TRIAL AND ERROR: The American Legal Controversy Over Creation and Evolution by Edward Larson

TRIAL AND ERROR: The American Legal Controversy Over Creation and Evolution

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Public and religious thought have tried to influence scientific theory as far back as Galileo; when Darwin's theories of evolution first reached the US, popular doubts and populist faith in the democratic process led to legislation restricting the theories of the origins of life which could be taught under the aegis of state-supported public schools. More recently, doubters have begun to seek equal time for the teaching of so-called creation science. The ultimate arena in the battle between evolutionists and public opinion remains the courtroom, and lawyer/science historian Larson traces this American conflict exhaustively, from descriptions in late 19th-and early 20th-century textbooks (which accepted Darwin's theories without much fuss) through the 1920's laws attempting to keep the ""man-monkey"" link out of the schools (you may find some surprises here if your knowledge of this period is based solely on Inherit the Wind), to the 1960's when many of the only anti-evolution statutes were knocked down (as establishment of religion) just in time for an apparently widespread and well-funded movement (to require that creation science be taught alongside Darwin) to spring up. Occasionally dry, but always well-balanced and well-documented, Larson analyzes the legal underpinnings of the battle skillfully, but reaches only a sort of white-bread conclusion that public opinion will always be slow to accept the advances of science. Okay as far as it goes, but what's missing here is the broader perspective: why are new scientific theories so often perceived as threats? What lies beyond the obviously sincere conviction of many creationists that learning about the now widely accepted principles of evolutionary theory will confuse their children and undermine their beliefs? And what popular counter-movement is being expressed in the prompt and consistent judicial rejection of the so-called ""equal time"" statutes? Thorough socio-legal history (although without many stirring courtroom confrontations)--it's a pity Larson didn't take it a few extra steps further.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press