Evolution Debate Rages 80 Years after Scopes Trial; the Validity of Evolutionary Theory Is Being Challenged on the First Coast, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

It was this week in 1925 that a Tennessee biology teacher was convicted of violating state law by teaching evolution in a science class.

But 80 years after the case, the debate over natural selection, creationism and what public school children should be taught rages nationwide and right here on the First Coast.

To Mike King, a Church of Christ preacher in Orange Park, the teaching of evolution is nothing more than atheism masquerading as science in the public schools.

"I think it's a bunch of bunk," said King, minister at Lakeside Church of Christ.

"Just because it comes from the mouth of scientists, it's supposed to be credible," he said.

But in Jacksonville, Presbyterian minister Tim Simpson described the growing anti-evolution movement as religion masquerading as science.

"As other nations ramp up their science education, we're going back to the 17th century" by challenging the validity of evolutionary theory, said Simpson, director of religious affairs for the Jacksonville-based Christian Alliance for Progress.

WHY THE DEBATE?

Why is evolution such a hot-button topic, especially eight decades after its place in education was guaranteed in the Scopes case?

The answer, scientists and clergy on all sides of the issue say, is that evolution -- the idea that human beings developed via natural selection from less complex organisms -- is about the most important of subjects.

"Evolution concerns who we are and where we came from, and for a lot of people, that's a very touchy issue," said Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University.

"So among all scientific theories, evolution is the most personal," said Miller, a Roman Catholic who is a proponent of evolution.

SCOPES TRIAL

It got very personal in 1925 during the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tenn.

The trial occurred after Tennessee enacted a statute prohibiting the teaching in public schools of any theory contradicting the biblical account of human creation. Biology teacher John Scopes was put on trial for violating the statute by teaching Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

Scopes' legal team argued that the statute violated his academic freedom and the Constitution's ban on government-sanctioned religion.

Scopes' conviction was later overturned, and the publicity and debate surrounding the trial dealt anti-evolution forces a major setback. Only two states of 15 with pending anti-evolution legislation in 1925 actually enacted the statutes. …