Do you believe in evolution? You know, that stuff about how we have an ancestor in common with apes?
The notion that variation exists within a species and that environmental factors impact those differences to the benefit or detriment of a population was, from its outset, heresy. When drawn out to its logical conclusion, this natural selection suggests that singled-celled sea creatures eventually advanced to walk—or slither—up on land and gave rise to everything we see today.
Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking theory as laid out in the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species was met by a tsunami of religious indignation. After all, Genesis sets forth the Creation, and who in the hell was Darwin to question God’s work?
Seventy-five years ago this summer, there was a great American clash between scientists and creationists. It was the heralded “Monkey Trial” of 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was put on trial for teaching evolution— then a crime in Tennessee. Defending Scopes was Clarence Darrow, the great liberal lawyer. On the other side was popular orator William Jennings Bryan.
Scopes lost at trial, but Darrow’s arguments carried across the land. The acceptance of the theory of evolution has since marched forward, albeit slowly. Even recently in the face of continuing debate, Kansas passed a law to de-emphasize evolution in schools—read re-emphasize creationism.
The fact that evolution has been occurring for millions of years makes proving the theory a little tricky. Nonetheless, there is more research data to support Charles Darwin’s findings—including Watson and Crick’s elegant model of DNA, the mutable instructions for life—than any other scientifically based dictum. Still, no clear majority appears to accept it. Half of us, according to polls, would rather believe we got here some other way. Call it a leap of faith. Would that mean we all have a common ancestor in Adam and Eve?
Some people can apparently reconcile evolution with creationism—after all, even religion-based schools like BYU, Notre Dame and Southern Methodist University, to name a few, have biology departments that teach evolution. Could it mean that elements of the Bible are allegorical? Around and around we go.
The Scopes trial may have taken place 75 years ago, but our culture bumps along philosophically much as it did then, despite computers and cell phones. High-tech ignorance? Maybe. But at this point, how we got here seems to matter little in a society that dwells on a bullish stock market and the special effects of action-adventure movies.