Charles Darwin was an English scientist in the nineteenth century who is famous for his contributions to the theory of evolution. Scientists in the Victorian Era had experimented with various theories of evolution but Darwin was the first to synthesize evolution in a cohesive work, his book On the Origin of Species (1859). His discoveries were not fully accepted and valued by scientists until the early twentieth century when his theory of natural selection was chosen as the basic cause for evolution. While he did not impact education during his own lifetime, Darwin’s greatest impact on education came almost fifty years after his death at the famous Scopes Trial in 1925.
The greatest controversy concerning the Darwinian theory of evolution was its clashing views with creationism. Thus, teaching science in the public schools was the battlefield for the Scopes Trial. In 1925, John Scopes, a science and math teacher, tested the Tennessee anti-evolution law, and the American Civil Liberties Union backed Scopes’ cause (Laats, 78). The original jury convicted Scopes for teaching evolution, but the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled the lower court’s decision (Laats, 99). Evolution could now be taught in public schools. Christian educators advocated for future laws requiring creationism to be taught alongside evolutionary theory. However, in 1980s the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws concerning creationism were unconstitutional because they forced religion on public schools. So evolution completely replaced creationism in public schools and forever changed the underlying worldview of each student.
Darwin’s theory of evolution completely changed the foundational premise for teaching science. Biology textbooks were immediately rewritten from an evolution viewpoint. Public education transitioned from a religious foundation to a secular one. Christian educators ardently opposed evolution in the early twentieth century but their efforts to reverse the impact of evolution failed. So the complete inclusion of evolution into the public schools spurred the Christian school movement, because educators saw the danger of teaching children that life originates apart from God’s direct creation. Such a belief changes one’s entire worldview. Bob Jones College and Pensacola Christian College were both started by Christians as a result of the Scopes Trial and the presence of evolution in public education (Laats, 194-195).
Some public schools and universities now accept the teaching of “intelligent design” as part of their scientific curriculum (Campbell & Meyer, 16). But intelligent design is the closest premise to creationism that society will allow in the public school system. However, many professors and teachers have lost their jobs in the past years for teaching intelligent design. Christian schools remain the only advocates for creationism in this modern era.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Campbell, J. A., & Meyer, S. C. (Eds.). (2003). Darwinism, design, and public education. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.
Laats, A. (2010). Fundamentalism and education in the scopes era: God, Darwin, and the roots of America’s culture wars. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.