Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Boston University School of Law




In his book, Where Darwin Meets the Bible: Creationists and Evolutionists in America, journalist Larry Witham introduces the reader to the various characters involved in the ongoing controversy over evolution and creationism. His account is subtle and nuanced, and he demonstrates that the controversy is more complicated than many believe. Far from caricatures of godless scientists seeking to discard religion in thedustbin of history and reactionary religious fundamentalists decrying Darwinism as the downfall of mankind, Witham gives us the real stories of real people who dwell in shades far more gray than usually recognized. This book review builds upon Witham's efforts to suggest a different way of understanding themost important historical event identified with the creationism controversy - namely, the trial of John Scopesin 1925. The review argues that to reach any sort of policy compromise regarding the teaching of evolution in the public schools, such a policy solution must also be accompanied by a rich and nuanced understanding of the American historical narrative regarding the clash of religion and science in the public schools, of which the Scopes trial was probably the most prominent moment. Specifically, the review argues that theScopes trial should not be understood as a symbol for either complete academic freedom for teachers to teach whatever they want in science classrooms or as a symbol for the complete rejection of religion from thepublic school setting. Instead, we should understand that the trial represents several significant and potentially complementary aspirations, including promoting individual liberty as a bulwark against government control, ensuring that students learn about a wide variety of theories regarding the origin of thehuman species, respecting the scientific profession and its accompanying norms, and resisting governmental imposition of a specific religious perspective on its citizens. Such a nuanced understanding of the Scopes trial would not only be a pragmatic solution that might support much-needed, compromise-based policy reforms, but would also be faithful to the case itself, which indeed did involve all of these important themes.

Find on SSRN

Included in

Religion Law Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.