Happy Birthday to both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, a day late of course. A 200th birthday is just nothing to sneeze about. Both men made life-altering contributions to mankind. We celebrate Lincoln’s birthday annually, so let’s concentrate on Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin wrote his work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection almost 150 years ago. Basically, the work questioned the way most people, regardless of education level, thought about their existence and the existence of the world around them.
One of the major events that questioned Darwin’s ideas was what is now known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial took place in 1925. That trial that took place in Dayton, Tennessee could almost be billed as one of the most famous of the 20th century. Two legal giants squared off: Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.
So what was it all over? A young teacher, John Thomas Scopes was a physics teacher who more or less got coerced into being a test case himself. It was against the law in Tennessee to teach evolution or any science that denied the creation story. So, according to historical records in Rhea County, Tennessee:
In the spring of 1925, John Thomas Scopes was a twenty-four year old science teacher at Rhea County High School in Dayton. Among the discussions in the wake of the Tennessee evolution law were those which took place in Dayton at Robinson’s Drug Store on Market Street, a favorite gathering place for local citizens. There a small group headed by Earle Robinson, “The Hustling Druggist”, and George Rappleyea, Superintendent of Dayton Coal & Iron Company, “conspired” with young Scopes to violate the Tennessee statute to provide a court test case. The original context for the plan appears to have been that of a publicity stunt. The interest and resulting world-wide publicity which quickly developed surprised even the event’s planners. The original drug store table at which the decision was made on May 15, 1925 to make a test case is still on view today in the Scopes Museum in the basement of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.
Young Scopes was arrested in a friendly way and brought to trail. The media converged on the small town in Tennessee as did the eyes of the nation and about 10,000 spectators. (one must ask one’s self where they all managed to stay in a small town.) There was much grand-standing between two megalomaniacs who had been trying to out-orator each other for decades.
To make a long story short, Scopes lost. He was fined $100 which was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court on a technicality. Bryan the fundamentalist died in his sleep 5 days after the trial, and Darrow the agnostic returned to Chicago where he died in 1938. And people kept fighting about evolution to this very day.
Some 80 plus years later people still argue over this very topic: Should evolution or creationism be taught in public schools? In fact, the fight might even be more ferocious than it was 80 years ago. According to the Pew Research Center:
… Beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a number of decisions that imposed severe restrictions on those state governments that opposed the teaching of evolution. As a result of these rulings, school boards, legislatures and government bodies are now barred from prohibiting the teaching of evolution. Teaching creation science, either along with evolutionary theory or in place of it, is also banned
The issue even came up in the 2008 presidential campaign. During one of the first Republican debates, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believed in creationism. As I recall, 3 candidates raised their hands and defended creationism as an almost science.
The above chart shows how Americans feel about evolution by religion. The real test of evolution vs. creationism is how animals are viewed. People who do not believe in evolution believe that animals appeared as we see them now when they first appeared on earth. In other words, a giraffe was a giraffe. Man was man. He looked no different than he does now, nothing evolved.
Most scientists balk at creation being used as scientific fact. The Pew Research Center states:
This view is not shared by the nation’s scientists, most of whom contend that evolution is a well-established scientific theory that convincingly explains the origins and development of life on earth. Moreover, they say, a scientific theory is not a hunch or a guess but is instead an established explanation for a natural phenomenon, like gravity, that has repeatedly been tested through observation and experimentation. Indeed, most scientists argue that, for all practical purposes, evolution through natural selection is the accepted theory of life in general.
Perhaps we should be glad that right now all the PWC School Board has to contend with is Math Investigations. I always thought math was pretty cut and dry and without social connotation. Apparently I was wrong. Somehow elementary math has become political Is this Math Investigations the new Scopes Monkey Trial? This time, I want a ring-side seat. Should curriculum be political? Who should determine curriculum? Parents? Paid professionals? If parents choose materials and programs for math, when will they demand to return to teaching creationism? Is there a difference? Inquiring minds….