Science in Christian Perspective



The Mississippi Anti-Evolution Law

From: JASA 15 (September 1963): 78-79.

Within three years after the Scopes trial in the 1920's Mississippi virtually copied the Tennessee law against the teaching of evolution. I talked to several persons who teach in different parts of the state and to one who knows well what biology is being taught throughout the state about the teaching of evolution. The story is the same everywhere: there has never been any trouble over the law. The law has never been tested in the courts. No one I talked to has ever heard of a major local disturbance, such as a church campaign to halt the teaching of certain kinds of biology in a local school.

'What is actually taught? Everyone I talked to accepts some part of evolution theory, and each teaches what he can in the particular situation in which he finds himself. Some teachers indicated there had been "comments" in local churches; nothing had come of it in

*Dr. Maatman was an Assoc. Prof. of Chemistry at the University of Mississippi when he wrote this paper. He is now at Dordt College.

any case, however. A little grumbling over the teaching of evolution has undoubtedly been common. This occasional grumbling and the law have very definitely limited the amount of evolution which has been taught.

Neither the law nor the beliefs of the teachers are likely to change in the foreseeable future. However, occasional complaining church members might not reflect the true feeling of the majority. A few such persons probably have a great deal of influence in keeping an existing law on the books, but they probably are not nearly as effective in affecting some change they might desire.

True majority feeling may be indicated by the outcome of a massive assault on the University of Mississippi by two politicians, well-known in the state, in 1959. They presented to the governing board of the school a bill of particulars comprising several hundred charges. In general they accused the University of teaching integration, but one charge accused the University of teaching evolution. State opinion would have been strong against the University had the integration charges been proved, and the Board is always a good barometer of that opinion. It is now generally understood, however, that inclusion of the evolution charge was a bad miscalculation. This was the one charge which the University admitted. Even so, the Board did not take this particular accusation seriously, and inclusion of this charge helped discredit the accusers and kill the whole case against the University although it is technically a violation of the law to teach evolution.

There is another interesting relationship between the race question and evolution. Those who believe in segregation usually justify it by claiming the Negro race is biologically inferior. This is close to accepting one of the chief tenets of the evolutionist, viz., man has existed on a continuum of biological levels. In the last few years this idea, which seems to be implied in the segregationist position, has been spelled out by some articulate segregationists. Carleton Putnam, businessmanturned-amateur-anthropologist, author of Race and Reason (Public Affairs Press, 1961), leans heavily on the evolution idea, claiming the Negro has not evolved as far as the white man. He is widely read in Mississippi, and in spite of the anti-evolution law, he would be the state's anthropologist-laureate were there such a post. In addition, the University of Mississippi student newspaper recently reprinted an article by Professor Garrett, Chairman of the Department of Psychology of Columbia University, in which he took much the same position, stating (on the authority of Anthropologist Carleton Coon) that the Negro evolved 200,000 years after the white man. Publishing such an idea in a student newspaper almost certainly would have caused a considerable disturbance in the years following the Scopes trial.

It is really not possible for me to judge what effect these trends in the dissemination of ideas concerning evolution have had on the upholding of the Christian faith. My own personal opinion is that teaching evolution leads to a falling away from the faith, but I do not have evidence one way or the other as far as Mississippi is concerned.

Thus, on the one hand, there is an anti-evolution law on the books, which is still backed by some churchmen and which therefore holds to a minimum the amount of evolution which is taught. On the other hand, the world-wide movement toward a belief in evolution has not by-passed Mississippi, and very many Mississippians are more than willing to make evolution a useful weapon in the defence of their position on an issue infinitely more important to them, the issue of racial segregation.