Darwinism in the American South

  • Ronald L. Numbers
  • Lester D. Stephens


No region in the world has won greater notoriety for its hostility to Darwinism than the American South. Despite the absence of any systematic study of evolution in the region, historians have insisted that southerners were uniquely resistant to evolutionary ideas. Rarely looking beyond the dismissals of Alexander Winchell from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1870s and James Woodrow from Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Georgia, in the 1880s—or the Scopes trial in the 1920s—they have concluded, in the words of Monroe Lee Billington, that “Darwinism as an intellectual movement … bypassed Southerners.” W. J. Cash, in his immensely influential book The Mind of the South, contended that “the overwhelming body of Southern schools either so frowned on [Darwinism] for itself or lived in such terror of popular opinion that possible heretics could not get into their faculties at all or were intimidated into keeping silent by the odds against them.” Darwin’s few southern converts either “took the way of discretion” by moving to northern universities or so qualified their discussions of evolution as to render the theory “almost sterile.”


Baptist College Theological Seminary Scope Trial Biological Science Curriculum Study Presbyterian Church 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald L. Numbers
    • 1
  • Lester D. Stephens
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical History and BioethicsUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison, WIUSA
  2. 2.University of GeorgiaAthens, GAUSA

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