Validity of Creation Science on Trial in Arkansas
The American Civil Liberties Union (aclu), questioning primarily the validity of creationism as a scientific theory, last week began its attempt to prove that Arkansas's law requiring public schools to teach creation theory in tandem with evolution is unconstitutional.
The aclu argued that creationism is a religion because it fails to meet academic standards for acceptance as a scientific theory. Therefore, the aclu said, the teaching of creationism in public schools violates the First Amendment's provision for the separation of church and state.
The aclu also contended that, because creationism as a scientific theory has no educational merit, an order to give "balanced treatment" to what is called "creation science" violates academic freedom. The law is also unconstitutionally vague, the aclu argued in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.
The challenge to creationism as a science is what distinguishes this trial from the 1925 Scopes Trial, to which it is being compared (the current trial is widely referred to as "Scopes II"), and from a trial in California involving the 13-year-old son of Kelly Seagraves, director of the Creation Science Research Center in San Diego (that trial was also referred to at the time as "Scopes II").
Evolution on Trial
In the Scopes trial, evolution was on trial. The aclu hired Clarence Darrow to defend a school teacher, John Scopes, against the charge that he taught evolution in violation of Tennessee law. Mr. Darrow lost the case to William Jennings Bryan, who argued for the state. Mr. Scopes was fined $100, and evolution was deleted from public-school texts until the 1960's.
The second trial, which took place last March, involved a claim that the state of California was violating the right of Mr. Seagraves's son to hold fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
In the Arkansas trial, the aclu, joined by a coalition of parents, clergy and educators, is making a direct attack on creationism's scientific validity.
The aclu brought forth several witnesses last week to testify that creationism is not a science. One of them, a philosophy professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said that creation theory does not rely on natural law, cannot be tested for truth, and fails to meet other criteria commonly accepted in determining what is or is not a scientific theory.
Harold Morowitz, a professor of biophysics at Yale University, testified that the creationists consistently misstate and misapply the fundamental laws of physics to support their theory.
Early in the week's testimony, attorneys for the state attempted to limit comments by witnesses about the validity of creationism as a scientific theory by objecting each time the line of questioning approached the subject.
Federal District Court Judge William R. Overton officially recognized the objections, however, and they ceased.
The aclu also called several theologians early in the week to testify that the description of creation used in the law closely parallels the account of creation in the Bible.
Francis Bruce Vawter, professor of religious studies at De Paul University in Chicago, said the act has as its "unmentioned reference book" the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
Langdon Gilkey, professor of theology at the University of Chicago School of Divinity, added that the law "is unquestionably a statement of religion."
Separation of Church and State
Robert M. Cearley of the Arkansas chapter of the aclu said the Arkansas law fails all three legal tests for constitutionality in questions of separation of church and state.
A law is unconstitutionally religious, he said in the aclu's opening statement, if it has no secular purpose; if a primary effect of it will be to advance religion; and if it will lead the state to become deeply entangled in religious judgments when enforcing it.
The aclu's case, which was moving more quickly than originally expected because of less cross-examination by the state than the aclu had anticipated, was to close sometime last week with further testimony from science teachers and other educators.
The state's case, under the direction of Arkansas Attorney General Steven Clark, rests on its ability to prove that creationism is a valid scientific theory.
One tactic Mr. Clark used early in the week was to attack evolution.
In his opening statement, Mr. Clark said, "The state will prove that neither 'creation-science' nor 'evolution-science' is science uninued on Page 18
der the strict definition." Because "creation-science" is at least as scientific as "evolution-science," Mr. Clark will try to prove, both should be given equal consideration.
Mr. Clark is expected to call witnesses who will point out inconsistencies in evolutionary theory, a tactic creationists have used successfully in debates before school boards and against evolutionists.
Mr. Clark's handling of the case has come under strong criticism from many creationists. The San Diego-based Institute for Creation Research notes in the latest issue of its newsletter, Acts & Facts, that prospects have "dimmed" for a favorable court ruling in the Arkansas case because of his performance.
Refused Offers to Assist
Mr. Clark consistently refused offers by attorneys John W. Whitehead and Wendell R. Bird, two leading pro-creationism lawyers, to assist in the case, and Judge Overton denied their motion to intervene on behalf of the state.
In a case involving a similar law in Louisiana, however, Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Bird have been desig-nated to assist the State Attorney General in the state's defense of the law.
Creationists in Louisiana have filed a suit of their own asking a federal judge to declare the state's law constitutional. The move came in response to a statement by State Superintendent of Education Kelly Nix that he would not implement the law until its constitutionality was settled.
Lacking Knowledge and Money
A survey by the state education department says that Louisiana school systems have neither the knowledge nor the money to carry out the law.
Should the Arkansas trial be decided in favor of the aclu, the aclu suit in Louisiana will still be heard, according to a William Ball, a constitutional lawyer who often argues First Amendment cases.
"There would be no precedent until the Supreme Court made a ruling in a case like this," Mr. Ball said. "Attorneys around the country would cite it, but what's binding in Arkansas isn't binding in North Dakota."