Book Review—Creation and the Courts

by Andy Efting

Geisler, Norman. Creation and the Courts: Eighty Years of Conflict in the Classroom and the Courtroom. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007. Paperback, 400 pages. $22.00

(Review copy courtesy of Crossway Books)

Purchase: Crossway; CBD; Amazon

Special Features: Bibliographic references and index

ISBNs: 9781581348361 / 1581348363

LCCN: KF4208.5.S34G45 2007

DCN: 344.73’0796

Subjects: Creationism; Evolution; Religion in public schools

Norman Geisler is the author or coauthor of more than 50 books and numerous articles. For more than 40 years, Dr. Geisler has taught at the university or graduate level and has spoken throughout the United States and in 25 other countries. Dr. Geisler currently serves as dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary (Matthews, NC).

In the summer of 1925, a Tennessee State court ruled in favor of creationism by finding John Scopes guilty of teaching evolution in a Rhea County public school. Never has a victory been so superficial. Evolution may have lost in the court of law that summer, but it won big time in the court of public opinion. Since that ruling, evolution has been on a near-perfect winning streak, prevailing in nearly every (if not every) major decision. In Creation and the Courts, Norman Geisler traces the 80-year history of creation vs. evolution court cases, beginning with the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925 and continuing to the Dover “Intelligent Design” (ID) case decided in 2005.

While Dr. Geisler summarizes many of the cases decided during that time period, the book concentrates on five major cases: (1) the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes in 1925; (2) Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the last of the anti-evolution laws; (3) McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982), where a U.S. District Court declared a balanced treatment law unconstitutional; (4) Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), a case similar to McLean but this time decided by the Supreme Court; and (5) Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005), where a District Court decided against the teaching of Intelligent Design in the public schools. Norman Geisler served as an expert witness in the McLean case. Consequently, that case receives the most detailed treatment. Most of his analysis and conclusions stem from his involvement in that decision.

The Scopes trial in 1925 marked a turning point in our nation’s history in many ways. Among other things, it impacted Fundamentalism, the public’s perception of that movement, and both groups’ view of the relationship between science and the Bible. Geisler’s treatment of that trial is very helpful, providing lots of background information and a fairly detailed overview of the eight-day trial, from the substance of the opening prayers to a summary of the day’s testimony. My only disappointment was the shallow treatment of William Jennings Bryan’s examination by the defense. Bryan was a true fundamentalist and an amazing orator, but he failed in his defense of a historical understanding of the opening chapters of Genesis. The details of his testimony are available on the Internet, and I would encourage folks to find it and think through how those questions might be better answered from a theological perspective.

The attorney general for the State of Tennessee made a remarkably prophetic statement during the Scopes trial. He said, as preserved by Geisler for us,

Yes, discard that theory of the Bible [about creation]—throw it away, and let scientific development progress beyond man’s origin. And the next thing you know, there will be a legal battle staged within the corners of this state, that challenges even permitting anyone to believe that Jesus Christ … was born of a virgin—challenge that, and the next step will be a battle staged denying the right to teach that there was a resurrection, until finally that precious book and its glorious teaching upon which this civilization has been built will be taken from us (p. 61).

When were truer words ever spoken by a lawyer?

The next case presented by Geisler is Everson v. Board of Education. The key thing that Geisler notes in this case is the application of the 14th Amendment by the Supreme Court in limiting state’s rights in regard to religious matters. The decision was also important in that it set precedent for evaluating future court cases involving creation and evolution. Other cases, such as Lemon v. Kurtzman, would develop constitutional tests that laws must pass in order not to violate the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment (pp. 99-100), but Everson introduced the notion of “neutrality” between religion and non-religion. As Geisler shows throughout his book, however, the courts have a strange understanding of what neutrality actually means.

As I mentioned above, the bulk of the book takes up the case of Mclean v. Arkansas Board of Education. It gives a detailed description of the Arkansas law that required balanced treatment of evolution with creation science, the complete contents of the judge’s decision, Geisler’s analysis of the verdict, and his complete testimony before the court, including both his testimony for the State and his cross-examination by the defense. The book also includes extensive reporting of the media coverage surrounding the trial. The chapters on “Should Creation Be Taught as Science in the Public Schools?” and “Lessons to Be Learned” rely largely on Geisler’s experiences in the McLean case.

Before I comment on the McLean case, let me quickly summarize the treatment of the last two major decisions that Geisler covers in his book. Other than being heard before the Supreme Court, the Edwards case was very similar to the McLean case in that the issue was a law that required balanced teaching of creation and evolution in the classroom. Geisler includes detailed readings from the ruling, but what was most interesting to me was the chapter providing excerpts from the dissenting opinion of Justice Scalia. Many of the arguments for and against the law were used in all the previous cases and each time the judges used the same reasoning to reject the teaching of creationism. Scalia, on the other hand, accepted the alternative arguments. This inconsistency tells me that constitutional law, at least in regard to 1st amendment issues, is largely a matter of opinion, and who hears the case is often as important as the merits of the case. Geisler comes to the same conclusion (pp. 296-297).

The Dover school district utilized a different tactic than the other schools by promoting the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) rather than scientific creationism. ID takes a more secular approach to the subject, so much so that Answers in Genesis actually downplays its methodology on its website. Nevertheless, the court ruled against the teaching of ID in the Dover case, basically saying that ID was just creationism in disguise. Those who are not familiar with this recent case will find that Geisler again provides a nice summary of the decision, a decision that ends up sounding very similar to previous judgments for evolution.

So should creation science be taught in our public schools? That question gets to the heart of the McLean case and represents the major theme of the book. Geisler argues extensively, as he did in the trial, that if evolution is taught, then creation science should also be taught to balance the treatment of those conflicting theories in the classroom. Creation science, according to Geisler and according to the Arkansas law under consideration in McLean,

includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for men and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds (p. 93).

As a committed young earth creationist, I certainly sympathize with Geisler, but I have to disagree with his position.

My reason for disagreeing is not what one might expect. While I would support the teaching of ID, particularly the concepts of information theory, irreducible complexity, and the necessity of a designer, I do not support the teaching of what passes for scientific evidences for creation. The major problem I have with scientific creationism is not its so-called violation of the establishment clause but the fact that the science supporting creation is not very reliable. Just look at the Answers in Genesis’s website detailing arguments they think creationists should not use. It is a virtual catalog of former state-of-the-art arguments from “science” supporting creationism. If our belief in creation hangs on the validity of scientific efforts, then I think we will see support for creation plummet as those arguments are found to be pure speculation or worse, false. It is already happening. I am not saying that there is no role for creation scientists or that their work is useless, but ultimately the Bible teaches that our view on origins is a matter of faith (Heb. 11:3). Consequently, our belief in creationism, especially young earth creationism, needs to be theologically based on sound, biblical hermeneutics.

Now Geisler will argue for something he calls “forensic science,” a method that “utilize[s] the principles of causality and uniformity for unobserved and unrepeated past events such as the origin of the universe, first life, and new life forms” (p. 300). While there may be some merit to this distinction from regular empirical science, there are two important issues that Geisler fails to address. First, real forensic science is repeatable. The particular cases are not repeatable, but we can observe what happens; for example, when a body decomposes or is shot or whatever. We can come to legitimate conclusions based on what we know about previously observed phenomenon. We can’t do that with origins. Second, we don’t know how the supernatural events of creation and the flood affected natural processes in their aftermath. How much apparent age is due to natural processes, and how much is due to supernatural events? When God circumvents natural laws, we should not expect natural processes to accurately explain the earth’s past in a forensics sense. There is a fine line between God’s providence (sovereignty working through natural laws and events) and God’s miracles (sovereignty overruling natural laws and events). I don’t think the Bible reveals enough about God’s use of the two for forensic science to accurately provide answers to our questions about origins.

All in all, I appreciated Geisler’s book even if I disagreed with some of his conclusions. It will give the reader an accurate view of the judicial prejudice that exists against all things religious. I am all for teaching truth in the public school room. As Geisler says, “We wouldn’t rule out a stone from a geology class just because some people have worshipped stones. And we don’t rule out God from a science class just because some people have worshipped God” (p. 163). Let’s just make sure we are really teaching truth.

Andy EftingAndy Efting attends Grace Baptist Church (Dacula, GA) where he serves as deacon, treasurer, and Adult Sunday school teacher. He has degrees in Mathematics from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Clemson University (Clemson, SC) and currently works for Emory University (Atlanta, GA) as a Network Security Analyst. He is married to Daphne and has three wonderful children—JD, Jennifer, and Anna Grace.
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