Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is Essay

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Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is

When Ernst Mayr published his book, What Evolution Is, in 2001 it was hailed as a work of genius. The praise, replete with superlatives, ranged from "elegant, enthralling, and provocative" to "clear, comprehensive, and very informative".1 From all appearances it intended to be the theory of evolution offered up to the common man for general consumption and enlightenment; it was what would put the evolution/creationism debate to rest once and for all. It neither fulfilled its own goals nor lived up to the acclaim received from the intellectual establishment.

In order to assess the success of Mayr's book as a book for the people, it is necessary to examine just who these "people" are. Certainly
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The theory (or fact- as Mayr would have it) of evolution represents a threat to the traditional identity of this region. This tension between science and tradition (whether real or perceived) has affected the education and upbringing of an entire region for so long that even now in this age of "reason" and "scientific enlightenment", the debate continues.

To understand the unique relationship between the South and evolution, one can look at the Scopes trail in 1925 and the recent controversy evolving the Georgia department of Education. These two cases illustrate the continuing friction between traditional American (Southern) culture and modern scientific thinking/ the intellectual community.

Eighty years after Tennessee v. John Scopes, 1925, know to many as the "Monkey Trial", many states south of the Mason-Dixon Line are still grappling with the same issues as the people of Dayton, Tennessee did in 1925. John Scopes, a young school teacher in the small community of Dayton, Tennessee, agreed to challenge the newly passed state law which forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools. He was tried and convicted for breaking this law and so became a martyr for science over ignorance. The trial was dubbed the "trial of the century" and tiny Dayton became the center of national attention. The trail was a battle between the forces of good and evil. Who was good and who was evil all depends on your point
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