The Lingering Impact of the Scopes Trial on High School Textbooks

The article by Randy Moore, called “The Lingering Impact of the Scopes Trial on High School Textbooks” can be found in Electronic Reserves, on Blackboard.

The article, as is implied by the title, discusses the impact that the Scopes Trial had on how evolution was written about in high school textbooks. Moore begins his article by first describing how textbooks and the scientific community started to accept evolution in the years between Darwin’s publication and the Scopes Trial. Indeed by the Scopes Trial, many textbooks had pages and pages explaining evolution.

Following the Scopes Trial, the immediate impact was, predictably, a drop in interest in writing about evolution in textbooks. No one wanted to be convicted like Scopes. Many publishers removed evolution from their books, as if evolution had suddenly become taboo. Moore even describes how the first female Governor in a Southern State, Miriam Ferguson (Texas), ordered her textbook commission to cut out (with scissors) any pages from high school textbooks that discussed evolution, and threatened to fire any teacher did not use ‘approved’ textbooks.

It’s interesting to note that the Governor’s self-proclaimed reason for doing this was “I’m a Christian mother who believes Jesus Christ died to save humanity, and I’m not going to let that kind of rot go into Texas textbooks,” where “rot” obviously refers to evolution. The interesting part of this, apart from being a completely personal and selfish reason  for banning evolution, this is clearly a violation of the establishment clause in the First Amendment, more so than many evolution/creationism trials since, such as Edwards against Aguillard in 1987. How can no one have realized that the governor basically saying ‘My religious must be taught in high school classes’ is a clear push of religion by the government? I know this was the early 1900s but my question still stands.

According to Moore, evolution started reappearing in textbooks in the 1940s, albeit with “religious quotations” which “presented evolution as a theory and not an established fact.” That being said the word evolution was used in the 1930s, 40s, or the early 50s, and no textbooks even implied that evolution was a basic principle of biology. I, personally, find it slightly disturbing that absolutely no one in 30 years felt it necessary to try and give a decent of something so important, even if it was “just a theory”.

The establishment of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in 1959 saw the creation of a universal science textbook (in 1963), that was evolution heavy as the “BSCS was determined to base its textbooks on the best science available rather than the consensus-driven, bland, evolutionless biology that typified most other textbooks.” These textbooks were not even close to popular, especially in Texas, where they were viciously attacked by newspapers, sermons, and the Texas Textbook Commission, who said that the textbooks “just stopped short of atheism.”


I again find it annoying that the government continues to have a more religious centered view than they should. The implication I get from the above quote is that Texas would only accept textbooks that discredit evolution. I don’t understand why people (including people today) get so upset about the teaching of something other than god. What is wrong with having a textbook that presents the known information, evidence and proof for evolution, and the allow students to choose what they want to accept/believe/understand.

A good example of this type of person would be my mother, who was born and raised in Texas. There would be some conversation going on at home, and I would say I didn’t believe in god, or say that I wasn’t a Christian. She would say, “Oh my gosh I’m a terrible mother,” to which I would respond, “Why? Because you let me grow up to make my own personal choice about what I believe in? Because I went to church when I was little, and learned about evolution in school, and made an informed choice that I am not the type of person that believes in god?” I should just note that I am not saying people have to choose between one or the other, there is room for both science and religion. I’m just saying that I’m not the type of person that can believe in an all powerful being. I, personally require some type of understandable proof of something, in order to believe in it.

Today there are only a few textbooks that don’t teach evolution, but focus on creation-science, which is now referred to as Intelligent Design, and I believe there was a trial in 2005 (happy to be corrected) in which a judge found that Intelligent design was just creationism relabeled, and couldn’t be taught in science classes, but could be taught in a different class. For the past few years or so, it has seemed to me that there hasn’t been much change in textbooks. Does this mean we are just waiting for a new discovery relating to evolution or creation? Or are we at the point where we know all the facts and we just have to convince the diehards on both sides? Or will the situation evolve into something else?


About freddie1994

Originally lived in Fort Worth Texas until I was a little over 9 years old. Moved to Sydney Australia, and lived their until I came to GWU for college. Mother is American and Dad Australian so I have dual citizenship.
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16 Responses to The Lingering Impact of the Scopes Trial on High School Textbooks

  1. sm1414 says:

    The article and the post are both very interesting. Freddie1994’s discussion about how his mother would get upset if he said that he did not believe in God or did not think he was a Christian was also very interesting and something I can relate to. Like Freddie, I would like concrete evidence before I accept a theory or belief system, so I have never been an extremely religious person. My parents had the same reaction when I told them that I refused to go to church anymore. It was very strange because I am from the northeast which is becoming more secular every day and because both of my parents are well educated.

    As for the other aspects of the post about textbooks, the fight over whether textbooks should or should not contain information related to evolution is going to continue until people realize that science and religion are not necessarily adversaries. I think that many people today are too inclined to say that if you believe in evolution, you cannot believe in God. This “my way or the highway” mentality is what causes such a vast divide over religion and evolution. When people believe in God and feel that their beliefs are being threatened, they are more likely to reject evidence and ideas and take science as a counter argument, instead of educational information. You can still believe in God if you believe in evolution. I think the whole issue in the United States is how the argument is framed and how many people perceive the argument for evolution. It is not an argument against religion. It is a scholarly argument.

  2. jps591 says:

    I disagree with what sm1414 has to say about religion being compatible with science. One who is familiar with any of the holy books of Abrahamic religions should be aware that multiple sections contradict science and fact. The most common example of this is in the story of Genesis, where the Bible claims that everything on Earth was made over the span of a week only about 6,000 years ago. This can easily be proved false through the carbon dating of fossils that we know are actually millions of years old. Once science starts providing hard evidence about religious claims and you have to start picking and choosing which parts of religion you accept as true and apply to your life, the entire religious text loses credibility. Unless science upholds religious claims, the two simply cannot exist as they are polar opposites.

    In regards to the article, I found it very interesting that the history of evolution in textbooks has seemed to digress as the rest of the science world has progressed. According to the article, prior to the Scopes Trial, when the observations of evolution were first being compiled, evolution was accepted as scientific fact. Though, as more information was made available through additional research, it became apparent that it interfered with fundamentalists’ agenda of promoting religion. I would have thought that more supporting evidence for evolution would have equated to more acceptance among the general public and science curriculum. Rather, textbooks have scaled back their emphasis on evolution and still use euphemisms to avoid conflict with pro creationism groups.

    On a side note, I find it frustrating that since textbooks are in the business for the money and not for their genuine passion to inform, they often give in to pressure to exclude certain things from their publication, like evolution.

    • thomgc says:

      The only way your depiction of religion’s incompatibility with science is based entirely on whether or not you interpret texts literally. For example, the Bible does not nor ever has been the basis upon which the entire universe is seen; it was not written by God or by Jesus Christ it was written by those who knew him and by a variety of Jewish scholars who predate him. The book of Genisis is one such book that serves as an illistration of judeo-christian ideas about first sin, and god’s all powerful nature. It is not meant to be taken literally but rather as a way of explaining the world through the perspective of said scholars. The Bible, being written by man, is therefore not a textbook and should be treated as such and dismissed when proven inaccurate, it is rather a tool used to find faith and meaning using metaphors and mythology and history to teach people of Christ’s philosophy and live a better life.

  3. nicolina1215 says:

    I believe that the whole idea of this blog post relates back to the idea of the Clergy Letter Project that we discussed in one of the blogs from last week. Just to refresh people, the Clergy Letter Project was a huge outreach to religious leaders that focused on reconciling their beliefs and teachings with the facts of scientific evidence. While jps591 states that religion and science are incompatible, he/she is only taking into account the literal meaning of the Bible. Many religions have begun to modify how literally they interpret the Bible and acknowledge that certain aspects of it may be meant as allegories that still teach valuable lessons. Religion has been an essential institution in building American values and sculpting social behaviors, despite the growth of scientific knowledge. That being said, the Scopes Trial exemplified the worst form of religious advocacy because it was majorly religious zealots such as fundamentalists attempting to abolish the teaching of evolution. While fundamentalists and evangelists largely impacted the ease of accepting evolution, those zealots are only a small sect of all people who participate in religious activity. It is a huge overgeneralization to say that science and religion on the whole cannot be reconciled.

    Moore’s article states William Jennings Bryan and other fundamentalists “began a campaign that blamed Darwin’s ideas for the decline of the nation’s morality.” Perhaps if William Jennings Bryan worked harder on institutions that could better the nation’s morality instead of attempting to deny proven facts, he could have had more success in attempting to raise the nation’s moral standing. While religion, especially at the time, remained a stabilizing, moralizing institution for people, there are other ways to help people be more virtuous without forcing them to choose between their beliefs and facts. I participate in Catholicism because I leave church feeling satisfied that I now have a better understanding of how I can help myself and those around me lead healthier, happier, more generous lives. It’s this simple notion that keeps me going back to church. When Jennings focused so heavily on the notion that science was wrong and all aspects of the Bible were right, he lost potential supports that could have reconciled the two. If Jennings or any other fundamentalist accepted the notion that religion can still be used as an institution to promote morality and goodness without being taken literally, do you think religious leaders would be received as more plausible by the masses? In truth, this whole idea relates back to why the Clergy Letter Project’s mission to promote the goodness of religion while still accepting scientific evidence.

    Finally, I personally do believe that textbooks are a good medium for obtaining facts on evolution in recent years. It was obviously a problem during the height of the commotion following the trial, but that doesn’t mean it lasted. As Freddie1994 said, evolution is taught in public high schools across the nation now, most likely via their textbooks. So yes, while the unmoving stubbornness of religious zealots can be frustrating, their execution of religion should not be the only example that people consider when deciding on whether or not they can reconcile religious beliefs and scientific evidence.

  4. secondcitytocapitalcity says:

    I think that Freddie1994 has brought up an important debate about the role of religion in public education. Looking at the quote from the governor of Texas, I think that another important debate that is being played out is the question of who has the right to decide what to teach children in a public school. This is similar to the article “Predicting Position on Teaching Creationism (Instead of Evolution) in Public Schools.” The articles concludes by finding that people who believe in creationism believe that parents have the authority to decide what children learn, while people who believe in evolution believe that scientists have the authority to decide what children learn.

    These findings are not all that surprising. People who support creationism tend to have their religious passed down through their family, so they would want their family to decide what to teach. On the other hand, people who support evolution have scientific backing on their side, so they would want the scientists to decide what to teach.

    Personally, I do not think that either side is correct in terms of who has the ultimate authority to teach the children. On one hand, what one parent wants their kid to learn may not be what other parents want their children to learn, so it is not possible to accommodate the beliefs of every parent. Also, I believe that schools should be above politics, and should try to teach things that are true. On the other hand, some scientific theories, not just evolution, are controversial, even within the scientific community. If schools advance every new scientific theory, they are bound to run into trouble with all sorts of groups.

    While I believe that evolution should be taught in schools, I do have some reservations about schools imposing ideas on students. However, evolution has enough scientific evidence behind it to warrant it being taught in biology classes in public schools in the United States.

  5. freddie1994 says:

    Secondcitytocapitalcity raises another, slightly, controversial topic. How much of say should parents, as tax payers, get in what is taught in public school? Personally, I think that the government alone should decide, no matter how much tax parents pay. Taxpayers rarely get a say in anything that the government doesz with their money so public education should be no different. If you’re a parent that doesn’t like evolution being taught, then tell your kid to ignore it and pay attention more in church, or homeschool your kid. If this isn’t a realistic option, then (as parents are so fond of pointing out) tough titties, life isn’t fair. What does everyone else think?

  6. phishmonkees says:

    Unlike most of the comments concerning Freddie1994 blog, I would like to address another issue that this blog raised. Freddie1994 stated that he finds it, “annoying that the government continues to have a more religious centered view than they should.” In many respects I agree with Freddie1994, however the reality of the situation is that these legislative leaders with religious views were elected because their constituents were aligned with their views. So I raise the question, is it un-American to deny citizens representation that best expresses their beliefs? Surely it would be, except in the case that their beliefs violate others constitutional rights. This is the case in all educational bills that either attempted to outlaw the teaching of evolution or required the teaching of creationism. In contrast to Freddie1994 I do not believe that Governor Miriam Ferguson was wrong in expressing her beliefs for I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech. However I do believe that the legislative branch of the government failed in regard to letting bills that violated the establishment clause go into effect. The only governmental branch that is truly and should always be unaffected by any religious beliefs is the legislative branch. In that respect the legislative branch of Texas failed. In conclusion religion will always play a role in the politics of the United States. Figuratively and abstractly this is a nation under God.

  7. johnd0pe says:

    To me it seems asinine, even arrogant, for people with no background in science to dismiss evolution entirely as a theory. They let their own personal convictions skew their perception of any logical or rational reality. People with expertise in a given field ought to be considered a credible source for information pertaining to that field. If virtually 100% of trained biologists worldwide accept and embrace the theory of evolution, it is beyond absurd to consider oneself better informed than all of them. Perhaps it is a result of a poor education, but I can’t fathom how any reasonable person could have the audacity to deny the theory’s validity.

    I don’t intend to say that all people should accept evolution as an explanation for the origin of mankind – that is a well evidenced theory, but it still has room for dissent. What IS inconceivable to me though, is to deny the very basis of evolution’s functional processes. Any person familiar with the concept of natural selection and species adaptation can’t possibly deny the fact that biological evolution does indeed occur at least on some level (in fact it is even observable in simple organisms in a laboratory setting). Therefore, I must believe that those who deny evolution either haven’t been educated on the topic or have refused to believe it due to personal convictions; in either case, these people are in no position to profess any opinion on the matter.

    Unfortunately, some of these people have ended up in positions which allow for their ignorance to be projected onto public education curriculum. It greatly upsets me that politicians even attempt to restrict the teaching of evolution. I think it’s entirely unreasonable for education policy to be decided upon by politicians with no expertise in the fields for which they legislate.If the content of public school textbooks were decided upon solely by scientific and academic organizations, this debate would be nonexistent.

  8. In 2013, I just don’t get why this is still an issue. I’m wondering when other Christians will realize that God gave us all free will. We can believe whatever we want to, and we are all responsible for our own actions. Yes as good Christians we have the duty to try and spread our ideology, but we are not militant or violent. If people don’t want to believe something, they won’t. You can only do so much. Live and Let Live is the philosophy I subscribe to. I’m sure soon enough, the nation will become more libertarian, it is already on that path, but the argument against evolution to me seems even more moot than Gay Marriage, Equal Pay, and other issue that are archaic yet for some reason hot button issues. If Christian parents don’t feel confident enough in their parenting and their church, that is a separate issue, my parents raised me Greek Orthodox, I’m 18 now, and I’m still very devout. There is no reason why we can’t believe in God and His Eternal Love and Salvation, but also support Gay Marriage, Abortion, and whatever else. Free Will, and treating others how you want to be treated, that is all, everything else complicates the situation.

  9. phillykid888 says:

    The 2005 trial that freddie1994 refers to is Kitzmiller v Dover–I’m actually writing my brief history with documents about this case. The Dover Area school board in Pennsylvania attempted to introduce a book entitled “Of Pandas and People” into the biology curriculum. This book provided an alternative to the theory of evolution and called it intelligent design. It eventually came to light that the original draft of the book had the word “creationism” where the final draft had “intelligent design”–the two theories were exactly the same despite what the editors of “Of Pandas and People” claimed. The plaintiff, Tammy Kitzmiller, won the case and the teaching of intelligent design was not allowed in biology classes. This defeat raises the question: what will creationists think of next in their ongoing quest to fool people into accepting pseudoscience in the classroom? Intelligent design has been soundly defeated several times, but the controversy is far from over. The following article–while fairly lengthy–gives insight into the future of this argument for anyone interested.

  10. freddie1994 says:

    In response to something phishmonkees said, about Governor Miriam Ferguson’s right to free speech. If you read my original post carefully you’ll see that I wasn’t trying to say that she couldn’t believe, or say what she wanted; I just think that her personal beliefs shouldn’t be the sole reason for the introduction of legislation, which is certainly the implication that I got from the article.

  11. I think its interesting that freddie1994 talked so much about past issues with Texas textbooks. I don’t know if its still the case, but I am from Texas and 4 years ago I was sitting in freshman biology and I remember reading the short heading a paragraph about creationism at the end of the evolution chapter in my biology text book. We know doubt spent extensive time learning about evolution, and the subject of creationism was glossed over completely by our teacher, but what interested me was the fact that it was even still in the textbook. The paragraph was so small and broad, it managed to sum up all of the creationist ideas in about two to three sentences. What was the point of such a paragraph? it obviously wasn’t going to teach anyone anything, when I first read it it barely even registered in my brain, i just though “that’s odd” and moved on. From the best I could tell the paragraph serves as a sort of vestigial organ, a leftover from Texas biology textbook evolution. Like all vestigial organs it served no functions, it did nothing to advance the creationist cause or undermine evolution, it was just there. A testament to the past that natural textbook selection failed to weed out simply because it wasn’t important enough for anyone to care. I think it is very interesting that this has been the ultimate result of the evolution vs creationism debate in Texas, it shows how far the state has come with accepting evolution, but at the same time it shows an almost trivial inability to let go of the past, and a bitter rivalry ending somewhat anti-climatically with creationism slipping silently into the night. Who knows if anyone will even notice or care if the books next edition leaves the paragraph out? It’s impossible to know for sure but its evident that at least for now creationism in Texas is accepting a quiet defeat.

  12. foldervral says:

    It is interesting to notice how science text books evolved over time and in reaction to the Scopes trial. Notice the use of the term evolved, most people when hearing this term think of one of two things, human evolution or pokemon. Either way the term has become so common that it is used by most people as a throw away comment or any other word. Almost every science textbook I have read that involved some form of biology has included evolution and genetics. At a very basic level evolution is a very simple concept that can be witnessed in other aspects of purely human genetics. The way the governor changed the textbook to reflect her own personal religious views is ridiculous to say the least. The specific separation of church and state on an educational level is enforced across the board and no one denies that this is a good idea. On a broader scale people in politics still squabble over some involvement in religion due to the process by which they are elected. Elected officials that share religion in common with the voters will obviously have a point in their favor thus religion will never be completely eradicated from politics and government. Both sm1414 and freddie1994 mentioned how their own families reacted to their distancing themselves from religion. Those are probably the more common reactions to be found in a religious household. My parents are less religious than most. We do not go to church and we do not believe in everything the bible says literally. We take the teaching of Christianity as a general guide as to how one should view life. This encourages a broad moral ground without some of the outdated bigotry that may have developed in times when it may have been advisable to act a certain way. Eventually there will be no complaints about evolution in text books just as how the current Pope has come into more modern views about homosexuals. The world is changing to a more scientifically enlightened state and with new sciences it is almost guaranteed that evolution will be continue to be proven the correct theory.

  13. findwhatwind says:

    I strongly disagree with frombostontodc on several points. I have also come from a very religious background, and although I have myself departed from the Church, I have many years of Christian education behind me, and it makes perfect sense why all the aforementioned topics are “hot button issues”. Most astoundingly I am very much surprised that “[belief] in God and His Eternal Love and Salvation” is in the same sentence as support for abortion. The Greek Orthodox Church submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court expressing the “sanctity of human life” ( which explains God’s Love for all of humanity, beginning at the moment of conception. I believe that frombostontodc’s post is a prime example of jps591’s point that once one departs from one belief to redefine a religion, he begins to pick and choose what parts of the religion to believe, resulting in such flawed logic as stating that one holds the same beliefs as the Church and in the same sentence contradicting the very belief he claims to share.

    That being said, evolution does not fall anywhere near the same category as gay marriage and abortion, and has absolutely nothing to do with free will other than free will of belief perhaps? This is also based on a flawed definition of free will, however, as the Church does not believe “free will” to mean “do what you want and God loves you anyway”, but rather that God gave man the free will to decide whether or not to follow His Word. Christians also believe that it is their responsibility to notify others when they’re not following God’s divine law (see Mother Angelica on EWTN if you have any doubt of this), and therefore they do very much believe that it is their responsibility to spread their ideology. I’m not sure how violence plays into this argument in any way, as the legislative war on evolution has not been violent in any way.

    All in all, evolution and religion are entirely separate, and although religious buzz words such as “free will” may seem to religious persons to apply to any situation, the theology simply doesn’t hold any water in a scientific scenario.

  14. ojc31084 says:

    I completely agree with the original post. I think that while there is room for both science and religion, that room does not exist in a public school classroom. It’s also upsetting that the publication of science textbooks became more for the money and pleasing the public than for educating the youth. Just because a trial brought attention to the fact that evolution in science textbooks was controversial does not mean that textbooks should remove sections of evolution completely from their writing. That is a disservice to not only the scientists who worked and dedicated their lives to research the information used to publish those books, but also to the students who rely on those books for their foundations in science education. I found it especially disturbing that a mother stated that she wasn’t going to “let that kind of rot go into Texas textbooks” when the “rot” she was referring to was scientific fact that has been proven. Additionally, it was surprising when the Texas Textbook Commission stated that the textbooks “just stopped short of atheism” as if secular public textbooks should be anything else. It goes against the first amendment’s clause of separation of church and state to include religious teachings in a public school.

  15. roberly2 says:

    Freddie1994 has put to words exactly the frustration I have with religious climates that are unwilling to compromise; science has taken a back seat to religious views in America in a modern time, a time where that kind of behavior is wholly inappropriate. We are the largest functioning republican democracy since the Roman empire and one can’t help but remember that the Roman empire fell only after Emperor Constantine fully Christianized it, ostracizing polygamists and ancient scientists alike. It’s an extreme example but still it is proof that the favoring of religion over scientific study has led to chaos in the past. Beyond that, it is completely unconstitutional in our society to do such a thing and I could care less what the dominating religious views in the state in question are, the teaching of science should remain if not atheistic then at least non- religious.

    Freddie1994 also brings up that evolution and religion can exist side by side, as an article in the Huffington Post indicates, stating that ” those who believe religion is compatible with science tended to have a broader view of religion that included non-institutionalized spiritual practices, such as meditation” (

    We don’t have to choose one or the other, but we have to be given the choice. That the Governor of Texas would ban textbook teachings because they were “Atheist” in nature almost physically sickens me.

    I think the conflict that rises in the comments above emulates the same conflict that grips the nation in the fight between evolution and religion, and despite the heated replies from frombostontodc and Findwhatwind, this is healthy. That the conflict exists means that we as students of an institution like GW have been given the ability to make the choice for ourselves, and that that is unusual is the issue.

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