Teaching the Truth: Theory, not Fact
Why Creationism is as Valid as Evolution
Elise Basil and Martin Werner
The Intelligent Design of Curriculum
Why Creationism Doesn't Belong in Science Classrooms
July 3rd, 2017
The world is full of various ideas and views. In schools, we are taught to look at these views, compare and contrast them, and then to create our own opinions from them. At least, for the most part. A school should not support certain ideas over others, even when they conflict.
Creationism is a belief that has merit and should be taught alongside evolution, not as a truth, but as a potential theory. Evolution itself is only a theory. It is unfair to teach evolution as a truth to students, as there is no way to prove it (or anything) as an ultimate truth. Sure, it is supported by scientific evidence, but this does not make it any more true or valid as an idea than creationism.
Intense public attention was brought to the conflict between these ideas with the Scopes Trial of 1925, where John T. Scopes was accused of teaching evolution in the classroom. Scopes, a substitute teacher, was charged with breaking the Butler Act of 1925. This Tennessee law prohibited the teaching of anything other than creationism in schools. Although the trial had a complicated outcome, it brought the conflict over evolution and creationism to a much larger audience than before.
Later, in 1968, the Epperson v. Arkansas case went to the Supreme Court. This case was similar to the Scopes Trial; it involved a statute in Arkansas that prohibited the teaching of evolution. The Supreme Court decidedly held that this law was a violation of the First Amendment—it advanced a religion over other ideas.
Obviously, the Butler Act and the Arkansas statute both went overboard in trying to protect creationism. But they also both showed that many are afraid evolution, as it may eradicate belief in creationism. The thing is, such potential can be avoided not by removing evolution from education, but by teaching creationism alongside evolution.
The conflict between these two ideas reveals a problem I see with many science classrooms, which is that science is taught as fact. As said, evolution is a theory. This means it is supported by evidence, yes, but it is not a proven fact. Other things that we learn about are often simplified and not thoroughly understood by scientists themselves, like the makeup of atoms. Scientific ideas are always changing, yet we are taught them as if they are concrete.
Evolution as a theory is constantly being attacked with scientific research such as with the Investigation of Dinosaur Intact Natural Osteo-tissue (iDINO), and creationism is constantly being supported by scientific evidence, as well. These developments make the variable path of scientific ideas even clearer.
Science classrooms should be a place to learn science, and science is always changing. For this reason, scientific theories, like evolution, should be taught—but not as fact. They should be taught as ideas, and their justifications explained, and they should be taught alongside other ideas as well, like creationism.
Many advocators of science are afraid of children being taught creationism as a fact, just as advocators of creationism are afraid of evolution being taught as fact. Neither are facts, however. Those that advocate the teaching of creationism also call for its teaching as an idea, not fact, and want children to be able to form their own opinions. When a child is taught evolution as a flat out truth, which it is not, this hinders their ability to form their own opinions. In fact, if a child were to learn evolution as a fact, this would teach them that creationism was incorrect. This idea being taught in a public school then becomes a government intrusion on the child’s ability to practice any religion freely. It then becomes clear that teaching evolution as fact while excluding creationism could be considered, as the Supreme Court has explained, an infringement on the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
This idea of children forming their own opinions should not frighten anyone. When it comes to the science classroom, children should be taught all of the theories concerning our origins, and they should be free to form their own opinions over evolution and creationism, as well as over all issues.
In a 2005 Gallup poll, results showed that a large demographic of adult Americans find the concept of evolution offensive to their religious beliefs. To these many, it seems like science in general is a religion of its own, determined to invalidate all other systems of belief. Thus, some may perceived science and evolution as threats to the free exercise of religion, a right guaranteed to all under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
This is a misconception.
Science has continually been on the rise in discovering our ancestry, however, it has also often been accompanied by rejection—new ideas in science often conflict with those of longer standing religions. Today, science is undoubtedly recognized as a backbone of society, but has religion yet become obsolete? Evidently not; recent research illustrates that religion’s importance is not decreasing as expected, even in youths. Science, which is forever changing, has not replaced religion.
Science and religion are compatible in our modern world, as they seem to have been since their beginnings. But when I say compatible, I mean in collaboration, not integration. The two are drastically different from one another, and when it comes to the classroom, the two must be separate.
Evolution is a theory. People often use the term “theory” to refer to what would more accurately be called a hypothesis: an idea based on pure speculation or faith. But in the world of science, the word “theory” describes a concrete set of ideas, supported by vast amounts of evidence and peer review. Evolution as a theory has withstood 150 years of scientific evaluation, and to this day, it holds true.
Creationism, on the other hand, is a religious belief. It can be defined as a theory in the colloquial sense, an idea based purely on faith. Unlike evolution, overwhelmingly supported by evidence, creationism is by no means a scientific theory.
Science is a valuable asset to children, and should continue to be taught. For one thing, according to the National Academy of Science, “many of today’s fast-growing and high-paying jobs require a familiarity with the core concepts, applications, and implications of science.” Lucky for us, science is taught regularly. And because evolution is a scientific theory and creationism is not, the latter is excluded (for the most part) from science classes. Alas, the many misconceived push against scientific education, especially that of evolution, in support of what they see as freedom of religion.
The 1972 case, Wright v. Houston Independent School District involved the most prominent issue between religion and science within schools to date: the inclusion of creationism as a plausible theory in science classes. Rita Wright, a concerned mother, claimed that her daughter’s First Amendment right to religious freedom had been violated when she was taught evolution in school. The case went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that Wright had no basis for a lawsuit, as the First Amendment guarantees no established religion, but not insulation from scientific discoveries that may conflict with religious beliefs.
While Wright was incorrect to claim that a right had been violated, one must sympathize with her. Her daughter’s dearly held views had, in fact, been challenged. But the First Amendment and its writers made the right move by not preventing this occurrence. For one, scientific knowledge is essential to the success of the next generation. Science is also a defining feature of progress in general; as the world advances, so does science. For all of history, this advance has conflicted with religion, but never has it rendered religion obsolete. Religion simply changes with science, with adaptations like the shift from creationism to Intelligent Design.
Even if creationism as an idea is abandoned, its religion of origin would certainly persist. Many fear a slippery slope in which creationism is the first belief to fall, and then the entire religion will follow. However, this is an irrational fear; as we have seen with the NPR article linked above, religion persists.
I believe everyone should learn science: it is how we understand our world; it is how our world progresses . However, I also believe everyone should subscribe to some kind of religion: it provides community, inspiration, guidance. But science provides children with the knowledge they need to become successful, and when it comes to the classroom, this means evolution, and not creationism.
Learning about religions can help with this, but if one would like to learn about creationism, do it outside of the science classroom—it’s not science.