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Evolution Revolution

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1950: Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII sees way to accept evolution. In his paper on human origins, Humani gereris, Pope Pius XII considers evolution as a serious hypothesis worthy of in-depth study. He leads the way for Catholics to accept even human evolution by stressing a distinction between body and soul: "If the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God." He concludes that "The teaching of the Church leaves the doctrine of evolution an open question."

1953: Origins of Life
(Rise of Evolution)

Can origins of life be glimpsed in a lab? With electric currents to act as lightning and a soup of inorganic chemicals to simulate the conditions of ancient Earth, a young graduate student named Stanley Miller produces amino acids -- key chemical building blocks of life. Miller is a student of Nobel Prize-winning chemist Harold Urey, and the experiment credited to both of them becomes widely publicized. Like other experiments to follow, it indicates that the first life on Earth may have arisen through natural processes.

1953: DNA
(Rise of Evolution)

DNA puzzle solved. Science has known for decades that genes determine the traits of living things and that they are passed down through generations. But it takes the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA to unlock the details of what genes are and how they work. It may be the most important event in 20th-century biology. It is also a boon to evolutionary science.

1955: Inherit the Wind
(Rise of Evolution) (Evolution Challenged)

Inherit the Wind reinforces Scopes myth. In post-WWII America, Senator George McCarthy leads the attack against alleged Communists, including many artists and writers. Inherit the Wind playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee use the story of the Scopes trial to protest against the dangers of social conservatism and mob rule. Their play is never intended as an accurate historical account of the trial. One critic complains, "The script wildly and unjustly caricatures the fundamentalists as vicious and narrow-minded hypocrites." Yet the play and subsequent 1960 Hollywood movie shape how many Americans think of the evolution/creation debate: as a sinister battle of science versus old-time religion.

1957: Sputnik
(Battle in the Schools)

Sputnik launches push for science education. The Soviet space capsule Sputnik is the first human-made structure launched into outer space. Fearful that the Soviets are gaining an edge in the space race, the U.S. government rallies to improve science education. The National Science Foundation sponsors textbooks written by professional biologists that stress evolution as the "warp and woof of modern biology." Increasingly, high schools -- even in the South -- begin teaching evolution. The reforms lead teachers to challenge the anti-evolutionist laws in place since the 1920s. But the new textbooks and reforms also spawn protest from many conservative Christians.

-> Go to 1960


Intro | 1635 | 1700 | 1800 | 1825 | 1850 | 1860 | 1875 | 1900
1910 | 1925 | 1930 | 1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000

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