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Another Bitter Pill

June 21, 1987

Creationism has been at war with science since 1859, when Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species" and gave the world the theory of evolution. The idea that human beings were not specially created by God in his image, as the Bible asserts, but evolved helter-skelter from lower organisms without a divine plan, as Darwinists say, has proved a bitter pill for many people to swallow. So bitter, in fact, that they have strongly resisted it and have repeatedly tried to prevent schools from teaching the facts instead of the myths.

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled conclusively and eloquently that creationism is religion, not science, and that mandating that creationism be taught in public schools is tantamount to the establishment of religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment. The court brushed aside the creationists' attempts to dress up theology as fact. Justice William J. Brennan Jr., writing for the 7-2 majority, correctly found that the goal of the Louisiana law requiring equal time for creationism "was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint."

Supporters of the law said that the academic freedom of teachers was at stake. Balderdash, Brennan said. The law "has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting evolution by counter balancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creation science."

The only quibble that can be raised with Brennan's opinion is the use of the term creation science , an oxymoron if ever there was one. The goal of science is to find truth by reason. The goal of creationism is to assert nonsense in the face of reason. Science is grounded in facts; creationism is based on faith. Scientific ideas can be tested; creationist ideas cannot. Science is tentative and subject to revision; creationism is dogma. Science progresses by observation from hypothesis to theory to law; creationism rests on "revealed truths."

Evolution and the public schools have had a long and difficult legal history going back to the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes in Tennessee. But, starting in 1982, the courts have consistently decided in favor of evolution--first in Arkansas, in a case that was not appealed, and now in Louisiana, in a case that went to the Supreme Court. The Arkansas defeat took the wind out of the sails of the creationists, and the Supreme Court's ruling should pull the sails down.

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