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Ever since Charles Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection, in 1859, there has been controversy surrounding that theory. Today, scientists continue to debate the details of evolutionary theory, but the basic correctness of Darwin’s ideas has been firmly established by massive evidence. Among the general public, however, there is still much debate about the idea that modern species-including people-evolved from common ancestors.
Throughout the 20th century, there were arguments about whether or not the idea of evolution by natural selection should be taught in schools. Many people believed that the theory of evolution was contrary to traditional Christian religious teachings, which state that the world was created in seven days. Those people argued that the theory of evolution should therefore be kept away from schools. In some places, laws were passed to make the teaching of evolution illegal.
During the 1920s, there was a famous court case in the American state of Tennessee.
A young teacher had been teaching the theory of evolution to his students, even though this was illegal. While two famous lawyers argued the case, newspapers in North America and Europe followed the case closely. In the end, the teacher was found guilty, and had to pay a fine of one hundred dollars. However, the trial showed that the law was based on a rejection of scientific inquiry. The teaching of evolution became more widespread after the trial.
Even today, however, many people in North America believe that evolution should not be taught in schools. Instead, they would like the schools to teach the story of divine creation that is told in the Christian Bible. But many religious people disagree. Some churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and several Protestant churches, accept the scientific basis of the theory of evolution. They believe that humans uniquely possess souls, but they do not interpret the biblical story of creation as a scientific explanation for the origin of the earth and its people. That is, there are many people who have strong religious faith, but who accept the idea that modern humans evolved by a long process of natural selection.
Even today, some people argue that evolution and creation should be taught as two alternative theories in school science classes. However, scientists point out an important difference between the two explanations for the origins of modern life. The theory of evolution was based on an analysis of many diverse facts about nature, and it generates testable predictions which have been strongly supported by new data. On the other hand, the idea of divine creation was based on a religious text rather than on the process of scientific inference. Unlike scientific theories, the idea of creation does not generate testable predictions.
The debate about the theory of evolution may be over for scientists, but this debate will probably continue for some time within society at large.