The judge in the California evolution trial today ruled against Christian fundamentalists' plea that their religious liberties are being violated by "dogmatic" teaching of evolution in public schools.
"Present board of education policy is sufficient to protect" the liberties of those who believe in the Biblical story of creation rather than evolution, Superior Court Judge Irving Perluss ruled.
But Perluss also complained about a failure of communication between the state board and those who teach evolution. He ordered that a short statement be distributed to all who receive state guidelines on teaching science and that future guidelines contain the same cautions.
The statement says that "dogmatism [must] be changed to a conditional statement where speculation is offered as an explanation for the origins of man . . . that science [must] emphasize the 'how' and not the 'ultimate cause' for the origins of man."
Both sides claimed victory in the suit, the defense because the judge ruled in its favor and the fundamentalists because the judge ordered distribution of the statement.
Kelly Segraved, 38, director of the Creation-Science Center, filed the suit two years ago on behalf of his children, whom he said, were being taught that they were descended from "amoebas, reptiles and apes."
Segraved sought a ruling that evolution is taught "dogmatically" by state policy in the public schools, and he asked specifically that state guidelines for teaching science be recalled and rewritten.
"As I view this case," the judge said before ending the five-day trial, "I don't believe either side lost. I believe both sides have won. Hopefully, what we have all learned here is understanding."
Richard Turner, lawyer for the fundamentalists, agreed with the judge, although he reserved his right to appeal.
"Everybody's a winner. You never get everything you want, so you take what you can get," Turner said.
Segraved said he felt vindicated because the judge, in ordering the statement, "apparently recognized there was a problem with the violation of our rights."
"This is the opening wedge. Now Christians will have to pick up the ball and run with it," said Dr. Robert Kofahl, science adviser for the Creation-Science Research Center. "This is the beginning of a lot of hard work. We have a lot of educating to do, telling Christians what will be possible now because of this case.
"Christians will be alerted," Kofahl said, "to watch out for dogmatism in the teaching of evolution, in textbooks, in the curriculum, in the classroom, because now we have something we can hit them with."
Segraves said that before the trial the board of education had hidden the fact that school districts may use state money to buy textbooks not on the approved books list. He said his group will urge school districts to adopt more creationist books.
Segraved said he and his attorney chose to take on the narrower issue in this case because they thought they had a better chance to "win this one first. You have to go step by step."
Segraves said he will continue his cause and did not rule out an appeal.
In a lengthy closing statement, Perluss said that although the issue in the trial had been deflated, what was left was still "most significant because it involves religious liberties and the sensitivities of a child."
Perluss had refused to allow evidence on either the validity or scientific acceptance of theories of evolution.
Perluss said he was glad the plaintiff did not seek to establish teaching of creationism in the state's public schools because that would have violated the First Amendment rule that the state may not "establish a religion" by teaching religion in the school.
The judge urged the school board to make a greater effort to have science taught sensitively, as a learning process rather than dogma.
Robert Tyler, attorney for the state, said, "We've always been willing to do this much. We didn't have to come to court over it, but having a court order doesn't hurt."
So ended the trial billed as "Scopes II" referring to the epic courtroom battle between fundamentalist Williams Jennings Bryan and skeptic Clarence Darrow in 1925. Although few liked the comparison by the end of the trial, there still were similarities.
In both cases, a long and distinguished group of scientists and scholars was mustered and kept waiting, but did not testify. Both cases were argued on narrow issues, and in both, the final effect of the trial was unclear.
The difference between the trials, reflecting the times in which the two cases were heard and the change in the American mind since 1925: in Dayton, Tenn., creationists won, and in California, they lost, at least this round.