What We Get Wrong About the Evolution Debate

As a historian of American science who wrote his first book about the Scopes trial, I admit I’m sometimes nostalgic for the days when the biggest controversy in science disbelief was evolution. Today, as antivaccination hoaxes are inspiring new outbreaks of deadly diseases and denying the human causes of climate change threatens the well-being of the planet, creationism feels almost quaint. Annoying, but without an obvious body count.

It may feel like we’ve moved on from this issue, but evolution controversies are still widespread in the United States. In the past decade, dozens of state and local efforts designed to limit the teaching of evolution or to enable schools to present alternatives have been introduced across the country, with varying degrees of success. Surveys from organizations such as Gallup and the Pew Research Center show that a sizable proportion of the American public does not agree that humans evolved. (More on these surveys later.) More people dispute human evolution than take issue with either vaccine safety or human-induced climate change.

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