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The Supreme Court and the Creationists

OPINION: CREATIONISM Creationism: Out of the Mainstream Stephen Jay Gould  p.10   Statute Attacks All of Science Murray Gell-Mann p.11 Let Science and Religion Stay Separate Francisco Ayala p.11 An Urgent Need to Fight Creationism Dorothy Nelkin p.11   Date:     November 17, 1986 On December 10 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Edwards v. Aguillard, the suit arising from a 1981 Louisiana law requireing a balanced  treatment" of evolution and "crea

November 17, 1986

OPINION: CREATIONISM

Creationism: Out of the Mainstream
Stephen Jay Gould  p.10
 
Statute Attacks All of Science
Murray Gell-Mann p.11

Let Science and Religion Stay Separate
Francisco Ayala p.11

An Urgent Need to Fight Creationism
Dorothy Nelkin p.11

 

Date:     November 17, 1986

On December 10 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Edwards v. Aguillard, the suit arising from a 1981 Louisiana law requireing a balanced  treatment" of evolution and "creation science" in public school science classes in the state The law also requires that evolution be taught as a theory rather than a scientific fact Students could not be penalized academically or otherwise for rejecting evolution in favor of the creationist view, nor could a teacher who favors creation science be discriminated against. In-service training for teachers  would include, preparation in teaching the creation science model and school libraries would-be required to purchase "nonreligious" books opposed to evolution. The governor of the state would appoint a committee of seven university-level creation scientists who  would help develop the new curricula.

A group of parents, teachers, religious leaders and others  immediately challenged the law as violating the First Amendment prohibition against The establishment of religion. A district court judge. in the state agreed with the plaintiffs,  saying that the statute was an attempt to force science teachers to promote a religious belief that humans were instantly created by God less than 10,000 years ago. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. Louisiana then asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court's decision.

In August, 72 U.S. Nobel laureates in science and a number of local and national science organizations joined the fray with an amicus curiae urging the Court to declare the Louisiana law unconstitutional. In the brief, the scientists reject the state's contention that creation science is merely the study of "abrupt appearance in complex form," and is not a religious doctrine. The scientists also object to the requirement that evolution be taught as a theory and not as fact. Facts, the brief says, are properties of natural phenomena; theories are naturalistic explanations for a body of facts. This distinction is common throughout science, the brief says, and by requiring that evolution be taught as theory, the statute displays a  preference for the religious creation science point of view.

On the day the brief was filed, Murray Gell-Mann, the 1969 Nobel laureate in physics who first proposed the brief and then solicited the signatures of his fellow laureates, was joined by Stephen Jay Gould and Francisco Ayala in making the statements that appear here. In addition, we asked Dorothy Nelkin, author of The Creation Controversy, to comment on the social context of creationism's resurgence.
 

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