The Arkansas attorney general said in court today that he will prove that evolution, a guiding principle of modern biology, is not science.
With that opening shot, the Arkansas creation trial leaped past the famous Scopes trial of 1925 and others since then that have evaded the direct battle between creation and evolution.
What is on trial in Arkansas is a new law, written by fundamentalist Christians and passed by the legislature this year, demanding that wherever evolution is taught in public schools, "creation-science" must also be taught.
The law defines "creation-science" as the scientific evidence for sudden creation of the Earth and everything on it. The creation took place a short time ago, and was followed by a catastrophic worldwide flood, the law says.
In his opening statement in U.S. District Court here, Attorney General Steve Clark said, "The state will prove that neither 'creation-science' nor 'evolution-science' is science under the strict definition . . . . 'Creation-science' is at least as scientific as 'evolution-science.' "
"This case is not a trial of religion, it is a trial about science," Clark told Judge William R. Overton, who is presiding and will decide the matter without a jury.
The many plaintiffs in the case--who have sued to have the new law, called Act 590, declared unconstitutional--opened their case before a room packed with more than 200 reporters and spectators with the words of Robert M. Cearley of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Cearley said the law "is an unprecedented attempt by the legislature to use its power and authority to define what science is," and that its attempt to redefine fundamentalist religion as science was "a clear and dangerous breach in the wall of separation between church and state."
He said the plaintiffs would prove that "creation-science" is not science at all but religious apologetics.
The Arkansas law fails all three traditional legal tests for what is constitutional in problems of separation of church and state, he said.
An unconstitutionally religious law, he said, may have any of the following traits: it has no secular purpose; a primary effect of it will be to advance religion; and in enforcing it, the state will become deeply entangled in religious judgments.
Several Bible scholars testifying for the plaintiffs said some of the language of the law comes directly from the book of Genesis, even down to use of the word "kinds" to describe species of animals. The word appears frequently in Genesis but has no recognized meaning in science.
The Rev. Francis Bruce Vawter, chairman of religious studies at De Paul University in Chicago, testified that the definition of "creation-science" could have come from only one place. "I do not know of any other story of origins in any religion which embraces exactly these points," he said.
Meanwhile, in the halls of the courthouse, debates of the same question sprang up but were argued in different terms by the spectators.
Deacon Jim DeFir, who got up at 3 a.m. today to drive from his Free Will Baptist Church 100 miles away, said, "It's time Christian people stand up for our rights. If we don't stand up for creation against evolution, we soon won't have any opportunity to worship. It'll be like Russia. Just paganism."