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Stephen C. Meyer Philosopher of Science
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Teaching the Origins Controversy

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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