Home > science > 25th Anniversary : Edwards vs. Aguillard

25th Anniversary : Edwards vs. Aguillard

It’s been 25 years since the Supreme Court rules in Edwards vs. Aguillard that a state run school cannot teach creationism as a valid scientific theory as to the origin of life on the grounds that it specifically promotes a particular religion which is in violation of the first Amendment. The case was something of a victory but also something of a defeat.

As a victory, the effect is obvious: you stop teaching mythology as fact. Plus, you get to cover dinosaurs, and everyone likes dinosaurs. No more having to teach the contradiction between the existence of dinosaurs millions of years ago and that Creation took place around 6000 years ago. Naysayers might on me already trying to explain that Intelligent Design (aka creationism without “creationism”) doesn’t state the age of the Earth; we aren’t talking about that though, we are talking about a law which mandated the teaching of Genesis Creation as being scientifically valid, as if it were somehow testable or recreatable.

Oddly enough it’s a defeat because it forced proponents of bible literalism underground. This is where the very concept of ID comes in to play. Removing the omnipotent, omniscient creator god and replacing it with a tinkerer who just can’t seem to get it right. No longer could these religious fundamentalists openly try and ruin the scientific education of the young, now they had to get clever or give up the fight. This is why the new text books that openly try and push their agenda don’t mention who the designer is. It’s not a matter of being open for them, it’s a matter of legality. They can’t claim its god because of this court decision. So they have to call it something else.

Which is, of course, semantic word play. If it’s an intelligence, and it designed the universe; what else could it be? When it was Creation it was at least honest about forcing people to learn a religion that they may or may not subscribe to. Now, it’s the same thing only they can’t some out and say it.

The Louisianna bill that caused this case to come to the court mandated that their be equal treatment given to “evolution-science” and “creation-science.” Given that there is no science in the creation account, but is instead a collection of events ex nihilo I’m curious as to what kind of science was being taught. Instead the courses being offered were supposed to explain that creation was a theory that had the same equal footing as evolution. Which is an odd assertion to make because whenever creationists tell me that Evolution is just a theory, they use it pejoratively; but when applied to their idea it’s supposed to be complimentary. When the court looked at the text books being used in compliance with the act, it was revealed that all of the texts were published by one of two groups: the CRS (Creation Research Society) or the ICR (Institute for Creation Research), both groups are explicitly Christian organizations—which in and of itself is not necessarily a detriment, but both groups require a dogmatic adherence to very specific, and very literal beliefs.

Ultimately, it would be impossible to think that this law was entirely independent of any sort of religious agenda. There are only two religions with subsets that believe a literal interpretation of the Creationist account: the Christian bible literalists and Islamic Creation literalists (famously Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). Whereas everyone else in the world seems to be able to accept science as science and religion as religion. Now if someone wants to believe that there was a kick starter god, the first causer, I’m willing to accept that as being a valid hypothesis. I don’t agree with it nor do I feel that it has been proven, but its more reasonable than the constant tinkerer.

Fundamentally what IDers and Creationists always mistake is what the term “theory” stands for. Evolution is a theory because it seeks to explain a body of facts. A fact of evolution is not that animals adapt to their environment in successive generations, rather it’s a specific case of an animal giving rise to a variation. A collection of these facts builds a theory, just as every instance of an object falling to the ground is a fact for the theory of gravity. Facts cannot explain other facts, that’s what the theory is for. What Lousiana’s law did was mandate that everything else in the science class be considered proven scientific fact, while evolution was merely a theory. It gets it wrong on several different levels but the effect was to make sure that Christianity survived. Because it wasn’t going to if not for this bill, which when the bill was struck down is why we only read about this religion in history books as a curious belief like that of the Norsemen or the Egyptians.

The other problem is that the law, and others like it, propose that somehow academic freedom is inhibited when you can’t teach religion in a science class. This is like saying I’m not free because I can’t fly like a bird, it’s two different things. We don’t teach American history in math classes, so why ought we teach religion in biology? Even worse is wondering how you protect religious freedom by forcing teachers to teach something they may not believe in? If it’s about academic freedom then why limit the discussion to just Creationism?

25 years ago, I feel that this country made a good decision. We decided that science ought to be taught in science class. However, it’s depressing that it had to come to that in the first place.

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