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Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation

No fight over what gets taught in American classrooms is more heated than the battle over humanity’s origins. For more than a century we have argued about evolutionary theory and creationism (and its successor theory, intelligent design), yet we seem no closer to a resolution than we were in Darwin’s day. In this thoughtful examination of how we teach origins, historian Adam Laats and philosopher Harvey Siegel offer crucial new ways to think not just about the evolution debate but how science and religion can make peace in the classroom.
Laats and Siegel agree with most scientists: creationism is flawed, as science. But, they argue, students who believe it nevertheless need to be accommodated in public school science classes. Scientific or not, creationism maintains an important role in American history and culture as a point of religious dissent, a sustained form of protest that has weathered a century of broad—and often dramatic—social changes. At the same time, evolutionary theory has become a critical building block of modern knowledge. The key to accommodating both viewpoints, they show, is to disentangle belief from knowledge. A student does not need to believe in evolution in order to understand its tenets and evidence, and in this way can be fully literate in modern scientific thought and still maintain contrary religious or cultural views. Altogether, Laats and Siegel offer the kind of level-headed analysis that is crucial to finding a way out of our culture-war deadlock.      


“Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation provides a scholarly treatment of a complex issue. The book is short and readable, however, reaching conclusions that can and should be implemented in all biology courses. And it may reassure creationists that their children will be treated fairly.”

Huffington Post

“Laats and Siegel manage to make this oft-discussed topic feel new and interesting. . . . The book serves as a good primer on the subject of evolution and creationism in the United States. . . . One of the most interesting things that I learned from these historical chapters was about the early structure and purpose of our nation’s universities, which initially served to teach young men about religion but, over time, became places where academics could safely pursue their research. . . . I recommend this book to those who are new to the evolution/creation controversy in the United States and to those who, like me, try to keep up with the latest developments and perspectives from those in the field.”

American Biology Teacher

"Adam Laats and Harvey Siegel provide a highly readable historical overview of the evolution-creationism controversy in their new book Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation. Evolution is not just another scientific topic for many students. The fact that learning about evolutionary theory has cultural and religious implications for defining one’s identity makes the publication of this book important for secular and non-secular people alike. The authors make a strong contribution to public understanding of this controversy by approaching the issue from both historical and epistemological perspectives."

Teachers College Record

"The book is a case study in how to write smart and short. It also offers some excellent examples of basic historical and philosophical procedure—chapter three is a model of how to approach seeming silence in the historical record. It is the perfect length for an introduction to the topic, and a welcome addition to the field’s literature."

Historical Studies in Education

“Even those who are not fully persuaded by the policy prescriptions that Laats and Siegel provide will profit from reading this historically and philosophical informed book. The topic is very important; the treatment is careful, accurate, innovative, and fair. Two thumbs up from me.”


“What do you get when you cross a historian and a philosopher? If it’s Laats and Siegel, the answer is Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation. Thoughtful and provocative, historically detailed and philosophically informed, this book is a must for anyone interested in understanding the conflict over evolution education in the United States.”

Glenn Branch, deputy director, National Center for Science Education

Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation provides not only a readable and reliable survey of past encounters but a sensible guide to future practices. Rather than promoting public-school classrooms as pulpits for converting skeptical students to evolution (which has rarely proved an effective technique in any case), they recommend helping students to understand the arguments and evidence for evolution. This book should be required reading for all evolution educators.”

Ronald L. Numbers, author of The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design

Table of Contents


Introduction    The Evolution of an Educational Controversy

1          Higher Education and a New Culture of Science
2          Evolution Education in a Jazz Age
3          The Dog That Didn’t Bark
4          A New Minority
5          Evolution, Creation, Science, Religion, and Public Education
6          Beyond “Creation Science”: The Scientific Status of Intelligent Design
7          Science Education: Aims and Constraints; Belief versus Understanding
8          A Question of Culture?

Conclusion      Evolution as Education


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