Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Shadow of the Past in the Present

The Scopes "Monkey Trial"
Tennessee vs John Scopes

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the trial

This Week in History notes that in 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Scopes, a football coach and substitute high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, agreed to be arrested and put on trial for teaching evolution. He was challenging the legitimacy of a four-day-old state law barring Darwin’s theory from the public school curriculum.

In 1995, the Washington Post had an article indicating that "policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution."

The growing trend has alarmed scientists and educators who consider it a masked effort to replace science with theology. But 80 years after the Scopes "monkey" trial -- in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching evolution -- it is the anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists who say they are the ones being persecuted, by a liberal establishment.

They are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution.
The chart below is from 1997. It shows Where (and How) Evolution is Taught in the US. This map is taken here from the website Science Against Evolution, which quite cleverly tries to win the debate for creation by arguing that the theory of evolution itself has been discredited by scientific evidence and by numerous scientists. However, the map is drawn up by a proponent of evolution, as can be deduced from the remarks on the map and even its colours (green is good, red is bad).

Scientists generally accept the theory of evolution as the back-story of how animal species (including humans) came into being over a period of several billion years. Religious literalists maintain their belief in creation, as laid down in the Bible: God made the earth and all that is on it (including humans, after His own image) in one week, a couple of thousand years ago.

These are the extreme positions in a debate that has been raging for years now in the United States, and more particularly in the school system. Since each state can determine what should be in the local schools’ curriculum, the teaching of evolution and/or creation differs throughout the country. Yet contrary to what one might think, it’s not so that creation is taught in the Bible Belt states (in the South), and evolution in more liberal states (everywhere else).

The map first appeared in 2002 in Scientific American, and was based on data collected by Lawrence S. Lerner of California State University at Long Beach.

In 2005, NPR reported on Teaching Evolution: A State-by-State Debate.
School boards and legislatures across the country are continuing to debate how to teach students about the origins of life on Earth. Policymakers in at least 16 states are currently examining the controversy.

In some states, advocates of "intelligent design" -- the theory that an intelligent force had a role to play in the creation of the universe -- are pushing for the concept to be taught side-by-side with evolution. In other states, schools are incorporating the idea that evolution is "theory, not fact."

In March of 2009, CNN reported that Texas Board of Education had to deal with a controversy in new science standards.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

A final 13-2 vote approved language that will be printed in textbooks beginning in 2011 and remain there for 10 years, CNN affiliate KPRC-TV in Houston reported:

"In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students."

An interesting article from The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life is on Religious Groups' Views on Evolution.

The Pew Forum also published an article in 2009 titled, Fighting Over Darwin, State by State. The article notes action in 14 states in which the teaching of evolution has stirred controversy.

So if evolution is as established as the theory of gravity, why are people still arguing about it a century and a half after it was first proposed? (See Evolution: A Timeline...from 1809 -2007) The answer lies, in part, in the possible theological implications of evolutionary thinking. For many, the Darwinian view of life - a panorama of brutal struggle and constant change - goes beyond contradicting the biblical creation story and conflicts with the Judeo-Christian concept of an active and loving God who cares for his creation.

But while theologians, historians and others argue over evolution's broader social impact, the larger and more intense debate still centers on what children in public schools learn about life's origins and development. Indeed, the teaching of evolution has become a part of the nation's culture wars, manifest most recently in the 2008 presidential campaign, particularly in the attention paid to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's statements in favor of public schools teaching creation science or intelligent design along with evolution. And while evolution may not attain the same importance as such culture war issues as abortion or same-sex marriage, the topic is likely to have a place in national debates on values for many years to come.

The debate continues.

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