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Has the monkey trial really been decided?

Many liberals mistakenly believe that the disputes are the product of the politicization of the Christian right after the XNUMXs. In fact, the anti-evolutionists who serve as elected representatives on state and district boards of education are the heirs of eight decades of fundamentalist campaign against Darwinism, through pressure on textbook publishers and school principals.

Shortly after the American "Monkey Trial" in 1925, historian Frederick Lewis Allen concluded that confidence in fundamentalism was permanently undermined by the trial of John T. Scopes, who taught Darwin's theory of evolution in biology classes. The trial was held in Dayton, Tennessee. "The legislators can enact laws against evolution, and the devout religious in the heart of the country can continue to preserve their religion in a science-tight cell in their minds; But cultural people everywhere watched the Dayton trial with bewilderment and an amused smile, and the drift away from fundamentalism continued," Allen wrote.

This is a historically incorrect judgment, as recently demonstrated by the renewed determination of the bearers of the "anti-evolution" cross - who benefited from the success of the conservatives in the local and national elections - to demand that public schools devote an equal number of hours in science classes to religious hypotheses regarding the origin of species. These challenges to evolution begin in the literature of the Bible, according to which the world and man were created in seven days, and reach as far as "intelligent planning", according to which even if there was any evolution, it cannot be explained by Darwin's idea of ​​natural selection but by the fact that the entire process was done, step by step, by the Creator the omniscient

Kansas, where evolutionists took over the state board of education last November, will likely be the first battleground. Proposals to change the science curriculum based on alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution will be the subject of public hearings to be held in February. Last month, a federal judge in Georgia ordered the administration of a suburban Atlanta school to remove stickers that defined evolution as "theory, not fact" from biology textbooks. But it seems that an appeal against the ruling will be filed soon. Other states, where the study of the theory of evolution is included in the schedule of the legislatures or the courts, are Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Many liberals mistakenly believe that the disputes are the product of the politicization of the Christian right after the XNUMXs. In fact, the anti-evolutionists who serve as elected representatives on state and district boards of education are the heirs of eight decades of fundamentalist campaign against Darwinism, through pressure on textbook publishers and school principals. The attempts to mask creationism with the words "science" and "scientific" - along the lines of "creation science" - are also part of an old tactic that reminds us how the Soviet Union was proud of "scientific communism".

More sophisticated supporters of intelligent design - conservative religious people who do not insist on sticking to the biblical creation story as it is - use the anti-Darwinist arguments of a minority of scientists to support their arguments in favor of the Creator. In December, a group of parents in Dover, Pennsylvania filed the first lawsuit in this context against the determination of the local board of education, according to which intelligent planning is a scientific theory rather than a religious one and therefore does not violate the separation between church and state.

At the beginning of the 20th century, America embarked on the path of settling science with the main religious current - today a fait accompli in the rest of the developed world. This situation does not please the atheists or the masked theocrats, but is acceptable to almost everyone else. A growing number of Americans accepted evolution alongside religion, but believed that the church, not the public schools, should decide what God's role is. This attitude was expressed in 1904, in the words of the zoologist and Christian-liberal Maynard Metcalf, who praised the attempt to eliminate religious hypotheses about the origin of species from life science classes.

The Scopes trial changed everything. Instead of being the nail in the coffin of creationism, as many believed, the trial thwarted the settlement of religion with science, which it had begun, by strengthening the fundamentalist opinion that holds that accepting the idea of ​​evolution will harm any faith of any kind.

Since the 24-year-old Scopes was accused of violating the law prohibiting the study of the theory of evolution, his conviction by the jury (which was later overturned for technical reasons) was self-evident. Clarence Darrow, the most famous lawyer in the country, who was known as the greatest of the agnostics, turned the defeat from the jurors into a public and public victory (at least among the intellectuals and scientists) when he urged William Jennings Bryan, assistant to the prosecution, to take the stand and testify as an expert on the Bible.

In the eyes of the northern press, Brian made himself a laughing stock; Opponents of the theory of evolution, however, praised him. The press's mockery of their hero established fundamentalists' enduring extreme resentment of secular science and secular government, a resentment that has become a prominent feature of our culture.

Between the Scopes trial and the early 1921s, the fundamentalist "scientists" pressured publishers to remove any discussion of evolution, and usually the word itself, from biology textbooks. Their success is well illustrated by the difference between the first edition of "Biology for Beginners" by Truman Moon (1926) and the second edition, published in 1921. In the XNUMX edition, Darwin's portrait appeared on the cover of the book. Five years later, an illustration of the digestive system replaced the portrait of Darwin.

Texas, always one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, led the movement to displace evolution. "I am a Christian mother," said Texas Governor Miriam Ferguson, "and I am not ready for this nonsense to appear in Texas textbooks." Ferguson herself censored textbooks during her years as Speaker of the Texas Legislature (1926-1924). Censorship was later established, and a special committee checked all the textbooks.

The caution that gave rise to these pressures spread beyond the "Bible Belt" and lasted for decades. In 1959, George J. Simpson, a paleontologist from Harvard University and the black sheep of today's creationist websites, noted that most high school science textbooks in the US sent readers looking for information about evolution to separate chapters, which were not necessarily included in the book.

Perhaps the most subversive effect of the campaign against the theory of evolution was that teachers ignored the subject. Regardless of their views, teachers wished to avoid confrontations with fundamentalist parents. Surveys conducted recently among biology teachers showed that ignoring evolution is widespread among teachers across the US.

The only achievement of the fundamentalist minority was in making evolution such a controversial topic that it silenced many teachers, who were looking for an escape route. Only today, when the religious right is no longer content with ignoring but demands the addition of anti-Darwinian intelligent design to the curriculum, the defenders of evolution have begun to fight back and stand up against the threat that has operated so successfully since the premature declaration of the death of fundamentalism in the XNUMXs.

The writer, Susan Jacoby, is the director of the Inquiry-Metro Center in New York and the author of the book "Free in Their Opinions: A History of American Secularism"

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