THE Supreme Court was correct to overturn the Louisiana Legislature's 1981 law requiring that, whenever ``evolution'' is taught in the public schools, equal time must be given to the teaching of ``creationism.'' The majority opinion, written by Justice William J. Brennan Jr., found that ``the purpose of the Creationism Act was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint.'' The creationist view generally follows from a literal reading of the biblical account of creation as occurring some 6,000 years ago.
The high court's decision hardly constitutes an endorsement of Darwinian or post-Darwinian evolutionism. It rendered a legal, not a scientific, judgment.
Alternative theories about the origin and nature of life can still be discussed inside and outside the classroom. If creationists wish to convince material evolutionists that their evidence is better, they can do so in forums outside the schools. The curriculum should not be used to set religious approaches against those that may be seen as irreligious.
The freedom to believe differently from conventional notions, purportedly what the creationists sought, is better protected by keeping the state out of the religion-validation business.
Matters of deepest conviction - whether the universe was created spiritually or materially, what it means for mankind to be created in the image and likeness of God rather than evolving from an ape - are too important to be left to legislative or courtroom debate.
At the same time, the schools and other assemblies would better serve the public if they exercised greater respect for differing religious and cultural beliefs, thus not provoking those outside the mainstream to demand a fair hearing.