Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Rawls's Dangerous Idea?: Liberalism, Evolution and the Legal Requirement of Religious Neutrality in Public Schools*


Since the mid-1990s the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools has acquired new life, largely as a result of a new generation of critics of evolution. In comparison to their predecessors, today's critics are better credentialed, have published works with respected academic and university presses and periodicals including peer-reviewed ones, and offer much more sophisticated arguments. The purpose of this essay, however, is not to engage the scientific merits of the arguments offered by these maverick scholars. Rather, the purpose of this essay is to explore a problem of jurisprudence, raised by philosopher Alvin Plantinga and responded to by philosopher of science Robert T. Pennock, whose resolution has relevance to the constitutional question of whether the teaching of evolution along with the works of its critics is permissible in a society whose citizens embrace contrary philosophical and religious points of view.

Hide All

The title of this article was inspired by the title of a book authored by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Simon & Schuster 1996). I began working on this article while I was a Madison Research Fellow in the Politics Department at Princeton University (2002-03). For this reason, I would like to thank the Director of Princeton's James Madison Program, Robert P. George, for providing me and the other visiting Madison fellows an idyllic setting in which to work on our various projects. While on the faculty at Princeton, I delivered an earlier version of this paper at the 2002 meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in Toronto, Ontario (Canada), November 20-22, 2002. A number of attendees, especially William Lane Craig (Talbot School of Theology, Biola University), offered valuable comments, some of which found their way into this article's final version. Special thanks to Alvin Plantinga (University of Notre Dame) for reading another earlier version of this paper and providing important feedback. Thanks also to an anonymous referee whose suggestions improved the quality of this article. However, I take full responsibility for this article's flaws.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Not Your Daddy's Fundamentalism: Intelligent Design in the Classroom, 117 Harv. L. Rev. 964 (012004)

Barbara Forrest & Paul Gross , Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford U. Press2004)

William A. Dembski , The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory No. 6, Cambridge U. Press1998)

Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA ( William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse eds., Cambridge U. Press2004)

W.E. Lonnig & H. Saedler , Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements, 36 Annual Rev. Genetics 389 (2002)

Alvin Plantinga , Warrant and Proper Function 216237 (Oxford U. Press1993)

M.J. Denton , J.C. Marshall & M. Legge , The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law, 219 J. Theoretical Biology 325 (2002)

M.J. Behe , Self-Organization and Irreducibly Complex Systems: A Reply to Shanks and Joplin, 67 Phil. Sci. 155 (032000)

William Lane Craig , God, Creation, and Mr. Davies, 37 British J. Phil. Sci. 168 (1986)

Sarah A. Mims & Forrest M. Mims III, Fungal spores are transported long distances in smoke from biomass fires, 38 Atmospheric Env. 651 (2004)

M.J. Behe & D.W. Snoke , Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues, 13 Protein Sci. 2651 (2004)

M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall , The Laws of Form Revisited, 410 Nature 417.1 (03 22, 2001)

Robert P. George , Public Reason and Political Conflict: Abortion and Homosexuality, 106 Yale L. J. 2475, 24772478 (Summer 1997) (note omitted)

John Rawls , The Idea of Public Reason Revisited, 64 U. Chi. L. Rev. 765, 775 (1997)

E.O. Wilson , On Human Nature (Harv. U. Press1978)

Richard A. Posner , The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, 111 Harv. L. Rev. 1638 (1998)

Ronald Dworkin , Darwin's New Bulldog, 111 Harv. L. Rev. 1718 (1998)

Louis P. Pojman , A Critique of Contemporary Egalitarianism: A Christian Perspective, 8.4 Faith & Philosophy 481 (101991)

Louis P. Pojman , Are Human Rights Based on Equal Human Worth?, 52.3 Phil. & Phenomenological Research 605 (091992)

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Law and Religion
  • ISSN: 0748-0814
  • EISSN: 2163-3088
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-law-and-religion
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Abstract views

Total abstract views: 34 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.