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Evolution and Creationism: Separate Similar Searches

Julia Smith's picture

Megan Smith


Professor Dalke

February 16, 2007



Evolution and Creationism: Separate Similar Searches




            The most interesting thing that we have talked about in class so far, for me, is the similarity between the sciences and the humanities. They are comparable in that they are constantly both “getting it less wrong” based on different types of observations. Evolution and creationism are similar in the same way, but even more so, because they are both searching for an answer to the question of why we came to be. They are not whole truths, and neither can be proven as such. The modern debate over teaching either in public schools is being fought in black and white; people are discussing only the differences. I believe that if both sides began to see that neither could ever explain the complete truth of how people came to be, that they could only get “less wrong”, then they could co-exist in public schools as separate methods of understanding. The answer lies in teaching both as similar theories but in separate classes.

            Evolutionism and creationism should first be taught as being of similar origin, so that students understand the reason for both religion and science, and so that they see both as being methods of humankind’s need for understanding. The root cause of the modern conflict is the division between science and religion. Science originally began as an attempt to “explain the mysteries of God”. However, as science began to rely more on natural elements, the entire view changed and veered off to where science is today (Brickhouse, Letts 222). Therefore, science and religion are similar in the fact that they both try to provide answers to unexplainable questions; evolutionists and creationists are both seeking the “truth”. The problem comes in the methodology. Science is concerned with natural explanation based on observation, while creationism deals with traditional stories and a belief in God.  The division became strikingly clear in 1987 with the Supreme Court case of Edwards v Aguillard. The court ruled that creationism was not valid in the science classroom because the evidence for creationism (and even creation science) is not based on scientific fact (Detwiler 203).  Although science and religion are similar in their origin and in their search for understanding, because they rely on different types of observations, they are divided in their quests for truth. I believe that due to these similarities neither should take priority over the other in education. They both belong in public schools because they are similar, but should be taught in separate classes because of their nature.

            I also believe that, because evolution and creationism are both theories searching for truth, that the openness of the definition of truth supports the need for both to be taught separately in the classroom. It is certain that neither side will ever arrive at a “truth”, or, at the very least, a common truth. Yet, scientist and creationists push that word into the others’ arguments. American Association of Christian Schools President A. C. Janney says,

Evolution is more than just a matter of where we came from; it’s a whole attitude toward truth. Evolution says that we have simply evolved to a higher species of life from a lower, that evolution has a migration of truth, that is to say, that truth means one thing one day and something else the next. (Detwiler 202).

Janney insists that creationism is the truth because it is constant; God created human beings and creationists will always believe that. Creationists assert that evolution is untrue because truth is constant, whereas evolutionists assert that creationism is untrue because it is based on “unscientific evidence”, as in the Edwards v Aguillard case. I have come to the conclusion that both sides wish to seek this mystical, universal “truth”, but claim that the evidence for the opposing argument is somehow “untrue”. The problem, therefore, must not be in the goals, but in the compilation of evidence. Do scientists and science teachers have a right to say that creationism does not belong in the science classroom? I believe so, and I believe that here is where a division must be drawn. The story of creationism, because it is similar to evolutionism, should be taught, but not in the science classroom because it is not based on what scientists would call “scientific fact”.

            In my research, I have seen that one thing both creationists and scientists agree on is their separation of ideas. Kent Greenawalt, a professor at Columbia University, states that scientists cannot possibly dismiss negative creationist arguments because they are not based on science (105). This is true. If evolutionists (and science teachers) cannot rationally refute creationist arguments, then they can also not rationally support them. This is the problem with intelligent design. In trying to compromise (and possibly to return to the common ground once held by science and religion), intelligent design supporters are trying to force creationism into a category where it does not belong, and where controversy springs from. The only solution is separation. Let evolution be taught not as truth, but as a search for truth, and let creationism be taught as a different search for truth in the English or history classrooms.

            I also believe that this debate has been fueled even more by flaws in the public school system. Science classes are so pressed to cram information in that theories are automatically accepted as truth, and there is often no mention of wrong theories, or how theories relate to broad social concepts (Brickhouse, Letts 227). The flaw is that there is no place to tell “stories” in public schools; there are no social science requirements in most public schools. Students are either presented with facts or with literature to analyze. If students are taught evolution and creationism as a stories, as searches for truth, than they would have more room to open their minds to all possibilities.

            Evolutionism and creationism are very similar in their tradition and in their goals. However, since they have diverged, they should now both be taught as separate theories so that neither the teacher nor the student has to take either as “fact”. Each person on the Earth is searching for who they are, and they are entitled to be able to learn all the theories and believe what they want to believe.


















Works Cited


Brickhouse, Nancy W., Letts, William J. “The Problem of Dogmatism in Science             Education.” Curriculum, Religion, and Public Education. Ed. James T. Sears,             James C. Carper. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1998.


Detwiler, Fritz. Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right’s Fight to             Redefine America’s Public Schools. New York: New York University Press,             1999.


Greenawalt, Kent. Does God Belong in Public Schools? Princeton and Oxford: Princeton             University Press, 2005.









Anne Dalke's picture

separating the controversy


You have of course chosen the most controversial topic in debates about American education—not an easy subject, but certainly one that this course (and the premises, design and argument of this course) brings into high focus.

I want to talk about the spots where you “lost” me, where I felt the need for more explanation, more guidance in following your logic. You move very quickly from a cf. of “the sciences and the humanities” to a comparison of “evolution and creationism”; you end your paper by recommending that the latter be taught “in the English or history classrooms.” That’s a huge leap: can you fill it on for me? Is the creation of the universe the object of study in the humanities? In what way does religious truth become an object of study in any academic search for understanding? Are there differences between religious believing and academic reasoning? If so, how would an English course (for instance) bridge the gap better than a bio class would?

The central claim of your paper is that both evolution and creationism are engaged in similar searches; you point out that the initial scientific forays were religiously motivated ones (see Margaret Wertheim’s 1995 Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars for a much fuller description of this shared—continued shared—history). You claim that their goals are similar (though I don’t see the observations on which you are basing that claim), that both are seeking “mystical, universal ‘truth,’” but that their methodologies differ. Your argument is that both need to acknowledge that neither has access the whole truth—but isn’t that exactly what creationists refuse to concede?

Your observations about intelligent design, trying to construct “scientific explanations” for Biblical beliefs, is an interesting one, raising all sorts of further interesting questions for me, such as ‘who gets to define the category of science’? What is the definition, and how does one group or another get to be the policeman who enforces it? What counts are “rational” refutation, “rational” argument? Are creationists setting the debate in terms of rationality, or on some alternative ground, beyond the rational?

You conclude with an implied definition of “stories, as searches for truth”—I’m wondering if what you haven’t done, though, is trace (@ least two) types of stories, one a search in progress, another a finished search, a finale….?

Which is to say, I guess, that I end your paper not quite convinced that evolution and creationism should be taught separately so that neither is taken as fact…seems to me that goal might better be accomplished by teaching them in conversation w/ another, enabling each to rub up against its opposite….?