McLean v. Arkansas Documentation Project 



Statement of Purpose

In 1981, a remarkable court case in Arkansas pitted creationists against pastors, priests, teachers, and scientists. "McLean et al. vs. Arkansas" sought relief from Arkansas' Act 590, which mandated that evolutionary biology instruction be balanced with "creation science". Unlike the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee, the Arkansas court heard testimony from a large number of witnesses on both sides of the case. Judge Overton ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and Act 590 was deemed unconstitutional. Overton's clearly written decision has been widely reprinted, and is available on the Web at several locations (see the link to Overton's decision below).

However, the actual trial transcript with its documentation of the stances of the various witnesses and arguments of the attorneys is not generally available.

There are several reasons why this trial's transcript should be preserved for posterity and distributed widely. Although Arkansas did not appeal the decision, leaving the issue open at the national level, the trial and eloquent decision have influenced further cases dealing with young-earth creationist legal challenges. Indeed, just a few years later a similar measure in Louisiana was also ruled unconstitutional pre-trial (Aguillard vs. Treen), and Louisiana's final appeal before the Supreme Court failed in 1987(follow this link to the copy of the SCOTUS decision in this case on the Talk.Origins Archive). But the Louisiana case never actually involved the testimony of expert witnesses. This leaves the testimony given in Arkansas as a unique record of the stances taken by both anti-evolutionists and their opponents.

Unfortunately this unique record is in danger. The trial was covered by two court reporters, one for each side's section of the trial. Court reporters use a shorthand recording machine to make a record of the proceedings. The use of the shorthand recording, though, may vary between court reporters. Thus, each court reporter must transcribe the recording in order to produce a transcript that can be read by others. While the plaintiff's side of the trial has been transcribed, the defense side has not. Further, time is not kind to court records. While one might expect complete record-keeping within the justice system, the sad truth is that errors happen. The plaintiff's part of the trial is already missing the testimony of Francisco Ayala. The defense part, with its interesting testimony from antievolutionists under oath, has not yet been transcribed. It is also stored out-of-state, which increases the odds that portions will have been misplaced.

The McLean v. Arkansas Documentation Project seeks to preserve and propagate this unique resource. We aim to recover as much of the trial transcript as possible at this time, and to produce an online text containing the transcript for study and reference. We also will attempt to collect and make available ancillary documents related to the trial.

Act 590 of 1981

Wendell Bird, a graduate of Yale Law School, penned a draft resolution for the Institute for Creation Research. The ICR printed and distributed thousands of copies, with the advice that the resolution was intended to be used at the level of local school boards. Paul Ellwanger (Founder of the South Carolina group, Citizens for Fairness in Education) modified this draft resolution and distributed it, but with the intent of having it passed as law by states. Although Ellwanger's draft bill was proposed in many states, it only passed in one: Arkansas. There, it followed a path from Ellwanger to a minister, W. A. Blount, to an Arkansas state legislator, James L. Holsted. Introduced late in the legislative session, Act 590 was quickly moved through the Senate and then the House with little discussion. Act 590 was signed into law by Governor Frank White about a week after its introduction in the Senate ([TAE]).

Follow this link to the draft resolution by Wendell Bird. Note the similarities between the "Clarifications" and "Finding of facts" sections of Act 590 to Birds resolution.

Follow this link to an earlier school board proposal written by Paul Ellwanger for an Anderson, South Carolina school district (scroll down). Note that this link leads to a page that contains several short articles written about the efforts of Mr. Ellwanger.  



Before moving onto the transcripts you may want to familiarize yourself with the various participants of the trial. A list of the participants can be found by following this link; it includes links to biographical information on many of them.

Transcripts of Testimony

    Plaintiff's transcript

The plaintiff's portion of the transcript was transcribed at the time. We so far have obtained a partial copy, and we have put it in machine-readable format. 

The following gives the locations of the testimonies of the various witnesses. They are indexed as to Page Number/Line Number. If you wish to view the transcripts in their original line numbered form you can find them here

    Defendant's transcript

An effort was made to obtain the defendant's portion of the trial transcript. Unfortunately, it had not been transcribed at the time of the case (the state of Arkansas did not appeal Overton's ruling). This meant that we would be paying page transcription charges, not just copying charges. However, the court reporter said that her request for the original shorthand record came back with a "not found" result. These materials have apparently been mislaid at the storage facility that the state of Arkansas uses for older legal records. We are trying to come up with ways to get a more thorough search done so that these materials can be transcribed.

The article linked to below by science writer Roger Lewin contains a description of the defense witnesses testimony and  includes transcriptions of small portions of the testimony given by of some of them during the trial. 

McLean v. Arkansas decision


Depositions are pre-trial questioning sessions done by attorneys to get some idea of what their opponents witnesses are going to say when and if they are called in court to testify.  This allows time for each side to prepare whatever strategy they might have in court for dealing with what the witness is going to say. For example attorneys often look for  inconsistencies between the statements given by the witnesses in their deposition and those they make in open court.

In this case what is particularly important about the depositions taken prior to McLean v. Arkansas is that those we have taken from the defendants witnesses are currently the closest thing available to their actual courtroom testimonies.  Also of interest are the depositions taken by witnesses who were, for whatever reason, never called in court to testify.      

    Plaintiffs' Witnesses     

     Defendants' Witnesses

      Note: More transcripts of depositions are extant and will be added as the project is able to acquire them. 

Other Legal Materials

Other online resources


Here we have collected a number of references to books and articles written (whole or in part) about the trial from both mainstream and creationist perspectives. Wherever possible a link is given to copies of the reference available on the internet. Also if available an abstract is given. 

If you know of any books or articles written about McLean v. Arkansas which are not listed here, please e-mail the reference to Troy Britain. Thank you.


    If you would like to contribute to the project, please contact Troy Britain