American Genesis: The Evolution Controversies from Scopes to Creation Science

Overview

The question of teaching evolution in the public schools is a continuing and frequently heated political issue in America. From Tennessee's Scopes Trial in 1925 to recent battles that have erupted in Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, and countless other localities, the critics and supporters of evolution have fought nonstop over the role of science and religion in American public life.

In American Genesis, Jeffrey P. Moran explores the ways in which the evolution debate has reverberated ...

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Overview

The question of teaching evolution in the public schools is a continuing and frequently heated political issue in America. From Tennessee's Scopes Trial in 1925 to recent battles that have erupted in Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, and countless other localities, the critics and supporters of evolution have fought nonstop over the role of science and religion in American public life.

In American Genesis, Jeffrey P. Moran explores the ways in which the evolution debate has reverberated beyond the confines of state legislatures and courthouses. Using extensive research in newspapers, periodicals, and archives, Moran shows that social forces such as gender, regionalism, and race have intersected with the debate over evolution in ways that shed light on modern American culture. He investigates, for instance, how antievolutionism deepened the cultural divisions between North and South—northerners embraced evolution as a sign of sectional enlightenment, while southerners defined themselves as the standard bearers of true Christianity. Evolution debates also exposed a deep gulf between conservative Black Christians and secular intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois. Moran also explores the ways in which the struggle has played out in the universities, on the internet, and even within the evangelical community. Throughout, he shows that evolution has served as a weapon, as an enforcer of identity, and as a polarizing force both within and without the churches.

America has both the most advanced scientific infrastructure as well as the highest rate of church adherence among developed nations, and the issues raised in the evolution controversies touch the heart of our national identity. American Genesis makes an important contribution to our understanding of the impact of this contentious issue, revealing how its tendrils have stretched out to touch virtually every corner of our lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Moran explores the historical underpinnings of the schism between the antievolutionary movement and mainstream science. Eschewing the broad-brush strokes in which the antievolution movement is generally characterized, Moran explores the cultural dynamics informing the almost century-old debate, documenting the formative role religious Southern women, who viewed themselves as “active agents of morality,” played in bringing the perceived threat of Darwinism to the fore. Moran notes that the early 20th-century outcry against evolution was waged “for country God and mother’s song” as well as the role of Southern regionalism, which saw evolutionists as cultural invaders from the North. Finally, there was a split among African-Americans based on whether they thought evolution would help dowse or inflame racism, and set black intellectuals against ministers. Evolution is perceived by religious fundamentalists as among specific theological threats. More familiar is the shift to the purported scientific approach known as creationism, and the increasingly sophisticated and strategic tactics of antievolutionists. Though the book is somewhat academic in tone, Moran transcends today’s media stereotypes while offering a fresh analysis of the roots of the antievolutionist movement—particularly the roles of women and African-Americans, and the personalities and motivations of advocates on both sides of the debate. Illus. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Moran...explores aspects of creationism that receive scant attention elsewhere...A well-written, thoroughly researched, valuable contribution. Highly recommended." —CHOICE

"Just when I thought there was little more to be said about creationism in America along comes Jeffrey Moran's sparkling new book, American Genesis. It not only introduces previously overlooked groups such as women and African Americans but also sheds welcome new light on the entire century-old controversy."— Ronald L. Numbers, author of The Creationists

"How has antievolution survived what Walter Lippmann called 'the acids of modernity'? Looking carefully at American diversity-racial, religious, and regional-Jeffrey P. Moran provides our best set of answers since Lippmann himself. Modernity has its own chemistry, to be sure, but it will never dissolve our deepest differences. And nobody has told that tale with more originality—or more sensitivity—than Jeff Moran." — Jonathan Zimmerman, New York University

"There is a long and disappointing history of antievolutionism in the United States, but many components of the story are unfamiliar. The role of region, women, and race, just for starters, deserves to be better known, as do the little-known stories of evangelical scholars who accept evolution. Moran's book is a welcome addition to this scholarship. I learned a lot from it."— Eugenie C. Scott, National Center for Science Education

Kirkus Reviews
Moran (History/Univ. of Kansas; The Scopes Trial, 2002, etc.) provides a scholarly look at the antievolution "impulse," focusing on the interactions of the social forces that animated, propelled and changed it. The author employs an old-fashioned historiography--introduction, clearly stated thesis, chapters devoted to each aspect of the thesis, a generally impersonal tone, scholarly diction--but he does highlight some important aspects of the controversies that have raged since the Scopes Trial of 1925. After some personal comments about his arrival to teach in Kansas and his alarm about that state's decision about the teaching of evolution, he sketches the career of Charles Darwin and shows how Darwin's revolutionary work was received both here and abroad. He notes the importance of women in the controversies here and shows how they became more deeply involved when the debate shifted to the public-school curriculum. He looks, too, at the involvement of evangelicals and summarizes the positions of notables like Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson and J. Franklyn Norris. Regionalism, he argues, was (and remains) an important factor. In some ways the South has felt once again invaded by the North, this time by rivers of scorn that have flowed from the pens of many Northern journalists. Moran examines how evolution threatened not just the "young earthers" who accepted Genesis as history but also those who believed in the divinity of Jesus. Race has always been a factor, and the author notes the large percentage of African-Americans who believe in the literal truth of the Bible; he also explains how many were disturbed by the ape imagery that often accompanied debates about evolution. Moran ends with the continuing difficulties that science teachers and students face in American classrooms, where the issue remains prominent and divisive. Important historical points that would glow brightly if illuminated by more narrative fire.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195183498
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/5/2012
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey P. Moran is Associate Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the Twentieth Century and The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface
Introduction: Darwin Comes to America
1. Monkeys and Mothers
2. Regionalism and the Antievolution Impulse
3. Fighting for the Future of the Race
4. Descent with Modification
5. Creationism and the Campus
Notes
Index

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