Zimmerman, Michael. 'Keep guard up after evolution victory' BioScience 37 (9): 636,
Zimmerman, Michael. "Keep guard up after evolution
victory" BioScience 37 (9): 636, October l987.
[This is a "Viewpoint" editorial, and is very
nearly the first thing one sees on opening the
October issue of BioScience. Zimmerman is
Professor of Biology at Oberlin College, Oberlin,
OH, 44074, and is Editor of the Ohio Center for
Science Education Newsletter.]
While, as biologists and educators, we have great
cause for rejoicing over the recent US Supreme
Court decision in the Louisiana "equal treatment
for 'creation science'" case, we must,
nevertheless, be very careful. I am concerned that
much of the scientific community will now treat the
creation-evolution issue in the same way the issue
was treated immediately following the Scopes trial
in 1925. That is, the issue will be ignored.
After witnessing the humiliation suffered by
William Jennings Bryan at the hands of Clarence
Darrow and H.L. Mencken, the scientific community
assumed that their battle was won. However, the
legacy of the Scopes trial was a diminution of
evolutionary coverage in high school textbooks,
reduction of classroom time devoted to evolution,
and the passage of antievolution laws in various
states. Evolutionist forces may have won the
Scopes battle, but, by default, they lost virtually
every battle waged in the ensuing 35 years.
Unless we are vigilant, the recent Supreme Court
victory for evolutionists could also turn sour.
The actual decision in the Louisiana case was
weaker than Judge William Overton's earlier ruling
overturning a similar law in Arkansas. The Supreme
Court ruling did not, in any way, outlaw the
teaching of "creation science" in public school
classrooms. Quite simply it ruled that, in the
form taken by the Louisiana law, it is
unconstitutional to demand equal time for this
particular subject. "Creation science" can still
be brought into science classrooms if and when
teachers and administrators feel that it is
appropriate. Numerous surveys have shown that
teachers and administrators favor just this route.
And, in fact, "creation science" is currently being
taught in science courses throughout the country.
Bill Keith, the state senator who introduced the
Louisiana law, has stated quite clearly that the
war is not over. The battleground in simply going
to shift. Instead of fighting at the state and
national level, creationists are expected to move
to the local level, where they may put enormous
pressure on individual teachers and school boards.
Teachers and administrators are not only going to
be under increased pressure to provide equal
treatment for "creation science," but also to omit
any topics that contain evolutionist perspective.
Professional biologists and educators need to
continue to be very active in the creation-
evolution fight if the Supreme Court decision is to
have a lasting, positive effect. First, we need to
support elementary and secondary science teachers.
Those teaching evolutionist topics must be
encouraged, and those under pressure either to
teach creationism or to omit evolution must be able
to turn to us for help. Some state academies of
science (e.g., Iowa and Ohio) have standing
committees that are designed to mediate such
disputes. We need to get involved with such
committees, or work to form comparable groups.
Second, the National Center for Science Education,
the umbrella organization for local Committees of
Correspondence on Evolution, must be supported.
The NCSE (Box 9477, Berkeley, CA 94709) is fighting
for improvements in science education. Local
chapters have been quite successful in fighting
fundamentalist inroads into the science curricula.
Third, we must monitor public school textbooks.
When poor books are used or proposed, members of
the appropriate state or local committees must be
informed. Pressure may also be applied directly to
the publishing companies. Clearly, these
activities are going to take time and effort; time
and effort that could be spent on our own
research. Let us learn from the mistakes after the
Scope victory: another such victory might mark
the end of meaningful evolution education in our
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank