Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Scopes Trial and the battle over evolution and creation in America's schools
In the summer of 1925, the sleepy hamlet of Dayton, Tennessee, became the setting for one of the twentieth century's most contentious courtroom dramas, pitting William Jennings Bryan and the anti-Darwinists against a teacher named John Scopes, represented by Clarence Darrow and the ACLU, in a famous debate over science, religion, and their place in public education. That trial marked the start of a battle that continues to this day-in cities and states throughout the country.
Edward Larson's classic Summer for the Gods -- winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History -- is the single most authoritative account of this pivotal event. An afterword assesses the state of the battle between creationism and evolution, and points the way to how it might potentially be resolved.
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About the author

Edward J. Larson is the author of twelve books, including The Return of George Washington and The Magnificent Catastrophe, and the recipient of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History. He is the University Professor of History and holds the Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Basic Books
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Published on
Jul 31, 2008
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780786721931
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Language
English
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Genres
Education / History
History / United States / 20th Century
Law / Legal History
Religion / Christianity / General
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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“I often said before starting, that I had no doubt I should frequently repent of the whole undertaking.” So wrote Charles Darwin aboard The Beagle, bound for the Galapagos Islands and what would arguably become the greatest and most controversial discovery in scientific history. But the theory of evolution did not spring full-blown from the head of Darwin. Since the dawn of humanity, priests, philosophers, and scientists have debated the origin and development of life on earth, and with modern science, that debate shifted into high gear.

In this lively, deeply erudite work, Pulitzer Prize–winning science historian Edward J. Larson takes us on a guided tour of Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” from its theoretical antecedents in the early nineteenth century to the brilliant breakthroughs of Darwin and Wallace, to Watson and Crick’s stunning discovery of the DNA double helix, and to the triumphant neo-Darwinian synthesis and rising sociobiology today.

Along the way, Larson expertly places the scientific upheaval of evolution in cultural perspective: the social and philosophical earthquake that was the French Revolution; the development, in England, of a laissez-faire capitalism in tune with a Darwinian ethos of “survival of the fittest”; the emergence of Social Darwinism and the dark science of eugenics against a backdrop of industrial revolution; the American Christian backlash against evolutionism that culminated in the famous Scopes trial; and on to today’s world, where religious fundamentalists litigate for the right to teach “creation science” alongside evolution in U.S. public schools, even as the theory itself continues to evolve in new and surprising directions.

Throughout, Larson trains his spotlight on the lives and careers of the scientists, explorers, and eccentrics whose collaborations and competitions have driven the theory of evolution forward. Here are portraits of Cuvier, Lamarck, Darwin, Wallace, Haeckel, Galton, Huxley, Mendel, Morgan, Fisher, Dobzhansky, Watson and Crick, W. D. Hamilton, E. O. Wilson, and many others. Celebrated as one of mankind’s crowning scientific achievements and reviled as a threat to our deepest values, the theory of evolution has utterly transformed our view of life, religion, origins, and the theory itself, and remains controversial, especially in the United States (where 90% of adults do not subscribe to the full Darwinian vision). Replete with fresh material and new insights, Evolution will educate and inform while taking readers on a fascinating journey of discovery.
Few issues besides evolution have so strained Americans' professed tradition of tolerance. Few historians besides Pulitzer Prize winner Edward J. Larson have so perceptively chronicled evolution's divisive presence on the American scene. This slim volume reviews the key aspects, current and historical, of the creation-evolution debate in the United States.

Larson discusses such topics as the transatlantic response to Darwinism, the American controversy over teaching evolution in public schools, and the religious views of American scientists. He recalls the theological qualms about evolution held by some leading scientists of Darwin's time. He looks at the 2006 Dover, Pennsylvania, court decision on teaching Intelligent Design and other cases leading back to the landmark 1925 Scopes trial. Drawing on surveys that Larson conducted, he discusses attitudes of American scientists toward the existence of God and the afterlife.

By looking at the changing motivations and backgrounds of the stakeholders in the creation-evolution debate--clergy, scientists, lawmakers, educators, and others--Larson promotes a more nuanced view of the question than most of us have. This is no incidental benefit for Larson's readers; it is one of the book's driving purposes. If we cede the debate to those who would frame it simplistically rather than embrace its complexity, warns Larson, we will not advance beyond the naive regard of organized religion as the enemy of intellectual freedom or the equally myopic myth of the scientist as courageous loner willing to die for the truth.

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