Evolution, Creation and the Science Curriculum

The incorporation of creation science within the science curriculum raises serious legal issues in light of the constitutional doctrine requiring separation of the church and state and sec. 115.28(2), Wis. Stats. This statute requires the State Superintendent to exclude all sectarian instruction and materials from the public schools of this state. In the context of science teaching, the only federal court to consider the question has ruled that the creation science view is inherently religious in character and, accordingly, cannot constitutionally be presented as a scientific explanation of origins in public schools. Under the circumstances, the rationale behind the Arkansas Creation Science Case (McLean vs Arkansas Board of Education) cannot be ignored in approaching science curriculum development and organization at the local school district level.

The primary goal of the public schools is the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next through disciplined study. On the specific issue of science teaching and its relation to creation science and evolution, it should be recognized that science and religion have different theoretical bases; that is, that they are two different areas of knowledge which address different questions in different ways.


Science is concerned with studying nature and the world of which we are a part and yields testable hypotheses. It is both an investigatory process and a body of knowledge which can be subjected to verification by investigation, observation and logical analysis. Science is fundamentally non-dogmatic and is self-correcting. The process is ongoing and developmental. Science is also calculated to encourage the development of new propositions and ideas about nature and to lead ad infinitum toward new vistas and frontiers of further scientific inquiry.

The formulation of theories, or generalizations based upon substantial evidence which explain phenomena occurring in the natural world, is a fundamental component of scientific inquiry. The "answers" to questions which scientists address must be confirmed by evidence, and these answers are always tentative, awaiting new interpretations which can better explain the evidence. Where a significant body of contrary evidence appears as a result of this process, a scientific theory is subject to revision or replacement by a new theory which offers a better explanation of that evidence. The strength of science is that it is a systematic process for developing the most logical and plausible explanations of known facts, principles, concepts and probabilities relating to any phenomenon. For these reasons, no scientific theory, including evolution, should be presented to students as absolute and unchanging fact. Indeed, dogma and indoctrination are incompatible with an understanding of science; accordingly, the tentative and theoretical nature of the subject matter must be stressed by science instructors. Proper teaching requires presentation of science as open-ended and without preset conclusions.


Religion is based upon knowledge and wisdom believed to be revealed by a divine creator or through a supernatural order. Unlike tentative scientific knowledge, religious knowledge remains customarily unchallengeable by observable evidence. Religion deals with meanings of life and death and is based ultimately upon faith. Faith precedes prediction and explanation. Because science and religion have different structural bases, one cannot replace the other, for they serve different functions. Due to the fundamental differences in these areas of knowledge, the presentation of religious concepts is inappropriate to the science curriculum. While science instructors should respect and recognize the personal validity of alternative religious beliefs, their responsibility in this regard should be limited to directing student inquiries to the appropriate institutions, including church and family, for further explanation and clarification of religious alternatives. The exclusion of religious explanations from the science class does not amount to telling students that they should not maintain those beliefs -- only that those beliefs are not acceptable as science. Giving comparable emphasis in science, which are advanced as alternatives to evolution would be in direct opposition to understanding the nature and purpose of science.

Position of the Department of Public Instruction

1. Alternate scientific theories may be compared in the science classroom, but only those that best explain evidence which has been validated by repeated scientific testing should be accepted, and that only tentatively.

2. Years of intensive geological, biological and other scientific studies have provided the most acceptable explanations of the origin and development of the earth and life on the earth. The theory of evolution has the general consensus of the scientific community because it integrates and clarifies many otherwise isolated scientific facts, principles and concepts in a manner which is consistent with known evidence and 3. Like any scientific theory, evolution remains subject to modification and revision as new evidence is discovered. Therefore, evolution should never be presented to students as absolute fact. Good teaching dictates that students be reminded of the tentative nature of conclusions resulting from scientific inquiry.

Science can only answer certain kinds of questions. If questions are posed outside of the scientific domain, then other disciplines must be employed but not in the guise of science. Science is not superior in explanatory power to religion . . . only different. Educators should be certain that science is not asked to deal with ideas which are beyond its domain and processes. If attempts are made to force all knowledge, including religious doctrine, into a scientific mode, a great part of our cultural heritage may be lost.

Religious beliefs and writings, including accounts of creation, comprise a body of human knowledge and may properly be addressed in their own right in other areas of the public school curriculum. There is no legal prohibition against the non-sectarian academic study of such matters where appropriate to locally established curricular goals in such disciplines as literature, philosophy, history or religious studies.

In Wisconsin, the decisions regarding the goals of the science curriculum and its more specific teaching objectives, as well as the goals and objectives for religious studies in the curriculum, are legally and properly a responsibility of local boards of education. However, local districts dealing with these decisions may wish to consult the Department of Public Instruction for technical assistance relative to both legal and curricular problems and issues.


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