AAAS Joins Georgia Amicus Brief in Support of Evolution
AAAS has joined 55 other science organizations in urging an appeals court to uphold a ruling that barred the Cobb County, Georgia, school board from putting stickers with a disclaimer about evolution in biology textbooks.
The sticker, which said evolution is a theory not a fact, was ruled unconstitutional in January by U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper. The school board has appealed that ruling.
AAAS joined a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the removal of the stickers be upheld. Other signers of the scientists’ brief include the National Academy of Sciences, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Anthropological Association. The amicus brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta on 10 June.
"The controversy over evolution is among people who believe it conflicts with their religious faith and those who see no such conflict," said Albert H. Teich, director of Science and Policy at AAAS. "There is no scientific controversy over evolution. Bringing this kind of discussion into the science classroom will only serve to confuse students and diminish the quality of their science education. Cobb County students deserve better."
Teich noted that Georgia is a modern, high-tech state that ranks 14th in the nation in federal funding for R&D. "The state’s educational systems are critical to its future technological competitiveness and ability to attract high-paying jobs," he said.
Briefs also were submitted by other groups opposing the evolution warning labels. They include a science teachers’ brief signed by National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association; a civil liberties brief signed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee; and a brief, signed by the National Center for Science Education and People for the American Way, on the history of creationist efforts to impose warning labels in textbooks.
The stickers, which were removed from the textbooks following Judge Cooper’s decision, had read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
Proponents of the stickers maintained they were meant to encourage critical thinking skills and were not aimed at promoting or endorsing religion. But Judge Cooper said the stickers had the effect of endorsing religion and ordered them removed.
In their brief urging that Cooper’s decision be upheld, AAAS and the other science organizations point out that in the realm of science, the word "theory" is reserved for "our most well-substantiated and comprehensive explanations," including descriptions of the atom, gravity and heredity.
By speciously opposing "theory" and "fact," it says, the Cobb County sticker "misleads its reader about the scientific use of those terms, and does so in such a way as to deprecate evolution." Judge Cooper came to a similar conclusion. He said that labeling evolution a "theory" played on the popular definition of the word as a "hunch" and could confuse students.
By adopting the language that evolution is a theory not a fact, he said, the proponents of the sticker appeared to have sided with religiously motivated individuals in the anti-evolution movement who have used such language He ruled that the stickers violated the constitutionally mandated separation between church and state. The sticker, he said, sends "a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists."
The text of the amicus briefs and background on the Georgia case can be found on the web site of the National Center for Science Education at ncseweb.org/selman.
AAAS has played a prominent role in responding to efforts in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kansas and elsewhere to weaken or compromise the teaching of evolution in public school science classrooms. To read more about AAAS’s efforts to defend the science of evolution, see our special Web site, "Evolution on the Front Line."
10 June 2005