Growing Crisis

As discussed in chapter 4, evolution had become well accepted by the scientific community by the turn of the twentieth century. It thereafter began to be included in college and secondary school textbooks. The late nineteenth century was not a period of extensive religious hostility to evolution, partly because of the efforts of American scientists who accepted evolution and who also were active church members. It was not until the twentieth century that the antievolution movement became organized, active, and effective. Three trends converged to produce the first major manifestation of antievolutionism in the twentieth century: the growth of secondary education, the appearance of Protestant fundamentalism, and the association of evolution with social and political ideas of social Darwinism that became unpopular after World War I.

Although textbooks at the turn of the century included evolution, few students were exposed to the evolution contained in these books: in the late nineteenth century, high school education was largely limited to urban dwellers and the elite. In 1890, for example, only 3.8 percent of children aged fourteen to seventeen attended school— about 202,960 students (Larson 2003: 26). But high school enrollment approximately doubled during each subsequent decade, so that by 1920, there were almost 2 million students attending high school. The practical effect of this was that more students were being exposed to evolution—and parents who felt uneasy about evolution for religious or political reasons rallied around the politician William Jennings Bryan to protest the teaching of evolution to their children.

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