Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Legend of the Scopes Trial - Science didn't Win

"By the time of World War I," wrote the historian William Leuchtenberg, "an attack on Darwin seemed as unlikely as an attack on Copernicus."

But only a few years later, attacks on evolution were front-page news in every paper in the country as a science teacher in Tennessee went on trial for teaching Darwinism. David Greenbergwrites in Slate that science didn't win the Scopes trial, and he is of course right, both in the sense that Scopes had violated the law and in the sense that many people remained unconvinced by Clarence Darrow's effective deconstruction of creationism.

Many conservative Christians assumed they had prevailed at Dayton. While liberalism ascended in the public sphere, fundamentalism withdrew into local pockets and private subcultures where it thrived. Christian presses churned out anti-evolution books and pamphlets. Ministers warned their flocks of Darwin's folly. In Dayton, fundamentalists established Bryan College "based upon unequivocal acceptance of the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures."

Indeed, large numbers of Americans continued to doubt Darwin and subscribe to literal readings of the Bible, some quite passionately. Anti-evolution sentiment was sufficiently strong in enough regions of the country to lead many biology-textbook writers to paint Darwin's teachings as less definitive than they are. Even George W. Hunter modified his Civic Biology—the book from which Scopes had feloniously taught—to make it palatable to scriptural literalists.

Note: Greenberg also writes that in the 1920s, Klan membership in the United States was about 5 million. I've done a bit of research on the Klan in the 1920s and plan to write about it some day, but I didn't realize it was that high. According to the 1920 census, U.S. population was just over 100 million. That would mean one in every 20 people was a member of the Klan. Stunning.


At 11:03 AM, Blogger dhodge said...

A couple months ago, I spoke with a physicist who is using quantum theory to explain traditional Chinese medicine. I dismissed this idea at first, but after looking at some of his work and thinking about it some more, I started thinking that made a lot of sense. The ancient practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine obviously lacked a thorough understanding of the inner workings of the human body, but over the centuries, they experimented with different techniques and discarded the ones that didn't seem to help and continually improved upon the ones that did.

My point is that there is often a scientific basis behind ideas that appear to be based on superstition and blind faith. We take it for granted that all cultures have a creation mythology that explains how everything came to be. Presumably, this was not always the case. Are there any scientific explanations for how creation myths became an important part of all cultures?


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