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The age of the earth, the origin of life, and the relationship of humans to other animals are topics that interest both geologists and others in our society, including the religiously devout.Much energy has been spent in the United States debating what children in public schools should be taught about these matters.A Brief History of the Controversy At the beginning of this century, some American citizens organized themselves against the teaching of Darwin's theory of natural selection, a move reflecting our society's changing social and educational traditions.
They believe that human beings are more similar to other conscious animals than they are different.
Like Group 2, these people are often misunderstood by other participants in the debate, and they are often incorrectly lumped with religious extremists, on the one hand, or with members of the scientific establishment, on the other. Defenders of neo-Darwinism and punctuated equilibrium. This group includes almost all paleontologists and evolutionary biologists.
In 1925 the famous Scopes "monkey trial" attempted to enforce a Tennessee statute against the teaching of evolution. Scopes, a public high school biology teacher, was convicted of breaking the law, the trial became an important victory for the proponents of Darwin's theory.
The publicity surrounding the trial portrayed the defense sympathetically: Scopes and his defenders were presented as informed, enlightened, and unbiased, and opponents to Darwinism were made to look ignorant and hateful.
Some members of this group view mass extinctions as catastrophic, but others still insist that most so-called mass extinctions are merely variations of background extinctions.
All increasingly tend to think that extinctions are random, not directional.
Because many parents could not afford private schools for their children, they were thus forced to accept public education or break the law.
Accordingly, this period marked the first time that virtually all teenagers in the country were exposed to at least some science class work. When high school biology teachers taught the basic outlines of Darwin's theory, parents were sometimes shocked to hear from their children that God had little, if anything, to do with life on our planet.
Such a discussion should give all participants a legitimate place to stand - if only for the purpose of recognizing Americas long-standing pluralism, or diversity, and thereby enhancing potential intellectual arguments to be considered in the future.
We will consider our society's divisive debate about these matters because it brings us to the heart of what scientific work is and how it affects other areas of our lives.