By Cary Funk, Greg Smith, and David Masci
More than a century and a half after Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking thesis on the development of life, evolution remains a contentious topic in the United States. Most biologists and other scientists contend that evolutionary theory convincingly explains the origins and development of life on Earth. So why are some Americans still arguing about it today?
The answer lies, in large part, in the theological implications of evolutionary thinking. For many religious people, the Darwinian view of life—a panorama of brutal struggle and constant change—may conflict with both the biblical creation story and the Judeo-Christian concept of an active, loving God who intervenes in human events.
A look back at American history shows that, in many ways, questions about evolution have served as proxies in larger debates about religious, ethical and social norms. In particular, religious concerns with evolutionary theory have driven the decades-long opposition to teaching it in public schools. Even within the last 15 years, educators, scientists, parents, religious leaders and others in more than a dozen states have engaged in public battles in school boards, legislatures and courts over how school curricula should handle evolution. These battles have ebbed in recent years, but they have not died out.
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