Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Beyond the Creation-Evolution Controversy: Science and Religion in Public Life

April 28, 2008, 4:30pm-6:30pm
Thompson Room, Barker Center for the Humanities


The public school systems of the United States have experienced more than 80 years of corrosive conflict over teaching evolution in biology classes. During this time, actors and strategies have changed, legal arguments have been sharpened or redefined, and even the name used to characterize the religious position has shifted, from creationism to intelligent design. What remains constant is the framing of the dispute as being between regressive religion and progressive science or, more dramatically, between faith and the Enlightenment. Positions have polarized around two major arguments, neither yielding significant hope of reframing or compromise. The pro-religion position denies the factual status of Darwinian evolution, and claims that—since it is only a theory—other theories concerning the origins of life on Earth are entitled to equal respect. The pro-science position claims that religious opposition to evolution is grounded in ignorance of the scientific method, and support for doctrines like intelligent design in the schools constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion. Attempts to make peace between these irreconcilable positions by designating spaces as clearly scientific or clearly religious have repeatedly foundered. The biology classroom is the most visible site of a broader struggle. In an effort to break through this impasse, this panel brings together an impressive, interdisciplinary group of experts from law, sociology, history of science, and journalism. Speakers will describe from their professional perspectives and personal experience, what is at stake—socially, politically, and epistemically—in the debate over evolution, and how a more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon might lead to more productive conversations between science and religion. The panel will consider how claims about the superiority of one form of knowledge over another are wrapped up in the American politics of cultural authority and with concerns regarding the freedom of thought and belief.

A Panel Discussion With

Janet Browne

History of Science, Harvard University

Cornelia Dean

The New York Times

John H. Evans

Sociology, UC San Diego

Eric Rothschild

Pepper Hamilton LLP (Kitzmiller v. Dover)

Moderated by

Sheila Jasanoff

Harvard Kennedy School


Photographs by Ming E. Vandenberg.

Eric Rothschild Beyond the Creation-Evolution Controversy: Audience

Eric Rothschild and Sheila Jasanoff