The debate of teaching evolution in the public schools remain one of the most emotionally-charged controversies in the twentieth-century America. Trial and Error, by Edward J. Larson, was organized into five chapters. The first chapter provides historical background by examining evolutionary teaching in America during the years leading up to the anti-evolution crusade. This was done by reviewing the treatment of evolution in textbooks of the period. The first chapter identifies exactly what crusaders were fighting against and explores the timing of their drive.
The next two chapters examine the initial anti-evolution crusade and its impact. In particular, Chapter Two traces the reform heritage of Evangelicalism within the Progressive Era, the rise of the anti-evolution issue among fundamentalist evangelicals, and the enactment of the first anti-evolution laws leading up to the Scopes trial. From this analysis, the crusade against evolution emerges as a mass movement fitting the interventionist pattern common to Progressive reforms. The third chapter tells the Scopes story. The account then follows the impact of that case on the ongoing anti-evolution movement through 1960.
The final two chapters carry the story up to 1985. Chapter Four traces the readmission of evolution to the classroom during the sixties, leading to Epperson, Which struck down the Arkansas anti-evolution law, and parallel legal actions in Tennessee and Mississippi. The last chapter reviews the cross-fire since 1970, as creationist initiated lawsuits and legislation designed to qualify evolutionary teaching while evolutionists struggled to consolidate their earlier gains. The book then closes with brief concluding remarks.
Two individuals that are involved in this story are William J. Bryan, as known as the “Great Commoner,” and John T. Scopes. Both of these gentlemen were involved in the Scopes trial. The “Great Commoner” was the prosecutor of that case and represented the state of Tennessee and creationists. John Scopes was a science teacher who was put on trial for teaching evolution in his classroom. John scopes was found guilty and fined $100.
The two most interesting and unusual events from this book also occurred during the Scopes trial. The first one was that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) placed an ad in a Chattanooga paper on May 4, 1925, after Tennessee passed the anti-evolution law. It read, “We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law the courts. Our lawyers think a friendly test can be arranged without costing a teacher his or her job. Distinguished counsel have volunteered their services. All we need now is a willing client (p. 58).” Some eager civic boosters decided that this was a good idea and a chance to bring fame and wealth into their town. They chose John T. Scopes to be that teacher and he accepted (This event can be found on pages 58-63). This led to the Scopes trial. The Scopes trial was a test to see whether the state enforce the law. But, considering the punishment, the trial was a complete joke.
The second interesting or unusual event from this story happened when the defense attorney Clarence Darrow called the prosecutor William J. Bryan to the stand as an expert on the Bible. Even though a counsel had no right to examine an opposing counsel, the prosecution didn t bring up this point. Then the judge asked Bryan if he had any objections to taking the stand, he replied, ” not at all.” Not only that this event was unusual, it also was illegal. With Bryan s testimony, Darrow showed that certain passages from the Bible, like that account of creation, cannot logically be accepted as literally true (This event ca be found on pages 68-70).
Overall, Edward J. Larson has done a good job with this book. The book is well searched and organized and is not one-sided. The main idea is clear and cannot be written any clearer. It focuses only on the legal history of 20th Century Creationism. The book was quite objective and thorough and it is hard to discern the author’s position on the matter, although one suspects he may not be sympathetic to the Creationist cause since he is familiar with their sometimes devious and irrational strategies for manipulating public opinion, the courts and state legislatures to “overrule” the scientific community in the matter of evolution. He succeeds in amply illustrating his main thesis, namely that the response of the courts to Creationism has been profoundly influenced by public opinion. Well written and recently revised to bring it up to date.
There are some weakness to the book. First, the book offers limited analysis of its subject. Although Larson recognizes evangelical movements and rural-urban conflict, he does not explain the making of “popular opinion.” He also obscures in his discussion of Bryan reformism the primary indebtedness of anti-evolutionary forces to evangelical crusades for government action against intemperance and vice. The book contributes most with its description of the legal controversies. Second, the chapters go in chronological order, but it does not go in chronological order within the chapters. Within each chapter, Larson “skips” around . For example in Chapter Three, Larson tells the Scopes trial, which happened in 1925. Then it goes on to say, “only one anti-evolution bill surfaced the year following the Arkansas victory, and thereafter non appeared anywhere until 1959″ (p 81-82). On that same page, Larson talks about little things that happened in 1927, 1928,1931, and 1932.
The events from this book are significant to the long-term view of our country because almost a whole century of our country s history are these events. The events from this book take place in the 1900s. These events are not one of the thing that our country can be proud of. We should be ashamed of what the people have done. Nowadays, Americans aren t arguing as much as before. In all schools, public and private, Darwinian theories are taught and considered to be true.