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Scopes Turns 80

Published in Tae Mag

In the 1925 Scopes Trial, a young science teacher by the name of John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school — an act prohibited by a Tennessee statute. Although the trial court ruled against Scopes, the judgment was less important than its wider impact on culture. The historian George Marsden points out that “it was clear that the twentieth century, the cities, and universities had won a resounding victory, and the country, the South, and the fundamentalists were guilty as charged.”

Eighty years later, the tables have turned.

In 1992, San Francisco State University biology professor Dean Kenyon was ordered by the dean, Jim Kelley, to not “mention to students that there are important disputes among scientists about whether or not chemical evolution could have taken place…” This order came despite the fact that Kenyon had received his Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University and had co-authored the seminal theoretical work, Biochemical Predestination (1969). For many years, Kenyon had exposed his students to evidence both for and against Darwinian evolution. Yet he made the ultimate mistake in expressing his own view, that living systems display evidence of intelligent design. Kenyon was subsequently pulled from teaching introductory biology and was reassigned to labs.

Nine years later, Roger DeHart, a high school biology teacher of 23 years from the small upstate town of Burlington, Washington, was told he could not teach his students about the controversy over biological evolution, even if he did so on only one day of a two-week unit on evolution. DeHart, who had taught the controversy for 10 years, was forbidden from using mainstream scientific journals like Natural History and Nature, despite the overwhelmingly positive response he would receive from his students. When DeHart expressed his dismay, he was reassigned to an Earth Science class and replaced by a former student who had majored in Physical Education. His replacement had zero teaching experience.

This year, the evolutionary biologist and editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Richard Sternberg, faced the wrath of the Darwinian Inquisition. Sternberg received a submission for the journal by Dr. Stephen Meyer, outlining the problems the Cambrian explosion presents for Darwinian evolution. As editor, Sternberg sent the paper out for peer-review, and after passing all the appropriate steps, he sent it out to be published. Within hours of its publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institute, which helped fund and run the journal, began a campaign to run Sternberg out of his job. His keys were taken, his access to specimen was restricted, and he was deprived of all official office space and forced to use a shared work area. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which was established to protect federal employees from reprisals, conducted an investigation confirming Sternberg’s allegations.

Most recently, Guillermo Gonzalez, astronomer and cosmologist at Iowa State University, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed science papers, has been targeted for his dissent from Darwin. Hector Avalos, a theology professor and faculty advisor to the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society, circulated a petition among the faculty objecting to the mention of intelligent design in the classroom. The petition reads, “Whether one believes in a creator or not, views regarding a supernatural creator are, by their very nature, claims of religious faith, and not within the scope or abilities of science.” The petition continues, urging all faculty members to “uphold the integrity of our university of science and technology, and convey to students and the general public the importance of methodological naturalism in science and reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science.” As the only person on the faculty who supports intelligent design, Gonzalez stated that this is just the latest attempt by Avalos to try to silence him and his research. “If a professor were doing this against another professor in any other discipline, they would probably be reprimanded for it.”

Beginning today, September 26, the Pennsylvania courts will oversee the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, once again putting academic freedom on trial. A group of parents from the community of Dover complained after it was mandated that teachers read a statement which maintains, “Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence.”

John Scopes once said, “If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything, the whole country will eventually have only one thought…. I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory.”

Joe Manzari is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.