Teaching Origins in 20th Century American Public Schools Essay

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Teaching Origins in 20th Century American Public Schools


The debate over the origins of the earth and of life has captivated and divided America since the late 19th Century. Evolutionists and creationists have battled in courtrooms , churches , academia , and public schools over the course of the 20th century and continue fighting, or attempting to make peace over, this culture war today. The debate has changed between the time of the Scopes Trial and the present in several important ways. First, creationists have developed many more diverse arguments, and employ not only biblical and moralistic arguments, but scientific evidence, logical arguments, and political rhetoric to counter evolutionary theory. Second,
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Evolutionary theory has accrued evidence from diverse scientific fields and is now championed as the centerpiece of biology. Creationism has branched out to include scientific, moralistic, and probabilistic arguments, and its alliance with fundamentalist Christianity has helped it retain political power. Toumey asserts that “without the churches, academies, colleges, lobbies, rallies, broadcasts, and mailing lists of the New Religious Right, creationism would be an obscure oddity; with its Religious Right sponsors, however, it becomes a popular sensation that generates difficult public controversy about science education.”

Evolutionists have largely tried to control curricula at the level of national and state standards, and view the inclusion of creation models in public schools as a central part of the larger problem of the poor quality of science education in American schools. Creationists have typically worked on the local and state level, appealing to first amendment freedoms of religious practice and expression and attacking the validity of evolutionary theory.

Historical Overview

Since public education in the US has historically been controlled at the local and state level, the content of and emphasis placed on origins education has varied over time and by locality due to pressures from creationist and
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