Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987), was a United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of teaching creationism. The Court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that where evolutionary science was taught in public schools, creation science must also be taught, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It also held 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”. In support of Aguillard, 72 Nobel prize-winning scientists (such as Bertrand Russell), 17 state academies of science, and seven other scientific organizations filed amicus briefs that described creation science as being composed of religious tenets. The Supreme Court of the United States found State acts which are far more innocuous than that 1925 Tennessee law—acts expressly mandating neutrality—now to be unconstitutional establishments of religion.
The Supreme Court held that the establishment clause was violated by Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act, in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) 482 US 578, 96 L Ed 2d 510, 107 S Ct 2573. The Act declared that it was enacted to protect academic freedom; required public schools to give balanced treatment to the “sciences” of creation and evolution in classroom lectures, textbooks, library materials, or other programs to the extent that they dealt in any way with the origin of man, life, the earth, or the universe; decreed that when creation or evolution is taught, each shall be taught as a theory rather than proven scientific fact; defined “Creation-Science” and “Evolution-Science” as the scientific evidence for, respectively, creation or evolution, and inferences therefrom; forbid discrimination against any public school teacher who chooses to be a creation scientist or to teach scientific data pointing to creationist; provided that instruction in the subject of origins is not required, but insisted on instruction in both creationist and evolutionary models if public schools chose to teach either.
Significantly, even though the Louisiana statute specifically mandated that instruction be limited to an examination of “scientific data” and the “scientific evidence for, respectively, creation or evolution” and never mentioned either God or the Bible, the Court nevertheless found it to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion. As one legal observer insightfully noted, “The courts. . . . apparently find creationism to be a religious doctrine, but will not make evident the definition of religion which underlies their decisions.”
Yet, why did the earlier Tennessee court find that a State statute that specifically acknowledged God in relation to creation was not an unconstitutional establishment of religion? Because, as Justice Chambliss explained, the law reflected the provisions of . . . . . . our Constitution, and the fundamental Declaration lying back of it, through all of which runs recognition of and appeal to “God” and a life to come. The Declaration of Independence opens
with a reference to “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” and holds this truth “to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator,” etc., and concludes “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union read, “And whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the world . . . ”
Because the state law was consistent with the explicit language in our federal governing documents, and because it negated only “the right to teach in the public schools a denial of the existence, recognized by our Constitution, of the Creator of all mankind,” it was upheld by the Court. Based, therefore, on the wording in the founding documents, Chambliss had concluded:
That the Legislature may prohibit the teaching of the future citizens and office holders to the State a theory that denies the Divine Creator will hardly be denied.
Significantly, to reach this conclusion, the decision had cited three of the four documents identified in the U. S. Code as “organic laws”—those documents that establish and define the operation of our government. Since those organic laws specifically fuse into the American structure of government the concept of a divine creator, a probing question is: may the judiciary nullify, or rule to be unconstitutional, a teaching expressly set forth in the documents it is charged with upholding?
The response to this question often comes in the form of an objection: science has acquired new information unknown to those who framed our government; based, therefore, on this new information, the courts must reach conclusions at variance with those stipulated by the founding documents. Or, as Vermont Law School Professor Steven Wise argues, “Facts change and with them the scientific theories that assume those facts. . . . When facts change, the law that assumes those facts should change.”
However, it is a mistake to believe that the arguments about evolution actually postdate the framers of our documents. While uninformed laymen erroneously believe the theory of evolution to be a product of Charles Darwin in his first major work of 1859, the historical records are exceedingly clear that our framers were well-acquainted with the theories and principle teachings of evolution—as well as the science and philosophy both for and against that thesis—well before Darwin synthesized those long-standing teachings in his writings.
For example, Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell explains: “The general idea of evolution is very old; it is already to be found in Anaximander (sixth century B.C.). . . . [and] Descartes, Kant, [and] Laplace had advocated a gradual origin for the solar system in place of sudden creation.” Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn, a zoologist and paleontologist, agrees, declaring that there are “ancient pedigrees for all that we are apt to consider modern. Evolution has reached its present fullness by slow additions in twenty-four centuries.” He continues,
“Evolution as a natural explanation of the origin of the higher forms of life . . . developed from the teaching of Thales and Anaximander into those of Aristotle. . . . and it is startling to find him, over two thousand years ago, clearly stating, and then rejecting, the theory of the survival of the fittest as an explanation of the evolution of adaptive structures.”
And British anthropologist Edward Clodd similarly affirms that, “The pioneers of evolution—the first on record to doubt the truth of the theory of special creation, whether as the work of departmental gods or of one Supreme Deity,
matters not—lived in Greece about the time already mentioned; six centuries before Christ.”
For example, Anaximander (600 b.c.) introduced the theory of spontaneous generation; Diogenes (550 b.c.) introduced the concept of the primordial slime; Empedocles (495-455 b.c.) introduced the theory of the survival of the fittest and of natural selection; Democritus (460-370 b.c.) advocated the mutability and adaptation of species; the writings of Lucretius, before the birth of Christ, announced that all life sprang from “mother earth” rather than from any specific deity; Bruno (1548-1600) published works arguing against creation and for evolution in 1584-85; Leibnitz (1646-1716) taught the theory of intermedial species; Buffon (1707-1788) taught that man was a quadruped ascended from the apes, about which Helvetius also wrote in 1758; Swedenborg (1688-1772) advocated and wrote on the nebular hypothesis (the early “big bang”) in 1734, as did Kant in 1755; etc. It is a simple fact that countless works for (and against) evolution had been written for over two millennia prior to the drafting of our governing documents and that much of today’s current phraseology surrounding the evolution debate was familiar rhetoric at the time our documents were framed.
In fact, Dr. Henry Osborn, curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, describes the third period in the history of evolution —the period in which our framers lived—as a period which produced the evolution writings of “Linnaeus, Buffon, E[rasmus] Darwin, Lamarck, Goethe, Treviranus, Geof. St. Hilaire, St. Vincent, Is. St. Hilaire. Miscellaneous writers: Grant, Rafinesque, Virey, Dujardin, d’Halloy, Chevreul, Godron, Leidy, Unger, Carus, Lecoq, Schaafhausen, Wolff, Meckel, Von Baer, Serres, Herbert, Buch, Wells, Matthew, Naudin, Haldeman, Spencer, Chambers, Owen.” Clearly, then, it was not in the absence of knowledge about the debate over evolution, but rather in its presence, that our framers made the decision to incorporate in our governing documents the principle of a creator.
Thomas Paine provides one example affirming this. Although Paine was the most openly and aggressively anti-religious of the founders, in his 1787 Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists in Paris, Paine nevertheless forcefully denounced the French educational system which taught students that man was the result of prehistoric cosmic accidents or had developed from some other species:
It has been the error of schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the Author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles; he can only discover them, and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.
When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile of architecture, a well-executed statue, or a highly-finished painting where life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our mistaking a surface of light and shade for cubical solidity, our ideas are naturally led to think of the extensive genius and talent of the artist.
When we study the elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of Newton. How, then, is it that when we study the works of God in creation, we stop short and do not think of God? It is from the error of the schools in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only and thereby separated the study of them from the Being who is the Author of them. . . .
The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only has been that of generating in the pupils a species of atheism. Instead of looking through the works of creation to the Creator Himself, they stop short and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of His existence. They labor with studied ingenuity to ascribe everything they behold to innate properties of matter and jump over all the rest by saying that matter is eternal.
And when we speak of looking through nature up to nature’s God, we speak philosophically the same rational language as when we speak of looking through human laws up to the power that ordained them.
God is the power of first cause, nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon.
But infidelity, by ascribing every phenomenon to properties of matter, conceives a system for which it cannot account and yet it pretends to demonstration.
Paine certainly did not advocate this position as a result of religious beliefs or of any teaching in the Bible, for he believed that “the Bible is spurious” and “a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy.” Yet, this anti-Bible Founder was nevertheless a strong supporter of teaching the theistic origins of man.
Theistic v. Non-Theistic Approaches
For the past twenty-five centuries, the debate has divided itself along two primary approaches. As Justice Chambliss noted:
Two theories of organic evolution are well recognized, one the theistic. . . . [and t]he other theory is known as the materialistic, which denies that God created man, that He was the first cause.
Confirming this general distinction between approaches, Dr. Robert Clark from Cambridge notes:
Haeckel [1834-1919] claimed that spontaneous generation must be true, not because its truth could be confirmed in the laboratory, but because, otherwise, it would be necessary to believe in a Creator. . . . Compare the remark of Sir Charles Lyell [1797-1875, author of several works that influenced Darwin], “The German critics have attacked me vigorously, saying that by the impugning of the doctrine of spontaneous generation, I have left them nothing but the direct and miraculous intervention of the First Cause.”
Yet, despite the fact that the arguments about evolution are frequently drawn toward religion, John Dewey accurately observed:
The vivid and popular features of the anti-Darwinian row tended to leave the impression that the issue was between science on one side and theology on the other. Such was not the case—the issue lay primarily within science itself, as Darwin himself early recognized.
Indeed, this has always been, and still is, a hotly contested debate among highly credentialed scientists from both sides; and these debates over evolution continue to prove that establishing the origin of man is, scientifically speaking, an inquiry still surrounded by much hypothetical conjecture and debate. That is, while science is settled among all scientists on issues like gravity, fluid dynamics, heliocentricity, the laws of motion, etc., there still is no clear consensus—or anything approaching it—among scientists on the issue of the origins of man.
While the debate over the origins of man has always been between a theistic and a non-theistic explanation, among those who embrace the theistic view have been found—and still are found—three distinct approaches (although the latter two are not incompatible with the first): (1) intelligent-design (that which exists came into being by divine guidance, but the period of time required or the specifics of the process are unsettled, possibly unprovable, and therefore remain debatable); (2) theistic evolution (that which exists came into being over a long, slow passing of time through natural laws and processes but under divine guidance); and (3) special creation (that which exists came into being in six literal days). This, then, makes four separate historical approaches to the origins of man: three theistic, and one non-theistic.
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Dr. Phillip Stott explains the evolution hoax and how it benefits the Darwinists in the video below…
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