The University of New Hampshire Law Review


[Excerpt] "When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection in 1859, it sparked some of the most contentious debates in American intellectual history, debates that continue to rage today. Although these debates have numerous political ramifications, the question posed in this paper is narrow: Does the Establishment Clause permit a particular assessment of current evolutionary theory – intelligent design (“ID”) – to be taught as science in American elementary and secondary public schools? This article shows that it does not.

To understand current disputes over whether and how to teach the origins of life – including human life – in the science classes of public schools, it is necessary to understand both the legal and the scientific frameworks. I describe those general frameworks below in Part II. There I also show that Darwin’s theory of evolution meets the definition of science, an important step in showing that teaching evolution has a bona fide secular purpose as required by the Constitution. I also explain the relationship between Darwin’s theory and other explanations for the origins of life, such as creationism and classical versions of the design inference. I show, in particular, that neither creationism nor the design inference meets the definition of science, but belong rather to the religious domain.

In Part III, I examine the origins of the conflict between evolutionary theory and creationism. That debate centered around two questions: May states constitutionally prohibit public schools from teaching evolution because its account of human origins is antithetical to the account set forth in the Book of Genesis? If not, does the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment permit a state to insist that its schools provide a balanced treatment of creationism and evolution when presenting human origins theories? Examining the historical development of the Establishment Clause in this context illuminates the question whether the current “teach the controversy” dispute is a historical product of the past controversies involving creationists. Answering that question helps determine whether efforts by ID proponents have a constitutionally impermissible religious purpose.

In Part IV, I examine the modern theory of ID to determine whether it meets the definition of science. Again, answering that question helps to determine whether current efforts by ID proponents to “teach the controversy” have a secular purpose. I conclude that they do not, by showing that ID not only fails to meet the definition of science, but it also is linked to such famous proofs for the existence of God as St. Thomas Aquinas’ fifth proof, and Bishop Paley’s design inference.

In Part V, I examine one school board’s solution to the constitutional problem – to change the definition of science. I conclude that the school board’s actions are unconstitutional to the extent they are attempting to inject proofs for the existence of God into public school science classes. And in Part VI, I draw some broad conclusions regarding the compatibility of theistic and scientific responses to origins of life inquiry."

Repository Citation

Ann Marie Lofaso, Does Changing the Definition of Science Solve the Establishment Clause Problem for Teaching Intelligent Design as Science in Public Schools? Doing an End-Run Around the Constitution, 4 Pierce L. Rev. 219 (2006), available at http://scholars.unh.edu/unh_lr/vol4/iss2/6