Teaching Creationism in public schools has been a controversial topic in America’s public schools for almost a century. Unfortunately, while the controversy is an issue that nearly every American has an opinion about, it is also an issue about which most Americans know very little. Research by the National Center of Science Education has shown that only a minority of Americans understand the most basic concepts of evolutionary theory; and while most Americans claim to attend church regularly, decades of research by Wheaton College shows that Americans know very little about what the Bible actually says. In order to develop a reasonable opinion on the issue, it is important to understand the arguments on both sides; and nearly everyone who understands both sides of the debate agrees Creationism, or other alternatives to evolution, should not be taught in public schools.
The first step to understanding the debate is to define what is meant by Creationism. According to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based intelligent design research center, “Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago.” Many people confuse such strict Creationism with the idea of intelligent Design. According to Stephen Meyer, PhD, “[Intelligent Design] holds that there are tell-tale features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by a designing intelligence. The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it disputes Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.” Prominent advocates for Intelligent Design include Lehigh University biology professor Michael Behe.
Very few people actually advocate teaching such strict Creationism in public schools—let alone in science classes. There are some scientists actively working on defending literal interpretations of the Bible. In 2007, a New York Times article featured a controversy over Marcus Ross, who was being awarded a PhD in paleontology by the University of Rhode Island. While Ross’s research at Rhode Island was strictly in line with evolutionary theory, it was well known that he personally held Creationist beliefs and intended to pursue such research after graduation. Ross now teaches at Liberty University, a conservative Christian college. But, while Ross is a Creationist, he readily admits the scientific evidence for Creationism is still small; but, he believes there is a growing number of scientists studying the topic and the field is ripe for development.
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While there is a clear and meaningful distinction between Creationism and Intelligent Design, neither should be taught in public schools at this time. People can debate whether Intelligent Design truly meets the definition, but the fact remains that the concept is in early stages of research. Secondary school science classes, for good reason, teach the basic and most well established concepts of science. There are many cutting-edge research areas in biology, such as systems biology and astrobiology, and these fields are not addressed in public schools. Intelligent Design, at best, fits into the category of emerging science fields that students can study after they understand the foundational concepts taught in public secondary schools.