Tag Archives: Scopes

Online: Evolution: A Journal of Nature, 1927-38

The full contents of the short lived journal Evolution: A Journal of Nature, have been made available online by Joe Cain, Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, at University College London. Evolution was established by American supporters of evolution following the Scopes trial in 1925. The aim of the periodical was to promote the teaching of evolution in American schools, while providing educators with the means of responding to creationist arguments. Reprinted in the fifth issue of the first volume of the journal is a letter of support for the endeavor from psychologist and philosopher John Dewey:

Permit me to offer my congratulations on your periodical, Evolution. They apply both to the idea and its execution. The present state of the public mind and of discussion as well of projected legislation make it highly important that there should be issued statements regarding the various aspects of the evolutionary controversy which can be widely read and understood. You have been fortunate in enlisting as writers persons of unquestioned competency and having a clear style. I am impressed with the fact that the Journal is scientific as well as popular. You are rendering a public service and I wish you every success.

Among the contents of the each issue of the journal are political cartoons, like that pictured to the right. The evolution of the human mind and its distinctness from that of apes is also a periodic topic within the journal’s pages.

Evolution in American high school textbooks

Scopes Trial newspaper cartoon, 1925, Collection of Richard MilnerIn a recent issue of the Journal of the History of Biology, 41(3), Ronald Ladouceur debunked the commonly-held belief that discussions of evolution were suppressed following the Scopes trial of 1925.

Two influential articles published in the 1970s suggested that pressure from Christian fundamentalists… forced American high school biology textbook authors and publishers to significantly limit discussion of the topic of evolution. The conclusions reached by these studies have become foundational for historians examining the interplay between science and religion in the United States in the twentieth century. However, a reexamination of key twentieth century biology textbooks suggests that the narrative that the treatment of the theory of evolution was held hostage to anti-rational cultural forces is largely a myth, created first as part of a public relations effort by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) to differentiate, defend, and promote its work, and later as part of an attempt by scholars to sound a warning concerning the rise of the religious right. A focus on this narrative has not only allowed biologists to sidestep uncomfortable questions regarding the race-biased and class-biased assumptions embedded within the concept of evolutionary progress, it has also limited reliance on the texts in question as reliable reflections of the cultural assumptions of educators and scientists. A reexamination of the most popular American biology textbooks from 1907 to 1963, particularly the work of Ella Thea Smith, provides evidence in support of these contentions. (Abstract)

Ladouceur has also produced a compagnion website, with post-publication commentary, errata and additional source material.

This archive includes additional biographical information plus a selection of relevant texts, including a copy of Smith’s original typewritten and mimeographed textbook from 1932.

This supplementary material can be found here.

The Scopes Trial Revisited

Science as CultureIn a recent issue of Science as Culture, 17(2), Matthew J. Tontonoz compares the recent “evolution wars” with a revival of the historic Scopes trial of 1925. In this formulation, William Jennings Bryan — who had served as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908 — plays the role presently adopted by, as Tontonoz puts it, “today’s creationists and proponents of intelligent design.”

Using Bryan’s unread closing remarks as a key to his views, this revisionist historical work argues that Bryan opposed evolution primarily for political and ethical reasons–reasons that have been lost to historical memory. Bryan’s overarching concern was the threat to society posed by extrapolations of evolutionary doctrine–namely, Social Darwinism and eugenics. His commitment to the Social Gospel put him at odds with the concept of natural selection being applied to humans. This view of Bryan differs from the one with which we are most familiar. Our faulty historical memory largely reflects the caricatured view of Scopes spawned by the movie Inherit the Wind, a view that, furthermore, reinforces an unhelpful positivistic view of science.

See also at AHP: Darwin and early American psychology, Scopes “Monkey” Trial Ended on this Date

Scopes “Monkey” Trial Ended on this Date

John ScopesEighty-eight years ago today — 21 July 1925 — the Dayton, Tennessee trial of John Scopes, for teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection in his high school classroom, ended with a conviction and a fine of $100. The conviction had been expected — indeed, engineered — by Scopes’ defense team, which included the famed lawyer Clarence Darrow. The prosecution team had included the thee-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

The conviction was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Often forgotten, however, is that the Supreme Court rejected Scopes’ defense team’s arguments that the statute on which the conviction was based violated the Establishment clause of the U. S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”), Continue reading Scopes “Monkey” Trial Ended on this Date