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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

The Creator in the Courtroom: Scopes II - Chapter Six

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 Six

Record of Defense’s Religion, Philosophy, and Education Testimonies

Summary of Defense Testimony

Friday, 11 December 1981

Defense Witness Geisler 

Dr. Norman L. Geisler

   Dr. Norman L. Geisler, professor of theology and philosophy at Dallas Theological Seminary was the first witness called by the defense (to testify] about the philosophical presuppositions of science and religion and their interface with each other. He said he had done his doctoral dissertation on this interface, and in so doing had studied a great deal of the history of science and had found much of modern science to be built on Christian understandings of the principles of the universe as established by a creator.

    Geisler said one of the key issues in the trial and in understanding Act 590 was one’s definition of religion. He said contrary to much popular belief, the main common denominator in religious belief is the idea of “transcending” oneself, making ultimate commitments of oneself to some object of ultimate concern. [Referring to the definitions of Religion by theologian Paul Tillich and John Dewey], Geisler said [Religion] does not always involve the idea of a personal god or God in the traditional sense, nor does belief that a god or God exists necessarily involve religion, for one can make things other than a “god” one’s object of ultimate concern, or one can believe that a god exists without making that god the object of one’s ultimate concern.

    Geisler explained the idea of transcendence by giving the example of when empirical objects suddenly take on “disclosure power” for some scientists. Those scientists have said that empirical objects have suddenly lent them a “flash of creative insight” and led to an effort on the part of those scientists to “go beyond empirical data to a comprehensive, unifying principle of life.” In so doing the scientist “transcends” the merely empirical.

    If the transcendent unifying principle the scientist “discovers” or makes up from the flash of insight becomes an object of ultimate concern for the scientist and he commits himself to it personally, he takes up a religious relationship with it and from that moment until he no longer is committed to it as an object of ultimate concern, his endeavors in relation to it are both scientific and religious.

    Geisler testified that a “humanistic” religion centers its ultimate commitment on mankind. He gave as an example of such religious commitment the beliefs of Thomas and Julian Huxley, both great evolutionists, and other members of the American Humanist Society. Geisler quoted statements in the Humanist Manifesto I and II which declare evolutionism a central doctrine in humanism’s belief, and which speak openly of humanism as a religion.

    Geisler said the first line of the preface to a combined publication of Humanist Manifesto I and II describes humanism as a “philosophical, moral, and religious view,” and’ he said that the word “religion” is used 28 times in the documents, mostly as a description of humanism itself. The publication also refers to humanism as a “quest for transcendent value, and a commitment to abiding values,” and later in the documents it says it is “necessary to establish” such a religion. Geisler also showed the court an article by Julian Huxley titled The Coming New Religion of Humanism, in which Huxley says the framework of humanism is evolutionary and its “gods are made by men.” Geisler said one of the central tenets of humanism is either no God or a god who is not involved in the world, that it is based on the “revelation” of science, and that it is religiously “naturalistic” rather than “supernaturalistic.”

    Geisler explained that there is a difference between speaking of “nature” and believing in “naturalism.” “Naturalism” is a philosophical/religious system, Geisler said, which claims that there is nothing outside of nature, nothing other than what is physical, nothing but matter and energy. Such a position, Geisler said, is clearly atheistic, not merely neutral on the question of existence of a god. Evolutionism as commonly held by scientists, and especially as believed in by the humanistic religion, is expressly naturalistic and therefore non-neutral toward the existence of a god or God.

    Asked by defense attorney Rick Campbell for examples of evolutionary religions, Geisler described the philosophy of Herbert Spencer, who made “evolutionary process itself become the transcendent.” On that basis Geisler said, many scientists of the late 19th and 20th centuries used evolution to attack theism. Darwin, he said, applying the theory consistently, became increasingly skeptical toward Christian belief and eventually referred to “my deity Natural Selection.”

    To show the belief that acknowledging a supreme being or creator is not necessarily religious, Geisler referred to the teaching of the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato.

    Aristotle believed [that] there was a “first cause” or “unmoved mover,” but did not worship or commit himself to the being, and did not posit any moral attributes to it. Plato believed in a “demiurgos” which served as a creator in his philosophical system, but again did not think of the being in a religious way as something deserving of his commitment.

    “Belief that there is a Creator,” Geisler said, “has no religious significance. Belief in that Creator does.” He explained that belief “that” a Creator exists is merely intellectual and requires no personal commitment, whereas belief “In” implies a commitment of oneself to that Creator. In the same way, Geisler said, belief that there is such a thing as biological evolution is not religious, but belief in that concept is religious.

    [Geisler said that you cannot reject the Creator just because He is an object of religious worship for some. He illustrated this in two ways: (1) Jesus is an object of religious worship. It is historically verifiable that He lived. Do we reject His historicity just because He is an object of religious worship? (2) Some people have made rocks the object of their religious worship. Do we reject the existence of rocks because they are an object of religious worship? Then he said you cannot reject a creator just because some have made him the object of religious worship.]

    Geisler also testified that the modern scientific ideas of regularity of the world, which are the foundation of the scientific method, sprang from the Christian belief that the world is ordered by an intelligent Creator who has made it regular. He also said the Christian commitment of many early scientists, such as John Newton, Lord Kelvin, and Sir Francis Bacon, had led them to do their scientific studies as a way of learning more about their Creator through His creation. Bacon for instance, wrote his Novum Organum, that the command to “subdue the world” in Genesis was the motivating force behind his scientific studies.

    Geisler said the Christian motivation and sometimes even source for early scientific ideas was never and is not now considered a reason to doubt their legitimacy as a science, because scientists distinguish between the source of a theory and its scientific justification. Kekule’, discoverer of the model for the complex benzene molecule, got the idea while dreaming about a snake biting its tall; Tesla, inventor of the alternating current electric motor, got the idea from a vision he had reading the German mystical poet Goethe; other scientific discoveries, he said, had equally unscientific sources or motivations behind them, but they were not rejected from science for that reason; rather, since they stood the tests of scientific justification, they were accepted. [Geisler also referred to Spencer who, while meditating on a beach, derived his theory of cosmic evolution by watching the motion of the waves of the sea. Judge Overton at this point stopped Geisler from giving more examples, saying, “I have your point.”]

    In the same way, Geisler said, one need not reject evolutionism as unscientific just because some evolutionists have a religious motivation for believing that it occurs, nor need one reject creationism as unscientific simply because some creationists have religious motivation for believing it occurred. Rather, Geisler said, each needs to be judged on its ability to stand the rigors of scientific testing.

    Geisler said there are narrow and broad definitions of science, and that an ambiguity in the controversy over creation science being taught in public schools often stems from the ambiguity between the two definitions. In the narrow definition, nothing is scientific unless it is observable, repeatable, and directly testable. In the broad definition, however, something may not be directly observable, testable, or repeatable, but one can make predictions based on a logical construct designed to explain the world around us, and then test the prediction themselves.

    Evolutionism, he said, does not fit the narrow definition of science, and neither does creationism. For evolutionism, Geisler illustrated, “We can’t say to fossils, ‘Would you repeat that death for me?’ or to the Big Bang, ‘Would you repeat that for me?’” while for creationism, we cannot go back in time and ask the creator to do it all over for us again and let us watch.

    Therefore, Geisler said, both views are built by scientists as “models” or logical constructs designed to give unifying meaning to the data in the world around us. Predictions are made based on these models, and the predictions are compared with the real world.

    Asked how many views of origins there were, Geisler replied that in religion there are many views, but that philosophically all can be put in one of two contrasting categories: (1) a supernatural, intelligent creator designed and created the world, or (2) the world is not the result of intelligent intervention, but came about through random, mechanistic processes.

    Geisler said although the authors of Act 590 probably got their “inspiration” for the bill from Genesis, the source of the bill was irrelevant, and what is important is the scientific and legal justification. Asked if it is legitimate to derive a scientific model from a religious source, Geisler said it was “perfectly legitimate, it’s done many times.”

    Under cross examination, Geisler was asked by ACLU attorney Anthony Siano if he would “consider it absurd to talk about creation science without a creator,” and responded, “Yes, and I would consider Webster’s Dictionary coming from an explosion in a print shop absurd, too.”

    Asked if he believed in the “inerrancy of Scripture,” Geisler replied that he believes that “everything the Bible affirms is true is true.” Siano then asked him about his beliefs about Satan, and Geisler responded that he believes Satan is a personal, supernatural being who is a fallen angel, that other angels fell with him in rebellion against God, that he is a deceiver, and that some satanic phenomena are demon possession, exorcism, parapsychology, and UFOs. When asked about the purpose of UFO encounters he said he believes they are “Satanic manifestations in the world for the purpose of deception.”


Monday, 14 December 1981

Defense Witnesses Parker, Morrow, Townley 

Dr. Larry R. Parker

    At the beginning of Monday’s hearings, the defense called Dr. Larry Ray Parker, former teacher of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth grades and currently associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Georgia State University, a specialist in curriculum principles, curriculum trends, and curriculum development, and often a consultant to public school districts in curriculum development.

    Parker said he was not a scientist, but that he believed in teaching two models on scientific views of origins of life because it is sound educational practice to allow students to see two sides of such issues and examine the arguments for themselves.

    Parker described five major principles which lie at the basis of curriculum development: the nature and character of the learner, the nature of the learning process, the nature of society, the nature of knowledge and the sources of knowledge, and the role of the schools in society. He said teaching two sides of a controversy like this is consistent with all those principles, because the students (the learners) are capable of handling controversy rationally and learn better when they have the opportunity to examine contrasting points of view, because learning functions best when opposing ideas compete for the respect of learners, because for students to function well in a society in which many members believe in either of the two contrasting points of view demands that the students under stand both, because knowledge and the sources of knowledge are interrelated with opportunities learners have to make evaluations and decisions of their own, and because the schools, since they are “creatures of society,” supported by taxpayers’ money, ought to be responsive to the needs and demands of society. [He said the nature and character of the learner are found in the general area of educational psychology and specifically in the topic “human growth and development.” Parker stated that the best expression of this is found in the French psychologist Piaget who proposed that “thinking is innate to the learner.”]

    Parker said that an especially important element in the quality of a learning experience [or learning process] is the “extent of inquiry” that is involved. “if the learner can be an active part of the learning process ... the learning is greatly strengthened,” he said. The extent of inquiry and the activeness of the student are greatly increased if the educational process asks the student divergent questions, questions which demand that the student consider alternative possible answers. Education works best, he said, when it challenges the students to “comparative analysis,” asking students to “compare and analyze divergent questions leads to a great increase in divergent answers and learning.” Asked what he thought would be the impact of Act 590, Parker said, “I believe that implementation of Act 590 would allow the classrooms to be stimulating, thought-provoking” places where “students can be involved in analyzing.” Schools should be places where students are taught how to think, not told what to think,” Parker said.

    Asked about the relationship of the schools to the society, Parker said the schools “belong to the people, the students belong to the people, and the schools must be responsive to society and its changing needs.” [Parker said, the role of the school is that of “passing on the culture and heritage of our civilization.” Because education takes place within a culture, whenever a law is passed it is “the voice of the people” who represent that culture and heritage.] He said the very fact that Act 590 was passed by the legislature “demonstrates that the constituency of the curriculum in this state has not been served or satisfied with that curriculum.” He said several polls showed a strong favor in society as a whole for teaching both evolution science and creation science in the public schools. He mentioned one in which 9% said evolution only should be taught in the schools, 16% said creation only, 70% said both, and 5% said neither should be taught in the public schools. Most others, he said, gave similar results.

    Parker referred to a movement in education called “accountability-based education,” which says curriculum should be tightened to meet the demands of the constituency, and shows that society wants its schools to be more responsible for producing students capable of certain skills. He said examples of new programs in education which resulted in educational responsiveness to society were law-related education in the state of Georgia, consumer education, multi-cultural education in areas which have many cultural groups, bilingual education, sex education, metric education, personal finance education (which was made a requirement by the Georgia state legislature), career education, drug education, and, most recently, computer literacy. [Parker also said that sources of knowledge were the responsibility of the state, thus it is the state that develops criteria for facilitating knowledge and developing textbooks based upon the desires of its constituency.]

    Parker said he thinks one message the state is giving to the educational establishment in Arkansas with the passage of Act 590 is that society wants its students to graduate from high school with a certificate that shows they’re “capable of thinking” critically about competing ideas.

    Asked what “balanced treatment” would mean, Parker said it is normally used in curriculum development to refer to treating all materials from an unbiased perspective. He said he creation/evolution problem is not unique as a balance problem in education, but rather that discussion of balance in other areas is common in curriculum texts and courses. He said in most teaching on curriculum development, it is stressed that “balance needs to be constantly monitored.”

    Asked if he thought that required “equal time” for competing ideas, he said that was not the case, because of the nature of the content of the competing ideas. “Time is not necessarily of the essence,” he said.

    Asked whether he thought Act 590 violated academic freedom, Parker said, “In a public school context, my understanding is that academic freedom relates more to the student than to the teacher.” [He said the teacher conforms the state’s views to the students regardless of what those views are.] The main point of academic freedom, he said, is allowing the student to be exposed to a wide range of materials and ideas.

    He said in actuality, a law like Act 590 was necessary to protect teachers who might want to teach things normally outside the curriculum in many science courses. He said many teachers had come to him asking him whether it were “safe” to teach certain things, and added that because of the climate of the scientific community and educational establishment, presenting creation science as an option is a “professional risk.”

    Asked if Act 590 were consistent with sound curriculum principles, he said it was, not only for the reasons given earlier, but also because one of the main functions of curriculum is to “transmit the culture,” and “depriving students of learning creationism is actually violating the culture and the tradition of western civilization,” putting students out of touch with their cultural roots.

    Under cross examination, Parker was asked if he would advocate teaching two views on a controversial subject even if there were “not a shred” of evidence for one of them. Parker responded that was not quite his view, and gave as an example the “flat earth” theory. Although the theory is clearly wrong, it could be helpful for learning scientific principles of testing for students to examine the arguments used for the “flat earth” theory and see how those arguments are treated by sound scientific principles.

    Attorney Kaplan of the ACLU asked Parker whether one principle for determining course content were the question, “What can the subject contribute to the general education of the law-abiding citizen?” and Parker responded that that was a valid principle, and that it was also one reason he supported Act 590, since it “helps students to think and analyze,” and added that any bias in the controversy is on the part of the evolutionists, since they want to teach only one view. Teaching only one view, he said, is “tantamount to indoctrination.”

Dr. William Scot Morrow

    The defense then called Dr. William Scot Morrow, professor of biochemistry at Wofford College, South Carolina. Asked about his religious beliefs, Morrow said he is an “agnostic,” “ . . . a person who holds the middle ground and hasn’t made his mind up on the existence of a divine being or god.” He also said he is “an evolutionist.”

    Morrow defined science as “learning the nature of nature,” [or an effort to determine the nature of nature] and the scientific process as consisting of the elements of curiosity, observations of data, hypothesis, and experimentations. He said the principles of experimental repeatability, testability, and falsifiability are essential to science. [Morrow explained that you must have a correct operating model to affirm or falsify an experiment. He said that creation and evolution have no such model available.]

    Morrow said evolution is not falsifiable, and therefore does not fit a strict definition of science. Neither, he said, does creation. He said he thinks the main reason many scientists believe in evolution is that they have “wanted to believe in it, they looked at evidence and saw it one way, and didn’t consider alternatives.”

    He said new ideas are not easily accepted in the scientific community unless they are “linear extrapolations” from existing scientific theories. He described two camps in the scientific community, the “conservative and defensive,” in which people try to preserve the status quo, and the “revolutionary,” which focuses on “anomalies,” the unexplained in science, and uses those as step-off points to new discoveries. “These people ‘the revolutionaries) frequently have a problem getting published because they can shake cherished ideas” because their new theories don’t fit an established worldview or philosophy. Often, he said, they’re either not given the slightest consideration and are treated with “plain silence,” or the scientific community refuses to publish their work, even though it’s good science. Then, he said, as is the case with creation scientists, lack of publication in the scientific community is used as a reason for saying it’s “not scientifically respectable.”

    He put creationist scientists in the “revolutionary” camp in science, saying they were “on the cutting edge of science.” He compared the closed-minded rejection of their work with earlier closedmindedness toward the theory of continental drift, the work of the earliest molecular biologists, and the explanations of early biochemists of biological problems “conservative biologists” had been unable to solve.

    Morrow explained there is a difference between data and interpretation in science. Data are the evidences collected, the accumulated “facts” scientists study, while interpretations are in “intelligent analysis of data.” He said the data creationists look at are the same as the data evolutionists look at, but that creationists have a different interpretation for the data. He also said creationists generally are willing to “look at more of the data,” and that evolutionists often “refuse to look at it.”

    Asked what he thought the prohibition of religious teaching in Act 590 meant, Morrow said he thought it meant a prohibition of trying to persuade students toward any particular religious point of view. He said balanced treatment was something that might often confront teachers, and that the fact a teacher might not like one view was no excuse for not teaching about it. He compared the responsibility of teachers to teach opposing views with that of a doctor to treat a patient even though he doesn’t like the patient.

    He said both evolution and creation should be taught, and that both can be as “scientific or nonscientific, as religious or nonreligious, as the teacher is capable of making them.”

    He said multiple-model teaching, even in science, is quite common and works well. He added that he was surprised that Dr. Mayer of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study would oppose a multi-model approach, since one of the textbooks the BSCS developed actually encouraged multi-model approaches to scientific controversies, and Morrow himself had used that textbook as the basis for a multi-model approach to origins in a course he taught at Concord College. He said the approach emphasized helping students think about evidence and fostered open minds as a learning device. He said the point of a multi-model approach is “to teach how to learn and how to think” more than simply teaching the facts of biology.

    He said in preparing that multi-model approach to origins, he had to do most of the preparation of the evidences for creationism himself, but that by using the principles for seeing various interpretations of data shown in the BSCS textbook, he had found it easy to see how creationists could legitimately understand the same data in different ways from evolutionists.

    He said he supported Act 590 because it “makes for good science” by giving balance to two models, neither of which “lends itself easily to scientific testing and both of which are held by good scientists” [Morrow said that it forces the student to test other views]; because as an educator he believes the inquiry and multiple view ideas are good educational principles [he said that they “cause the student to have a deliberate introduction to contrasting ideas’]; and because as a parent and citizen he thinks the schools should be responsive to the citizenry. He said refusal to present two models on origins was “intellectual arrogance.”

    Asked for evidences for the creationist model, Morrow said they were the same data as were used by evolutionists, but interpreted differently. Creationists, he said, use fossils, experiments on synthesis of life, geology, study of living creatures, and all the other areas of science, just as the evolutionists do. He added that the creation model was just as intriguing to him as a scientist as the evolution model, and that it had a “lot more potential for explaining things.”

    Asked why distinguished scientists who witnessed for the ACLU had said that evidences used by creationists simply are not science, Morrow said, “They’re wrong. They’re lousy in their interpretations on this case.” He added that the fact that “heavyweights favor evolution is of no great matter.” He said he thought the reason witnesses like Stephen Gould, Harold Morowitz, and Francisco Ayala had ridiculed creationism was that they “don’t like it’s conclusion,” they don’t want it to be considered, and they’re “closed-minded.”

    He said one of the best evidences for creation as the explanation for the origin of life was the fact that the statistical probability of the random formation of life from nonlife was “negligible-even for a piece of DNA, let alone a living cell,” He said, for example, that the statistical probability of getting one histone by chance was about 1/20^100, or about like trying to find a single certain grain of sand in all the deserts of the earth-basically impossible. “And that’s just one polypeptide, not life!” he said.

    Under cross examination, Morrow was asked if he knew of evidences for some of the specific points in creation science. Morrow said some examples were the statistical “impossibility” of life coming from nonlife by chance, absence of transitions in the fossil record, insufficiency of mutation to bring about large changes in populations of organisms, and the work of Robert Gentry, another of the defense witnesses, on radiochronology (radioactive decay measurements for dating the earth). [Morrow repeated his previous statement that those who held to diverse opinions on scientific issues were shunned by the scientific community. When asked for specific examples Morrow said that he could not immediately think of any. It was here that Judge Overton stopped the cross examination and vehemently lashed out at Morrow. Overton said, “Something bothers me about you, Dr. Morrow. Do you mean to tell me that you make that statement and cannot give one reference?” Overton continued, “We have been sitting here since 10:30 (time now: 12:10); you have made numerous various opinions, but you have not given any reason for creation except the improbability of the evolutionary position?” Can you site anything in support of the creationist position?” In response Morrow said, “Yes, the fossil record.” Overton again questioned Morrow: “Are you saying the scientific community is engaged in some sort of conspiracy?” Morrow replied that he “would not be surprised to find systematic censorship.”*

Jim Townley

    The defense then called Jim Townley, a chemistry teacher in Fort Smith Southside High School.

    Townley said he understood balanced treatment of two views on origins as requiring that each be taught sufficiently for students to understand them, but that this would not require equal time. He explained that as a chemistry and physics teacher, he would like to be able to teach his students some of the statistical improbabilities of evolution that point toward creationism, and some of the invalidities of radiometric dating which call into question the extremely old ages given by evolutionists for the earth.

    However, Townley said, he had not taught these, and would feel liable for “discipline” from his administrators if he taught them without the backing of Act 590. He said he felt confident that under Act 590, he could research both sides and teach each competently and with balance. He added that he is sure he could teach creation science without its being religious. He said he thought it would be good for his students because it would generate greater interest and the students would therefore try harder to understand the ideas on both sides.

    *Morrow told reporters after his testimony: “Closed-mindedness is something which we have no room for in the courtroom and I think the judge is closed-minded.” He later said, while in an interview with United Press International, that Overton’s interruption of his testimony was “inappropriate and represents bias.”

    Under cross examination, Judge William R. Overton, the judge hearing the case, interrupted ACLU attorney Robert Cearley to ask Townley why he felt like he couldn’t teach about statistical improbabilities of evolution and problems in radiometric dating without teaching creationism. Townley said that it was because questioning one side of mutually opposed options would imply support for the opposite. [In this case, support for creationism. During this exchange between Townley and Overton, Overton warned him the classroom “is not Sunday School.* You’re trying to teach about science!” Townley added that in order to teach creation science the concept of a creator must be included. He said, based upon the untestable character of either model, a creator is “not a scientific concept,” yet when spoken of in the realm of origins is as certainly a viable option as evolution.]

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

Scans provided by Jim Moore.