Americans can be thankful that a federal district judge has overturned the Arkansas law requiring the teaching of ''creation science'' in schools along with the theories of evolution. The ruling is bound to have impact in many other states having or considering similar legislation. It certainly helps preserve the constitutional line of separation of church and state, thus benefiting all citizens whatever their religion.
Defenders of the Arkansas law argued that ''creationism'' is a science deserving equal treatment in the classroom. But Judge William Ray Overton rightly concluded that ''it was simply and purely an effort to introduce the biblical version of creation into the public school curricula'' and therefore was aimed at advancing religion.
Advancing a particular denominational viewpoint, we might add. The fact is, there is more than one account of creation in the Bible and there are many differing interpretations of biblical history. Fundamentalist church groups which advocate the teaching of ''creationism,'' for instance, take the first 11 chapters of Genesis literally and even pinpoint the date of creation. But a large majority of Christians would not go along with that interpretation. Many denominations treat the Bible accounts in a metaphorical or symbolic sense. Some Christians make a clear distinction between the evolution of a physical universe and the transcendant reality of a spiritual universe created and sustained by God, a distinction they believe is evident in the two different accounts of creation in Genesis.
Given the wide divergence of views, communities and schools would open themselves to unimaginable dissension by legislating the teaching of religious theory. Surely the proponents of ''creationism'' are themselves in the long run protected by Judge Overton's ruling. For if they succeed in injecting their beliefs into public education contrary to the First Amendment, one day they may be subjected unwillingly to the views of others.
This is not to slight the importance of religious training. It is also not to impugn the motives of those concerned about bringing up their children with spiritual values, a concern we share. But surely the natural scientists can go on researching and teaching human theories of evolution without conflicting with the religious beliefs of parents or children, without claiming that their theories represent the final truth, and without denying that other approaches exist.
The judicial ruling in Arkansas may be appealed. But this first judicial test of a state ''creationism'' law is reassuring. It is a victory not of state over church but of all churches over imposition by any one.