Great Article on "Origins Controversy"
conlawprof at YAHOO.COM
Fri Nov 2 09:02:06 PST 2001
I was just at a conference with David DeWolf of
Gonzaga and David gave a remarkable presentation based
upon his recent law review article, "Teaching the
Origins Controversy: Science, Or Religion, Or Speech,"
2000 Utah L.Rev 39 (2000).
This article posits a hypothetical (actually based on
a real situation) involving a high school biology
teacher named John Spokes. Let me summarize from the
John Spokes has been teaching biology for several
years at a public high school. Spokes has taught the
standard Darwinian theory of evolution never departing
from the strictly naturalistic or materialistic
renderings of these theories that textbooks present.
However, one summer Spokes reads a number of books and
articles providing a specifically scientific critique
of contemporary Darwinian and evolutionary theory.
(e.g. Behe's Darwin's Black Box.) Some of the
scientists whose work Spokes reads argue that certain
features of living systems such as "irreducibly
complex" molecular machines in cells, or the
information content of the DNA molecule, suggests real
design by a purposeful or intelligent agent.
Based upon this research, Spokes decides to change the
way he teaches the origins issue. First, he wishes to
"teach the controversy" by discussing the scientific
evidence and how scientists interpret it differently.
He wishes to correct a number of factual errors in the
high school textbook, and to "tell students about the
evidential challenges to neo-Darwinism that current
textbooks fail to mention." Finally, he wants to tell
his students "that a growing minority of scientists do
see evidence of real, not just apparent, design in
DeWolf says this hypo raises a number of issues.
First, does the EC (and Edwards) prohibit Spokes'
lessons as an establishment of religion. Second, does
the Free Speech Clause protect Spokes from
viewpoint-based restrictions in his teaching imposed
by nervous administrators following complaints from
parents and strict separationist organizations.
DeWolf argues persuasively that the EC does not
prohibit this approach to teaching the controversy as
a *controversy.* He argues less persuasively that
Spokes has a First Amendment right to teach the
controversy without viewpoint restrictions imposed by
Here is how he puts his conclusion:
"Spoke's proposed curricular changes do give every
indication of being constitutionally protected speech.
Provided that his school board has already directed
him to teach about the general subject of biological
origins, Spokes should have the freedom to define how
specifically he will do so in accord with his own
professional judgment about the merits of relevant
scientific ideas, and in accord with court dictates
about the dangers of viewpoint discrimination....A
school board that refused to permit criticism of
Darwinism would violate the principles expressed in
Tinker and Pico. But a school board that encouraged an
open discussion of the issue, consistent with the best
scientific evidence, would reduce the likelihood of
litigation by any party."
I think DeWolf is clearly correct in his conclusion
that a scientific teaching of the materialistic vs,
design controversy would be perfectly valid under the
EC. But I'm not sure he gives enough weight to the
government speech doctrine and the power of school
boards to direct the content of the curriculum when he
concludes that Spokes may have a Free Speech right to
teach the scientific evidence based upon his best
Nevertheless, DeWolf's article is an important one. I
plan to assign it and discuss it in ConLaw II next
Cheers, Rick Duncan
"Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm."
--President George W. Bush (quoting John Page)
"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle things are gone." -C.S. Lewis
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