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How the Anti-Evolution Debate Has Evolved
History News Network ^ | 20 December 2005 | Charles A. Israel

Posted on 12/30/2005 2:29:22 PM PST by PatrickHenry

In this last month of the year, when many Americans' thoughts are turning to holidays -- and what to call them -- we may miss another large story about the intersections of religion and public life. Last week a federal appeals court in Atlanta listened to oral arguments about a sticker pasted, and now removed, from suburban Cobb County, Georgia’s high school science textbooks warning that evolution is a "theory, not a fact." The three-judge panel will take their time deciding the complex issues in the case. But on Tuesday, a federal district court in Pennsylvania ruled the Dover Area ( Penn.) School Board’s oral disclaimers about scientific evolution to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The school district's statement to students and parents directed them to an "alternative" theory, that of Intelligent Design (ID); the court ruled found "that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism." (Kitzmiller opinion, p. 31.) Apparently in a case about evolution, genealogical metaphors are unavoidable.

Seemingly every news story about the modern trials feels it necessary to refer to the 1925 Tennessee Monkey Trial, the clash of the larger-than-life legal and political personalities of William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow in the prosecution of high school teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in violation of state law. As an historian who has written about evolution, education, and the era of the Scopes trial, I will admit the continuities between 1925 and today can seem striking. But, these continuities are deceiving. Though the modern court challenges still pit scientists supporting evolution against some parents, churches, and others opposing its unchallenged place in public school curriculum; the changes in the last eighty years seem even stronger evidence for a form of legal or cultural evolution.

First, the continuities. In the late 19th century religious commentators like the southern Methodist editor and professor Thomas O. Summers, Sr. loved to repeat a little ditty: "When doctors disagree,/ disciples then are free" to believe what they wanted about science and the natural world. Modern anti-evolutionists, most prominently under the sponsorship of Seattle's Discovery Institute, urge school boards to "teach the controversy" about evolution, purposefully inflating disagreements among scientists about the particulars of evolutionary biology into specious claims that evolutionary biology is a house of cards ready to fall at any time. The court in the Dover case concluded that although there were some scientific disagreements about evolutionary theory, ID is "an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion" not science. In a second continuity, supporters of ID reach back, even before Darwin, to the 19th century theology of William Paley, who pointed to intricate structures like the human eye as proof of God's design of humans and the world. Though many ID supporters are circumspect about the exact identity of the intelligent designer, it seems unlikely that the legions of conservative Christian supporters of ID are assuming that Martians, time-travelers, or extra-terrestrial meatballs could be behind the creation and complexity of their world.

While these issues suggest that the Scopes Trial is still relevant and would seem to offer support for the statement most often quoted to me by first year history students on why they should study history -- because it repeats itself -- this new act in the drama shows some remarkable changes. Arguing that a majority of parents in any given state, acting through legislatures, could outlaw evolution because it contradicted their religious beliefs, William Jennings Bryan campaigned successfully in Tennessee and several other states to ban the teaching of evolution and to strike it from state-adopted textbooks.

Legal challenges to the Tennessee law never made it to the federal courts, but the constitutional hurdles for anti-evolutionists grew higher in 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas. that an Arkansas law very similar to the Tennessee statute was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The law's purpose, the court found, was expressly religious. So anti-evolution was forced to evolve, seeking a new form more likely to pass constitutional muster. Enter Creation Science, a movement that added scientific language to the book of Genesis, and demanded that schools provide "equal time" to both Creation Science and biological evolution. Creation Science is an important transitional fossil of the anti-evolution movement, demonstrating two adaptations: first, the adoption of scientific language sought to shield the religious purpose of the statute and second, the appeal to an American sense of fairness in teaching both sides of an apparent controversy. The Supreme Court in 1987 found this new evolution constitutionally unfit, overturning a Louisiana law (Edwards v. Aguillard).

Since the 1987 Edwards v Aguillard decision, the anti-evolution movement has attempted several new adaptations, all of which show direct ties to previous forms. The appeal to public opinion has grown: recent national opinion polls reveal that nearly two-thirds of Americans (and even higher numbers of Alabamians) support teaching both scientific evolution and creationism in public schools. School board elections and textbook adoption battles show the strength of these arguments in a democratic society. The new variants have been far more successful at clothing themselves in the language -- but not the methods -- of science. Whether by rewriting state school standards to teach criticisms of scientific evolution (as in Ohio or Kansas) or in written disclaimers to be placed in school textbooks (as in Alabama or Cobb County, Georgia) or in the now discredited oral disclaimers of the Dover Area School Board, the religious goal has been the same: by casting doubt on scientific evolution, they hope to open room to wedge religion back into public school curricula. [Discovery Institute's "Wedge Project".] But as the court in yesterday's Dover case correctly concluded, Intelligent Design is "an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion" not science. Old arguments of a religious majority, though still potent in public debate, have again proven constitutionally unfit; Creationists and other anti-evolutionists will now have to evolve new arguments to survive constitutional tests.


About the author: Mr. Israel is Associate Professor of History at Auburn University and author of Before Scopes: Evangelicals, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870–1925 (University of Georgia Press, 2004).


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: crevolist; scienceeducation
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To: RaceBannon
You honestly expect someting that is supposed to be 1 MILLION years old to not age or wear so that after 1 MILLION years it still looks like it did when it was made? Enough to identify it?

You guys are hilarious! :)

No, Really, some of the theories are so funny, because no one in their right mind expects an American Indian arrowhead from the 1600's to be found as intact as any of these so-called stone tools from Lake Turkana appear to be...

Back after a nearly 3-hour power outage...

Race, I know you probably won't believe but there is a particular wear put onto tools with tool use. It is very distinctive under an electron microscope. One of the characteristics is the organization of the wear--it is not random, but occurs in patterns.

Natural wear is random, and not organized.

You can perform this experiment yourself. When you use a pencil look at the tip before you sharpen it. See any wear? The rounded point is very different from the sharp point you started with. And this is in a very soft material; cherts and flints are very brittle and hard, and record the traces of use wear quite well.

If you just look around you, I am sure you can find wear on things. Take a look at the different things which have that wear and see if there are patterns in some, while others appear natural. Most rocks in a stream or garden will be natural. But after a street sweeper goes by sometimes the thin metal brushes can be found. They have a very distinctive wear pattern from the direction of rotation of the roller.

Take a look around you before you laugh things off. Really, some folks have spent 40-50 years at this and really do know a couple of things.

281 posted on 01/01/2006 6:51:37 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: Coyoteman

He won't look. He'll never look. He's too frightened of reality.


282 posted on 01/01/2006 6:53:12 PM PST by balrog666 (A myth by any other name is still inane.)
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To: spinestein; RaceBannon
One of our fellow FReepers (I don't remember who) is an expert "flintknapper" and reading some of the information he's posted or linked to shows that properly manufactured stone tools are easily distinguished from stones with naturally occurring wear.

Lithic technology (flintknapping, or elementary finger bleeding) was a course when I was in grad school. We learned a lot of the basics. To be really good requires a lot of dedication and practice, though. Good flintknappers who do replication studies can tell you a lot about how prehistoric peoples did the same tasks.

283 posted on 01/01/2006 6:54:32 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: Coyoteman
Were they there? Buncha godless commie homo creeps.
</creationism mode>
284 posted on 01/01/2006 7:01:55 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Virtual Ignore for trolls, lunatics, dotards, common scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: Coyoteman

And now confirm for me that this wear pattern remains unchanged through several hundred millenia to remain unchanged so you can verify this?

YOU CAN'T.

Through all the climate changes, the erosion, the weather, the heat, the cold, the erosion of water and sand particles across the surfaces, the frost heaves, the biological droppings on it...

YOU CAN'T.

Yet, you claim it remains pristine after over 1 million years to declare it was used to harvest berries in the now desert??

The Bible admits it requires faith to believe some things. Evolution denies it requires faith to believe the unprovable, and then calls that faith necessary to believe it's tenets science.

I dont care how many initials you have after your name. You cannot PROVE that something that is 1 million years old was a weapon that was used to do what evolutionists say it did or does.

You guys just dont see the religion required to believe what you espouse.


285 posted on 01/01/2006 7:05:47 PM PST by RaceBannon ((Prov 28:1 KJV) The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.)
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To: PatrickHenry
I'm trying my best here, chief.

It may not make any impression on some folks, but when one presents good data and logical arguments, its bound to do some good somewhere. And, fossil man and osteology are two areas I actually studied in grad school, so I'll do what I can.

286 posted on 01/01/2006 7:06:05 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: GSHastings; PatrickHenry
Please present your evidence which supports the conclusion that the most complicated and purposeful items known (living things) have been spontaneously constructed by time and chance.

Further evidence in response to your query: Evolution of Genes, Genomes, and the Genetic Code . See especially the Ph.D. Thesis: The Origin and Evolution of the Genetic Code: Statistical and Experimental Investigations

287 posted on 01/01/2006 7:10:26 PM PST by Ichneumon
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To: RaceBannon
Race, I understand your doubts, but the wear people put on tools is very distinctive. Certainly tools may have some natural wear afterward, but it is very different--organized vs. random. It is very easy to tell the two apart.

Sorry if you don't believe me, but that simply is the way it is.

OK, one more example. All over the world, anthropologists have visited people still living a more traditional lifestyle, using stone, bone, and wooden tools. They have gathered and studied those tools, watched them being made and used, and then compared the wear with tools from the more distant past. By studying modern tools you learn a lot; you can then apply that knowledge to the past.

If you don't believe this for religious reasons, just say so. But don't be trashing the legitimate work of thousands of scientists whose work you have little knowledge of, just because you disagree with the results for religious reasons.

288 posted on 01/01/2006 7:12:10 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: Ichneumon

How goes the good fight?

Something to think about: most religious belief systems are necessarily static just as science is necessarily fluid and evolving.


289 posted on 01/01/2006 7:16:23 PM PST by durasell (!)
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To: Coyoteman
Darn. I've been trying to add a new item to THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON CREATIONISM but it won't stay saved. I think my homepage has hit some kind of size limit.

What I wanted to save was this from post 285:
You guys just dont see the religion required to believe what you espouse.

Doesn't matter. It wasn't that good.

290 posted on 01/01/2006 7:20:40 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Virtual Ignore for trolls, lunatics, dotards, common scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: muir_redwoods
Prove it.

Jesus Christ's life and death is a matter of Western Civilizations historical record. Judeo/ Christian truths founded our nation. Read the writings of people far more brilliant than most today.

291 posted on 01/01/2006 7:24:08 PM PST by bondserv (God governs our universe and has seen fit to offer us a pardon. )
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To: PatrickHenry
....but it won't stay saved. I think my homepage has hit some kind of size limit.

Waaaaaaaaa! CENSORSHIP!!!!

< /Luddite Mode>

292 posted on 01/01/2006 7:29:26 PM PST by longshadow
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To: bondserv
"Jesus Christ's life and death is a matter of Western Civilizations historical record. Judeo/ Christian truths founded our nation. Read the writings of people far more brilliant than most today."

But his status as a deity is a matter of mere conjecture, unproven and unprovable. This supposed status was the crux of your statement. The historical existence of a man by that name is not germaine to your argument. Judeo/Christian ideals (not truths) figured in the philosophical basis for our nations founding to about the same degree that pagan Greco/Roman ideals did.

Your earlier statement remains unproven.

293 posted on 01/01/2006 7:30:57 PM PST by muir_redwoods (Free Sirhan Sirhan, after all, the bastard who killed Mary Jo Kopechne is walking around free)
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To: balrog666
What do I win?

There is a shortage of the coveted Darwin-Central refrigerator magnets. A donation in your name has been made to the coffee fund.

294 posted on 01/01/2006 8:54:47 PM PST by VadeRetro (Liberalism is a cancer on society. Creationism is a cancer on conservatism.)
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To: RaceBannon
Jenny, the human jaw bone when viewed from above is almost parabolic, while the ape jawbone is u-shaped.

Hmmm, that's compelling. ;-)

295 posted on 01/01/2006 10:45:28 PM PST by jennyp (PILTDOWN MAN IS REAL! Don't buy the evolutionist's Big Lie that Piltdown was a hoax!)
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To: js1138
The people sat waiting
Out on their blankets in the garden
But God said nothing
So someone asked him:"I beg your pardon:
I'm not quite clear about what you just spoke
What that a parable, or a very subtle joke?"

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him.

296 posted on 01/01/2006 11:17:08 PM PST by dread78645 (Sorry Mr. Franklin, We couldn't keep it.)
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To: Coyoteman

I am a mechanical engineer, with training in computer science and electrical engineering, also.

I am against what you say for more reasons than Religion.

But at least you were honest, most evo types wont admit that.


297 posted on 01/02/2006 1:50:35 AM PST by RaceBannon ((Prov 28:1 KJV) The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.)
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To: durasell
Something to think about: most religious belief systems are necessarily static just as science is necessarily fluid and evolving

Religions evolve also, just more slowly. People mistake their own fantasies for the word of God and resist conforming them to reality, but generations eventually replace generations.

298 posted on 01/02/2006 7:16:54 AM PST by js1138 (Great is the power of steady misrepresentation.)
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Almost ...


299 posted on 01/02/2006 11:57:36 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Virtual Ignore for trolls, lunatics, dotards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: longshadow

300


300 posted on 01/02/2006 11:57:40 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Virtual Ignore for trolls, lunatics, dotards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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