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McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255, 1258-1264 (ED Ark. 1982), was a 1981 legal case in Arkansasmarker which ruled that the Arkansas "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act" (Act 590) was unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. The judge, William Overton, handed down his decision on January 5, 1982, giving a clear, specific definition of science as a basis for ruling that β€œcreation science” is religion and is simply not science. As a U.S. District Court ruling, it was not binding on schools outside the Eastern District of Arkansas but had considerable influence on subsequent rulings on the teaching of creationism. Creationists did not appeal the decision and it was not until the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching "creation science" was ruled unconstitutional at a Supreme Court level.

Act 590 had been put forward by a Christian Fundamentalist on the basis of a request from the Greater Little Rock Evangelical Fellowship for the introduction of legislation based on a "model act" prepared using material from the Institute for Creation Research. It was opposed by many religious organizations and other groups. The plaintiffs were led by the Methodist minister William McLean.

Background

Various state laws prohibiting teaching of evolution had been introduced in the 1920s. They were challenged in 1968 at Epperson v. Arkansas which ruled that β€œThe law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” . The creationist movement turned to promoting teaching creationism in school science classes as equal to evolutionary theory. After the legal judgement of Daniel v. Waters ruled that this was similarly unconstitutional, the content was stripped of overt biblical references and renamed creation science.

Arkansas Act 590

In 1981 Arkansas Act 590 mandated that "creation science" be given equal time in public schools with evolution. Creation science was defined as follows:

"Creation science means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those evidences. Creation science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate:
#Sudden creation of the universe, energy and life from nothing.
#The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism.
#Changes only with fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals.
#Separate ancestry for man and apes.
#Explanation of the earth's geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of worldwide flood.
#A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds."


McLean v. Arkansas ruling

Judge William Overton's ruling handed down on January 5, 1982, concluded that "creation-science" as defined in Arkansas Act 590 "is simply not science". The judgement defined the essential characteristics of science as being:
#It is guided by natural law;
#It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;
#It is testable against the empirical world;
#Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
#It is falsifiable.
and found that "creation science" failed to meet these essential characteristics for the following reasons.
#Sudden creation "from nothing" is not science because it depends upon a supernatural intervention which is not guided by natural law, is not explanatory by reference to natural law, is not testable and is not falsifiable.
#"insufficiency of mutation and natural selection" is an incomplete negative generalization.
#"changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds" fails as there is no scientific definition of "kinds", the assertion appears to be an effort to establish outer limits of changes within species but there is no scientific explanation for these limits which is guided by natural law and the limitations, whatever they are, cannot be explained by natural law.
#"separate ancestry of man and apes" is a bald assertion which explains nothing and refers to no scientific fact or theory.
#Catastrophism and any kind of Genesis Flood depend upon supernatural intervention, and cannot be explained by natural law.
#"Relatively recent inception" has no scientific meaning, is not the product of natural law; not explainable by natural law; nor is it tentative.
#No recognized scientific journal has published an article espousing the creation science theory as described in the Act, and though some witnesses suggested that the scientific community was "close-minded" and so had not accepted the arguments, no witness produced a scientific article for which publication has been refused, and suggestions of censorship were not credible.
#A scientific theory must be tentative and always subject to revision or abandonment in light of facts that are inconsistent with, or falsify, the theory. A theory that is by its own terms dogmatic, absolutist, and never subject to revision is not a scientific theory.
#While anybody is free to approach a scientific inquiry in any fashion they choose, they cannot properly describe the methodology as scientific, if they start with the conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation. The creationists' methods do not take data, weigh it against the opposing scientific data, and thereafter reach the conclusions stated in [the Act] Instead, they take the literal wording of the Book of Genesis and attempt to find scientific support for it.
The Act took a two-model approach to teaching identical to the approach put forward by the Institute for Creation Research, which assumes only two explanations for the origins of life and existence of man, plants and animals: it was either the work of a creator or it was not. Creationists take this to mean that all scientific evidence which fails to support the theory of evolution is necessarily scientific evidence in support of creationism. The judgement found this to be simply a contrived dualism which has no scientific factual basis or legitimate educational purpose.

The judge concluded that "Act 590 is a religious crusade, coupled with a desire to conceal this fact", and that it violated the First amendment's Establishment Clause.

Influence

The decision was not appealed to a higher court, but had a powerful influence on subsequent rulings. In 1982 Louisiana passed a "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction" Act, and the Supreme Court found that it also violated the First amendment in Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987.

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