A trial is currently taking place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania concerning the question of whether a local school district can require students to be told about intelligent design (ID) as an alternative to Darwinian evolution (Holden 1796). This trial, known as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, could result in the setting of a national precedence. The reason for this is that the losing side is likely to appeal every step of the way, ultimately arriving at the Supreme Court (Johnson 2). In order to formulate an informed opinion as to whether students should be required to be told about intelligent design, it is necessary to examine the history of the debate, take both viewpoints into account, and understand the stakes behind the decision.
The controversy surrounding evolution and how it should be taught in public schools first entered the public eye in 1925 when John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution to Tennessee schoolchildren. The "Monkey Trial" as John Scopes' case was nicknamed, was not really about John Scopes breaking the law, but rather about conflicting social and intellectual values (Linder). William Jennings Bryan claimed that "if evolution wins, Christianity goes" and on the other side, Clarence Darrow warned that banning evolution was "opening the doors for a reign of bigotry equal to anything in the Middle Ages" (Linder). While both of these statements are a bit over the top, they do capture the fears rampant on both sides of the debate. As history tells us, the court found John Scopes guilty of teaching evolution and fined him $100 (the fine was later overturned based on a technicality). The court also stated that while they forbade the teaching of evolution, they "did not require the teaching of any other doctrine, so that it did not benefit any doctrine over the others" (Linder). This case was a giant setback for advocates of evolutionary theory, one that would not be overcome for over forty years.
In 1968 the Supreme Court's decision on Epperson v. Arkansas, reversed its previous ruling and allowed the teaching of evolution in public schools. Their decision was based on an interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that prohibits a state from "requiring that teaching and learning be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any particular religious sect or doctrine" (Wikipedia). This was a great step forward for evolution supporters, but evolution was still frowned upon by a majority of the public while creation science reigned supreme. Before we can come back to the present day debate there remains one more landmark decision in the history of the conflict between evolution and religion.
That decision was the case of Edwards v. Aguillard, which took place in 1987. The case was over a law requiring creation science to be taught every time that evolution was taught. The Supreme Court found this law to be unconstitutional, but it also stated that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction" (Wikipedia). The backlash of this decision was felt a mere two years later when creationists produced the text book Of Pandas and People. Of Pandas and People lays out an assault against evolutionary biology and is the primary text book of intelligent design supporters (Wikipedia). Although intelligent design proponents claim no religious affiliation, their primary textbook was written by individuals in favor of Christian creation theory and was written shortly after creationism lost a landmark trial. Thus the link between intelligent design and Christian creation theory is very strong and the statement that intelligent design is not linked to a particular religion becomes very suspicious.
With the turbulent background of the debate laid out,...