While some religions do not have theological objections to the modern evolutionary synthesis as an explanation for the present form of life on Earth, there has been much conflict over this matter within the Abrahamic religions, some adherents of which are vigorously opposed to the consensus view of the scientific community. Conflict with evolutionary explanations is greatest in literal interpretations of religious documents, and resistance to teaching evolution is thus related to the popularity of these more literalist views.
In Western countries, the inclusion of evolution in science courses has been mostly uncontroversial, with the exception of parts of the United States. There, the Supreme Court has ruled the teaching of creationism as science in public schools to be unconstitutional. Intelligent design has been presented as an alternative explanation to evolution in recent decades, but it has also been ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.
Muslims have been particularly resistant to teaching biological evolution. To give one such case, the matter is highly controversial in Turkey, and evolution's place in biology education can change with each government.
In the aftermath of World War I, the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy brought a surge of opposition to the idea of evolution, and following the campaigning of William Jennings Bryan several states introduced legislation prohibiting the teaching of evolution. By 1925, such legislation was being considered in 15 states, and passed in some states, such as Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone who wanted to bring a test case against one of these laws. John T. Scopes accepted, and he taught his Tennessee class evolution in defiance of the Butler Act. The textbook in question was Hunter's Civic Biology (1914).
Scopes was convicted; however, the widespread publicity galvanized proponents of evolution.
When the case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court overturned the decision on a technicality (the judge had assessed the fine when the jury had been required to). Although it overturned the conviction, the Court decided that the law was not in violation of the First Amendment. The Court held,
"We are not able to see how the prohibition of teaching the theory that man has descended from a lower order of animals gives preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship. So far as we know, there is no religious establishment or organized body that has in its creed or confession of faith any article denying or affirming such a theory." Scopes v. State 289 S.W. 363, 367 (Tenn. 1927).
The interpretation of the Establishment clause up to that time was that Congress could not establish a particular religion as the State religion. Consequently, the Court held that the ban on the teaching of evolution did not violate the Establishment clause, because it did not establish one religion as the "State religion." As a result of the holding, the teaching of evolution remained illegal in Tennessee, and continued campaigning succeeded in removing evolution from school textbooks throughout the United States.
In 1967, the Tennessee public schools were threatened with another lawsuit over the Butler Act's constitutionality, and, fearing public reprisal, Tennessee's legislature repealed the Butler Act. In the following year, 1968, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that Arkansas's law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was in violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause prohibits the state from advancing any religion, and determined that the Arkansas law which allowed the teaching of creation while disallowing the teaching of evolution advanced a religion, and was therefore in violation of the 1st amendment Establishment clause. This holding reflected a broader understanding of the Establishment Clause: instead of just prohibiting laws that established a state religion, the Clause was interpreted to prohibit laws that furthered religion. Opponents, pointing to the previous decision, argued that this amounted to judicial activism.
In reaction to the Epperson case, creationists in Louisiana passed a law requiring that public schools should give "equal time" to "alternative theories" of origin. The Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that the Louisiana statute, which required creation to be taught alongside evolution every time evolution was taught, was unconstitutional.
The Court laid out its rule as follows:
"The Establishment Clause forbids the enactment of any law 'respecting an establishment of religion.' The Court has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether legislation comports with the Establishment Clause. First, the legislature must have adopted the law with a secular purpose. Second, the statute's principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute must not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 2111, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971). State action violates the Establishment Clause if it fails to satisfy any of these prongs." Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578, *582-583, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 2577 (U.S.La.,1987).
The Court held that the law was not adopted with a secular purpose, because its purported purpose of "protecting academic freedom" was not furthered by limiting the freedom of teachers to teach what they thought appropriate; ruled that the act was discriminatory because it provided certain resources and guarantees to "creation scientists" which were not provided to those who taught evolution; and ruled that the law was intended to advance a particular religion because several state senators that had supported the bill stated that their support for the bill stemmed from their religious beliefs.
While the Court held that creationism is an inherently religious belief, it did not hold that every mention of creationism in a public school is unconstitutional:
"We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. Indeed, the Court acknowledged in Stone that its decision forbidding the posting of the Ten Commandments did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization. 449 U.S., at 42, 101 S.Ct., at 194. In a similar way, teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578, 593-594, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 2583 (U.S.La.,1987)
Just as it is permissible to discuss the crucial role of religion in medieval European history, creationism may be discussed in a civics, current affairs, philosophy, or comparative religions class where the intent is to factually educate students about the diverse range of human political and religious beliefs. The line is crossed only when creationism is taught as science, just as it would be if a teacher were to proselytize a particular religious belief.
There continue to be numerous efforts to introduce creationism in US classrooms. One strategy is to declare that evolution is a religion, and therefore it should not be taught in the classroom either, or that if evolution is a religion, then surely creationism as well can be taught in the classroom.
In the 1980s Phillip E. Johnson began reading the scientific literature on evolution. This led to the writing of Darwin on Trial, which examined the evidence for evolution from religious point of view and challenged the assumption that the only reasonable explanation for the origin of species must be a naturalistic one, though science is defined by searching for natural explanations for phenomena. This book, and his subsequent efforts to encourage and coordinate creationists with more credentials was the start of the "Intelligent design" movement. Intelligent design asserts that there is evidence that life was created by an "intelligent designer" (mainly that the physical properties of an object are so complex that they must have been "designed"). Proponents claim that ID takes "all available facts" into account rather than just those available through naturalism. Opponents assert that ID is a pseudoscience because its claims cannot be tested by experiment (see falsifiability) and do not propose any new hypotheses.
Many proponents of the ID movement support requiring that it be taught in the public schools. For example, conservative think-tank, The Discovery Institute and Phillip E. Johnson, support the policy of "Teach the Controversy", which entails presenting to students evidence for and against evolution, and then encouraging students to evaluate that evidence themselves.
While many proponents of ID believe that it should be taught in schools, other creationists believe that legislation is not appropriate. Answers in Genesis has said:
"AiG is not a lobby group, and we oppose legislation for compulsion of creation teaching ... why would we want an atheist forced to teach creation and give a distorted view? But we would like legal protection for teachers who present scientific arguments against the sacred cow of evolution such as staged pictures of peppered moths and forged embryo diagrams ...
Opponents point out that there is no scientific controversy, but only a political and religious one, therefore "teaching the controversy" would only be appropriate in a social studies, religion, or philosophy class. Many, such as Richard Dawkins, compare teaching intelligent design in schools to teaching flat earthism, since the scientific consensus regarding these issues is identical. Dawkins has stated that teaching creationism to children is akin to child abuse.
In June 2007 the Council of Europe's "Committee on Culture, Science and Education" issued a report, The dangers of creationism in education, which states "Creationism in any of its forms, such as 'intelligent design', is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes." In describing the dangers posed to education by teaching creationism, it described intelligent design as "anti-science" and involving "blatant scientific fraud" and "intellectual deception" that "blurs the nature, objectives and limits of science" and links it and other forms of creationism to denialism.
In August 2008 Judge Otero ruled in favor of University of California in Association of Christian Schools International v. Roman Stearns agreeing with the university's position that various religious books on U.S. history and science, from A Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press, shouldn't be used for a college-preparatory classes. The case was filed in spring 2006 by Association of Christian Schools International against the University of California claiming religious discrimination over the rejection of five courses as college preparatory instruction. On August 8, 2008, Judge Otero entered summary judgment against plaintiff ACSI, upholding the University of California's standards. The university found the book s "didn't encourage critical thinking skills and failed to cover 'major topics, themes and components'" and were thus, ill-suited to prepared students for college.
In 2004 Kansas Board of Education elections gave religious conservatives a majority and, influenced by the Discovery Institute, they arranged the Kansas evolution hearings. On August 9, 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education drafted new "science standards that require critical analysis of evolution – including scientific evidence refuting the theory, which opponents analyzed as effectively stating that intelligent design should be taught. The new standards also provide a definition of science that does not preclude supernatural explanations, and were approved by a 6-4 vote on November 8, 2005 – the same day, interestingly, on which the Dover school board members were voted out (see above).
In Kansas' state Republican primary elections on August 1, 2006, moderate Republicans took control away from the anti-evolution conservatives, leading to an expectation that science standards which effectively embraced intelligent design and cast doubt on Darwinian evolution would now be changed.
On February 13, 2007, the Kansas State Board of Education approved a new curriculum which removed any reference to Intelligent Design as part of science. In the words of Dr Bill Wagnon, the board chairman, "Today the Kansas Board of Education returned its curriculum standards to mainstream science". The new curriculum, as well as a document outlining the differences with the previous curriculum, has been posted on the Kansas State Department of Education's website.
On January 14, 2005, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that the stickers should be removed as they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The school board subsequently decided to appeal the decision. In comments on December 15, 2005 in advance of releasing its decision, the appeal court panel appeared critical of the lower court ruling and a judge indicated that he did not understand the difference between evolution and abiogenesis.
On December 20, 2006, the Cobb County Board of Education abandoned all of its legal activities and will no longer mandate that biology texts contain a sticker stating "evolution is a theory, not a fact." Their decision was a result of compromise negotiated with a group of parents, represented by the ACLU, that were opposed to the sticker. The parents agreed, as their part of the compromise, to withdraw their legal actions against the board.
Despite proponents urging that intelligent design should be included in the school system's science curriculum the school board of Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia decided on May 23, 2007, to approve science textbooks for middle and high schools which do not include the idea of intelligent design. However, during the board meeting a statement was made that their aim was self-directed learning which "occurs only when alternative views are explored and discussed", and directed that professionals supporting curriculum development and implementation are to be required "to investigate and develop processes that encompass a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning" of the theory of evolution, "along with all other topics that raise differences of thought and opinion." During the week before the meeting, one of the intelligent design proponents claimed that "Students are being excluded from scientific debate. It's time to bring this debate into the classroom", and presented "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism".
On November 7, 2007 the Texas Education Agency director of science curriculum Christine Comer was forced to resign over an e-mail she had sent announcing a talk given by an anti-Intelligent Design author. In a memo obtained under the Texas Freedom of Information act, TEA officials wrote "Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.". In response over 100 biology professors from Texas universities signed a letter to the state education commissioner denouncing the requirement to be neutral on the subject of Intelligent Design.
On February 19, 2008, the Florida State Board of Education adopted new science standards in a 4-3 vote. The new science curriculum standards explicitly require the teaching of the "scientific theory of evolution", whereas the previous standards only referenced evolution using the words "change over time.
(1% had no opinion)
In 2006, a poll taken over the telephone by Zogby International commissioned by the Discovery Institute found that more than three to one of voters surveyed chose the option that biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also "the scientific evidence against it". Approximately seven in ten (69%) sided with this view. In contrast, one in five (21%) chose the other option given, that biology teachers should teach only Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it. One in ten was not sure. The poll's results are often regarded as worthless however, because the wording of the poll question implies that significant "scientific evidence" against evolution actually exists to be taught (see push polling) - a proposition with which less than 0.15% of scientists with relevant expertise would agree.
The Supreme Court, Epperson v. Arkansas (1968):
“...the First Amendment does not permit the state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma...the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.”
McLean v. Arkansas case (1982), the judge wrote that creation scientists:
“...cannot properly describe the methodology used as scientific, if they start with a conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation.”
The Supreme Court, Edwards v. Aguillard (1987):
“...Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the Act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment.”
In Webster v. New Lenox School District (1990), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated:
“If a teacher in a public school uses religion and teaches religious beliefs or espouses theories clearly based on religious underpinnings, the principles of the separation of church and state are violated as clearly as if a statute ordered the teacher to teach religious theories such as the statutes in Edwards did.”
The 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Court wrote in a California case (Peloza v. Capistrano School District, 1994):
“The Supreme Court has held unequivocally that while belief in a Divine Creator of the universe is a religious belief, the scientific theory that higher forms of life evolved from lower ones is not.”
United States District Court Judge John E. Jones III stated thus in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 2005:
"We have concluded that Intelligent Design is not science, and moreover that I.D. cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious antecedents."
In 2003 the Emmanuel Schools Foundation (previously the Vardy Foundation after its founder, Sir Peter Vardy) sponsored a number of "faith-based" academies where evolution and creationist ideas would be taught side-by-side in science classes. This caused a considerable amount of controversy.
An organisation calling itself Truth in Science has distributed teaching packs of creationist information to schools, and claims that fifty-nine schools are using the packs as "a useful classroom resource". The government has stated that "Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum. The Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum." It is arranging to communicate this message directly to schools.
The efforts to introduce creationism and intelligent design into schools in the UK is being opposed by an organization called the British Center for Science Education. The BCSE has been involved in government lobbying and has a website which presents information on the relevant issues.
On April 25 2007, Member of Parliament Martin Henriksen (Danish People's Party) asked Minister of Education Bertel Haarder (The Liberal Party) for information about how many educational institutions had received The Atlas of Creation. The minister responded that the Ministry of Education was not in possession of information about the number of educational institutions that had received the book, that choice of educational material was not up to the ministry, and that it is an objective of the discipline biology in primary school that the education must enable the pupils to relate to values and conflicts of interest connected with issues with a biological content.
On November 11 2007, following the October 4 release of the Council of Europe's resolution 1580, Danish member of ISKCON and leading ID-proponent Leif Asmark Jensen published a letter on his website. The letter is addressed to "Danish politicians" and is a clarification why Asmark and other ID-proponents consider the resolution "so problematic that the Danish Parliament ought to ignore the resolution and maintain the Danish tradition for openness in school education.
In interview sessions during 2002, less than 10% of the interviewed Danes declared the theory of evolution false.
One anti-evolutionist group in Turkey is the Istanbul based Bilim Arastirma Vakfi (BAV), or "Science Research Foundation", which was founded by Adnan Oktar. Its activities include campaigns against the teaching of evolution. It has been described as one of the world's strongest anti-evolution movements outside of North America. US based creationist organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research have worked alongside them. Some scientists have protested that anti-evolution books published by this group (such as The Evolution Deceit) have become more influential than real biology textbooks. The teaching of evolution in high schools has been fought by Ali Gören, a member of parliament and professor of medicine, who believes such education has negative effects.
The situation is very fragile, and the status of evolution in education varies from one government to the next. For example, in 1985 Education Minister Vehbi Dincerier had scientific creationism added to high school texts, and also had the discredited Lamarckism presented alongside Darwinism. Only in 1998 was this changed somewhat, with texts presenting a more balanced view, though still mentioning creationism and Lamarckism. At present the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, which is sympathetic to creationist views, holds power. It was elected in 2002 and again with a greater majority in 2007.
In general, material that conflicts with religious beliefs is highly controversial in Turkey. For example, in November 2007 a prosecutor launched a probe into whether biologist Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion is "an attack on religious values". Its publisher could face trial and up to one year in prison if the prosecutor concludes that the book "incites religious hatred" and insults religious values.
Turkish academics who have defended evolutionary theory have received death threats, for instance biologist Aykut Kence received an email telling him to enjoy his "final days". Kence helped establish the Evolution Group, whose aim is to improve public understanding of evolution. However, opposition to creationism is not very powerful; Umit Sayin, a neurologist, describes academics and universities as "slow and sluggish" in their response. Kence maintains that "if knowledgeable people keep quiet, it only helps those who spread nonsense."
In December 2006, a schoolgirl in St. Petersburg, Russia and her father decided to take the teaching of evolution in Russian schools to court. The position of the Russian Ministry of Education supports the theory of evolution. The suit has been backed by representatives of Russian Orthodox Church.
As of 2005, evolution was not taught in Pakistani universities. In 2006, the Pakistan Academy of Sciences became a signatory of the InterAcademy Panel Statement on "The teaching of evolution". Many of the contemporary titles on the creation-evolution controversy, such as those by Richard Dawkins, have been translated into Urdu.
In 2004, teaching of creationism in religious education classes by Rio de Janeiro's education department sparked protest from Brazilian scientists.