Why does Tennessee hate evolution?

Narrowly, the trial was about challenging a newly passed Tennessee state law against teaching evolution or any other theory denying the biblical account of the creation of man…

…John Scopes, the 24-year-old defendant, taught in the public high school in Dayton, Tenn., and included evolution in his curriculum. He agreed to be the focus of a test case attacking the new law, and was arrested for teaching evolution and tried with the American Civil Liberties Union backing his defense. His lawyer was the legendary Clarence Darrow, who, besides being a renowned defense attorney for labor and radical figures, was an avowed agnostic in religious matters.

The state’s attorney was William Jennings Bryan, a Christian, pacifist, and former candidate for the U.S. presidency. He agreed to take the case because he believed that evolution theory led to dangerous social movements. And he believed the Bible should be interpreted literally.

The weather was stiflingly hot and the rhetoric equally heated in this “trial of the century” attended by hundreds of reporters and others who crowded the Rhea County Courthouse in July 1925. Rather than the validity of the law under which Scopes was being charged, the authority of the Bible versus the soundness of Darwin’s theory became the focus of the arguments.

“Millions of guesses strung together,” is how Bryan characterized evolutionary theory, adding that the theory made man “indistinguishable among the mammals.” Darrow, in his attacks, tried to poke holes in the Genesis story according to modern thinking, calling them “fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.”

The jury found Scopes guilty of violating the law and fined him $100. Bryan and the anti-evolutionists claimed victory, and the Tennessee law would stand for another 42 years. But Clarence Darrow and the ACLU had succeeded in publicizing scientific evidence for evolution, and the press reported that though Bryan had won the case, he had lost the argument. The verdict did have a chilling effect on teaching evolution in the classroom, however, and not until the 1960s did it reappear in schoolbooks.

They’ve taught evolution in Tennessee for my entire life, and I’m 42 years-old. I guess they’re still going to teach evolution in Tennessee’s schools, but now they are also going to teach whatever the hell they want, including that evolution is a pile of b.s. Their moronic governor is going to sign a new law that sounds innocuous enough:

Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

What does that mean? It means that you can’t discipline an educator for teaching kids total nonsense about the theories of evolution, climate change, plate tectonics, germ theory, or anything else that might invite some skepticism about the literal truth of the Book of Genesis or the Bible more generally.

Why is it important to teach evolution? Here’s a concise explanation. Start with the fact that you can’t understand biological systems if you don’t know that they are the same across different life forms:

This question has emerged with even greater force as modern experimental biology has focused on processes at the cellular and molecular level. From bacteria to yeast to mice to humans, all living things use the same biochemical machinery to carry out the basic processes of life. Many of the proteins that make up cells and catalyze chemical reactions in the body are virtually identical across species. Certain human genes that code for proteins differ little from the corresponding genes in fruit flies, mice, and primates. All living things use the same biochemical system to pass genetic information from one generation to another.

You also cannot understand ecological or environmental systems without understanding evolution:

During the billions of years that life has been on earth, it has played an increasingly important role in altering the planet’s physical environment. For example, the composition of our atmosphere is partly a consequence of living systems. During photosynthesis, which is a product of evolution, green plants absorb carbon dioxide and water, produce organic compounds, and release oxygen. This process has created and continues to maintain an atmosphere rich in oxygen. Living communities also profoundly affect weather and the movement of water among the oceans, atmosphere, and land. Much of the rainfall in the forests of the western Amazon basin consists of water that has already made one or more recent trips through a living plant. In addition, plants and soil microorganisms exert important controls over global temperature by absorbing or emitting ”greenhouse gases” (such as carbon dioxide and methane) that increase the earth’s capacity to retain heat.

The point of spending money on education is to teach people things. They’ve been accusing teachers of corrupting the morals of our youth since Socrates drank his hemlock. Socrates questioned the gods and infuriated the pagan literalists, but at least he didn’t have to contend with Big Oil. The Tennessee legislature is an embarrassment. They literally think the job of an educator is to keep the public stupid so they won’t question their religious upbringing and they’ll let Exxon/Mobil do whatever they want to do.

You can’t go around calling this the Greatest Country in the World when we’re doing stuff like this. We’re becoming the Biggest Joke in the World. Or, Tennessee is, at least.

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