Education Icon Education

Eugenie Scott Misrepresents the Law on Evolution Education

Casey Luskin

Uncommon Descent is reporting that National Center for Science Education (NCSE) executive director Eugenie Scott has stated in a talk: “You cannot teach evidence against evolution. There have been some court decisions that have talked about this including Kitzmiller, but there has not been a really clean test of this idea of teaching evidence against evolution.”

Isn’t that convenient for Eugenie Scott that she now claims that the courts have insulated evolution from any form of critique in public schools?

In any case, Dr. Scott is misrepresenting the law. The Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit dealt with the teaching of intelligent design, not teaching scientific evidence against evolution. And even if it had, Judge Jones would have been overruled by a much higher court–the U.S. Supreme Court–which has already ruled that it is legal to teach scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories like evolution. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard, a case that directly dealt with the topic of origins-education in public schools:

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. . . . [T]eaching 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 v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 593-594 (1987).)

Eugenie can say whatever she wants but she cannot overrule the U.S. Supreme Court refuting her claims.

Actually, I’ve heard secondhand that Eugenie doesn’t privately believe it’s really illegal to critique evolution. I’m not going to name names, but I’ve spoken with legal scholars who have collaborated with Darwin lobbyists. They’ve told me that what Eugenie Scott fears more than anything is an army of teachers who WILL teach the scientific controversy over evolution because she knows that under current law, it’s legal to do that. There’s a reason why, as Eugenie puts it, “there has not been a really clean test of this idea of teaching evidence against evolution.” That’s because the NCSE and its allies in the Darwin lobby are afraid to file a lawsuit against a policy that requires or permits scientific critique of evolution because they know they will probably lose that case in court.

After all, if the Darwin lobby feels a policy is unconstitutional, they waste little time in filing lawsuits; it took less than two months for attorneys working with the ACLU to help parents file a lawsuit after the Dover Area School Board passed a policy requiring the teaching of ID. But there have been multiple policies requiring or permitting scientific critique of evolution which have remained on the books for years without any lawsuit. For example:

Texas: Students must “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations . . . including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking,” and also “analyze and evaluate” core evolutionary claims, including “common ancestry,” “natural selection,” “mutation,” “sudden appearance,” the origin of the “complexity of the cell,” and the formation of “long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.”

Minnesota: “The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including . . . [the] theory of evolution . . . .”

New Mexico: Students will “critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.”

Pennsylvania: “Critically evaluate the status of existing theories (e.g., germ theory of disease, wave theory of light, classification of subatomic particles, theory of evolution, epidemiology of AIDS).”

Missouri: “Identify and analyze current theories that are being questioned, and compare them to new theories that have emerged to challenge older ones (e.g., Theory of Evolution . . . ).”

Alabama: “[E]volution by natural selection is a controversial theory . . . . Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

South Carolina: “Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”

Louisiana: Louisiana public schools shall “create and foster an environment…that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Mississippi: “No local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the origin of life.”

Kansas: “Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory.”

Ohio: “Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)”

Each of these policies are still in effect, except for the last two (Kansas’s policy was repealed in 2007 after conservatives lost a majority on the State Board of Education, and Ohio’s policy was repealed in 2006 after its State Board of Education underwent a similar change). The point is this: each of these policies are (or were) on the books for years without any legal challenge from the Darwin lobby. If Eugenie Scott is correct that it’s illegal to teach scientific critiques of Darwinian evolution, why is that?

Darwin lobbyists would love to ban scientific critique of evolution in public schools, so why haven’t they filed a lawsuit? It’s simple: They aren’t confident they would win because they know that current law does NOT make it illegal to teach scientific critiques of evolution in public schools.

What’s most distressing here isn’t just that Eugenie Scott is misrepresenting the law. It’s that in her perfect world, she would apparently prefer that teaching scientific critique of evolution be illegal. What kind of society would we live in if Eugenie Scott and the Darwin lobby had their way, and it was illegal to ask hard questions about scientific theories? Not a good one.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Eugenie ScottLaw and CourtsNational Center for Science Educationncse