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'Scientific creationism' challenges theory of evolution


TEACHER John Scopes, over 50 years ago, faced legal repercussions for espousing evolution as a theory of the origin of life. Today, many schools teach evolution only. But a new movement called "scientific creationism" is challenging the legality of public schools presenting only the theory of evolution in teaching the origins of life.

Evolution theorizes that all life originated from a primitive cell which, through ages of selective pressures and genetic variation, eventually gave rise to complex, diverse life forms. Creationism maintains that a Supreme Being created every life form distinct from all others apes were always apes, man was always man. Scientific creationism applies laws of biology, physics, and chemistry to the Genesis version of the origin of life. Result: "scientific fact," creationists declare; "pseudoscience," evolutionists scoff.

The issue of interpreting and applying scientific laws has again become a legal dispute. Confident that their theory is scientifically valid, the scientific creationists are demanding equal time in the public school science curricula. They point to academic freedom. Certain that scientific creationism is religious dogma disguised as science, opponents point to the separation of church and state. Legislation mandating a two-model approach to teaching the origins of life has been considered in several states. Such a bill came before the 81st Illinois General Assembly (S.B. 1478, sponsored by Sen. Robert Mitchler, R., Oswego).

Scientific creationists point to the shortcomings in evolution theory. The "missing link" for man's evolution and other gaps in fossil records are conceded by evolutionists as stumbling blocks in their scheme of the gradual development of complex life forms from preexisting simple life forms. Creationists interpret this absence of transitional forms as evidence that there are no connections between species.

The two theories also differ vastly in the age they assign Earth. Creationists peg an age of 10,000 years on the Earth, and deny the radioactive dating and other techniques used by evolutionists to arrive at an age estimate of 4.5 billion years.

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Nor do the creationists adhere to the evolutionists' principle that "ontogeny recapitulates phytogeny," meaning that the embryonic development in several present-day species repeats some of the features found in their supposed ancestoral forms. For example, embryonic mammals form pharyngeal pouches, which in fish (a predecessor of mammals in the evolutionary scheme) later become the gill slits. Creationists cite this similarity in development as superficial, because the pharyngeal pouches never become external openings in mammals.

The two groups also disagree over the second law of thermodynamics. This law states that in a closed system, all things tend toward disorder. Creationists say that by this law, then, life cannot evolve into complex forms, it would regress. Evolutionists stress that the law only applies to "a closed system," which the Earth is not, because it receives continual energy input from the sun. Therefore, evolutionists say, it is invalid to apply the second law of thermodynamics to disprove evolution.

The Institute of Creation Research (1CR), a San Diego-based organization, advocates scientific creationism through promotion and education. Walter Brown, director of the Midwest branch of ICR in Naperville, maintains that those features on Earth which geophysicists cannot explain can be understood in terms of a great worldwide flood, and that there is evidence for the existence of Noah's Ark. Scientific creationists further assert that the requirements for life are too complex for chance alone to account for creation.

What's in a theory

A THEORY is a scientific explanation of a phenomenon based on observation and experimentation. Through research, new observations and conclusions are reported and established. Theories must explain or be consistent with the new information or be adjusted accordingly.

The theory of evolution is not cast in concrete. It must be able to accommodate any new findings coming out of on-going research in diverse scientific fields like geology, paleontology, genetics and embryology.

Evolutionists acknowledge that fossils do not completely record the transition of life from one form to another, but there is sufficient preserved evidence to suggest a phylogenetic scheme (an evolutionary history). Present day life forms suggest common ancestors too: scales on birds recall the hypothesized reptilian ancestor, and the duckbill platypus lays eggs like a reptile yet nurses its young like a mammal. Similarities among species are also found in their embryology, immunology and genetic makeup.

Scientific creationism bills have been considered in several other states, including Florida, New York, Georgia and Iowa. The only state to pass such a bill was Tennessee, where its statute mandated that schools teach both theories, but the law was declared unconstituional in 1975 on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.

In Illinois, Mitchler's bill would have created the "Balance Treatment for Scientific Creationism and Evolution Act," but it was never released from the Senate Rules Committee. That bill would have required that equal time be allotted to scientific creationism and evolution in elementary and secondary public school curricula.

In some instances, creationists are petitioning their local school board for a two-model approach. But the creationists are well aware of the possible legal challenges to their position. The Institute for Creation Research explains the legal implications of promoting scientific creationism in public schools: "Scientific creationism can be taught in public schools, while religious creationism cannot under current law. Creationists approaching public schools must avoid reference in discussions, resolutions, or classroom materials, to the Bible, Adam, the fall, or Noah, except in showing that evolution is wholly contrary to religious convictions of many individuals."

One of the adversaries of scientific creationism is the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), whose Fund for Freedom in Science Teaching helped support legal efforts against the Tennessee law. "We vigorously oppose scientific creationism on the grounds that it is not science," said Wayne Moyer, executive director of NABT. Moyer also finds the scientific creationism movement "an alarming trend . . . using all the techniques of propaganda." The NABT, which views scientific creationism as religious dogma, does not oppose presentation of that theory "when it is labeled as a religious position." But Moyer emphasizes, "I don't want science teachers being told they must teach religion."

Brown, who became director of the Midwest Center of the ICR last September, said that in Illinois his organization is "not advocating legislation on a two-model approach, or anything else." While several groups in the state have expressed interest in supporting such legislative efforts, Brown is instead emphasizing public information on scientific creationism. Through such education, he feels people will become convinced of the validity of the theory, and that, in time, the theory of scientific creationism will be incorporated into the school curriculum.

Brown also feels that it is a matter of intellectual maturity; that students should be given the opportunity to scrutinize both evolution and scientific creationism theories before arriving at their own conclusions. His position, says Brown, is simple, "We want all the science taught."

The issue begins to resemble the Scopes trial in reverse. And in an interesting twist, Scopes' defense attorney Clarence Darrow said it is bigotry to teach only one theory of origins.

Support for this column, which reports policy developments concerning science and technology, is provided in part by a National Science Foundation grant to the Illinois Legislative Council Science Unit, where Julie A. Dutton is a research associate.

February 1981/Illinois Issues/23

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