Evolution Overview

In 2005, the champions of evolution waged yet another battle against the continuously evolving creationist movement.  The stage this time was in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the local school board voted to institute the policy of reading aloud a disclaimer in ninth grade science classes that evolution was a theory and not a fact, that gaps existed in the theory for which there was no evidence, and that On Pandas and People, a text from the intelligent design faction, was an alternative text to read.  Parents brought a lawsuit against the school district, and with the aid of the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Pepper Hamilton Law Firm, a major trial was commenced that would help determine the state of science in United States public schools. The lawsuit argued that the school district’s policy was unconstitutional, and after a (biblical) forty day trial, Judge John E. Jones III, a conservative and a churchgoer, agreed with the plaintiffs.

The evidence against the Intelligent design movement was devastating to its pretensions.  Shortly after Louisiana’s 1987 Balanced Treatment Act, known as Edwards versus Aguillard, was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, the creationist movement attempted to redesign itself in a more “scientific” guise.   In two years, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, self styled as a Christian think tank, had published the textbook On Pandas and People, the first place where the systematic use of the words intelligent design appeared.  Barbara Forrest, an author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse (2005,) testified that she had gone through the drafts of Pandas and had found that “design proponents” had replaced the word “creationists” shortly after the Edwards versus Aguillard decision.  In one case, the transition was not even complete. “Cintelligent design proponentsists’” had been left in the text, proof of hasty and faulty editing that helped convince the federal court of intelligent design’s link to creationism and its bid for adoption in science courses in violation of the Establishment Clause. Michael Behe, a biochemist and author who is an advocate of intelligent design, testified that there had been no articles in the scientific research journals that “provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”  The judge issued a 139 page ruling that all but called the proponents of ID liars and frauds.  He noted the religious nature of ID, that ID violated the ground rules for sciences, that ID’s attacks on evolution were denied by the scientific community, that in fact, much of the ID’s strategy was to promote religion and that it was putting forth a canard to supplant evolution with ID.[1]

This challenge to science and evolution has a long tradition.  Since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species waspublished in 1859, the concept of a creator god has continued to be pushed from center stage, to the wings, and finally near the stage door exit of human history. Newton’s gravity and other discoveries threatened the “Master of the Universe,” but granted him benevolent planning.  Darwin saw the accidental cruelty and faulty planning of nature, and generated the notion that man had evolved in his present form due to a natural process.  Darwin’s revolutionary idea gave rise to an intense and determined movement, creationism, which has threatened the teaching of evolution. Yet without the theory of evolution, nothing in biology, including biotechnology, makes any sense.  The reach of evolution is essential to progress in medicine, agriculture, and other endeavors, but this truism does nothing to deter evolution’s opponents, nor does the threat of the United States losing its scientific preeminence without sound science give them pause.  When scientific observation and experiment expand the proofs to explain the workings of the universe in naturalistic terms, creationism simply rejects the proofs, the evidence, and the scientific method.  It has evolved from simplistic beliefs- young earth (as opposed to an earth billions of years old) and the inerrancy of the Genesis tale of the Bible to the carefully scripted sophistries of the intelligent design movement.

Creationism, Creation Science, Intelligent Design, “Strengths and Weaknesses”

Creationism is a belief that humanity, life, earth, and the universe were created by a supernatural being.  Around 1929 the term creationism began to be used by Christian fundamentalists, who opposed evolution and believed in a young earth rather than one billions of years old. (Young earth creationists believe the entire cosmos was created by god about 5700 to 10,000 years ago.) The creationist movement has opposed evolution based on natural observation and testing since its inception, and unable to combat the scientific method, seeks to undermine it by alternative theories that most scientists find implausible and inaccurate, and attempts to remove evolution from textbooks and classrooms. The scientific method frustrates fundamentalists in their efforts to reconcile science with faith and the Bible.  Since that time, creationism has ironically evolved as the courts determine that its struggle to replace science with religion in the public schools of the United States is unconstitutional. The movement has taken on many disguises, such as creation Science, intelligent design, and lately academic freedom.

The evolution of creationism into the intelligent design movement was particularly challenging to the teaching of evolution for a period.  Proponents of the ID theory have been connected to The Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank. They attribute the workings of nature and the origins of humans and the universe to the Christian god, and all of them are Christians of one faith or another.  Some ID advocates however, carefully refuse to state a definite creator- they say it could be god, aliens, back to the past biologists, and so on.  Other ID arguments against evolution take the form of pseudo science- irreducible complexity, fine-tuned universe, and specific complexity, among other ideas.  ID proponents are believers in the watchmaker analogy, proposed by William Paley in 1802 . It is also known as The argument from design which is credited to Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century.  The watchmaker analogy is the teleological argument for the existence of god- that as the complexity of an object, such as a watch, implies an intelligent designer, so does the complexity of the universe. 

The newest threat to evolution by the regrouped creationist forces since their resounding defeat in Dover has been various attempts to include in science textbooks the so-called weaknesses in evolutionary theory.  For example, such a proposal might attempt to discredit evolution by stating that the Cambrian era explosion of species has not yet been explained by scientists.  The Texas School Board has bounced “strengths and weaknesses” in and out of its proposals since the 1980s. Although other state school boards have contemplated adopting “strengths and weaknesses,” Texas is the greatest threat to teaching evolution properly.  The state has over 4 million school children, and text book publishers generally follow Texas guidelines.  This could mean that a great many children in the United States would be reading textbooks seeking to undermine the theory of evolution.  

Following the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” in 1925, when Tennessee outlawed the teaching of human evolution in the schools, and John T. Scopes, a teacher, was convicted under the Butler Act, human evolutionary theory was not taught in United States schools.  In 1958, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study was founded with federal government money in the wake of Sputnik and the competition of the United States with Russia for scientific preeminence.  The BSCS’s textbooks emphasized evolution and other publishers followed.  Since that time, the federal courts have ruled against the many attempts of determined creationists to roll back science.  They have found creationism, in whatever guise it has adopted to undermine evolution, to be coupled with religion, and therefore in violation of the Establishment Clause.  While such judicial decisions give rise to guarded optimism, creationism has had some public success: polls have found, as recently as 2009, that the number people in the United States who accept evolution has suffered a decline from 45% in the past to 40% today. [2]

 Belief in creationism is spreading in Europe, giving concern to the Council of Europe, which urged its members to “firmly oppose” the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline in European schools. In 2007, this measure passed in a vote, but many countries voted against it.[3]  Michael Reiss, professor of education at the Institute of Education in London, has stated that migration is spreading creationism in England and Europe.  He explains that countries with a higher percentage of Muslims and/or fundamentalist Christians are more likely to reject evolution.  He claims that about 10% of UK undergraduates in some medical schools are creationists.[4]  Middle Eastern countries, too, seem to be adopting the concept of creationism. Jalees Rehman states that Harun Yahya, the pen name of the popular author, Adnan Oktar, is a proponent of creationism, and many books can be downloaded from his web site.  Rehman downloaded The Miracle of the Ant and found that while the text had a considerable amount of scientific information, it also contained “proof” of a creator and Quranic verses.[5]

Recommended Books

The following list of books covers several areas.

There are a few by proponents of intelligent design, a few covering the Dover, PA. trial, some with the arguments against creationism, and some containing the histories and varieties of the creationist movement and the challenge to the teaching of evolution in United States public schools.  (For more science volumes disproving creationism, see Science – Biology, etc.)  The books in the list below are considered some of the best books for the Atheist Scholar to begin learning the history and current controversies of creationism versus evolution in the United States.

Behe, Michael J.  Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. 2nd Ed. NY: Free Press, 2006.

Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University and a leading apologist for intelligent design.  He is too intelligent to deny macroevolution, but instead stakes out territory in his own biochemical field.  It is Behe who makes the case for “irreducible complexity.”  He states, in an accessible and interesting style, why complex systems such as cilia in cells cannot be explained by natural selection. This claim opens the way for a creator god to enter the picture.  Most scientists and students of science find the argument flawed.  For example, Behe claims 40 proteins are necessary in bacterial flagellum.  They are not.  Many need less than 40.  So the irreducibly complex cell idea is not correct, nor are many of his other statements, as the Dover Trial made clear.  Claims made in Darwin’s Black Box should be carefully researched by the reader.

Davis, Percival and Dean H. Kenyon.  Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Dallas, Texas: Haughton Publishing Company, 1989.

Pandas is an attempt to bring the newly titled intelligent design movement into United States public schools by the back door.  (See the Preface to this Section- Creationism.)  Michael Denton’s inaccurate listing of hierarchies in taxonomy was nearly all the content of Chapter 6.  Denton has admitted his error and retracted it. The text also misleads readers, most of whom would be freshman science students, concerning the so-called Cambrian explosion of species.  The authors attempt to claim that it happened instantaneously rather than taking millions of years, and was engineered by a designer.   Pandas has been thoroughly discredited but it is included in this list as an interesting book for students of the history of creationism.

Dembski, William A.  Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Dembski is one of the leaders of the intelligent design movement.  His book is well organized.  It begins with an introduction to design and attempts to show how science, during the last 200 hundred years, has undermined this “truth.” He then relates the philosophical and scientific reasons behind ID.  The volume finishes with demonstrating that theology and science are compatible by way of ID.  ID proponents are well aware of the struggle many fundamentalists have undergone in an attempt reconcile science and theology, and the claim of compatibility would help validate ID theory in conservative Christians’ eyes.  Readers complain of being distracted by Dembski’s theological digressions, and by his tedious style.  His inability to prove or make valid many claims in the book, such as complex specified information, has led many readers to conclude that Intelligent Design is a flawed text.

Forrest, Barbara, and Paul R.Gross. Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

 Forrest and Gross had written the text of this book prior to the Dover, PA trial, but it remains an excellent source for the origins, funding, methods and goals of the intelligent design movement.  The authors speak to the Wedge plan issued by the ID Movement through its hub, The Discovery Institute. The ID movement seeks to replace science with creationism by means of a public relations and media campaign.  Here is a quotation from the Wedge Document concerning its strategy: “…a wide social, political and academic plan whose ultimate goal is to defeat scientific materialism and replace it with a science in line with Christian and theistic facts.  It seeks to affirm the reality of God.” (Wedge Document) Discovery Institute, 1999. Web.  

Forrest was the scholar who helped the evolution side in the Dover PA trial by finding that the word creationists was replaced by the words design proponents numerous times in the Of Pandas and People. This volume was suggested as an alternative text by the ID advocates.  Although ID was defeated in Dover, it has had some success with public perception, as the number of people in the United States who accept evolution has apparently declined, while creationism has spread to Europe and the Middle East.  Creationism’s Trojan Horse is an excellent book for examining ID strategy.

Branch, Glenn and Eugenie C. Scott.  “The Latest Face of Creationism.” Scientific American Special Issue. SA January 2009. 92-99.

The Branch and Scott article is an excellent resource for readers who want a short overview of the history of creationism, creation science, and intelligent design. The story lays bare an important recent tactic of evolution’s opponents:  the insistence that academic freedom is at stake if the argument against evolution is not part of the United States public school science curriculum.  The authors explain why the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act signed into law in 2008 and other similar bills are tacit attacks on evolution.  A brief history of evolution legislation in the United States is included as well as an excellent bibliography.  The article includes a section for those interested in keeping the teaching of evolution in the schools that offers excellent practical advice on measures to be taken.

The Latest Face of Creationism was written too soon to cover the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution” campaign now being waged by creationists, but this new tactic is obviously a more evolved strategy from the earlier “academic freedom” ploy that became their fallback position since the defeat of intelligent design in Dover in 2005. Highly Recommended.

Humes, Edward.  Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Design and the Battle for America’s Soul. NY: Harper Perennial, 2008. C.2007.

Monkey Girl is considered by both critics and readers the best book for explaining the latest battle for and against teaching evolution in United States public schools.  Humes’ style is novelistic and at the same time accessible, keeping many readers engrossed with the legal issues of the Dover PA trial in 2005.  He is a skilled master at making complex ideas understandable.

Critics and readers sympathetic to creationism found Monkey Girl’s criticism of intelligent design offensive, yet others have praised Humes’ objective stance.  There have been a few objections to Humes’ “simplified narrative,” while others find the book absorbing reading.  The volume discusses how little actual time is given to teaching evolution in United States Schools, and the facts it dispenses about such an important area are very sobering.  This is an excellent book for atheist parents.

Numbers, Ronald L.  The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Expanded Ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Ronald L. Numbers is a highly respected historian of creationism and has written many volumes on the subject.  The Creationists has the reputation of being an even-handed, astonishingly objective text about the history of both creationism and leading creationists.  Numbers does not attempt to denigrate all creationists, but rather points out many serious attempts by some creationists to reconcile science and religious belief.  He charts the course of the religious response to Darwin after publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 up to the 1990’s. Numbers finishes his book with a frightening look at the spread of creationism throughout the world. This volume is considered a very scholarly, enlightened and historical study of a subject vital to our society’s intellectual progress. It is not a polemic, and this fact alone should be a recommendation of the book to serious atheist scholars.

Scott, Eugenie C.  Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. 2nd Ed.Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2009.

Scott is a physical anthropologist who runs the National Center for Science Education, which is an advocate for the teaching of evolution in U.S. public schools.  The book offers a large and instructive amount of information concerning most aspects of the current evolution/creation debate: scientific, legal, educational, religious and historical.  A strength of this volume is its explanation of the scientific method in a plain spoken and interesting style.  Scott offers the interested reader an excellent section of further resources. The book is considered “one stop shopping” for parents and interested parties who want one good book on evolution/creationism and its impact on U.S. culture.

Zimmer, Carl. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. NY: Harper Collins Perennial, 2001.

Zimmer’s book was written as a companion piece to the 8 hour PBS Documentary of the same name.  The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs, anatomy diagrams and graphs.  Zimmer, a well known and regarded science writer, concentrates on the evolution of Darwin’s thought at the beginning of the text, then goes on to explain the changing views of science on geology, genetics and more.  He covers of the evolution of sex, the role language played in the rise of humans, and of most importance to this grouping of books on creationism, the fundamentalist fallacies of creation science.  In Part Four, Zimmer points out the threat of dropping evolution from the core curriculum of U.S. High Schools and the dangers that policy  would entail.  He emphasizes that the scientific method itself is in danger. Evolution is a very accessible, well written book. 

For the reader who wants to pursue the evolution/creation debate further, recommended volumes are:

Michael Shermer. Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (2007;) Gordy SlackThe Battle over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design and a School Board in Dover, PA (2008;Lauri LeboThe Devil in Dover (2008;) David Mills. Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (2006.)Mills provides succinct, easy to understand explanations for “The God of the Gaps,” and other creationist concepts.

Some Articles are: Steve Mirsky. “Teach the Science.” Scientific American February 2006: 36-38. John Rennie. “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.” Scientific American July 2002: 78-85. Frederick C. Crews.”Saving Us from Darwin. Part One. New York Review of Books 4 Oct 2001. Web. Ibid. “Saving Us from Darwin. Part Two. New York Review of Books 18 Oct 2001. Web. Crews reviews copies of important ID Volumes and savages them in his habitually delightful manner, while providing scientific, scholarly and historical information.  Highly Recommended Articles.


The War on Science.  49 Min. BBC Horizon TV Documentary about Intelligent Design, with the Kitzmiller vs Dover court Battle. Evolution defender Richard Dawkins featured, also interviews with ID advocates such as Michael Behe.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.  A PBS/Nova Documentary aired in November 2007, featuring interviews with the judge, witnesses and lawyers and reenacted scenes from the trial.

Jerry Coyne.  Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in AmericaWEIT blog. 24 May 2012. Pre-published in the journal “Evolution” on May 17, 2012.

“American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the United States, which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and supposed implications of evolution.” To read more click here…  


1 Kitzmiller vs. Dover: Decision of the Court. (Decision)   

  The Complete Court Decision in the Dover Intelligent Design Trial of 2005.

Gallup.com poll

3 “Education.” 05 10 2007 DW-World. DE Deutsche Welle. Web.

4 Butt, Riazat. “Migration is Spreading Creationism Across Europe, Academic Claims.” Guardian.co.uk. 13 Friday November 2009. Web.

5 Rehnan, Valees. “Islam Science and Concerns about Creationism in the Classroom.” Religion and Science: A Contemporary Discussion. 1 January 2001. Web. (Religion and Science)


Butt, Riazat. “Migration is Spreading Creationism Across Europe, Academic Claims.” Guardian.co.uk. 13 Friday November 2009. Web.

“Education.” 05 10 2007 DW-World. DE Deutsche Welle. Web.

 Gallup Poll.   http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/darwin-birthday-believe-evolution.aspx

 Kitzmiller vs. Dover: Decision of the Court.   http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/kitzmiller_v_dover_decision.html                                                  

The Complete Court Decision in the Dover Intelligent Design Trial of 2005.

Rehnan, Valees. “Islam Science and Concerns about Creationism in the Classroom.” Religion and Science: A Contemporary Discussion. 1 January 2001. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jalees-rehman/concerns-about-creationis_b_803027.html

Wedge Document. Discovery Institute, 1999. Web.