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Civic Biology and the Origin of the School Antievolution Movement

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In discussing the origins of the antievolution movement in American high schools within the framework of science and religion, much is overlooked about the influence of educational trends in shaping this phenomenon. This was especially true in the years before the 1925 Scopes trial, the beginnings of the school antievolution movement. There was no sudden realization in the 1920’s – sixty years after the Origin of Species was published – that Darwinism conflicted with the Bible, but until evolution was being taught in the high schools, there was no impetus to outlaw it. The creation of “civic biology” curricula in the late 1910’s and early 20’s, spearheaded by a close-knit community of textbook authors, brought evolution into the high school classroom as part of a complete reshaping of “biology” as a school subject. It also incorporated progressive ideologies about the purposes of compulsory public education in shaping society, and civic biology was fundamentally focused on the applications of the life sciences to human life. Antievolution legislation was part of a broader response to the ideologies of the new biology field, and was a reaction not only to the content of the new subject, but to the increasingly centralized control and regulation of education. Viewing the early school antievolution movement through the science-religion conflict is an artifact of the Scopes trial’s re-creation of its origins. What largely caused support for␣the school antievolution movement in the South and particularly Tennessee were concerns over public education, which biology came to epitomize.

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Correspondence to Adam R. Shapiro.

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Shapiro, A.R. Civic Biology and the Origin of the School Antievolution Movement. J Hist Biol 41, 409–433 (2008).

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