The Arkansas creation trial ended here today with the backers of the creationist law conceding their probable defeat even before the judge has ruled.
The trial ended after nine days of argument over the new Arkansas law, a bill drafted by leading creationists as a model for legislatures all over the country. The bill demands the teaching of the so-called "creation science" wherever evolution is mentioned in public school.
Judge William Overton said he will rule on the case in a week.
"The ineptitude in the handling of this case was very disappointing," said Carl A. Hunt, head of the Creation-Science Legal Defense Fund. Hunt said Arkansas Attorney General Steve Clark handled the case "so poorly" that there is little or no chance of winning.
"But even if this case is lost, that doesn't make our cause a hopeless case," Hunt said. He said creationists are now preparing for a similar legal battle in Louisiana, where a virtually identical law has been passed. "There we'll be able to make points of law that Steve Clark didn't even comprehend in this case."
The Rev. W. A. Blount, leader of the Evangelical Fellowship in Little Rock who has for years backed the teaching of creationism in Arkansas, said before the trial ended, "It's heartbreaking. I heard the opening statement and I knew from that point we would lose . . . . Steve Clark was outgunned. Everybody knows it."
Leading creationists have criticized the handling of the trial ever since the two chief creationist lawyers, Wendell Bird of the Institute for Creation Research and John W. Whitehead, a Virginia lawyer, were told by the Arkansas attorney general that they could not be the lead attorneys for the state in the case.
The two attorneys, according to Hunt, will lead the defense of the Louisiana law. In addition, at least four creationist witnesses who failed to testify in this case--one of them vanishing from Little Rock hours before he was to give his deposition --are expected to testify in the Louisiana case.
In contrast to the gloom of the creationists, the American Civil Liberties Union and lawyers from the New York firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom were jubilant at their morning news conference.
"It was no contest," said Bruce Ennis, head of the national ACLU office. "The attorney general's office did the best they could, but they had nothing to work with."
For the scientists who came to testify against the law, this trial was an important turning point, several of them said. "Scientists didn't feel this thing was real," said Harold Morowitz, a biochemist from Yale University, referring to the movement to put creationism in schools. "The situation seemed so surreal, so like theater of the absurd that scientists thought it would go away. We thought the problem was solved in the 1920s."
"This case convinced us that it is real," he said. Active opposition to the movement will now begin in earnest, he said.
Stephen Jay Gould, a Harvard paleontologist who was also a witness at the trial, said, "This is a major case, the most important legal test since the Scopes trial, and the first legal test anywhere of creation-science itself" and whether it ought to be put in schools.
"But even if the case is won, we won't be able to claim victory," Gould said. "The creationists will be out writing another bill that's sufficiently vague, in hopes they could get it passed somewhere."
Paul Ellwanger, a South Carolina supporter of creationism and one of the authors of the Arkansas and Louisiana bills, said he has already drafted a bill, based on the arguments made by the ACLU in their pretrial brief, that might better withstand an attack on constitutional grounds.
Over the two weeks of the trial, the ACLU, representing two dozen ministers, teachers and scientists in Arkansas, tried to prove that the law was a thinly veiled attempt to put fundamentalist biblical teaching into the public schools.
Their witnesses testified that the wording of the law was borrowed straight from the book of Genesis, lifting even the word "kinds" to describe species of animals. The witnesses said that the "creator" implied in the language of the Arkansas law is an inherently religious concept, especially as the creator is "active" and carrying out miracles such as the worldwide flood after creation.
The state defended the law by saying that it must not be judged on the basis of the intent of those who introduced it or what group supported it, but only on the basis of whether the language in the law would force a religious intrusion in school.
Witnesses for the state said that the creator is not an inherently religious idea, but might be scientific, as Aristotle's "first cause" was.
State witnesses also testified that creation science could be taught in school without bringing in religious writings.