Creationism vs. Evolutionism: 2 Story of Heated Debates in History

Anec  > Biology > Evolution

Creationism posits that humans and all things were crafted by a supernatural force. Tens of thousands of years ago, the size of ancestor brains was nearly identical to modern humans, suggesting their intelligence would be comparable to ours. Their curiosity and desire to explore nature is the same as the longing and pursuit of the vast starry sky that we have today. However, there wasn't a systematic modern scientific knowledge and technology to reasonably explain the natural phenomena in the early stages of human history. Our forebears had to rely on imagination and the crafting of legendary tales to attribute everything to the supernatural force, God created the world and humankind.

Some extinct prehistoric animals have been discovered with the advancement of science, especially biology and geology. When it was realized that species created by God could also vanish and change during history, the authority of Bible began to be challenged, and natural science and religion could no longer coexist peacefully. In the hundred years since the French naturalist Buffon first propose the theory of biological evolution, individuals representing different beliefs engaged in several debates. This conflict reached its peak when Darwin proposed the theory of evolution which was always related to monkey or ape.

Huxley–Wilberforce debate

In 1859, the British naturalist Darwin published his magnum opus "On the Origin of Species," introducing the theory of natural selection. The religious community was unable to accept this heresy, began to criticize evolution in the newspapers as being contrary to the Bible. Finally, a fierce debate erupted on June 30, 1860 at the Oxford University Museum.

When Dr. John W. Draper concluded his tedious paper "On the Intellectual Development of Europe," Bishop Wilberforce pompously approached the podium. He incited the audience's religious feelings to attack Darwin's theory. Comparing natural selection to the domestication of animals was nonsensical because once domesticated animals are released into the wild, they revert to their original traits. Moreover, interbreeding between species always produces sterile hybrids. There is a clear and permanent boundary between humans and animals: The Bible told us that we were created by the Creator to rule over animals. Evolution is merely an unfounded speculation with little and incomplete factual support. Ladies waved their white handkerchiefs, students cheered from the back, and the clergy clapped in self-congratulation. Finally, the bishop asked Huxley sarcastically: "I wonder, Mr. Huxley, is it through your grandfather or grandmother that you claim descent from a monkey?" A serious debate had degenerated into rude personal attacks, causing uproar among the audience.

Huxley confidently approached the podium and declared that the bishop's speech contained nothing new beyond mockery of lineage. He used comparative anatomy and paleontology to explain Darwin's evolutionism and expounded on the relationship between humans and animals. Humans evolved from ancient animals similar to monkeys over a long period, rather than directly descending from monkeys, illustrating the bishop's complete misunderstanding of evolution. At last, Huxley stated confidently and firmly: "I have no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for my grandfather. What really shames me is someone who has great influence and accomplishments, yet uses rhetoric and religious sentiment to hide the truth in areas he doesn't understand."

His calm, brilliant and well-founded argument won applause from the audience. Darwin's supporters cheered for him, and one lady even fainted from being unable to accept his views and had to be carried out. In contrast, mocking his opponent at a serious debate made bishop Wilberforce very unprofessional and ungentlemanly.

Although both sides claimed victory in the debate, Huxley was clearly the real winner. The Huxley–Wilberforce debate earned him the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog," making him a hero in the eyes of all evolution supporters.

The Scopes Monkey Trial

In the early 20th century, American society had largely embraced Darwin's theory of evolution and it was included in textbooks. When children indoctrinated with theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest go home and tell their parents that the Bible speaks nonsense, the state representative John Washington Butler, a Tennessee farmer and head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association, sought to legislate against the erosion of Christian faith by evolutionary theory. In 1925, Tennessee passed the Butler Act to restrict teachers from teaching any knowledge that contradicted the genesis story in the Bible, especially Darwin's evolutionism.

To challenge this unreasonable regulation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offered to support anyone who broke this law. Soon, they found John Scopes in the city of Dayton, who was persuaded to violate this law deliberately, and even had three students testify that he had indeed taught evolution in class.

Both sides summoned top legal teams for their defense. William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a devout Presbyterian, volunteered to assist the prosecution in arguing against evolution. Clarence Darrow, one of the most famous defense attorneys in the country, led Scopes' defense team. The trial attracted social elites known for their celebrity effect; evolution was sensationalized by the media as a theory linking humans and monkeys, turning the case into a circus-like event. Media from all over the country sent reporters to Dayton, and the defenses and trial were broadcasted to every corner of the United States via radio.

Although the trial's focus was whether Scopes had broken the law, it quickly evolved into a broader debate on science, religion, free speech and academic freedom. Clarence Darrow passionately stated, "If we allow the conviction of teaching evolution today, tomorrow books, newspapers and magazines will be judged. Next, any conversation with dissenting opinions will be under trial until we regress to the 16th century. In that era, zealots would light fires to burn anyone daring to spread the truth." Darrow also questioned Bryan on his complete belief in the Bible. When he received an affirmative answer, he retorted, "God created day and night on the first day, and the sun on the fourth day. If day and night already existed, why was there no sun?" Under Darrow's relentless assault, Bryan was unable to justify his stance and was forced to accuse Darrow of blasphemy in court.

As expected, the presiding judge (John T. Raulston) favored the plaintiff. He instructed the jury to disregard the merits of evolution and focus solely on whether Scopes had violated the law. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100. However, this verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality.

Bryan died of a stroke in his sleep five days after the trial ended, while Scopes became a geologist researching oil reserves. In 1967, the Butler Act was repealed.

Although the Scopes Monkey Trial has receded into history, the confrontation between faith and science, creationism and evolutionism continues. Evolutionism has been widely accepted, with fewer people believing in creationism.

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