Creationists Try to Claim Scopes

A Tennessee lawmaker is leading efforts to introduce the latest anti-evolution strategy into public school science class. I have an article in today’s Scientific American about the proposed legislation, as well as continuing efforts in Texas and Louisiana to water down the teaching of evolution.

What makes the Tennessee bill so interesting is that the man who leading the campaign is invoking the name of John Scopes, the science teacher convicted in 1925 for teaching evolution:

[T]oday’s evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory,” David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and chief lobbyist behind Tennessee’s proposed anti-evolution bill, wrote recently in an op–ed in the Chattanoogan.

The argument, of course, is that those who can’t teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution are in the same boat as was Scopes, who couldn’t teach the overwhelming evidence for common descent. It’s a disingenuous argument and one I doubt Scopes would have bought:

Forty years after Scopes was found guilty for teaching evolution, he mused about an alternative outcome for his case if it had gone to the Supreme Court: “The Butler Act was an effort on the part of a religious group, the fundamentalists, to impose by law their religious beliefs on the rest of society. Our Founding Fathers, acquainted with the bloody religious wars in Europe, had written into the Constitution the right of religious freedom and had further provided, by means of the doctrine of the separation of church and state, that no religious group should control or unduly influence any arm of secular government. I believe that had we reached the Supreme Court we would have been victorious on this issue.”

The more I read about Scopes, the more I appreciate his thoughtfulness throughout the case. For a long time I had this image of him as a genial dupe of the Dayton businessmen, who had hoped to use the trial as a publicity stunt to promote the town. I thought Scopes was just a football coach willing to go along with the fun. But it turned out that he was actually a very serious and sober young man, who had developed a deep and abiding respect for science. He didn’t go seeking the limelight, but neither would he shy away from standing up to attacks from religious fundamentalism.

And speaking of cool science teachers, Scientific American also has an interview with Jenn Miller, one of the Dover teachers who board members tried to bully into not teaching evolution. She explains how her approach to teaching evolution has changed since the trial.