Evolution Disclaimer on Trial

by Michael Matthews on April 8, 2004

A textbook disclaimer that evolution is ‘a theory, not a fact’ will go to trial, a US federal judge has ruled in Georgia.

A textbook disclaimer that evolution is “a theory, not a fact”1 will go to trial, a US federal judge has ruled in Georgia. Two years ago, Cobb County adopted a controversial policy to place stickers inside textbooks that teach evolution (see Equal time for creation in Cobb County?).

US District Judge Clarence Cooper says that the disclaimer could violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution, as claimed by parents who filed a lawsuit. The disclaimer simply says,

“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”2

The judge based his decision on a 1971 Supreme Court ruling that “freedom of religion” means that the “primary effect” of government policies can neither advance nor inhibit religion. Although the judge recognized that the disclaimer says nothing about religion or the Bible, he said he knew from public records that “most of the [school] board members concurred that they wanted students to consider other alternatives.”

Since these “alternatives” include intelligent design, the judge believes the disclaimer smacks of religious intent. (In addition to approving the disclaimer, the school board passed a policy in August 2002 that “discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species.” See Who Won in Cobb County?)

AiG’s view, then as now, is that the root issue is really a conflict of worldviews, not about science versus religion. Both evolutionists and their opponents accept the science of genetics, including natural selection and speciation—such facts merely help to explain how populations change. But true molecules-to-man evolution over millions of years demands the ongoing appearance of loads of completely new genetic information, which is a belief that has never been demonstrated (see Q&A: Information theory).

For “believers” in evolution to want to squelch any hint of open-minded, critical debate about the merits of their belief system demonstrates a fanatical commitment to evolutionism. Why can’t state and local officials take steps to protect the liberty of individual teachers and students who wish to discuss the problems with evolution and offer alternatives?

Judge Cooper is right that this case raises questions about advancing or inhibiting religion. Rather than condemning Cobb County for supposedly advancing religion, however, he should be worried about the federal judicial system’s effort to advance the religion of evolutionism and inhibit the will and beliefs of the people in Cobb County.


  1. One needs to be careful when saying “Evolution is just a theory.” What people usually mean when they say this is “Evolution is not proven fact, so it should not be promoted dogmatically.” Therefore people should say that. The problem with using the word “theory” in this case is that scientists use it to mean a well-substantiated explanation of data. This includes well-known ones such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Newton’s Theory of Gravity, and lesser-known ones such as the Debye–Hückel Theory of electrolyte solutions and the Deryagin–Landau/Verwey–Overbeek (DLVO) theory of the stability of lyophobic sols, etc. It would be better to say that particles-to-people evolution is an unsubstantiated hypothesis or conjecture. Note that the disclaimer does mention evolution in the context of origins. [See Arguments we think creationists should NOT use.]
  2. Associated Press, Judge sends evolution lawsuit to trial, <www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/04/06/evolution.debate.ap>, 6 April 2004.


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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.