Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and
National Science Board
National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
Arlington, VA (NSB 04-01) [May 2004]
More Than a Century After Darwin, Evolution Still Under Attack in
In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education decided to delete evolution
from the state's science standards. The action received widespread press
coverage and sparked an outcry in the science community. Most of the
public also disagreed with the decision, which was reversed after board
members who had voted for the change were defeated in the next election.
Thus began another round of attacks on the teaching of evolution in public
school classrooms. Similar eruptions have been occurring since the
landmark 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial. Although Tennessee teacher John
Scopes was convicted, science ended up being the true victor, according to
the history books and thanks to the play Inherit the Wind. The next milestone
occurred in 1987 when the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that
prohibited the teaching of evolution unless equal time was given to
Recently, controversy over the teaching of evolution has emerged in Kansas
and nearly 20 other states. In general, the recent attacks on evolution have
come from two directions: a push to introduce "intelligent design" in science
classrooms as a viable alternative to evolution and efforts to add evolution
disclaimers to science textbooks.
In June 2001, the U.S. Senate adopted a "sense of the Senate" amendment
to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act authorization bill (which
later became known as the "No Child Left Behind Act"). Although the text of
the amendment appeared to promote the development of students' critical
thinking skills, it also contained the following sentence: "Where topics are
taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the
curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific
views that exist." Concerned that the amendment was a thinly veiled attempt
to inject the theory of intelligent design into science curriculums (because of
the singling out of evolution as a controversial theory), nearly 100 science
organizations mobilized in opposition to the amendment. The amendment
never made it into the final bill, but some of the language was included in the
conference committee report. Although such text does not have the force of
law, proponents of the intelligent design theory began to claim congressional
endorsement in their efforts to persuade school boards in several states and
localities to include the theory in science instruction.
In 2002, Ohio's state school board became embroiled in a year-long
controversy about the inclusion of evolution in the state's science education
standards (Clines 2002). Although the board ultimately approved standards
that strongly advocated the teaching of evolution, the door was left open for
teachers to permit classroom discussions that treat intelligent design as an
alternative to evolution (Sidoti 2002).
School boards in other states have also been involved in evolution-related
controversies. In Georgia, the Cobb County school board decided to affix
stickers to science textbooks stating that "evolution is a theory, not a fact,
regarding the origin of living things." This was not the first such action. In
1996, Alabama began requiring evolution disclaimer stickers on biology
textbooks. Similar statewide efforts were turned back in Louisiana (Maggi
2002) and Oklahoma (Cable News Network 2001). Although Alabama now
has the only statewide policy, local governments in other states are using
disclaimer stickers. Cobb County and other locales are facing legal
challenges to the evolution disclaimers.
Controversy over the teaching of evolution has also affected institutions of
A biology professor at a Texas university came under fire for religious
discrimination when he posted a demand on his website that students who
wanted a letter of recommendation from him for postgraduate studies had to
"truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of how the
human species originated (Madigan 2003).
In 2002, a new college in Virginia started primarily for home-schooled
students was denied accreditation by the American Academy for Liberal
Education because the college requires professors to sign a statement of
faith that they will teach from a creationist perspective (Olsen 2002).
This kind of controversy is almost unheard of in other industrialized nations.
However, that may be changing. For example, there was a recent uproar in
England when teachers at a college were accused of giving preference to a
creationism interpretation of biology.
The theory of intelligent design holds that life is too complex to have
happened by chance and that, therefore, some sort of intelligent designer
must be responsible. Critics claim that this theory is simply a more
sophisticated form of creationism (which the courts have said may not be
taught in public schools). They argue that intelligent design theory has
nothing to do with science because its assertions are not falsifiable: they
cannot be tested or observed and cannot undergo experimentation (Morris
2002). In contrast, "[evolution] has been directly observed in operation not
only in the laboratory but also in the field. Where there is still room for
argument and discussion is in the precise contributions of different
mechanisms to evolutionary change. In this vibrant debate, intelligent design
offers no meaningful contribution" (Greenspan 2002). According to Eugenie
C. Scott, president of the National Center for Science Education, "There
aren't any alternative scientific theories to evolution" (Watanabe 2002). In
October 2002, the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Board of Directors passed a resolution on intelligent design that "calls upon
its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education
policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary
evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of 'intelligent design theory' as
a subject matter for science education" (Pinholster 2002).
Cable News Network. 2001. Alabama keeps evolution warning on books.
16 July 2003.
Clines, F. X. 2002. Ohio board hears debate on an alternative to Darwinism.
New York Times, 12 March.
Greenspan, N. S. 2002. Not-so-intelligent design. The Scientist 16(5):12.
Madigan, N. 2003. Professor's snub of creationists prompts U.S. inquiry.
New York Times, 3 February.
Maggi, L. 2002. Evolution disclaimer is struck down. Times-Picayune, 13
Morris, H. J. 2002. Life's grand design: A new breed of anti-evolutionists
credits it to an unnamed intelligence. U.S. News, 29 July.
Olsen, F. 2002. Accreditor denies approval to Christian college in Virginia,
citing oath on creationism. Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 May.Palevitz,
B. A. 2002. Designing science by politics. The Scientist 16(11): 25.
Pinholster, G. 2002. AAAS board resolution urges opposition to "intelligent
design" theory in U.S. science classes. American Association for the
Advancement of Science news release, 6 November. Available at
Sidoti, L. 2002. Ohio school board OKs science standards. Associated
Press, 10 December.
Watanabe, M. E. 2002. Profile Eugenie C. Scott "Giving ammo to the choir."
The Scientist 16(11): 60. In 2001, the president of one of these
organizations, Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science
Education, received the National Science Board Public Service Award for
increasing public understanding of science and engineering.
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism