And it turns out, a lot of women in Scopes’ day felt the same way.
From “New Light on a Continuing Clash” (Science, 335, 23 March 2012: 1443-1444) a review by Biologos’ Thomas Burnett of Jeffrey P. Moran’s American Genesis The Antievolution Controversies from Scopes to Creation Science (Oxford University Press, 2012):
One might expect that the earliest evolution debates were primarily found in southern states and rural areas. But in fact, as Moran points out, until the 1920s southern Americans paid scant attention to Darwinism. When potential jurors were questioned for the Scopes trial, most confessed that they had not heard of any controversy over evolution and the Bible until after Scopes had been arrested. Before that time, the conflict was largely confined to the Northeast, where modernist views were rapidly advancing and sectarian groups were emerging to combat them.
In other words, it was mostly the better informed people who realized what Darwinism is and where it was headed.
Exploring the racial dimensions of the Scopes trial, Moran notes that teaching evolution in public schools was not a major issue for the African American community at the time. In the South, relatively few black students attended high school; for those who did, the segregated schools emphasized agriculture and practical trades. A general acceptance of evolution represented a no-win situation for African Americans. Although some black intellectuals hoped that scientific advancement would undermine the South’s oppressive social structure, it was evident evolution could be marshaled to further justify black inferiority. In fact, George Hunter’s Civic Biology-Tennessee’s official biology text, used by Scopes-explicitly described a hierarchy of races. The lowest was the “Ethiopian or negro type,” and it culminated with “the highest type of all, the Caucasians, [are] represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America” (2).
Good for Moran for just admitting that.
The part that many people miss is that racism is not incidental or accidental to Darwinism. If Darwin was right, the human race, while having a common origin, might well be slowly drifting apart. In which case, racism, however reprehensible, would have a basis in fact.
Traditionally, most Westerners had not thought that way; they assumed common ancestry of humans and expected an apocalyptic end of the world in which all humanity gets judged by the same standards. Darwin was not himself a virulent racist – he was only a racist in the way most well-meaning Victorian gentlemen of his day would be – but his theory provided a new justification for racism.
Beyond race and regional identity, the most surprising insights in American Genesis concern the role of gender. Moran persuasively argues that in the 1920s antievolutionism was primarily a female-led reform movement that sought political support against threats to children’s moral and religious development. Women had recently secured the right to vote, and given their high visibility in the prohibition movement, politicians felt obliged to heed their concerns. During debate over the Butler bill, the speaker of the Tennessee Senate “proclaimed he had been petitioned to support the bill by ‘the women of the state and the teachers association.'” At the time of the Scopes trial, nearly all letters to newspapers in support of the Butler bill were written by women, whereas dissenting letters more often came from men.
In other words, they anticipated by many decades the debacle of evolutionary psychology: Apes do it, so it must be okay for us. And so forth.
The women were certainly demonstrating they were smart enough to have the vote, contrary to some widely heard claims.
See also: Breaking, breaking: Student in Florida evolution class threatens to kill prof, classmates
Overheard in a coffee shop: Reasons why an African American might go nuts in evolution class
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