American Genesis: The Antievolution Controversies from Scopes to Creation Science

American Genesis: The Antievolution Controversies from Scopes to Creation Science

American Genesis: The Antievolution Controversies from Scopes to Creation Science

American Genesis: The Antievolution Controversies from Scopes to Creation Science


The question of teaching evolution in the public schools is a continuing and frequently heated political issue in America. From Tennessee's Scopes Trial in 1925 to recent battles that have erupted in Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, and countless other localities, the critics and supporters of evolution have fought nonstop over the role of science and religion in American public life.

In American Genesis, Jeffrey P. Moran explores the ways in which the evolution debate has reverberated beyond the confines of state legislatures and courthouses. Using extensive research in newspapers, periodicals, and archives, Moran shows that social forces such as gender, regionalism, and race have intersected with the debate over evolution in ways that shed light on modern American culture. He investigates, for instance, how antievolutionism deepened the cultural divisions between North and South--northerners embraced evolution as a sign of sectional enlightenment, while southerners defined themselves as the standard bearers of true Christianity. Evolution debates also exposed a deep gulf between conservative Black Christians and secular intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois. Moran also explores the ways in which the struggle has played out in the universities, on the internet, and even within the evangelical community. Throughout, he shows that evolution has served as a weapon, as an enforcer of identity, and as a polarizing force both within and without the churches.

America has both the most advanced scientific infrastructure as well as the highest rate of church adherence among developed nations, and the issues raised in the evolution controversies touch the heart of our national identity.American Genesismakes an important contribution to our understanding of the impact of this contentious issue, revealing how its tendrils have stretched out to touch virtually every corner of our lives.


When I moved to Kansas in 1998, I thought the antievolution movement lay quietly in the past. Like many of my generation, I had read Inherit the Wind in high school, but considered its treatment of the Scopes antievolution trial of 1925 to be more of an attack on American intolerance in general than on antievolutionism per se. Like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the play said more about modern McCarthyism than about its ostensible historical subject. When I taught my undergraduate classes about the 1920s, I paid due obeisance to Inherit the Wind’s original 1925 inspiration, but I described the Scopes trial more as a historical curiosity—a piece of Jazz Age Americana that, like goldfish-swallowing and the Charleston, remained safely in the past. Like so many teachers before me, I could not resist using the trial to illustrate the clash between traditionalism and the inevitable rise of a more modern, secular, and urban culture during the Roaring Twenties. Besides, students relished the story of how the threetime presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution of John Thomas Scopes for violating Tennessee’s law against teaching the theory of evolution, only to run up against Clarence Darrow, the notorious attorney and agnostic whom the high school teacher had retained for his defense. As I pointed out, the jury in Dayton, Tennessee, ultimately found Scopes guilty, but the spectacle of Darrow placing Bryan on the witness stand and exposing his ignorance about science and the Bible led many Americans of liberal sympathies to proclaim the trial a ringing triumph of progress over the forces of obscurantism. When Bryan died mere days after the jury’s decision, antievolutionism seemed to have followed him into the grave. End of lecture.

That was 1998. in 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education made international news when the conservative majority voted to remove evolution from the state’s educational standards, leaving the question of whether . . .

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