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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 drugstore, decided that it would be great publicity for their town if the proposed contest over evolution was held in Dayton. Tourists and reporters would come, hotels would fill up, restaurants would be buzzing, and Fred Robinson would sell a lot of sodas. Dayton would be in the news.

The "drugstore conspirators" pitched the idea to John Scopes, a youthful science instructor and part-time football coach. Scopes was not completely sure he had taught evolution, but he had filled in once for the regular biology teacher and helped the students review from a text—Hunter's Civic Biology—that did contain the theory of evolution. That was enough; John Scopes had broken the law of the good state of Tennessee.

The local promoters got far more than they bargained for. The attention of an entire nation became fully focused on Dayton, Tennessee, for eight hot days in July 1925. It was the "Trial of the Century," a quintessentially American episode exposing powerful cultural tensions. It was a story to be told and re told, by historians, by participants with axes to grind, by playwrights with an eye for drama, and by Hollywood.

Three-quarters of a century after Scopes's conviction, the famous trial, which stands roughly at the midpoint between the appearance of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and today, continues to be the best starting point for an exploration of the tangled American debate over evolution. And there is no better guide to the Scopes trial than Edward Larson's Pulitzer Prize–winning Summer for the Gods. Larson, who has a Harvard law degree and a doctorate in the history of science, gives the Scopes trial the impartial historical and legal analysis that it deserves. With evenhandedness, impeccable historical research, and engaging prose, Larson recreates the drama of the trial without losing sight of its larger meaning.

At the time John Scopes was "arrested," William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner, was speaking at the World's Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA). After a distinguished and high-profile career of public service as a populist politician and secretary of state, Bryan had emerged in the post–World War I era as the leading figure in a growing antievolution movement; Tennessee's antievolution law had been inspired by Bryan's crusade. WCFA leaders recognized the artificial nature of the Scopes case and, concluding that the local prosecutors could not be trusted to defend adequately the antievolution statute, asked Bryan to get involved. He promptly accepted on a pro bono basis. Bryan also asked that a team of prominent out-of-state attorneys join the prosecution team, but the local prosecutors demurred, noting that Tennessee attorneys would carry more weight in a Tennessee court. They selected attorney general Tom Stewart to head the prosecution.

Bryan's appearance at Dayton changed everything. Because of the publicity that Bryan would generate, the ACLU would not get a narrow constitutional test of the antievolution statute. Moreover, given Bryan's political and personal philosophy, "evolution would be on trial at Dayton," and the ACLU's defense of individual liberty "would run headlong into calls for majority rule," Bryan's populist stance.

The ACLU lost control of the case when Clarence Darrow stepped forward to lead the defense and confront Bryan, with whom he had been sparring in print for years. Joining Darrow was the sophisticated New York divorce lawyer Dudley Field Malone, who apparently held a grudge against Bryan from the days in which he served under him at the State Department. Darrow and Malone issued press releases offering their pro bono assistance to Scopes's defense, forcing the ACLU's hand. The Darrow-Malone team would transform the case into a public forum that would pit "innocent, truth-seeking scientists" against "an oppressive, fundamentalist huckster." Darrow would, in effect, turn Scopes into the Invisible Man and put Bryan on trial. Larson captures this nicely: "The Great Commoner—the self-proclaimed voice of majority rule and religiously motivated progressive reform—would personify the threat to individual liberty in America."

For his part, while he fired some pretrial salvos back at Darrow, Bryan did try to focus the forthcoming trial away from evolution per se and toward popular control over public education. Bryan would attempt to make the Scopes trial a matter over whether scientists or "the Christian people of Tennessee" should control Tennessee public education.

Larson's account of the trial itself is a gripping narrative, despite the fact that readers already know the outcome. On the merits of the law, of course, there was no contest at all: Scopes was guilty, and the verdict was never in doubt.

Most of the interest in the trial has centered on Darrow's cross examination of Bryan on the lawn outside the Dayton courthouse. In this famous exchange, Larson casts Darrow in the role of the "village skeptic," asking routine questions about biblical interpretation that were not related to the case. What ensued was a debate with Bryan over biblical literalism, a no-win situation for the aging Great Commoner, who was easily overwhelmed by a forensic bulldog at the peak of his powers.

At one point, Darrow maneuvered Bryan into admitting that he subscribed to the day-age position to ac count for Genesis 1, a modest retreat from strict biblical literalism, but one that got Bryan into trouble with some of his fundamentalist supporters. Chief prosecutor Tom Stewart, whom Larson praises for his handling of the case, tried a dozen times to halt Darrow's relentless two-hour assault, but Bryan, whose articulate speech had stirred audiences for decades, refused to step down, shouting, pounding his fists in rage, forgetting that he was not behind a pulpit. "I am simply trying to protect the Word of God against the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States," Bryan cried out in frustration. "I want the papers to know that I am not afraid to get on the stand in front of him [Darrow] and let him do his worst." Judge John T. Raulston finally ended the interrogation when Darrow shot back at Bryan, both men standing and shaking their fists at each other: "I am examining your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes."

The remainder of the trial and the ensuing appeal were anticlimatic. Raulston ruled that Bryan's testimony was extraneous and had it expunged from the record. The defense rested; Darrow suggested that the court instruct the jury to find Scopes guilty, which took all of nine minutes. The national drama of the Scopes trial, already at a fever pitch, was heightened by Bryan's sudden death only five days after the trial. In marked contrast, the appeal failed to stir passion. The appellate court heard the arguments, took them under advisement, and issued its opinion seven months later, upholding the antievolution statute but overturning Scopes's conviction on a technicality. "The most widely publicized misdemeanor case in American history," Larson observes, "had finally come to an end, with neither side claiming victory."

Another very helpful recent look at the Scopes trial is provided by the distinguished Vanderbilt University historian Paul Conkin in When All the Gods Trembled, a collection of essays on religion in America. The Scopes essay provides analysis and background that complements Larson's book. In particular, Conkin provides a sensitive sociocultural description of the residents of Dayton, who were humiliated by their portrayal in the national media. He is critical of the caricatures provided by those who conspired to uncover, maximize, and even manufacture a kind of "cultural warfare" at Dayton. Reporters "looking for that strange breed of people called 'fundamentalists,' did locate a congregation up on Walden Ridge that matched their image—with an illiterate minister who, if the reporters were correct, believed the earth was flat." Conkin adds that freethinkers like Darrow and his great contemporary, the journalist H. L. Mencken, exhibited a "sophomoric rebellion, with an often arrogant pride in their own liberation."

Indeed, it's necessary to disentangle the Scopes trial from the mythology that has grown up luxuriantly around it. Larson notes that, at the time, the trial was not perceived as a decisive triumph for Darrow, al though that eventually became an indispensable part of the legend that took up residence in the popular mind. It was Frederick Lewis Allen's 1931 best-selling journalistic history of the twenties, Only Yesterday, that created the myth that most people recall as the Scopes trial. Allen described the trial in what Larson calls "cartoonlike simplicity": fundamentalism climbed into the ring with modernism, and fundamentalism lost.

Far from signaling the death of either fundamentalism or antievolutionary sentiment, the Scopes trial had significant impact on both. By the end of the 1920s, most of the Southern and some of the Western states had imposed some sort of antievolutionary restrictions. Moreover, because of heightened sensitivity to the topic, textbook writers revised their presentations of evolution. Hunter's Civic Biology, the text that turned John Scopes into a criminal, was dropped by the Tennessee Textbook Commission. It was so revised that the word evolution disappeared from the text.

Fundamentalism grew stronger numerically and institutionally following the trial. But Larson, drawing upon George Marsden's important work, notes that even as fundamentalism flourished in the Bible Belt, it lost out in the very Northern and Western coast al cities where it first had emerged. Increasingly marginalized as a rural backwater movement of no consequence to mainstream American culture, fundamentalism nurtured subcultures with their own religious, educational, and social institutions. This isolationism persisted until the 1950s, when the fundamentalists reemerged to fight communism. Marx, apparently, had replaced Darwin as a source of fundamentalist cultural anxiety.

But the Scopes legend was kept alive and indeed given wider currency in 1955 with Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's play Inherit the Wind, made into a popular film in 1960, starring Spencer Tracy in the Darrow role, Fredric March as Bryan, and Gene Kelly as the wise-cracking Mencken.1 (The characters in the play had different names, but there could be no doubt about their connection with the historical characters.)

Both the play and the movie, while brilliant entertainment, took liberties with the historical record. The Scopes character was transformed into an innocent victim of bigoted townspeople who arrested him right in the classroom as he was teaching evolution. The Bryan character, who denounces all science as godless, is rendered as a mindless, reactionary creature, constantly pandering to the mob and rarely seen without a drumstick in his hand. And the Darrow character becomes a tolerant, liberal champion, who appears to be risking his life to challenge the status quo of this hostile, narrow-minded town. Larson notes that Inherit the Wind remains a popular instructional tool for teaching students about the twenties. In an unfortunate lapse of scholarly judgment, the National Center for History in Schools in 1994 recommended the film version to explain how the views of Bryan differed from those of Darrow.

The issue of evolution in the schools, of course, did not end with Scopes, although most of the core issues were raised there. University of Wisconsin historian of science Ronald Numbers, author of The Creationists (the best history of the movement), reminds us in his collection of essays, Darwinism Comes to America, that there was a creationist revival in the early 1960s. The American scientific establishment was shocked by the successful launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957 and poured resources into science education. One result was the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), which placed evolution at the center of modern biology, where it resides to this day despite repeated post-Scopes efforts to dislodge it. The BSCS emphasis on evolution also reflected the vitality of evolutionary thinking at midcentury. Scientists working in genetics, taxonomy, and paleontology began interacting, and a robust neo-Darwinian Synthesis emerged that emphasized the role of random genetic mutations and blind natural selection as the primary mechanisms in the evolutionary process. Numbers points out that this neo-Darwinian Synthesis excluded teleological versions of evolution and, consequently, the new BSCS texts of the 1960s had no place for design and purpose, no room for a creator.

Conservative Christians reacted sharply. The creationist response was shaped heavily by the surprising popularity of "flood geology" articulated in John Whitcomb and Henry Morris's influential The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (1961), an attempt to accommodate the findings of science to a literal reading of the Bible. Morris's San Diego–based Institute for Creation Research (ICR), established in 1972, became the center for the new creation science. The movement gained steadily in popularity through the work of the ICR as creation scientists such as Morris, Duane Gish, and Ken Ham produced a seemingly endless stream of books, videos, and workshops that struck a chord among conservative Christians. Numbers suspects that this receptivity was more a function of theological concerns than lack of education or cultural alienation. Perhaps, he notes, the attraction stemmed from the bold stance of giving the Bible priority over science.

Creation science seeks to bring together science and Christianity by annihilating the distinction between two different but interrelated modes of speech and knowing.

Creation-science advocates brought their agenda to state legislatures in the early 1980s. Their call for balanced treatment of "evolution science" and "creation science" in public education found receptive audiences in the Arkansas and Louisiana legislatures, and in 1981, the world press descended upon Little Rock to cover what they hoped would be another dramatic courtroom installment in the ongoing creation-evolution controversy.

The Arkansas trial is analyzed in some detail in Kary Doyle Smout's The Creation/Evolution Controversy. While Smout, a professor of English, purportedly has written a complex treatise on rhetoric and intimidates the reader early on with discussion of exotic "linguistic nets," the book turns out to be very accessible and makes almost no technical demands on the reader. Smout analyzes the central role that definitions of terms such as creation, evolution, truth, science, and religion have played ever since Darwin. Darwin, for example, had to establish that the speculative, often hypothetical, character of his evolutionary theory did not render it nonscientific. This, of course, was exactly the point that Bryan emphasized a half-century later at Dayton when he referred to evolution as "millions of guesses strung together." Related rhetorical concerns were at the heart of Darrow's insistence that Bryan admit that he "interpreted" the Bible as opposed to simply "reading" it. And so on.

At Scopes II (as the Arkansas trial was dubbed by the media), a surprising amount of the discussion surrounded the definition of the terms religion and science. The issue was never "Is creationism true?" or "Does the inclusion of creationism help students clarify the problem of origins?" It wasn't even "If a community would like creationism taught in their schools, do they have a right to mandate it?" (Note that all of these questions would have made perfect sense in Dayton in 1925; Bryan was an aggressive champion of the rights of taxpayers to decide what their children should be learning in public school.) Instead, the questions at Scopes II were: "How should science be defined?" "Is creationism scientific?" "How is religion to be defined?" and "Is creationism religious?" In the years between Scopes I and II, science had developed its own magisteria with the power to excommunicate those who could not recite its shibboleths.

Smout's massively documented chapter on Scopes II considers in turn the testimony of theologian Langdon Gilkey, historian George Marsden, sociologist Dorothy Nelkin, philosopher Michael Ruse, and scientist Stephen Jay Gould, all of whom gave testimony against the Arkansas balanced-treatment law. The testimony and posttrial evaluation of fundamentalist theologian Norman Geisler is examined in some detail (and with as much sympathy as creationists have ever been accorded by someone who does not share their views). Smout also looks at reports from some nonparticipants, and concludes with an evaluation of Judge William Overton's decision (this was not a jury trial) that the balanced-treatment law was an unconstitutional breach of the wall separating church and state. In 1987, the assessment that creation science served religious, and not scientific, purposes was confirmed by the Supreme Court in its ruling on a Louisiana case.

Like its more famous predecessor, Scopes II has generated an enormous literature analyzing and critiquing everything associated with the trial, from the dress codes of the fundamentalists to the philosophical presuppositions of Judge Overton to Geisler's belief in UFOs. A spate of books appeared after the trial, some of which have achieved near "classic" status in the creation-evolution controversy. A partial list of anticreation books includes The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, by Niles Eldredge; Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution, by Douglas Futuyma; Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, by Philip Kitcher; In the Beginning: A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists Are Wrong, by Chris McGowan; Creation and Evolution: Myth and Reality, by Norman Newell; and Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies, by Michael Ruse. On the creationist side we have The Creator in the Courtroom, by Norman Geisler; Creation's Tiny Mystery, by Robert Gentry, and Scopes II: The Great Debate, by Bill Keith. Keith, by the way, was the Louisiana state senator who sponsored Louisiana's own "balanced-treatment" bill, which is also discussed in the book.

One of the best of the books coming out of Scopes II was University of Chicago theologian Langdon Gilkey's Creationism on Trial, recently reissued with a new introduction. Gilkey was an expert witness for the ACLU, and he provides a fascinating look at how the Skadden, Arps attorneys masterfully managed the case, as well as a glimpse at the sort of preparation and commitment expected from an expert witness in such a major case. The story is deeply personal, filled with anecdotes and not a few entertaining stories. Perhaps the most entertaining is Gilkey's account of his discovery in Norman Geisler's deposition that Geisler be lieved, on the basis of articles he had read in the Reader's Digest, that UFOs were real. He then conspired to get Geisler to admit all of this under cross examination, which sent the entire courtroom into raucous laughter. The media gave inordinate coverage to this part of Geisler's testimony, a fact he laments in his engaging account, Creator in the Courtroom.

Numbers notes that when the court rulings in the Arkansas and Louisiana cases shut the door on the effort to get creation science into public education at the state level, creationists turned their attention to local school districts and individual schools. More recently still, the August 1999 Kansas Board of Education decision to remove references to evolution from state tests has been described as a new strategy in the creationist campaign.2

While the Kansas case is the most prominent since the Arkansas and Louisiana rulings, controversies over creationism erupted in several other states in the mid-1990s, demonstrating—if anyone still needed convincing—that the question of evolution in American public schools just won't go away.3 A 1993 Gallup poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans favor teaching creationism in the schools. Moreover, 47 percent of Americans continue to subscribe to the basic creationist approach, and another 35 percent subscribe to theistic evolution. Only 11 percent hold to naturalistic evolution. How can we make sense of the persistence of this issue in the American cultural setting? Why won't the evolution question go away?

Each of the books discussed in this essay speaks to this. As we have noted, Larson suggests that the reason the Scopes trial continues to echo down to the present is because it embodies "the characteristically American struggle between individual liberty and majoritarian democracy," which is cast in "the timeless debate over science and religion." So for Larson, the science and religion dimensions of the Scopes trial are more contextual than essential. That may be true, but we will need to look beyond Summer for the Gods for clues about the en during nature of the debate over evolution in America.

Conkin goes back to the late nineteenth century, when Victorian America was forced to absorb two unwelcome European "immigrants." One was Darwin's controversial theory; the other, even more powerful, was an aggressive biblical criticism from Germany. Conkin reminds us of how these "acids of modernity" (Walter Lippmann's phrase) etched the very foundations of society, leading to a profound crisis of faith among American intellectuals. His book provides an interesting complement to God's Funeral, A. N. Wilson's stylish portrait of Victorian Britain's crisis of faith (see our interview of Wilson in the September/October issue of BOOKS & CULTURE). Both Conkin and Wilson caution us not to minimize the intellectual and emotional trauma that Darwin's ideas caused. Those who almost cheerfully accommodated their theology to the new science without pausing to measure what was lost represented the kind of Victorian optimism that the bloodshed and intellectual upheaval of the twentieth century would mock without mercy.

In the second, reflective section of his book, Gilkey analyzes the persistence of the evolution-creation de bate in American culture. He reminds us that contemporary America is a scientific-technological culture. Creation science, according to Gilkey, is as much the product of this culture as it is an antagonist of it—hence, he argues, creation science's literalization of religious belief.

In an argument that resembles (though in our opinion is far superior to) the "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA) approach of Stephen Jay Gould in his recent Rocks of Ages, Gilkey notes that creation science seeks to bring together science and Christianity by annihilating the distinction between two different but interrelated modes of speech and knowing. The fact that science omits God, Gilkey contends, reflects the limitations of science, not its atheism, a statement characteristic of the methodology of virtually all academic disciplines. All truth is not scientific truth! And not all religious concepts can or even should be validated by science.

Members of the scientific community have themselves been guilty of expanding science into scientism, a full-scale philosophical-religious viewpoint complete with its own naturalistic origins myth. Moreover, in the advanced scientific-technological culture of contemporary America, the scientific community has not always been responsible in its use of its cultural dominance. Gilkey considers creationism to be an understandable, albeit misguided, response to the arrogance of some scientists who identify "scientific knowledge of origins with exhaustive knowledge of origins."

An advanced scientific culture like ours that subscribes to only one form of truth—that generated by scientific inquiry—will face very serious consequences, warns Gilkey. Other approaches to truth—like those of art, literature, and religion—cannot be relegated to the realm of the subjective, or worse yet, to the preserve of the ignorant or deluded, without society paying a dear price. In fact, as science and technology have grown to dominate American elite culture, they have generated at least a partial rebellion among those who seek alternatives to the uncertainty and anxieties science seems to generate. It is a partial rebellion, because most conservative Christians who reject the dominant scientific culture do so selectively. For example, they show few signs of rejecting the benefits of medical, transportation, and communications technology. Still, in a culture where science appears to undercut traditional religious understanding, many Americans find solace in religion and certainty of its convictions.

Numbers suggests another reason for the persistence of the evolution question in American culture: "As long as the Bible remains the most trusted and widely read text in America and scientists maintain their considerable cultural authority, consensus, even if desirable, seems unlikely." This is complementary to Gilkey's perspective, but it places more emphasis on the fact that America remains very much a traditional religious culture even while it is being transformed by science. We misunderstand contemporary America and, indeed, the sweep of American history if we miss this point. The implications are obvious: rapprochement between the scientific community and those considerable sectors of the religious community that embrace the Bible as a primary source of authority will be difficult. Following Gould's terminology, there are two magisteria, but, disputing Gould, they overlap with frequency and great friction.

Virtually everyone working in the history of science, like Numbers, as well as countless scholars from other disciplines—including Langdon Gilkey—consider a warfare metaphor "neither useful nor tenable in describing the relationship between science and religion." Their point is well taken given the highly polemical nature of much of the writing in this area, originating with William Draper's 1874 work A History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White's two- volume 1896 study, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It is important to note, however, that this emerging scholarly consensus has to do more with the historical relationship between science and religion than their present relationship in post-Darwin America.

Numbers's use of the word consensus in the aforementioned quotation is suggestive of the enduring residual value of the warfare metaphor for describing the American cultural response to evolution. The word consensus is carefully chosen, we suspect, because words like truce and peace imply warfare. So while we agree with Numbers and others that the warfare metaphor is a dangerous, distorting, and overly simplistic way to describe the complex range of religious and scientific interactions, we believe that a cultural warfare model does make at least some sense when applied to twentieth-century America.

One cannot read the books under consideration in this essay without sensing the persistence of America's continuing conflict over the question of origins. Numbers clearly isolates the source of the conflict (though he would not label it as such): competing and simultaneously compelling sources for authority. To be sure, many Americans have accommodated their religious faith to science, although no doubt it was done often with reluctance or too glibly, with no clue as to how the accommodation was to be accomplished. On the other hand, there are tens of millions of Americans and entire religious denominations that have not accomplished this accommodation and that, in fact, have a missionarylike zeal to prevent it.

It is also important to note the en during popularity of a substantial number of widely followed aggressive antievolutionists who continue to see evolution and Christianity in conflict. Pulpiteers, like D. James Kennedy and Kenneth Copeland, still depict evolutionary science as antithetical to Christianity and regularly feature guests on their programs whose specialty is "refuting" the claims of Darwinism.

Strangely allied to these fundamentalists in their belief that Darwinism and Christianity are incompatible are some of the science popularizers, of whom the best known example would be Richard Dawkins, who holds the prestigious Oxford Chair for the Public Understanding of Science. Dawkins, for example, delights in extending his presentation of Darwinian evolution into the realm of metaphysics, implying that one of the conclusions of Darwinism should be atheism. In turn, these popularizers—and Dawkins is certainly not the only one—provide ammunition to religious popularizers, like Phillip Johnson, whose critical reading of popular science uncovers metaphysical and moral claims that run counter to traditional faith—claims that go beyond what is warranted by the science to which they are coupled with no indication where the epistemological leap has taken place. When the anti religious claims of the science popularizers are critiqued for sympathetic evangelical readers by eloquent polemicists like Johnson, it is all too easy for Christians to draw the conclusion that the evolutionary community, and even the entire scientific community, is hostile to Christianity.

Can this state of affairs not be de scribed appropriately as "warfare"? There can be no doubt that it was warfare at Dayton in 1925 and in Arkansas in 1981. Litigation, we might say, is "war by other means." But, as scholars who have looked at this in detail rightly remind us, it would be a mistake to identify the antagonists in this war as "science" and " religion." The populist antievolutionary sentiments that gave birth to the law that John Scopes broke were not coextensive with American Christianity; and the liberalism of Clarence Darrow was certainly not reflective of American science in 1925. In 1925 there were many people who disputed Darwinism for reasons that had nothing to do with their religious faith, and there were even a number of expert witness who testified at Dayton on be half of the ACLU who were themselves Christians. These are important qualifications that should discourage anyone—say, playwrights, Hollywood producers, and the National Center for History in Schools—from caricaturing these celebrated encounters as simple battles in the on going war between science and religion. On the other hand, we must resist the temptation to infer that, because we cannot make a sweeping generalization, we can draw no conclusion at all. This would be to replace one simplistic caricature with another.

We suggest that the "center of gravity" of the positions held by the antievolutionary contingents at Scopes I and II is closer to the center of gravity of the American religious community than it is to that of the scientific community. Similarly, the center of gravity of the positions held by those who opposed the antievolutionary legislation is closer to that of the scientific community. So, while there are numerous exceptions, and while Numbers is right to emphasize particularities within the spectrum of American responses to Darwinism, it remains the case that there is still a sense in which "religion" and "science" continue to do battle in America.

This perspective accords with our collective 35-plus years of experience teaching at a Christian liberal arts college. The majority of students who en roll at our institution bring with them a deep fear, sometimes a hostility, to Darwinism, even though they have not been raised in officially "fundamentalist" traditions, and our institution is probably somewhat "liberal" by evangelical standards. In a reflective paper written for a course this past summer, a bright, sophisticated third-year student at our institution spoke for many of her evangelical peers when she wrote how she had been raised to believe that "evolution is wrong and cannot be believed by Christians" even as she began the process of trying to integrate evolutionary thinking with her deep Christian faith. Our counterparts at more conservative institutions report an even greater hostility to evolution.

America is indeed both a traditionally religious and a modern scientific culture. The American religious experience remains sufficiently vital to fuel ongoing resistance to those aspects of the scientific culture deemed antithetical to historic Christianity. The battle fought during those eight days in July of 1925 was neither won nor lost; it simply stopped. The long hot summer for the gods has never turned into autumn.

Karl W. Giberson is professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College. Donald A. Yerxa is professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College. This essay was written at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where the authors are participating in a science-and-religion research seminar over three summers, funded by the Templeton Foundation. The authors wish to express their appreciation to the Templeton Foundation for its generosity. Giberson and Yerxa are working on a book surveying the contemporary debate on origins.

1. A 1980s film version cast Jason Robards in the Darrow role, but it lacked the richness of the original—which, perhaps in part because it is in black and white, seems to have a "documentary" feel to it. There are also plans to bring Inherit the Wind back to Broadway sometime in 2000.

2. See, for example, editorials and news reports in Nature, August 19, 1999, p. 697 and p. 710 (www.nature.com); New Scientist, August 21, 1999, p. 4 (www.newscientist.com); and Science, August 20, 1999, p. 1187 (www.sciencemag.org).

3. The National Center for Science Education, an anticreationist "watchdog" organization, has recently been soliciting new members by providing a map of the United States with those states shaded in where creationist "incidents" have occurred within the last year. Most states are shaded in.


Paul K. Conkin, When All The Gods Trembled: Darwinism, Scopes, and American Intellectuals (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).

Langdon Gilkey, Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock (Univ. Press of Virginia, 1985, 1998).

Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Harvard Univ. Press, 1998).

Ronald L. Numbers, Darwinism Comes to America (Harvard Univ. Press, 1998).

Kary Doyle Smout, The Creation/Evolution Controversy: A Battle for Cultural Power (Praeger, 1998).

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