By an overwhelming 3-to-1 margin, the Tennessee legislative branch reversed a stealthy slide into intellectual dogmatism following the wake of the “Scopes Monkey Trial’’ in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925.
The Scopes Trial—formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, was a landmark American legal case in which high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school.
Scopes was found guilty, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The trial drew intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to the small town of Dayton to cover the big-name lawyers representing each side. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate for the Democrats, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow, the famed defense attorney, spoke for Scopes.
In the wake of the trial, evolution was quickly incorporated into public education curriculum nationwide. Between 1925 and 2012, however, the theory of evolution tragically rose from exclusion to exclusivity. By the turn of the twenty-first century, it became unlawful for teachers in public education to question the scientific merits of the evolution.
Ironically, while evolution in the public education classrooms increasingly declared evolution as a dogmatic scientific fact, scientists following advances in molecular biology, were declaring “evolution−a theory in crisis”. By the turn of the century, the gap between public education dogma and scientific consensus was reaching another infamous “tipping point”, once again, in the history of evolution.
To address this ever increasing disparity, during the summer of 2008 in Altenberg, Austria, an elite international group of 16 evolutionary scientists, hosted by the Konrad Lorenz Institute and led by Massimo Pigliucci of Stony Brook University and Gerd Műller of the University of Vienna, convened to address the recognized crisis in evolution for the purpose of developing a new comprehensive consensus on the theory of evolution.
By 2008, the evolution industry was in serious need of an overhaul. “Scientific inquiry,” according to Suzan Mazur, an Australian journalist, in her 2008 book The Altenberg 16: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? had “been hijacked by an industry of greed, with evolution books hyped like snake oil at a carnival”
Under a media black-out, the 16 scientists announced the end of the Darwinian era of evolution dominated by natural selection and the need for a new theory for evolution to resolve rivalry divisiveness between scientific disciples that had been promoting incompatible theories of evolution.
Pigliucci told the waiting media that a short report on a new consensus would be released following the meeting. However, a report was never released in 2008. Not until 2010 with the publication of Evolution, the Extended Synthesis published by The MIT Press, was the failure to develop a new comprehensive theory of evolution fully exposed.
Amazingly, the MIT publication has only serve to highlight 16 different theories of evolution from astrobiology to self-organization models. No wonder a consensus statement was never released to the media−the goal of the Altenberg summit was never realized.
Reflecting on the outcome, Alan C. Love, one of the Altenberg 16 from the University of Minnesota could only conclude that “a fully unified view of evolutionary processes may be out of reach.”
The Tennessee legislators, under a barrage of condemnations and threats from the evolution industry, wisely acknowledged opened the door to free-speech and approved the questioning of evolution in the public classroom.
Tennessee joins Louisiana as the only two states in the nation in which allow public school teachers to question the scientific merits of evolution,
At the center of the debate is natural selection. The purported actions of natural selection have been challenged and found to be only of a conservation nature−not of evolutionary nature, as proposed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
In the words of world distinguished Italian geneticist, Giuseppe Sermonti in 2005, “Natural selection could perhaps be invoked as a mechanism accounting for the survival of the species. But the claim that natural selection is creative of life, of life’s essence and types and orders, can only leave one dumbstruck.”
Even Darwin questioned the evolutionary role of natural selection in The Origin of Species: “the belief that an organ so perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection is enough to stagger any one.”
Unlike Isaac Newton’s confidence in the newly discovered natural laws of gravity and motion, Darwin had lingering doubts about natural selection: “I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at others hesitating to extend the principle of natural selection to so startling a length.”
More to the point, Darwin lamented, “natural selection … is by far the most serious special difficulty which my theory has encountered.”
Since Darwin brazenly questioned the fundamental tenets of his own theory of evolution, Darwin would certainly agree with the passing of House Bill 368 by Bill Dunn and Senate Bill 893 by Bo Watson in law by the vast majority of elected Tennessee officials−Tennessee, Darwin would agree.