The Edwards Decision And Neocreationism

Justice William Brennan wrote the Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision striking down Louisiana's balanced-treatment law. Seven justices signed the decision; Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissent joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Edwards v. Aguillard was argued more narrowly than the earlier McLean v. Arkansas decision, which had struck down Arkansas's equal-time law after finding that it violated all three prongs of Lemon. Edwards declared that the Louisiana equal-time law violated the first prong (purpose) of Lemon and did not extend the argument to the other prongs (as had McLean). Another difference between the two cases appeared in the treatment of creation science as science: McLean—after a full trial—declared that creation science failed as science. Edwards—decided on a summary judgment—did not take a stand on whether creation science qualified as science. Instead, Edwards ignored whether creation science was science and went straight to the Establishment Clause's requirement that schools be religiously neutral. Because creation science was a form of creationism, the court declared that it was unconstitutional to advocate it in the public schools:

The Act impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind. The legislative history demonstrates that the term "creation science," as contemplated by the state legislature, embraces this religious teaching. The Act's primary purpose was to change the public school science curriculum to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety. Thus, the Act is designed either to promote the theory of creation science that embodies a particular religious tenet or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects. In either case, the Act violates the First Amendment. (Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578 (1987) at 579)

The Edwards decision, however, suggested loopholes that creationists could, and did, seize on. one was a statement recognizing the extant ability of teachers to "supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life." Such theories, however, had to be secular and not religious: "We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. ... 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" (Edwards at 593-594).

This wording encouraged antievolutionists to argue for the teaching of scientific alternatives to evolution.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment