Teaching Origins in 20th Century American Public Schools

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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...

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