This past summer marked the 82nd Anniversary of the infamous Scopes “Monkey
Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, where biology teacher John Scopes was convicted for
teaching evolution in a public high school in 1925. Today, the debate over teaching
evolution in the public school science classroom still rages. Religious Right activists
continue to push creationist agendas in many communities around the country, and with
Tennessee v. John Scopes, Trial in 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, of a 24 year old high school biology teacher who taught the theory of evolution. The
teacher, John Thomas Scopes (1900-1970), was accused of having violated the Butler Act, a Tennessee law that banned the teaching of the theory of
evolution in public schools because it contradicted the account of creation in the Bible, introduced by John Washington Butler second term member of
the Tennessee House of Representatives. The trial received worldwide media hype and was conducted in a circus like atmosphere. The press called it the
“Scopes Monkey Trial” because, according to popular belief, evolution meant that humans were descended from monkeys. Tennessee was not the first
to pass such legislation, “in 1923 Oklahoma passed a bill banning the use of all school text that included evolutionist instruction and Florida did
the same declaring it improper to teach Atheism or Agnosticism, or to teach as true, Darwinism, or any other hypothesis that links man in a blood
relationship to any other form of life.”(1)
Clarence Darrow, one of America's leading criminal lawyers, appeared for the defense pro bono, also on the side of the defense was New York lawyer
and co-counsel Dudly Field Malone, Scopes’ lawyer John Randolph Neal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who actually instigated the trial
by guaranteeing legal and financial assistance to any teacher who would test the new law. The ACLU is an organization “committed” to defending the
individual rights and freedoms of all people in the United States. The ACLU works to protect the civil liberties granted by the Constitution of the
United States and Bill of Rights through legal action,
legislation, and public education. The independent union provides lawyers and legal advice for individuals and groups involved in local, state, and
federal court cases. It also leads numerous campaigns to extend more rights to people who have traditionally been denied them, including the rights of
children, prisoners, homosexuals, and people with mental illness. (2) Typically by filing friend-of-the-court briefs; in such a brief, the ACLU
advises the court on issues in relation to civil liberties but does not provide legal counsel for either the defendant or plaintiff. ACLU briefs have
influenced the outcome of a lot of trials. This is also what the local F. O. C. does in regards to Child Support cases.
For the prosecution was Former U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan invited by the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (Now
Defunct), Circuit Attorney General Arthur Thomas Stewart and William Jennings Bryan Jr. a Los Angeles lawyer and the Former U.S. Secretary’s son.
The prosecution’s strategy was straightforward. It was not interested in debating the value or wisdom of the butler law, only in proving that John
Scopes had broken it. (1)
The defense argued for the scientific validity of evolution and against the constitutionality of the Butler Act, but it did not deny that Scopes had
broken the law. He was convicted and fined $100 paid by the Baltimore Sun, but the verdict was later reversed on procedural grounds by the state
Supreme Court stating that the jury should have set the fine and not the judge.
The Butler Act remained until 1967. Since then, a series of court decisions has barred creationists’ efforts to have their theory taught in public
schools, many of these cases involved the ACLU arguing against the freedom of speech of the Christian Fundamentalists’ and for the separation of
church and state. The debate rages on currently about the theory of “Intelligent Design” which is not the same as creationism although similar to
anyone who has not actually looked at it.
Creationism is the theory of Devine Creation of the human species and all life. The book of Genesis reports the creation of the Earth with absolute
geological accuracy; Minerals then Plants then Animals; first fish then birds then larger mammals and science does not dispute this simplified
chronology. In 1987 Molecular Biologist Douglas Wallace and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, reached the conclusion
(Through DNA Testing) that all of the people on Earth are descendants of a single woman who lived around 200,000 years ago.
Mitochondria, with their own simple DNA that is not affected by sexual mixing, come from our mothers only. Your mitochondria came exclusively from
your mother’s mother’s mother--and so on, back generation after generation, to the beginning of our species. The culture of mitochondria in the
female egg seeds a newborn’s body, while whatever mitochondria might be in the sperm are lost with the tail at the time of egg fertilization. The
female-only transmission of mitochondria, coupled with its slow rate of genetic mutation, make its DNA ideal for tracing and dating maternal ancestry.
They used computers to analyze samples of DNA drawn from 135 diverse women from all over the globe—Chinese, African natives, Australian Aborigines,
Native Americans, and Europeans. The researchers discovered that the family trees of these women all led back to Africa. Remarkably, the analysis
demonstrated that genetic differences among the various people within Africa all are twice as great as the differences between all other population
groups. This strongly suggests that all the population groups outside Africa are descended from a small band of humans that left Africa—probably
about 50,000 to 80,000 years ago.
The ancestral human population that lived in Africa started to split up roughly 150,000 years ago, when the mitochondrial tree makes its first
branches within the African continent. The very root of the mitochondrial tree seems to lie in the northwestern Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.
The true home of Eve—Mitochondrial Eve—is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a hot African desert. The mitochondrial research matches nicely with
recent genetic research using the Y chromosome, transmitted exclusively by males, which also points to southern Africa as the home of Adam. Unlike
the Genesis version of human origins, however, the Y chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve that our genetic trees trace back to did not have the
planet to themselves—there probably were thousands of other humans living at the time. Moreover, other humans had lived and died long before they
did. All we know is that these two humans, alone among the population of their time, can claim an unbroken line of sons and daughters that persists
to this day.
To quote a famous biologist:
Biological evolution ... is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of
an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those
that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces
everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive
alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions."
-- Douglas J. Futuyma in Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates 1986
or, to quote someone less famous, but more succint:
evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.
-- Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes, Biology 5th ed. 1989 Worth Publishers, p.974
An allele is just a specific variation of a gene. We all have genes for eye color, but we aren't all the same, because some people have one allele,
some have another.
So, the observation that a gene pool has changed, means that one has observed biological evolution. And then we would want a theory to explain or
predict that change.
Darwin's theory was about The Origin of Species. So, what is a species? That's not part of the context of this paper, but the short answer is: a
species is a set of creatures which, in their natural setting, breed among themselves.
If a new species comes into existence, we would call that speciation - the opposite of extinction. If species A gives rise to species B and C, then A
is the common ancestor of B and C. (This in no way implies that A is extinct. B and C are quite likely to have arisen from geographically isolated
groups of A-s.)
Darwin said that evolution and speciation happened because of natural selection, sometimes incorrectly called survival of the fittest. The point is
not at all who survives: the point is that the variations between individuals may change how many descendants they get to have. Survival of the
fittest has incorrectly been accused of being a redundancy.
Darwin said that natural selection worked because creatures have variation. It being 1859, he didn't know why there was variation. Today, we know
that it comes from the many possible combinations of genes. And, it comes from mutations, which are caused by mis-operation of the mechanisms that
copy genetic information.
Finally, Darwin said that natural selection had gradually caused all lifeforms on Earth to have evolved from a single common ancestor. That is more or
less Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Now, 147 years later, we have a Modern Synthesis of the Theory of Evolution. It's fairly similar to Darwin's,
but more detailed. And the emphasis has shifted away from organisms and individuals. In the 1930's it became more mathematical, and the ideas became
more about genes and populations. In the last few decades, there has been new emphasis on symbiosis and on mass extinctions.
Intelligent Design is the theory promoting the intervention of “superior beings” Genetically engineering the human species from lower primates and
some of their own genes into what we are now, Homo Sapiens Sapiens the most prolific writers on this theory are or have been, Zecharia Sitchen, self
described as a Russian Linguist and Archeologist and Erich von Daniken of Chariots of the Gods fame, also promoting this theory are Jonathan Wells,
Ph.D. a biologist, and Michael J. Behe, Ph.D. a biochemist and William A. Dembski, with Ph.D.s in mathematics and philosophy. How or when this theory
became popular I have no clue. They have used cave drawings, the Bible and many other ancient writings to back up this theory.
Most biologists have concluded that the proponents of intelligent design display either ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation of evolutionary
science. Yet their proposals are getting a hearing in some political and educational circles and are currently the subject of a debate within the Ohio
Board of Education. (3)
At present there is not enough evidence to unequivocally prove any of these three theories. The popularity of the theory of creationism does not rely
on proof but on faith and the theory of evolution is currently taught as fact by law. I really do not see any conflict between the two theories.
The notion that science and religion are irreconcilable centers in large part on the issue of evolution. Charles Darwin, in his 1859 book The Origin
of Species, explained that the myriad species inhabiting Earth were a result of repeated evolutionary branching from common ancestors.
One would be hard pressed to find a legitimate scientist today who does not believe in evolution. As laid out in a cover story in the November issue
of National Geographic magazine, the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming.
Yet in a 2001 Gallup poll 45 percent of U.S. adults said they believe evolution has played no role in shaping humans. According to the creationist
view, God produced humans fully formed, with no previous related species.
But what if evolution is God's tool? Darwin never said anything about God. Many scientists—and theologians—maintain that it would be perfectly
logical to think that a divine being used evolution as a method to create the world.
To quote Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), "Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium", 1941:”
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."
1. © 2004 The Unfinished Nation, Alan Brinkley
2. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia