JEFFERSON CITY – On May 4, 1925, George Rappleyea, a metallurgical engineer in Dayton, Tenn., stumbled upon an advertisement in the Chattanooga Daily Times that, he thought, could bring renown and money to this struggling coal town.
The advertisement, put out by the ACLU, challenged a Tennessee law that made it illegal “to teach” in public schools “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” In particular, the law was aimed at the theories of Charles Darwin – born in 1809 on Feb. 12, a day now celebrated by his admirers as “Darwin Day” – who taught that all life on Earth was not created by the special work of God but rather that every species evolved over millennia by a process of random mutations.
Since Tennessee law challenged Darwin’s theory, the ACLU decided to challenge the Tennessee law: “We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law in the courts,” the advertisement read in the Chattanooga Daily Times. “Our lawyers think a friendly test case can be arranged without costing a teacher his or her job. Distinguished counsel have volunteered their services. All we need now is a willing client.”
Rappleyea saw an opportunity and, along with other residents of Dayton, recruited a young teacher, John Scopes, to fulfill the ACLU’s request. As a result, the “Scopes Monkey Trial” unfolded. News reporters and tourists from across the globe flocked to the little town of Dayton, and in the dog days of 1925, Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution against state law.
Although Scopes most likely never taught Darwin’s theory of evolution—as claimed by Marvin Olasky and John Perry in their book Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial (B&H, 2005)—his day in court left a lasting mark on American culture. The media’s misrepresentations of the Scopes Monkey Trial – most famously in the 1960 film, “Inherit the Wind” – depicted an enlightened man of science under attack by backwards Christian fundamentalists. As this myth goes, the ignorant Bible-thumpers of Tennessee simply refused to follow the scientific evidence where it led since it challenged their belief in God. This myth was inaccurate, but it has made an impression on Americans for decades.
Now, nearly 100 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, lawmakers around the nation are continuing to spar over the place of Charles Darwin’s ideas in public schools. During the past year, legislators in Alabama, Indiana, Florida, Oklahoma and South Dakota have introduced academic freedom bills that would allow science teachers to share with their students the flaws of, as well as the evidence for, Darwin’s theory of evolution.
And, far from promoting ignorance, these lawmakers are supported by a growing scientific movement, called “Intelligent Design” (I.D.). Proponents of I.D. have challenged the adequacy of Darwin’s ideas and proposed that empirical, scientific evidence actually suggests that life was designed by some intelligent being.
Still, those who challenge Darwin’s ideas have a hill to climb.
“In science, you’re supposed to be thinking of things critically, objectively, always questioning – until you get to neo-Darwinism,” Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville), who is a member at Abundant Life Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, told The Pathway. In 2013, Brattin sponsored an unsuccessful bill in the Missouri House of Representatives that would require teachers to display evidence both for and against Darwinism, as well as for and against I.D.
Brattin said he wanted to encourage “objectivity in science,” but he also realized that Darwin’s theory of evolution has spiritual, theological implications: namely, if Darwin and his secularist followers are right about evolution, then is there really any need for God?
“You get into the aspect of faith, and it is a huge spiritual battle,” Brattin said. “This is an anchor point for the Deceiver.”
Indeed, according to John West – a vice president at the Seattle, Wash.,-based Discovery Institute – Darwinism encourages atheism.
“Many people in our culture who have lost their faith in God continue to cite science as a justification for their views,” West told The Pathway. “According to a nationwide survey we conducted last year, 67% of self-identified atheists and 35% of self-identified agnostics in America say ‘the findings of science make the existence of God less probable.’
“In particular, nearly 7 in 10 atheists and more than 4 in 10 agnostics say that for them personally, unguided chemical and biological evolution have made the existence of God less likely.
“In addition, more than 7 in 10 atheists and nearly 4 in 10 agnostics agree with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins that ‘the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.’ So the public perception that science undercuts faith certainly remains a significant problem.”
By contrast, West added that “we are also seeing increased push-back against those who claim that science refutes faith. In recent decades, a growing number of scientists have pointed out scientific discoveries that provide powerful evidence that nature is the product of intelligent design rather than unguided processes.”
According to John Marshall, professor emeritus of medicine in the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine, it is “impossible for naturalistic, random mechanisms” to explain the existence of the complex and diverse life found on earth. Every single human cell, he explained, contains enough information to fill up 75,000 pages of the New York Times. Moreover, “the human machine is so much more complicated than the Mars Rover,” a robotic vehicle that no one would deny is designed by intelligent human beings. “Do we really think that natural processes, random acts, led to this (human body)? To me, it is just hard to think how you could comprehend that.”
Evidence for ID has greatly increased in recent decades, but most scientists continue to reject I.D.’s conclusions.
“I think their definition of science excludes intelligence,” Marshall said, but they also may be wary of I.D.’s theological and spiritual implications.
“They don’t want to be governed by that (Intelligence),” he said. “They want to be their own person and live their own life.”
In other words, some secular scientists may refuse to follow the evidence where it leads simply because it challenges their atheism.