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Experts say creationism can’t be taught as science in public schools

Here's what the Supreme Court ruled on the issue in 1987.

Posted on Feb. 26, 2014 at 3:30 p.m.

ELKHART — Questions about the legality of creationism in public schools were raised on social media after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) said a Concord High School biology teacher was teaching it alongside evolution.

According to two Indiana law professors and past Supreme Court rulings, creationism cannot be taught as a legitimate alternative to evolution in public school science classes.

The FFRF letter, sent to Concord Community Schools Superintendent Wayne Stubbs, said biology teacher Ryan Culp told a parent that he was allowed to bring creationism into the classroom, as long as it wasn’t more than half of the information presented, and that he isn’t permitted to teach either creationism or evolution as truth.

According to Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, there is no constitutional rule that says you can’t teach evolution as the dominant theory or explanation.

“I think nearly every biologist or physicist or cosmologist would say that evolution is a fact. Just on details of mechanism, and so on,” he said.

Daniel O. Conkle, a professor of law and religion at Indiana University in Bloomington, said that teaching creationism as science is impermissible under the law.

“The Supreme Court has basically said that creation science is, in its view, not really a science and cannot be taught as such.”

After Culp was called into question for showing his class a video series supporting young earth creationism (the belief that the earth is between 5,000 and 10,000 years old), Concord High School students designed a T-shirt supporting him that reads “I SUPPORT MR CULP. TEACH BOTH. LET US DECIDE.”

But according to Conkle, the decision has already been made — in the Supreme Court.

“A lot of people in the general population think teaching both sides in the controversy is appropriate, but the Supreme Court has ruled against that,” Conkle said.

That specific case, Edwards v. Aguillard, took place in 1987 in Louisiana. The Supreme Court ruled that the Creationism Act, which would forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools unless accompanied by instruction in creation science, was unconstitutional. That’s because the act’s primary purpose was to advance a particular religious belief, which violates the First Amendment.

Conkle said if materials debunking evolution were shown in a science class, the contents of the materials would need to be considered legitimate science by the Supreme Court.

“The problem is that oftentimes, these attempts to describe something as a scientific critique of evolution would not be so regarded by a court,” Conkle said.

Instead, they would be regarded as the teaching of religious understandings in the guise of scientific critic.

In the past, some Indiana lawmakers have tried to make it legal for school corporations to include creationism in their science curriculum.

In 2012, a bill before the Indiana Senate would have allowed school corporations to require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, according to the bill’s synopsis.

The bill passed the Senate but was then sent to the Rules Committee, effectively killing it.

Speaker Brian Bosma said the bill seemed to be “buying a lawsuit that the state can ill afford at this point,” according to Indiana Public Media.

However, there are situations where creationism can be discussed in a public school setting, according to Garnett.

He said it sounded to him like Kent Hovind’s "Lies in the Textbooks" creationism videos, which were apparently shown in Culp’s class, could be used in a social studies or modern American politics class as an illustration of something. (See video below.)

Garnett added that courts have said it's OK to teach kids about religion and the fact that there's a controversy, but instructional time can't be used to "in effect, promote religious teachings."

"Courts tend to regard creationism and intelligent design as a religious teaching, not a scientific hypothesis," Garnett said.

Indiana’s current standards for biology education include topics on evolution, genetics and cellular reproduction. Those standards, listed in an Indiana Department of Education database, make no mention of creationism or alternative teachings.

Below:  A portion of Kent Hovind's "Lies in the Textbooks" video, produced as part of his Creation Seminar video series. Parts of this video were apparently shown in Ryan Culp's biology class at Concord High School.




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