by Eugenie C. Scott
Introductory Essay by Edward J. Larson
Eugenie C. Scott is a trench warrior in the ongoing legal controversy over the teaching of evolution in American public schools. Since 1987, she had led the evolutionist National Center for Science Education, which monitors and often orchestrates the legal and popular efforts to stop proponents of Creation Science and Intelligent Design from incorporating their religiously based concepts into the science curriculum. Trained as a physical anthropologist, she works tirelessly to promote the teaching of evolution across the United States. Her book, Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, is an invaluable resource for those seeking to understand the American controversy over creationism and evolution from the perspective of an eloquent and knowledgeable partisan.
Despite the technical topics that it covers, Evolution vs. Creationism is an easy read. In the Preface, Scott states that the book is written “at a level suitable to the abilities of bright high school students,” and since this is the audience that her organization seeks to protect from creationist instruction, such a level is appropriate. Her text is only 160 pages long, followed by a selection of original-source excerpts on relevant topics from authors on both sides of the debate. Most readers will find the book readily accessible with little advance knowledge of science or religion. Readers familiar with the issue should also find the book to be a balanced, up-to-date summary of the ongoing controversy and, because of its broad scope and the author’s intimate acquaintance with the field, are likely to learn something new in every chapter.
The main text is divided into two parts. The first part contains chapters on the nature of science, the fundamentals of evolution theory, and the various forms of Christian creationism. Part Two provides a brief history of the American controversy over teaching evolution beginning with a chapter on the mixed initial reaction to Darwinism by Americans. In three ensuing chapters, Scott deals with mid-20th century efforts either to ban teaching about evolution or balance it with creationist instruction; the rise of so-called Intelligent Design during the 1990s as a neo-creationist alternative to evolution theory; and the recent legal decisions against the incorporation of Intelligent Design arguments in the classroom. Each chapter is succinct and to the point. Throughout, the analysis is centered on the situation in the United States with little discussion of developments elsewhere. The American story, however, is well told and fairly presented.
Books about the theory of evolution, creationism and the evolution teaching controversy could fill a library. They fill three large bookcases in mine. Other books delve deeper into individual topics, such as the creationists, the Scopes trial or the challenge to traditional religious beliefs posed by modern science. This book, instead, offers an insightful overview of the American controversy over teaching evolution along with a representative sampling of short excerpts from both creationists and evolutionists. By reading it, teachers, parents, students and the public can be better prepared to answer creationist claims and defend the teaching of evolution.