belief (Rice 1925).

Science covered the Scopes trial (10–21 July 1925), publishing Henry Fairfield Osborn's prepared testimony in support of John Scopes (Osborn 1925). Scopes studied geology at the University of Kentucky under Arthur M. Miller, who had received his doctorate under Osborn at Columbia. Letters of support for Scopes came from Miller and Osborn; from Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin's son; and from H. H. Lane, zoology department head at the University of Kansas. All of these letters were reprinted in Science (Osborn 1925).

After the trial, in September 1925, The Scientific Monthly published a series of statements prepared for Scopes's defense. In the first, “The Truth of Evolution,” Maynard Metcalf, of Johns Hopkins, stated that teaching biology without evolution was impossible and could be considered malpractice (Metcalf 1925).

“The Fact, the Course and the Causes of Organic Evolution” reviewed correspondence with William Bateson, whose 1921 address (described above) had been used by Bryan to suggest that there was scientific opposition to evolution (Curtis 1925). Bateson reviewed his own presentation and found “nothing which can be construed as expressing doubt as to the main fact of Evolution.” He went on to say, “The campaign against the teaching of evolution is a terrible example of the way in which truth can be perverted by the ignorant” (Curtis 1925, p. 296). Curtis described work prior to Darwin that helped set the stage for the rapid acceptance of evolution by the scientific community. The concept of evolution was accepted immediately; however, the mechanisms, including natural selection, were still being discussed. Evidence for human evolution also continued to accumulate, demonstrating kinship with other animals. Curtis closed with a quote from a letter from President Woodrow Wilson:“I do believe in Organic Evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.”

In a speech in New York City, the presiding judge at the Scopes trial, John T. Raulston, urged the prohibition of the teaching of evolution in schools to prevent the corruption of society and the downfall of civilization (Anonymous 1925). His duty, he said, had been to combat evolution to “uphold the integrity of the Bible.” Raulston was raised with daily Bible instruction; he believed that supporters of evolution robbed themselves of any hope of resurrection. If science was not consistent with Christ's religion, he concluded, the choice was obvious. Evolution was an incentive to larceny and murder. If people lost faith in Genesis, they were likely to lose faith in the rest of the Bible. Raulston argued that there was no justification for accusing Tennesseans of being yokels or ignoramuses, but that if learning would cause loss of faith, they would be better left in a state of ignorance.

The address of the retiring vice president of the AAAS zoology section, and self-proclaimed evolutionist and Christian, Edwin Linton, was reprinted in two parts (Linton 1926a, 1926b). Unlike dogmatic religionists, Linton argued, scientists do not suggest that their views are infallible, but rather that they are the best explanation available, to be changed if new evidence is presented. Modernist theologians show no hostility toward the theory of evolution; only the fundamentalists have objections. Linton described a wave of antiscience sentiment sweeping the country. Scientific developments were influencing pure food laws and regulations affecting quack medicines and “practicers of magic,” whose proponents did not welcome the changes. Linton characterized the leading opponents of science as antisocial eccentrics, citing as an example the antivaccinationists, who opposed smallpox vaccinations. In the face of clear evidence of a reduction in the illness, they remained unconvinced because they were in-convincible. A recent attempt to measure how the teaching of evolution damaged religious beliefs showed 66 respondents reporting that their faith was strengthened, 20 reporting no effect, and 2 reporting a weakening of faith. Linton closed by quoting the biblical Philip's suggested method of scientific inquiry to Nathanael: “Come and see” (Linton 1926b, p. 201).

In late 1926, the American Association of University Professors agreed to develop more efficient means of cooperation in opposing the spread of antievolution legislation (Anonymous 1927a). An antievolution bill had been defeated in Louisiana, and a new one was pending in Arkansas. One week later, the decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court was announced. A three-to-one vote upheld the antievolution law (Anonymous 1927b). The specific Scopes decision was sent back to the court for retrial on a technicality. The trial judge had assessed a fine of $100, although Tennessee law specifically stated that a jury must assess judgments over $50. The dissenting Supreme Court judge argued that the statute was invalid “for uncertainty of meaning,” not because he disagreed with its intent.

Not all biologists accepted evolution. A letter to the journal Ecology was reprinted in Science (Moore 1929). Barrington Moore, the first editor of Ecology and a past president of the Ecological Society of America, discontinued his subscription because papers on evolution had been published in Ecology. He said, “I have no use for evolution and do not see how any intelligent person can have.” Moore, a founder of scientific forestry in the United States, is now honored by the Society of American Foresters with a research award named after him.

A posthumous publication from W. M. Davis, Harvard emeritus professor of physical geography, called science and religion the greatest products of the human mind (Davis 1934). Davis recognized that his definition would cause dissent, since many believed in the supernatural origin of modern religion. However, many of these same people could easily accept the human origin of primitive religions. When theology and science conflicted, theologians generally formed the attack. However, without exception, reconciliation of religious and scientific beliefs resulted from a modification of the theological perspective, not from a change in science. Acceptance of evolution was an example of the process. Davis credited theologians with a desire to improve the human condition, a direct goal of few professors. He called for cooperation between the priesthood and “professorhood” to better understand and to solve problems of human behavior.

Nearly two decades later, an article by K. F. Mather (1952) addressed the problem of antiscientific thinking. Although critics of science and scientific methods had been around for centuries, Mather argued, the conflict between evolution and religion in the 19th century gave rise to an antiscience attitude among much of the population that continued into the 1950s (Mather 1952). Mechanistic and materialistic methods of science appeared to reduce the status of man and could be blamed for a lapse in moral principles and ethical standards. Mather saw the solution as more, not less, science. The potential for nuclear war and the dangers of overpopulation were issues that engendered antiscience attitudes. Scientists needed the courage to publicly counter the antiscience arguments, although to do so could result in branding as anti-American by some of the active an-tiscience organizations. Like Smith (1923) and other scientists before him, Mather argued that education was essential for life in a free society.

In “Avenues of Service,” Bernard E. Schaar (1953) described some of the professional duties and responsibilities of chemists. Schaar quoted a 1925 editorial from the Chemical Bulletin in which wider distribution of knowledge was seen as a counter to an illiberal spirit including censorship, the Eighteenth Amendment, the Ku Klux Klan, and the antievolution movement (Schaar 1953). Schaar took encouragement from the waning of dispute between science and religion over evolution. He considered the controversy “largely abated” and saw progress on other social fronts as well. Science transcended international borders, and in nations that allowed science to progress, there was also social progress. Schaar concluded that scientists and engineers have a responsibility to share knowledge and to educate the public.

A review by C. I. Reed of Ray Ginger's Six Days or Forever? Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes suggested that, from the per-spective of a third of a century, everyone involved with the trial behaved badly (Reed 1958). The spectacle was a made-up affair that reflected the feelings of the time. Many states enacted restrictive laws, and in Tennessee, several legislators voted for the antievolution law, expecting a veto from the governor; however, the governor refused. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was looking for a test case, and Scopes's guilt was assured. The effect on those teaching biology was chilling. Reed urged scientists to read the book as a reminder not to let antievolutionism creep back into the classroom. Promising potential scientists had avoided a career in science because of the atmosphere created by the trial.

New legal challenges and the birth of intelligent design: 1961–2000

Science and The Scientific Monthly merged operations in 1958. Editorial policy changes produced more news articles and comments. Evolution and creation remained important issues. In the next four decades, 120 references to the controversy appeared, addressing three major legal challenges to the teaching of evolution, and the introduction of the concept of intelligent design.

Rather than attempting to prevent teaching of evolution, creationists started to demand equal time. At least 11 states had laws proposed with variations on that theme. Creationists urged the adoption of texts that included creationist materials, and requested that, if evolution was presented, creationism be given equal time (Wade 1972). The dispute began 10 years earlier when two housewives, concerned that their children would be confused by the evolutionary perspective at school and the biblical teaching at home, began a movement to have the California State Board of Education change the textbooks. The Creation Research Society, with members who included scientists with doubts about evolution, got involved, and a private citizen offered new science guidelines that included creationism as an alternative to the science guidelines used by the board. The board accepted the revisions, over the objection of scientific advisors. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) supported the new guidelines.

The first high school text written by a practicing biologist was by Alfred C. Kinsey, of Indiana University, in 1926 (Grabiner and Miller 1974). The first edition had explicit definitions of evolution and Darwin; later editions removed or reduced such references. In the early 1930s, several texts included descriptions of evolution, but most of them included little direct coverage of evolutionary theory. Russian scientific advances of the late 1950s prompted a new look at teaching science. The development of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study texts, with explicit descriptions of evolution and its implications, brought the issue before the public. Significant resistance to teaching evolution remained, and Grabiner and Miller (1974) blamed the community of professional scientists for failing to pay attention to what was happening to high school science.

The California creationist suit was expected to be a replay of the Scopes trial, but the focus was drastically narrowed by the creationist lawyers (Broad 1981a). California Board of Education guidance to school boards was found to be unclear and did not communicate the “undogmatic” intent of the guidelines. The creationists felt this was enough of a victory and stopped the case.

Louisiana passed a law requiring creation science be presented when Darwin's theory was described (Broad 1981b). Governor David C. Treen signed the bill, saying he had some reservations but felt that academic freedom could not be harmed by inclusion, only by exclusion, of different points of view. Governor Treen reported getting letters from both sides of the issue from the biology department of his own university, Tulane. Arkansas passed a new law in March, with little discussion. Louisiana's bill had been vigorously debated by scientists, creationists, and the press. The ACLU brought suit in Arkansas and was considering a similar suit in Louisiana. In California, evolution was attacked as a religion; in Louisiana, creationism was considered science (Broad 1981b). In each case, the creationists' effort was to put creation and evolution on the same footing.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) met separately to develop responses to the two state bills prohibiting the teaching of evolution without teaching creationism (Lewin 1981a). The NAS group agreed to put together a booklet explaining evolution in layman's terms. The NABT agreed on a booklet specifically responding to creationists' arguments. Both groups recognized that they were facing a political, not a scientific problem. Eugenie Scott, then of the University of Kentucky, described a local effort to change the policy of a school board near Lexington. Both the creationists and the evolutionists used a localaction approach to convince the school board. The evolutionists won by a vote of three to two. Such local actions would be required to counteract the creationist activities (Lewin 1981a).

The ACLU, supported by both the NAS and AAAS, charged that the Arkansas law violated the separation of church and state (Lewin 1981b). First, creationism was not science, but religion. Second, academic freedom was infringed by the law. Finally, the statute was unconstitutionally vague, not giving fair notice of what could and could not be taught. The ACLU filed a federal suit because of constitutional issues and the belief that a state judge would be likely to feel strong local pressure because of the emotions surrounding passage of the bill. The law was to be defended by the state attorney general, Steve Clark, who declined the offer of help from the ICR's lawyer Wendell Bird (Lewin 1981b).

In contrast to the Scopes trial, the nine-day event was formal and low-key (Lewin 1982a). Along with the ACLU, plaintiffs included bishops, preachers, and ministers—religious people who saw the act as threatening rather than enhancing religion. As the trial progressed, Attorney General Clark was criticized by the law's supporters, including television evangelist Pat Robertson, who accused Clark of collusion with the ACLU. Later, Jerry Falwell and the Creation Science Legal Defense Fund of Arkansas joined the criticism.

The ACLU brought several top scientists to present its case, including the evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala; Brent Dalrymple from the US Geological Survey; Harold Morowitz, a biophysicist; and the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Each testified that evolutionary theory was scientific and that creation science was not. Local schoolteachers, brought in to describe efforts to draw up a creation science unit for instruction, testified that they could find no science to put in the unit.

The defense called six science witnesses. Their credibility was damaged when one declared UFOs to be agents of Satan and another discussed other satanic and demonic issues. A physicist associated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory ended testimony with “4 hours of excruciating detail” about an anomalous result in radiometric dating that Dalrymple described as “a tiny mystery” (Lewin 1982a).

A meeting of the AAAS featured all-day sessions on evolution, with much discussion of the creationist–evolutionist controversy (Walsh 1982). A resolution was passed against “forced teaching of creationist beliefs in public school science education” (Borras 1982). Judge William Overton's ruling, decisively against the creationists, had just been announced (Lewin 1982b); the AAAS executive officer, William D. Carey, issued a statement on behalf of the association welcoming the ruling. Judge Overton found that the law violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The law failed the three legal tests defined in the 1971 US Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtzman: It was closely identified with the fundamentalist viewpoint, its prime motivation was promotion of Christianity, and the sponsor of the bill was motivated by religious concerns.

During the trial, the defense argued that the act should be judged on content, not on the motives of its supporters (Lewin 1982a). The judge found that the act failed under this test also; the act was intended to advance a particular religion. Creation science did not meet the criteria to be considered science—it offered no power of explanation. Finally, the act would require the state to become involved in religious decisions in setting curriculum, clearly prohibited by the First Amendment.

A paper from The Yale Law Review by the creationist lawyer Wendell Bird, presented as evidence that evolution could be considered religion, was rejected. Judge Overton called it “a student note.” The defense claimed that the public school curriculum should reflect what the public wanted to be taught. Overton said that the First Amendment was not based on public opinion or majority vote. In an unprecedented response, Science published the entire text of Judge Overton's ruling, 10 journal pages (Overton 1982).

The ACLU challenged the creationist law in Louisiana (Lewin 1982a). The many suits and motions filed made the process more complicated than in the Arkansas case, but the ACLU hoped for a summary judgment without a trial. After a complex series of legal actions, the case reached the US Supreme Court (Norman 1986). In the one-hour hearing on 10 December 1986, Bird, the attorney for Louisiana, claimed that the law expanded students' academic freedom to hear additional evidence of origins, and that although some supporters were religious, that was not a primary purpose of the law. Jay Topkis, of the ACLU, said that the legislative history of the law demonstrated its religious motivation (Lewin 1987).

The Supreme Court, by a vote of seven to two, ruled that the law promoted religion and was therefore unconstitutional (Norman 1987). Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, contending that the case had not received a full hearing and should be sent back to the appeals court. The decision was expected to put an end to the six-year legal battle.

Creationists began new projects to take their case to state legislatures in several states, including Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia (Schmidt 1996). Rather than asking for the teaching of the Genesis account, they asked for time to present the “scientific evidence against evolution.” The basis for the change in strategy was the dissent of Justice Scalia in the Louisiana case, Edwards v. Aguillard. Scalia had written that the fundamentalists were entitled to have evidence against evolution presented in their schools. Creationists developed new terminology including “abrupt appearance” and “intelligent design” to describe their positions. Scalia apparently believed there was serious debate within the scientific community concerning evolution. Francisco Ayala, of the University of California, Irvine, said that scientists were doing a “miserable job” in schools and in educating the public. Ayala and others planned to update the NAS booklet Science and Creationism (http://books.nap.edu/html/creationism/index.html). Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), cautioned individual scientists against debating creationists, and others who had tried to do so agreed (Schmidt 1996).

Pope John Paul II issued a statement supporting evolution (Holden 1996). As early as 1950, the Vatican had considered evolution a “serious hypothesis.” Catholic scientists welcomed the pope's announcement, although for some time, Catholic schools had taught that evolutionary theory need not conflict with church dogma. The church's position allowed human origin from living material, but the spiritual soul was seen as created by God.

Both the NAS and AAAS began projects promoting communications between science and religion (Easterbrook 1997). In a poll by Edward Larson of the University of Georgia, about 40 percent of working physicists and biologists claimed to have strong spiritual beliefs. Ayala, the leader of the AAAS project, said it was important to dispel the common perspective that science faculty would attempt to destroy students' religious beliefs. Many confrontations between science and spirituality could be traced to creationism, which had been rejected by many of the mainstream religions. Alan Dressler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution in Pasadena, said that the antiscience mood in the country was the result of a perception that science had become inhuman and venerated meaninglessness. This report prompted more than 70 letters to the editor (Fletcher et al. 1997). Of the small number published, responses ranged from complete support of a dialogue between science and religion to dismay that the topic was even covered.

The Kansas Board of Education voted to eliminate references to evolution, hints at the great age of the earth, and some cosmological theories from statewide science teaching standards in August 1999. The governor called it an “embarrassing solution to a problem that did not exist,” and college and university presidents warned that it would set back science teaching in the state (Holden 1999b). The creationists behind the move attempted to limit science to falsifiability—disproving one thing (evolution) proves the other (creation).

The Kansas move brought immediate response in the form of an editorial whose authors found two troubling aspects of the situation (Hanson and Bloom 1999). Creationists were changing tactics—rather than attempting to teach creationism as science, they were undermining acceptance of evolution and cosmology. Moreover, no political leaders were challenging the creationists' move, reflecting the public's ignorance of science and scientific methods. The authors suggested that the Kansas decision reflected “the tip of an iceberg of ignorance that is growing, not melting.” Constance Holden, a staff reporter for Science, characterized the creationist win as the “breakdown of the year” (Holden 1999a).

Hanson and Bloom's editorial prompted letters to the editor supporting their position (Moore et al. 1999). One letter noted that Vice President Gore had said localities should be free to teach creationism. Rather than simply making a ploy to avoid offending voters, he may have had no understanding of the issue. A second letter noted that several Kansas politicians had voiced opposition to the destruction of science standards. Finally, a teacher at a Christian university described the Kansas Board of Education's approach as unfortunate. Ignoring science did not further the cause of religion. This was followed by another letter some months later, quoting another presidential candidate, Bill Bradley, who supported a solid scientific education that clearly included evolution (West 2000). Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer had supported creationism. Elizabeth Dole, John McCain, and George W. Bush thought teaching creationism was acceptable.

NCSE's Scott, a physical anthropologist, summarized creationist and antievolutionist activity across the nation (Scott 2000). A 1996 survey of people who were listed in American Men and Women of Science showed that only 5 percent of the scientists agreed with a statement that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago, whereas in a 1997 survey of the American public, 47 percent agreed with such a statement. Similar questions about evolution showed that an overwhelming majority of US scientists accepted evolution, while less than half of the US general public did—among the lowest rates of acceptance for evolution in the developed countries (Scott 2000).

Conclusions

Science's coverage of the creationist–evolutionist controversy over a 120-year period shows recurring themes. Scientists often believed that religious opposition to evolution was declining, only to find a resurgence. Critics of evolution have failed, or refused, to understand either the basic facts or the intellectual underpinnings of evolution. Scientists have consistently called for better education of the public as the solution; however, there is little evidence that education, as it has been practiced, has helped. (A reviewer of this manuscript suggested that there is little evidence that education has actually been tried.) Literalist, fundamentalist religious leaders have initiated attacks on science; however, reconciliations of religion and science have resulted in the modification of theology, not science.

Although it was not written by a scientist, there is no more cogent summary of the controversy over evolution, and the emptiness of the creationist position, than Judge William Overton's decision in the 1981 Arkansas trial McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Perhaps scientists need to do a better job in recruiting the powerful aid of the humanities community in their struggle to inform the public. No obvious resolution of the controversy is in sight.

Acknowledgements

Several colleagues, Mark Goltz, Larry Burggraf, Ellen England, Ralph Beeman, Dennis Strouble, Henry Potoczny, Alan Heminger, and two anonymous reviewers made helpful comments on various versions of this manuscript.

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Figure 1.

Numbers of references in Science and The Scientific Monthly to the creationist–evolutionist controversy, shown by year. Peaks in 1925 and 1981 through 1987 reflect the Scopes trial and trials in California, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Since 1996, the intelligent design movement has attracted attention

Figure 1.

Numbers of references in Science and The Scientific Monthly to the creationist–evolutionist controversy, shown by year. Peaks in 1925 and 1981 through 1987 reflect the Scopes trial and trials in California, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Since 1996, the intelligent design movement has attracted attention

Author notes

1
Charles A. Bleckmann (e-mail Charles.Bleckmann@afit.edu) is a biologist, specializing in bioremediation, in the Department of Systems and Engineering Management, Air Force Institute of Technology, 2950 Hobson Way, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433. The views expressed in this document are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the US government