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Karl W. Giberson and Donald A. Yerxa


Darwin Comes to America

On August 12, the day after the Kansas Board of Education voted to ban any mention of "macroevolution" from its recommended science curriculum (where the final decision lies with the state's 304 local boards) and its standardized tests (where the state board has the final authority), every newspaper in the country ran the story—a headline writer's dream—and the editorialists and columnists and designated experts began to weigh in. As I write, more than a month has passed since the Kansas decision, and the commentators are still going strong. "I don't think it's possible to be outraged enough by this ludicrous decree," wrote Charles Lane, editor of The New Republic (Sept. 13 and 20, 1999), stamping his foot for emphasis. By contrast, a New York Times editorial (Aug. 13) proclaimed that "deep sadness is the most sensible response."

Our job is to get behind the headlines and the dueling columnists and go deeper. Neither sadness nor outrage will take us very far. —JW

Anyone who has grown up in a Sinclair Lewis–style small town understands the significance of informal meeting places—barber shops, park benches, cafes. In Dayton, Tennessee—population 1,800—in the 1920s, the place to meet was the soda fountain in Fred Robinson's drugstore. The topic on May 4, 1925, was evolution in the public schools, an unusually weighty topic for Robinson's, although it had been in the news lately. William Jennings Bryan was leading a populist revolt against the theory of evolution, blaming its acceptance for a variety of evils, including German aggression in World War I. In a move that was repeated in several other Southern states, Tennessee had just passed a law forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was running an ad in the Chattanooga Times looking for a volunteer to test the law's constitutionality.

Some local businessmen, in a now historic meeting at Robinson's ...

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