1859 November 24

Darwin Publishes “On the Origin of Species”– The Battle over Science and Religion Begins


Charles Darwin on this day published his famous book, On the Origin of Species, setting forth the theory of evolution. As the theory of evolution gained acceptance and began to find its way into biology textbooks, it provoked a long-running battle over the freedom to teach. Christian fundamentalists, who believe in the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, have tried to block the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The most famous confrontation in the U.S. began in 1925, when Tennessee passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in its public schools. The Scopes “Monkey Trial” trial, in which biology teacher John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution, began on July 10, 1925. It is one of the most famous trials in all of American history. Scopes was convicted of violating the law, but the conviction was overturned because the judge erred in imposing the sentence. Decades later, the Supreme Court declared a similar anti-evolution law unconstitutional in Epperson v. Arkansas on November 12, 1968.

The battle over religion in the schools never ended. Major events involved a Louisiana “balanced treatment” law, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional on June 19, 1987, and a local Pennsylvania school board policy to teach “intelligent design,” which was declared unconstitutional by a District Court judge in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District on December 20, 2005.

Learn more about evolution at the National Center for Science Education: http://ncse.com/

Read the original: Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (many editions available, originally published on this day)

Read: Edward J. Larson, Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (1997)

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