How World War I shaped the creationism/evolution debate


I’m fascinated by “what if” questions about history, and it is certainly true that history would be very different without WWI (probably the Soviet Union would have never happened; Hitler wouldn’t have risen to power because of an economically devastated Germany, etc.), but in terms of the creationism debate the connections seem a bit weak.

One of the authors writes that without WWI, William Jennings Bryan wouldn’t have resigned from the Wilson administration and probably wouldn’t have played a role in the Scopes trial. Another says that WWI caused an increase in textbook costs and explains that Scopes wouldn’t have been using the “Civic Biology” textbook with its description of evolution had it been replaced as expected. Sure, but these are details. Maybe the “Scopes trial” wouldn’t have happened in the same way as it did historically, but the same tensions would be there and simply be repeated elsewhere.

Wasn’t this one of the subplots in an episode of Big Bang Theory?

Paul Kammerer’s work in genetic expression was greatly disrupted by the war. It’s even been theorized that one national socialist went so far as to sabotage his specimens at one point. In any case, what he called Lamarkism sounds a lot like epigenetics today. If the expression of latent genes had come into discussion 90 years sooner, there’s no telling how much farther along we’d be in this struggle to inform ourselves.

From another angle, Darwinism is misused to lend credibility to rich people who’d like to assert that their wealth signifies their rare talent and ability in the face of an evolving environment. Social Lamarkism is a far more powerful explaination though. Without the Great War and its sequel, it’s entirely possble that multinational companies wouldn’t exist in the form we know them today. So the planets wealth might never have gotten so concentrated. Without the need to fuel pointless controversy about things that don’t threaten the status quo, the Koch brothers wouldn’t have needed to create the tea party, and young-earth fundies wouldn’t have that to rally around either.

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