The Creator in the Courtroom: Scopes II - Chapter Four

Excerpted Chapters from:


Norman L. Geisler's (1982) The Creator in the Courtroom: Scopes II, Mott Media Inc. 

Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright (c) 1982. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. 

Please note: This is not an official record of the trial and may, in part, reflect the views of the author who was a witness for the state of Arkansas in favor of Act 590. 

See Participants page for links to more information on Dr. Geisler.

Chapter Four

Record of Plaintiffs’ Religion and Philosophy Testimony


Summary of Plaintiffs’ Testimony

Monday, 7 December 1981

Plaintiffs’ Witnesses Hicks, Vawter, 

Marsden, Nelkin, Gilkey


    The trial opened at 9:30 a.m. in the crowded fourth floor courtroom of the Little Rock Federal Building with the words of the U.S. Marshall: ”. . . God save the United States and this honorable court.” Lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the defense presented opening arguments summarizing their briefs, then the first witness for the plaintiffs was called. 

Bishop Kenneth Hicks 

    Bishop Kenneth Hicks, of the Arkansas conferences of the United Methodist Church, was the first witness to take the stand. Hicks, himself one of the plaintiffs, testified that the Act was clearly a “transgression of the First Amendment.” Hicks outlined three specific objections he had to the Act. First, he said, he objected to the bill’s definition of creation-science, as it limited scientific inquiry to the six areas specified in the bill and reflected a literalistic interpretation of the Genesis account in the Bible. His second objection was to that part of the Act which stated as part of its purpose “preventing establishment of Theologically Liberal, Humanist, Nontheist, or Atheist religions.” (Section 6) Hicks claimed that such language, with its “undefined labels,” contains an element of alarm and imposes constraints on these views. Hicks also objected that the Act was a mixture of philosophical and theological beliefs designed to limit scientific inquiry.

    Bishop Hicks concluded by saying “The Bible is important to my life. I hold very dearly and intently to the opening words of Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created . . . . ‘To go beyond that, and to try to circumscribe the way in which he did it, belittles both God and the theological process.”

    On cross examination, Hicks admitted that the Act specifically prohibited religious instruction in defense of creation-science (Section 2: “must not include any religious instruction or references to religious writings.”) Hicks also admitted that any “limits” to free inquiry were based on his assumption that the definitions of creation-science and evolution-science were meant to be comprehensive. Hicks agreed that his perception of “creation” was necessarily religious because of his training, and that he would have difficulty considering “creation” in a scientific sense.

Father Francis Bruce Vawter

    The second ACLU witness was Father Francis Bruce Vawter, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of theology at DePaul University, Chicago. He testified to the religious nature of the Act. He characterized the book of Genesis as an explanation of religious convictions concerning human origins and the origin of the world. He argued that as there were no witnesses to creation, Genesis should not be taken as a factual account (which could only be derived from a direct witness). Vawter contrasted the Biblical literalists’ view (which would take the account at face value), with the historical-critical view (which accorded more closely to his own approach). Vawter testified that Act 590 was consistent with a literalistic interpretation of Genesis.

    “This Act,” he said, “in its description of what it calls creation-science, has as its unmentioned reference book the first eleven chapters of Genesis.” He gave several specific references. Vawter pointed out that the term “kinds” in the Act (Sections 4(a)(3) and 4(b)(3)) had as its source the King James translation of the Bible. Vawter also noted that “catastrophism” and a “worldwide flood” (Section 4(a)(5)) must refer to the Noahic deluge recorded in Genesis, though he later admitted that this was also paralleled by a similar Babylonian myth. Vawter concluded, “I do not know of any other creation story (except in Genesis) that embodies those parts.”

    On cross examination Vawter was pressed on this point, and he admitted that many points of creation-science could not be found in Genesis according to his view of the book. Specifically, he agreed that Genesis neither affirmed nor denied the “insufficiency of evolutionary mechanisms.” (Section 4(a)(2)) Similarly, he said that “changes only within fixed limits” (Section 4(a)(3)) are not required by the Genesis account, nor must separate ancestry for man and apes (Section 4(a)(4)) be understood from the text. Vawter testified that the only evidence for “catastrophism” (Section 4(a)(5)) to be found in the Genesis account was the occurrence of the Noahic flood, and that even the “sudden creation of the universe” (Section 4(a)(1)) was not required by the Biblical account of origins.

    Vawter agreed that he was not a competent judge of the scientific evidence, and that he had always studied “creation” in a religious context. Vawter said that the idea of evolution was not at all inconsistent with Genesis, and that he saw no conflict between the concepts of creation and evolution.

    On redirect examination, Vawter reemphasized some points in his original testimony, and restated his conclusion that the source of Act 590’s description of creation-science was the book of Genesis.

Dr. George Marsden

    The third witness called by the plaintiffs was Dr. George Marsden, professor of History at Calvin College, an evangelical Christian college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Marsden’s area of testimony concerned Fundamentalism. Marsden typified Fundamentalists as “militantly anti-modernist” and chiefly concerned with “spreading the faith.” He testified that while anti-Darwinism was not as important a facet of Fundamentalist belief as usually thought, Darwinism was (especially in the South) a symbol of secularism. The Fundamentalists of the 1920’s held to a model of origins based on the Bible and had a “dualistic outlook” in viewing creation and evolution. Marsden said the creation-science movement is “strikingly similar” to the Fundamentalist movement in its approach to origins. He based this view on several observations. Creation scientists, he said, hold a literalistic view of Genesis, oppose all forms of evolution (including theistic evolution) and use the Bible as the primary source for their beliefs. Marsden quoted from Henry Morris’ The Troubled Waters of Evolution and Duane Gish’s Evolution: The Fossils Say No! in order to show the religious intent and source of creationists’ beliefs.

    At this point Defense attorney David L. Williams objected on the grounds of relevance, saying, “Merely because someone calls it creation-science somewhere out in the world doesn’t mean it complies with Act 590.” The plaintiffs argued that Marsden’s testimony was relevant to their contention that all creationist literature advanced religious goals. Overton overruled the objection, saying, “If the people who are writing about creation-science are borrowing their ideas from religious movements I would think that is relevant. These writers can’t wear two hats; they can’t call it religion for one purpose and science for another.”

    Marsden continued, concluding that Act 590 represented a Fundamentalist view of origins. Before cross-examining Marsden, defense attorney David Williams pointed out that the books Marsden had quoted from were printed in two editions, one intended for public school use and one (containing an explanatory notice inside the front cover) intended for Christian schools.

    On cross-examination, Marsden admitted that Act 590 was not exclusively a product of Fundamentalism. In particular, he noted that many Fundamentalists believe that the creation happened in six literal twenty-four-hour days-a view not found in the Act. Additionally, while Fundamentalists typically oppose evolution, Marsden agreed that Act 590 does not, and that not all Fundamentalists would be able to accept the Act. Marsden conceded that he was not a scientist, and since his training was religious, he could not distinguish between “religious” and “scientific” creationism. Marsden concluded by agreeing that it was typical to talk of Fundamentalists as champions of scientific inquiry.

Ms. Dorothy Nelkin

    The next witness was Ms. Dorothy Nelkin, a professor of Sociology at Cornell University. The substance of her testimony concerned the relationship of Act 590 to the creation-science movement. She testified that Fundamentalists were opposed to evolution, and that they make use of science to “legitimatize” their religious beliefs. She claimed that the aim of creation-science was to convince others of their beliefs, and that they “believe it’s necessary to give their ideas a sense of scientific credibility.” Nelkin stated that creationists only give negative evidence against evolution, rather than evidence for creation. She noted that many of the creationists’ books came in public school and Christian school editions.

    On cross-examination Ms. Nelkin agreed that speculation or intuition could legitimately lead to a scientific theory that could then be tested. She said that evolution was not based on any a priori assumptions. She admitted that Julian Huxley had formed a naturalistic religion based on evolution, but said that in so doing he abused evolution.

    Nelkin testified that while the scientific community is theoretically a meritocracy, historically it has not been neutral, and in fact scientific opinion has been influenced by society.

    Nelkin confessed that she had entered her study of the creation-science movement with the presupposition that creation-science was not truly scientific. She also agreed that as she was not a scientist, she was not competent to judge the validity of the scientific evidence for creationism.

    Defense attorney Williams asked Nelkin whether theories of origins were testable. She agreed that such theories were not directly testable by observation. When asked whether evolutionary theory presupposed the nonexistence of a creator, she said “No” (thus contradicting her deposition; she explained this inconsistency by saying “I was confused.”).

    When asked whether creation-science should be taught in schools to the extent that there was scientific evidence, she called the question a “contradiction in terms” (though she had answered the same question in her deposition “Of course.”). Nelkin was asked whether a religion could be based on science, and answered in the negative, though she later admitted that this, too, was inconsistent with her deposition. Finally, she said “People can take science and use it any way they choose.”

    The last questions directed at Nelkin concerned the availability of textbooks presenting the balanced view advocated by Act 590. Nelkin agreed that textbook publishers would probably produce such texts, if the law were upheld. “Sure, there’s money in it,” she said.

Dr. Langdon Gilkey

    The final witness to take the stand Monday was Dr. Langdon Gilkey, professor of theology at the University of Chicago School of Divinity. Gilkey’s testimony concerned the definition of “religion” and the relationship of religious and scientific knowledge. Gilkey defined religion as having three essential parts. He said (1) a religion involves a view of ultimate reality: it deals with the basic problem of human existence and provides an answer to the problem through myths, stories, truths, and teachings, (2) a religion is a way of life finding its source in the ultimate reality, and (3) a religion involves a community structure expressed for example in worship. He stated that in Western religions “God” is the source of ultimate reality. Gilkey said that all that is religious is related to God, and that all that is related to God is religious. Gilkey claimed that creation “ex nihilo” (from nothing) was the most religious of all statements since God was the only actor. He added “A creator is certainly a God if he brings the universe into existence from nothing.” He said that since creation necessitates a Creator, Act 590 “is unquestionably a statement of religion.” He said, though, that a creative force is not necessarily religious, though a creative being must be.

    Gilkey testified that the attempt to distinguish the “Creator” from a God to be worshipped was similar to the Marcionic and Gnostic heresies which plagued the Church in the first century, and which led in part to the adoption of the Apostles’ Creed as a statement of orthodox faith.

    Gilkey’s testimony next turned to the relationship of religious and scientific models. He characterized Act 590 as a religious model of origins rather than a scientific model, and gave several differences between the two. Gilkey said that religious and scientific models differed in the experiences and facts appealed to and in the types of questions asked. Scientific models, he said, deal with facts that are observable, repeatable, and objective. A religious model, though, refers to the facts “as a whole,” to “inner facts,” and to facts which are not objective. Science asks what? and how? questions, said Gilkey, but religion asks why? He said that science appeals to a sense of coherence and elegance which is confirmed by the scientific community, but that religious authority resides in “revelation” and the “interpreters of revelation.”

    Gilkey claimed that scientific laws are universal and necessary, and that no non-naturalistic process may be appealed to within the bounds of science. He said that religious theories use symbolic, not objective, language, and concern personal causes and intentions.

    Gilkey’s testimony then moved to the area of apologetics. He testified that creation-science was in fact apologetics, not science, that it was an effort to “spread the faith.” Continued Gilkey, “There’s nothing wrong with apologetics, I’ve written some, the only problem is when one has two hats on and hides one.” Gilkey claimed that Act 590 represented a “dualistic” approach to origins because it assumed that there were only two views on origins and that these were mutually exclusive, He challenged this assumption, saying that there were other views (e.g., theistic evolution) and that some people believed in God and evolution.

    On cross-examination by Defense counsel Rick Campbell, Gilkey was asked to comment on primary and secondary causality in scientific and religious knowledge. (In philosophical language the primary, or ultimate cause of an event is distinguished from the secondary or direct cause of an event.) Gilkey said that while not all questions of ultimate origins are religious, for scientists to talk about primary causality is for them to stray afield. Gilkey agreed that the Bible does not refer to primary and secondary causality, but said that these might be inferred from the text.

    Gilkey stated that the Bible was the guide in his own life and in his understanding of the world. He said that it influences the fields of philosophy and science as well as his own views. Gilkey said that scientists were not the only ones to define science, and that for example historians have reminded scientists of cultural influences on science.

    Campbell then asked Gilkey whether a scientist should be permitted to talk in a classroom about creation-science if he felt that there was evidence. Gilkey modified the response that he gave in his deposition (“Of course, of course”), saying that this would be appropriate only if the teacher could argue that creation-science was a theory (since according to Gilkey, science resides in theories, not in facts). He said that while a professional should be able to decide, the ultimate authority would reside with the biological community. Gilkey added that he was against requiring that creation-science be taught, not against teaching it.

    Gilkey conceded that apologetics was not always religious, that there were atheist apologists giving a defense for atheism. He cited Bertrand Russell as an example.

    Campbell asked Gilkey where the “why?” questions were in Act 590. Gilkey said that there were none, that there were no questions at all, only answers. Campbell asked whether science could answer “why?” questions. Gilkey said that science could not deal with questions of ultimate origins, and conceded that if evolution were to do this it would not be science, but theology.

    Gilkey agreed that there are religions which hold evolution as part of their creed, such as the religious beliefs espoused by Spencer and Huxley. When asked whether evolution was “atheistic,” Gilkey replied that science does not talk about God. When asked whether this exclusion of God from science was a presupposition, he said that properly speaking there were two types of presuppositions. In the first category were “characteristic presuppositions” of Western culture or of the scientific community, such as the reality of the material world, In the second category were “canons,” or “rules of the road,” which might be based on presuppositions, but were not themselves presuppositions in the same sense. The principle of falsification, for instance, is a canon, as is the exclusion of God.

    Gilkey, when asked, admitted that creative leaps of imagination were part of the history of science, though those who took such leaps were not part of the scientific mainstream. He said that, for example, Copernicus, in making his break with established thought, was not entirely within the mainstream of science.

    On redirect examination, Gilkey said that a secular statement was not necessarily atheistic. He also repeated his opinion that science cannot appeal to a supernatural cause. 

Tuesday, 8 December 1981

Plaintiffs’ Witnesses Ruse, Ayala,

Holstead, Dalrymple



The court reconvened at 9:00, and the judge revealed his ruling on a Defense motion seeking “an order in limine excluding all evidence addressing either the validity or invalidity of evolution-science and/or creation-science as a ‘scientific theory’ on the ground that such evidence is irrelevant to the determination of the constitutionality of Act 590 on its face.” Overton denied the motion. Defense attorneys then requested that Ms. Nelkin’s deposition be received into the record as evidence. The deposition was accepted, and the first witness of the day took the stand. 

Dr. Michael Ruse

    Dr. Michael Ruse, professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, testified concerning the nature of science, particularly biology. Ruse defined science as consisting of four essentials. First, science must explain events by means of natural law, or “unguided natural regularities.” Also, science must be “explanatory,” “testable,” and “tentative.” Ruse said “explanatory” means that science must predict and confirm events, so that science is self-generating, it is constantly moving into new areas. To say that science must be “testable,” or “falsifiable,” means there must be at least potential for evidence against a scientific belief. As an example, Ruse cited the theory of evolution. Evolution is thought to be unidirectional, that is evolution is thought to continually lead to more and more complex forms of life. If scientists were to find evidence that evolution sometimes proceeded in the direction of less complexity, this aspect of the theory would be falsified. The fourth essential of science is that it be “tentative.” This means that a scientist must always be willing to modify his understanding of the data. Ruse said that a scientist’s work should be objective, without personal bias, public, repeatable, and honest.

    Ruse said that the way in which contradictory evidence is dealt with depends both on the nature of the evidence and the theory attacked by the evidence. Unless the evidence were to be quite strong, it could not overturn a well-supported theory.

    Ruse said that “observability” is not an essential in science, although creation-science literature often listed it as such. He said that sometimes direct empirical evidence simply is not necessary.

    Ruse, who wrote Darwinism Defended, an examination of the attack of the creationists on evolution, testified that evolution is not under attack by credible scientists. He claimed that there is a double use of the word “evolution,” to indicate either the “happening” of evolution or the “mechanism” of evolution. He said that usually the “theory” of evolution is used as a synonym for “mechanism” of evolution, while the “fact” of evolution refers to the “happening” of evolution. Ruse said that, other than creation-scientists, no scientists challenge the happening of evolution, though of course evolutionists do disagree about how it happened.

    Ruse testified that Act 590 is a statement of scientific creationism, and is “very closely” related to the creationist literature, “so closely, I’d say they were identical.” The Act, he said, has a dual model approach to the question of origins, contains the six points usually covered in books on scientific creationism, and used the term “evolution-science.” (Section 4(b)(1), etc.). He said that the wording of the bill implies the existence of a creator in the word “creation.” (Section 4(a)(1)) Ruse said that the word “kinds” used in the Act (Sections 4(a)(3), 4(a)(3)) is not a scientific word, that it is not a taxonomic category, but rather is derived from the book of Genesis. He criticized the Act’s description of evolution-science as inadequate, saying that it implies that all six points are to be taken as a package deal, though not all evolutionists would agree with the definition.

    Ruse said that evolution doesn’t say anything pro or con about the existence of God, nor does it inquire into the origin of life. Ruse gave as an example of evolution the change in predominant coloration of the population of certain species of moth in industrial England. He said that creationists respond to such examples, “We admit the evolution the evolutionists have found-that’s just not enough.” When asked whether creationists explain why evolutionary change should be limited, Ruse said, “Not really, no.” He said the assertion was “an ad hoc device that creation scientists have had to think up to get away from some of the things evolutionists have come up with.”

    Ruse further objected to the points under the definition of creation-science that dealt with the flood (Section 4(a)(5)) and with a young earth (Section 4(a)(6)) as not really important to the question of origins. He also objected to the contrast between “catastrophism” (Section 4(a)(5)) and “uniformitarianism.” (Section 4(a)(5)) He said that the Act polarizes the two views, and implies that disproof of evolution is equivalent to proof of creation,

    Ruse said that “creation-science is not science, it’s religion,” and that it “invokes miracles.” He added, “Nobody’s saying religion is false, they are saying it’s not science.” He said that creation-science does not rely on “natural law” and is not “explanatory.” He said that there is too much dependence in creation science on “ad hoc explanations,” and that though it has explanations, they are not “scientific explanations.” He added that “something that can explain everything is no explanation at all.” Ruse said creation-science also fails to be “testable” and “tentative,” and that it employs an improper methodology.

    Ruse said that creationists often quote evolutionists out of context, that they imply that there is disagreement about whether evolution happened, not just how it happened. He referred to this practice as “dishonest” and “sleazy.”

    On cross examination, Dr. Ruse admitted that he had no training in biology, nor had he done any significant independent study.

    He agreed that many scientists believe that life was generated from nonlife. He said that the ultimate origin of the universe might be an area for scientific concern and that the “Big Bang” model certainly is within the realm of science. Ruse said that the theory of evolution does not extend to the source of life, that it takes life as a given. He added, however, that the origin of life is also a matter for scientific inquiry.

    Defense attorney Williams asked how a theory of origins might be tested, since there were no direct observations. Ruse said that such a theory might be tested by observation in an analogous situation, by controlled experimentation in the laboratory, or by computer modeling. He added that this would not make the work unscientific. He agreed with Williams that these methods would be dependent on the conditions assumed to be on the earth at the time of the origin of life, though these conditions could not be known with certainty.

    Ruse admitted that at least one philosopher of science, Karl R. Popper, considers both evolution and creation to be equally unscientific, because of the impossibility of falsifying either.

    Williams asked Ruse to distinguish between a “fact” and a “theory.” A “model” could be thought of as an “explanation,” and would be “narrower” than a “theory.”

    Williams asked Ruse further about the example of evolution he had given in his direct testimony. Ruse agreed that, although it is often cited as an example of observed evolution, no new species were formed. He said that there were two forms of moth both before and after.

    Williams pressed Ruse on the question of the “polarization” of the two models, asking whether it was true that either there was a creator or there was no creator. Ruse avoided the question, but then admitted that if two models were mutually exclusive, then evidence against one would be evidence for the other.

    Ruse agreed that the books produced by the Institute for Creation Research would not be permitted under the Act because of the religious content. When asked about his personal teaching method in the classroom, Ruse said that he did give a “balanced treatment,” but that this does not mean that he teaches all theories ever held. Ruse said that teaching evidences for creation-science would be meaningless “unless you are talking about a theory.”

    Ruse characterized himself as “somewhere between a Deist and an Agnostic.” He agreed with Williams that religious people can be competent scientists. He said that while creation from nothing is not consistent with his belief, evolution is inconsistent with the beliefs of some students.

    Williams asked whether some scientists believe that the theory of evolution is not falsifiable. Ruse said that most believe that it is falsifiable, though some, including Karl Popper (whom he called an “old man”), do not.

    The plaintiffs objected to the relevance of this line of questioning as evolution was not on trial. The judge overruled the objection after a short recess.

    Ruse was asked to define “teleology.” He said it was an attempt at understanding in terms of purpose rather than causes. He agreed that teleology could be either theological or non-theological.

    Ruse said that there are no authorities in the area of philosophy of science. He agreed that “What is science?” was a question for philosophers of science, and that there is no agreement on its answer.

    Ruse said he objected to Act 590 because it was a foot in the door of science classrooms for religion, that it was “the thin edge of a very large wedge” of an attempt to teach religion as science. He said that he was against Biblical literalism, and was concerned for what might happen if the law were to stand. He further said that he was “shocked” that a creationism display had recently been put up in the British Museum.

    Ruse said that it is possible for scientists to become emotionally attached to their theories, both individually and as groups. He said his purpose at the trial was to “fight a battle” against creationism.

    Ruse agreed that ideas from outside science could be sources of scientific theories, and said that to other scientists it is more important that the theories fit the data than what the source was. He gave as an example the work of Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, a Marxist paleontologist. He said that though Gould “pushes” Marxism the source of his science isn’t important. Ruse said that he did not accept Gould’s theory personally, but that is because of lack of evidence, not because of the theory’s source. He said that Darwin had developed his theory of evolution because of his personal religious Deism.

    On redirect examination, Ruse repeated his assertion that data without a theory are not science. He said that it is not possible to separate evidence from a theory. He said once again that evolution is science.

    On recross examination, Williams asked, “Is evolution a fact?” Ruse replied in the affirmative. Williams asked, “How then is it tentative?”

    The plaintiffs’ testimony turned from philosophy and religion to the scientific and educational portion of their case.

    The plaintiffs’ religious and philosophical testimony was reported in the following manner.

Extracts of The Creator In The Courtroom: Scopes II (1982) by Norman Geisler, courtesy of Baker Books.

Scans provided by Jim Moore.