Creationism or Evolution? The Dilemma Remains
Since the advent of philosophical thought, man has questioned the genesis of our existence. Before the enlightenment, society was accepting of a deity-based existence as the answer to all of life’s questions. In this belief, God created the world and everything in it in seven days. It wasn’t until Darwin’s Origin of Species became popular among many scholars that people began to change their perspectives on the miracles of life. Before the discovery of DNA, Darwin argued that the visible similarities and slight differences between animals of the same species pointed to a hereditary connection for these animals, which he claimed was evidence of the species evolving from one form into another in response to environmental pressures. Darwin’s theories on the evolution of nature sparked a firestorm of debate that continues to rage today (Lofaso 1). People’s extreme differences of opinion on this issue have caused a division in society for the past century. This division is deepened by the question of whether evolution should be taught in public schools. In fact, the debate that inevitably accompanies this question has been the basis of many political arguments, court cases, and changes in legislation. These arguments are indicative of a paradigm shift from a creation-based belief system in public education to an evolution-based one. As with many disagreements founded in a belief system, however, this debate is not over. In fact, in recent years, proponents of creationism have once again launched an assault on the teaching of evolution in schools. We are, quite possibly, in the midst of another paradigm shift.
The history of the evolution/creation debate is long and complicated. Although Origin of Species was published as far back as 1859, in most states, educators were not allowed to teach the theory of evolution in public schools until a century later (Horder). In a country that is often characterized as strongly Christian, for many people, the theory of evolution was basically a form of heresy that they did not want their children exposed to. In fact, in response to a period of fundamentalist Christian fervor, some states adopted anti-evolution legislation in the 1920s (“The Anti-Evolution Crusade of the 1920s”). Some of these states, notably Tennessee and Arkansas, would eventually face legal challenges to these laws. The evolution debate was brought to national attention in 1925 with the case State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, more commonly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. This case clearly depicts the attitudes of people during the early 20th century. A professor and evolutionary activist by the name of John Scopes violated Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it illegal to teach evolution in any state-funded institution. The Butler Act was, in fact, named for the law’s advocate and head of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, John Butler (Linder). Scopes was arrested and put on trial where he was represented by legendary defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, who was a known agnostic (Linder). The prosecution was led by William Jennings Bryan, a former candidate for the United States’ presidency and a fundamentalist Christian who argued that the word of God took priority over any scientific knowledge (Linder). Bryan believed that teaching evolutionary theory would lead to dangerous social movements and possibly even a revolution. In fact, he argued that the Bible must be interpreted literally because evolutionary theory was simply “millions of guesses strung together” (Linder). The men involved in this case were the physical embodiments of both sides of the evolution/creation debate. Needless to say, the examination and cross-examination of witnesses was vitriolic. The heated rhetoric of the trial brought unprecedented publicity to the long-lived debate. In fact, it was the first trial to be broadcast on national radio (Adams). In what was undeniably...
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