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Evolution!

face 1 Ancient debate
Although not as old as life itself, the debate over evolution goes back quite a way. Even before Darwin wrote his seminal "The Origin of Species," European explorers were returning facts that demanded explanation. New animals challenged the notion that Noah's ark could possibly have held two representatives of every species. New geologic evidence indicated that the Earth was far more ancient than a literal reading of the Bible would permit.

Another discovery demanding explanation was the new races of people from Africa, Asia and Oceana. The question arose: Were humans all one species? "People saw more differences than similarities in these races," says Blair Nelson, a Ph.D. candidate in the history of science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "and it was difficult not to construct a racial hierarchy."

Just as Darwin's work made many people uncomfortable calling a monkey "uncle," many Europeans were uncomfortable with the notion of calling an Australian Aborigine "cousin."

Starting around 1840, a scientific explanation called polygenism arose to explain the appearance of so many races. According to polygenism, God created not one race but several. Despite the fact that scientists had developed polygenism, "It was a creationist theory," says Nelson, "and there were more acts of creation than in Genesis."

While polygenism was promoted by scientists who used God to explain nature, its opponents were theologians who pinned the differences among humans on the effects of environment as people migrated away from Mt. Ararat after Noah beached his ark. faces

In other words, they held that environment could affect appearance.

Nowadays, it's the religious folks who are arguing that God did the creating, while the scientists claim that environment (the testing force for natural selection) is what affects body type and species formation. "There has been a complete switch between Christians and scientists" since the earlier debate, Nelson says.

Sweet irony.

Lots of practice...
In the ensuing years, we've had even more practice in the dispute. As our timeline makes clear, in 1925 Tennessee teacher John Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution. Fast forward to this year, a Lawrence, Kan., science teacher named Stan Roth was demoted for teaching evolution, despite 30 years of good performance in the classroom.

In other places, biology teachers are under pressure to downplay evolution, despite its centrality to biological science. Biologist Ursula Goodenough, for example, says that half of a group of science freshmen at elite Washington University said they'd not been taught evolution. Still, she's optimistic that the increasing amount of information on the how, why and when of evolution by natural selection will eventually win the day: "We are watching the last remnants of creationism."

Got any bright ideas for teaching evolution?


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