BackStory - In the Beginning: Evolution and Creation in American History

More than 85 years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” debates over the proper place of Darwin in American schools are alive and well. In the past year, lawmakers in seven states have considered legislation that would reduce the focus on evolutionary theory in public school biology classrooms, and a number of GOP presidential hopefuls have made headlines by endorsing the alternative teachings of “intelligent design.” Public opinion polls, meanwhile, consistently show that only a minority of Americans believe that Darwin was right.

In this episode of BackStory, the History Guys explore the relationship between science and religion throughout American history, especially where questions of human origins are concerned. How did the Founders conceive of “creation,” and why did the idea of extinction pose such a challenge to their worldview? How were Darwin’s ideas received in the U.S., and why did it take six decades before public school systems started challenging the teaching of his theories? Are there periods in American history when science and religion have not been at odds? These are a few of the questions on the table as BackStory takes on (the history of) the biggest question of them all: “Where did we come from, anyway?”

Highlights include:

* Hosts Peter Onuf and Brian Balogh visit Monticello to look at Jefferson’s collection of mammoth bones and reflect on why they posed a challenge to his understanding of the Earth’s origins.

* Historian Ronald Numbers (The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design) discusses the evolution of the American “creationist” movement.

* “19th Century Guy” Ed Ayers talks to the head science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee (site of the Scopes “Monkey Trial”) who, it turns out, doesn’t believe evolution to be a valid scientific theory.

* Producer Catherine Moore shares excerpts from the biblically-based science films of Rev. Irwin Moon, which were required viewing for millions of American schoolchildren in the 1940s and 50s.

* BackStory listeners call in with their questions about the history of science & religion in America.

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