Getting Beyond Religion as Science: 'Unstifling' Worldview Formation in American Public Education

87 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2009

See all articles by Barry McDonald

Barry McDonald

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law

Date Written: June 4, 2009


Since ancient times, Western civilization has witnessed a great debate over a simple but profound question: From whence did we come? Two major worldviews have dominated that debate: a theistic worldview holding that we, and the world in which we live, are the purposeful product of a supernatural creator; and a materialistic worldview holding that we are the product of unintelligent and random natural forces. This debate rose to the fore with Darwin's publication of his theory of evolution and the development of the modern scientific establishment. In America, it initially took its most conspicuous form in efforts by creationists to ban the teaching of evolution in American public schools, and then to have creationism taught as science. After legal setbacks based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, that effort morphed into the intelligent design movement of the past couple of decades. That movement's aim to gain a place in the science curriculum recently stalled with a court ruling that it was, like the creationists before it, attempting to teach religious concepts as science. Most recently, a notable group of scientists and atheists have reversed the trend of defending science against religious attacks and launched a very public and aggressive campaign against religion itself. Prominent scientists and other believers have responded with works attempting to reconcile science and faith. This Article proposes a solution to the religion as science wars in American public schools, as well as to the failure of those schools not only to prepare American youths to understand and participate in this vital debate, but also to make informed and thoughtful decisions regarding their own worldviews. Due to confusion about applicable Establishment Clause law or otherwise, most public schools fail to educate students about the important role of religion in our society, including religious perspectives on the most fundamental question regarding our existence - the nature of our origins. The solution proposed herein is one that some, including presidential candidates, have suggested, but no one has articulated how and whether it can be legally done: Teaching a basic philosophy of origins course that is geared to upper level high school students that teaches and explores various origins accounts from both scientific and religious perspectives. This Article suggests the contours of such a course and explains how one could be offered consistent with First Amendment requirements. By examining this subject utilizing the time-honored discipline of philosophical analysis, which not only considers the empirical evidence properly demanded by science but other sources of human knowledge as well, American youth would be better prepared to take part in this dialogue and to appreciate the perspectives of others. It is also hoped that such an approach would relieve much of the pressure placed on the science curriculum by those religious citizens who view it, and the generally secular agenda of public education, as promoting a worldview at odds with their most deeply held convictions.

Keywords: First Amendment, education, creationism, intelligent design, teaching, Establishment Clause, religion, science, Darwin, origin, philosophy of origins, high school, curriculum, debate, philosophical, scientist, atheist, faith, theistic

Suggested Citation

McDonald, Barry, Getting Beyond Religion as Science: 'Unstifling' Worldview Formation in American Public Education (June 4, 2009). Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009/10, Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 66, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Barry McDonald (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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