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Kentucky's Century Old Debate for Truth: Creationism vs Evolution

During the 1920’s, a Christian Fundamentalist movement formed across America to oppose modernism. Kentucky was the first state with enough support, power, and influence to coordinate grassroot campaigns to influence laws.


Protestant fundamentalist blamed the teachings of evolution for leading followers from what they believed to be the path to righteousness. Reverend John Porter from the First Baptist Church in Lexington authored a book called Evolution: A Menace (1921). He called the scientific movement from Charles Darwin a false philosophy. He advocated for state laws to prevent teaching evolution in public schools.


Porter was also the editor of the Baptist newspaper, The Western Recorder, where he wrote “If evolution is truth, then… truth is responsible for all the crime, the ugliness, the rapine, which the world has.” Months later, the General Assembly of 1922 saw both houses file anti-evolution bills that prohibited schools from teaching “Darwinism, Atheism, Agnosticism, or the Theory of Evolution”.

Representative George Ellis of Barren County submitted House Bill 91. As a parent, he was distraught his son went off “to the University of Kentucky and… returned with his faith destroyed and argued religion against his father and mother.” Meanwhile, a Senator from Hopkins County, James Rash, submitted Senate Bill 136 that forbade tax dollar distribution to public schools that recognized evolution.


A statewide anti-evolution campaign was triggered to influence the public and lawmakers discrediting Darwinism. The Jackson News wrote “the good people of Breathitt (county) are pure Anglo-Saxon” and not apes and baboons. One Kentucky family withdrew their child from public school when it became known they taught their child the Earth was round.


The University of Kentucky's President testified against the bill confirming the "satanic panic" that spread among citizens that their tax dollars were being used to support the devil. The University wanted to be taken seriously in the education community. Failure to recognize science would have made the University a "laughingstock".


Kentucky’s leading newspapers called on Frankfort to show tolerance and respect for the Separation of Church and State. After lengthy debate, the House Bill failed by a vote of 41 to 42. Twenty states followed Kentucky’s lead, and 37 anti-evolution measures were filed over the next few years.


Kentucky’s Baptists went on to boycott educational institutions that taught youth they were “descended from monkeys.” A teacher was fired in McCracken County for supporting evolution. She stood with her brother in Tennessee who was on trial for teaching evolution. Other forms of science, Biology and Geology, was banned in Washington County.


A century later, American courts have ruled over the years that creationism is a religious belief and not science. Kentucky Representatives still advocate against teaching evolution as fact.


Senator David Givens of Barren County

August 2012

"I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution.”

“We're simply saying to the ACT people we don't want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students' ability to do critical thinking”.

Representative Ben Waide of Hopkins County – August 2012

"The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny."

Throughout this creationism vs evolution century long debate, progress has been made. Globes were allowed in schools. Most believe in dinosaurs and understand Earth to be a billion years old. Not 6000. However, a new anti-evolution movement has gained momentum. Recent polls show Americans have become confused about the facts of life as 40% believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time.


Creationists updated their teachings with pseudoscience to include dinosaurs. Instead of dinosaurs being completely ignored or disregarded as a government conspiracy to attack religious freedom, dinosaurs got on the Ark. Now that creationism was rebranded, they demand to be treated equally in the education community.

Bill Nye the Science Guy has repeatedly advocated for science in American education instead of creationism. He has made numerous visits to the Creation Museum in Boone County near Cincinnati. The museum opened in 2007 aimed at "scientifically demonstrating that the universe was created less than ten thousand years ago by a Judeo-Christian god".


Bill also visited Noah's Ark Theme Park built in 2016 where he found narratives "troubling or disturbing". "I’m not busting anyone's chops about religion," he said. "This is about the absolutely wrong idea that the Earth is 6,000 years old that’s alarming to me." He went on to express concerns about the children. "It’s all very troubling. You have hundreds of school kids there who have already been indoctrinated and who have been brainwashed," he said.


Evolution denial is unique to the United States. Bill Nye pleads to his fellow Americans that creationism is not appropriate for children:

"I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can -- we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.

Kentucky public schools develop our children to be blue collar laborers. For the most part, we are taught just enough to become coal miners for the barons. To become servants for retail, warehouse and distilleries. Not engineers, doctors or lawyers.


If you are interested in combatting evolution denialism and Christian fundamentalism in the United States, subscribe to Vote Up America for updates. Contact your elected officials to learn if they believe public schools should teach evolution or creationism as science.


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