Few scientific concepts have generated more debate than the theory of evolution. Indeed, debate may not adequately describe the storm that has raged around this concept, particularly as it relates to public education. The debate around evolution generates anger and angst to this day, but perhaps it should not be so controversial.
One of the most famous examples of the evolution debate is the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. The Scopes Trial came about as a result of the Butler Act of 1925, a Tennessee law which prohibited the teaching of evolution in all public schools in the state, including universities. More specifically, the law barred the teaching of any theory that contradicted the creation of man as taught in the Bible. John Scopes, a high-school teacher was but on trial for defying the Butler law. However, the trial became less of a legal battle and more of a debate over evolution and creation theory. Indeed, the trial became something of a spectacle.
At first, it would seem like the Butler Act clearly violated the First Amendment. However, it was not then recognized that the Establishment Clause applied to state governments. It was not until 1968 that the Supreme Court officially decided that the Establishment Clause applied to state law as well as federal.
Events like the Scopes Trial highlight the evolution versus creation debate, but perhaps the whole problem stems more from the role of government and public schools. Evolution should not be so controversial a topic, and perhaps it would not be if there was less government involvement in education. If there were more choice in education, and more options for private schooling, then the whole evolution debate would be less of a problem. Individual schools could then have more choice in how they want to teach certain topics. Additionally, parents would have more choice in what their children are taught. Certainly, there are potential problems with this model. For example, on might deduce that with less universal standards, some schools will have much lower standards than others. There is no perfect answer, but less government involvement in education may well open up room for more variety as far as how evolution is taught.
The Scopes Trial is a distant memory, but evolution is still a divisive issue. A December Pew poll showed that about a third of adults surveyed believe essentially no evolution has taken place. About a fourth of the public surveyed who accept some form of evolution believe that it is something that may be directed by a higher power. If this poll is any indication, there is a fairly broad range of opinions among the American people.
The good thing is that diverse opinions are perfectly fine. People often look at the evolution debate as if there are only two possible choices that a person can believe. However, as the Pew poll indicates, there are a range of possible variations. Maybe evolution and the concept of intelligent design are not so mutually exclusive. In any case evolution should not be so controversial. It is when people force their views on others that the problems arise.
Editorial By Zach Kirkman