In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement.

Author:Roberts, Jon H.
Position:Book review

In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement. By Michael Lienesch. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. 352 pp. $34.95.

In spite of the fact that Americans responses to the theory o organic evolution since 1900 have received a good deal of attention from historians in recent years, the erroneous views perpetuated in history textbooks and popular culture alike suggest that further education is warranted. Michael Lienesch's intelligent narrative is a welcome addition to the literature on antievolutionism. Using social movement theory as a springboard, he moves beyond a consideration of the ideas animating opponents of evolution to an examination of how conservative Protestants actually used those ideas to create a cohesive political movement.

Lienesch begins his analysis by showing that while hostility to evolution was common during the second half of the nineteenth century, antievolutionism as a movement did not emerge until the 1920s. Its midwife was a strong and energetic group of like-minded clergy centered in the North who in the decade after 1910 created an identity for themselves as "fundamentalists" and made concerted efforts to develop a series of organizations dedicated to promoting biblical inerrancy and combating secularism. During the early 1920s, these fundamentalists managed to build a successful mass movement by targeting evolution as an especially dangerous promoter of the secular worldview and establishing alliances--movement theorists would call them "bridges"--with a variety of other groups. They then attempted to translate mass support into legislative action through sustained lobbying campaigns in many state legislatures. Lienesch suggests that the hope of antievolutionists that the publicity attending the Scopes trial (1925) would generate, additional grass-roots support for...

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