My group decided to do our Unit 4 Assignment on the teaching (or lack thereof) of the Theory of Evolution in public schools. The controversy, many would say, stems from the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which among other things, provides all citizens with the freedom of religion, and effectively separates the church and the state. This means that anything funded by the government, like public education, can’t show any sort of favoritism toward any religion. It would be unconstitutional.
For some background information, rewind back to 1925, when Darwinism was on the rise. People in Tennessee were in an uproar after teachers began to implement the Theory of Evolution in the school’s curriculum. Even though the theory had been basically proven as scientific fact, it contradicted the religious beliefs of the largely-Christian population of the state (In the Abrahamic religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–sacred texts speak of the world being only about 10,000 years old, and of people and animals being placed on the earth by God, rather than evolving from one another. Darwinism renders both of these claims obsolete). The matter was eventually taken to court, in the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925. In it, the court ruled that evolution could not be taught in public schools, because it degraded certain religions beliefs. But however entertaining the trial was, it never resolved the question of whether the First Amendement permitted states to ban teaching of a theory which contradicted religious beliefs.
It wasn’t until 1968, during the Epperson v. Arkansas case, that the Supreme Court ruled such bans unconstitutional, as their main purpose was religious, and therefore unable to be made into legislation. Still, many parents have reservations about sending their kids in to learn about evolution, even though it has now become a foundational concept of modern biology. Many public schools have taken to avoiding the subject by simply never mentioning evolution in the classroom. But whether this is the right thing to do, remains to be seen.
With this information in mind, the stasis questions I’ve come up with for this topic are:
Conjecture: Does it, or does it not go against the 1st amendment to teach the Theory of Evolution in public schools? OR Does teaching the Theory of Evolution degrade certain religions enough for it to be considered a threat to a citizen’s freedom of religion?
Definition: Do the origins of this controversy have more to do with American citizens’ will to protect the first amendment, or the fear of religious citizens of having there religion supposedly upstaged by science.
Quality: Is it more important to inform the nation’s youth of basic scientific knowledge, or to avoid the risk of discrediting parts of someone’s religion?
Policy/Quality: What are the potential long term effects of withholding scientific knowledge from our nation’s youth? Of discrediting certain claims made by a person’s religion? Which consequences are more/less preferable?
And finally, after answering all of these questions, we can ask:
Policy: Should our public schools be teaching students the Theory of Evolution?