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Teaching Origins In 20th Century American Public Schools

6468 words - 26 pages

Teaching Origins in 20th Century American Public Schools


The debate over the origins of the earth and of life has captivated and divided America since the late 19th Century. Evolutionists and creationists have battled in courtrooms , churches , academia , and public schools over the course of the 20th century and continue fighting, or attempting to make peace over, this culture war today. The debate has changed between the time of the Scopes Trial and the present in several important ways. First, creationists have developed many more diverse arguments, and employ not only biblical and moralistic arguments, but scientific evidence, logical arguments, and political rhetoric to counter evolutionary theory. Second, debate was revived by evolutionist educational reforms of the 1960s and is being countered by creationists who are part of the growing fundamentalist movement and by some who distance themselves from fundamentalism. Finally, though evolution has been accepted by the scientific world and by national education standards and has won several high-profile court victories in the last two decades, creationists are still effectively exerting pressure on state standards, textbook publishers, and individual schools and teachers.

The two extreme positions that characterize the debate are Ontologically Naturalistic Evolutionism and Young-Earth Biblical Creationism. Most Americans, including most scientists and most Christians, espouse views that lie somewhere between these two extremes, but that can still be categorized by acceptance or rejection of the scientific facts and theory of evolution. Further, there is a range of opinion on how origins should be taught in public schools, with the vast majority of Americans feel that both theories should at least be mentioned.

The arguments put forth by evolutionists and creationists have broadened and strengthened over the course of the century, and both ideologies remain powerful in America today. Evolutionary theory has accrued evidence from diverse scientific fields and is now championed as the centerpiece of biology. Creationism has branched out to include scientific, moralistic, and probabilistic arguments, and its alliance with fundamentalist Christianity has helped it retain political power. Toumey asserts that “without the churches, academies, colleges, lobbies, rallies, broadcasts, and mailing lists of the New Religious Right, creationism would be an obscure oddity; with its Religious Right sponsors, however, it becomes a popular sensation that generates difficult public controversy about science education.”

Evolutionists have largely tried to control curricula at the level of national and state standards, and view the inclusion of creation models in public schools as a central part of the larger problem of the poor quality of science education in American schools. Creationists have typically worked on the local and state level, appealing to first amendment...

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