Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Fifty Years Ago On the Teaching of Evolution in Public Schools

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Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
History of Science
Edward Hessler

The fiftieth anniversary of Epperson v. Arkansas was yesterday, November 12, 1968. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled (9-0) that an Arkansas law barring the teaching of evolution in public schools violated the First Amendment's establishment clause . Amendment I reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Susan Epperson challenged a 1928 Arkansas statute.
It shall be unlawful for any [public school] teacher … to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals”, the law stated. “[A]nd also it shall be unlawful for any teacher … to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches the doctrine or theory that mankind descended or ascended from a lower order of animals.

There is an article celebrating her, the decision and what followed in the November issue of Church and State, a monthly magazine published by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Once Epperson v. Arkansas had been settled, new challenges from anti-evolutionists followed which are discussed in the article, e.g., scientific creationism, intelligent design and teach the controversy under the guise of academic freedom. Three states have enacted laws on teaching the controversy: Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
Image result for evolution

The theory of evolution is supported by multiple lines of evidence: observational, experimental, DNA, paleontology, developmental, behavioral, population biology, physiology. Anti-evolutionists use arguments that don't explain the data, the hallmark of science.  

Glenn Branch of the Center for Science Education summarizes the importance of the Epperson decision in these words. The Epperson decision reshaped the legal landscape and has had a continuing impact not only on jurisprudence but also in what is being taught in evolution. Biology teachers, whether they know it or not, have benefitted from Susan Epperson standing up for teaching it.

Epperson later taught chemistry and biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs where she is now Instructor Emerita.

Thanks Ms. Epperson.

Here is the Wiki entry on Epperson v. Arkansas. 

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