The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s

[Source description: Benjamin Charles Gruenberg, Elementary Biology: An Introduction to the Science of Life. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1919, pp. 494-496. About this source.]

Elementary Biology

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512. Evolution and man.

Fifty years ago much of the discussion among thinking people centered around the question of the validity of the evolution theory as applied to man. There were many who were prepared to believe that evolution has taken place among plants and lower animals, but who hesitated to accept the same explanation for the appearance of man upon earth. One of the strongest objections urged against the theory was the fact that it had been impossible to produce a complete record of a graded series connecting man of to-day with his supposed non-human or prehuman ancestors. This argument of the "missing link" carried a great deal of weight with people who did not appreciate how unlikely it would be for complete series of specimens to be preserved through geologic times. Of the millions of human begins and other vertebrates that dies in a given region during a century, how many skeletons are likely to remain sufficiently intact to be recognized from ten thousand to fifty thousand years later? From a scientific point of view it would be sufficient if the scattered pieces found at widely different levels (geologic ages) do actually fit in with a supposed species.

The few bones found in Java by Professor Dubois in 1894 fit into such a series in a very satisfactory way. The type of animal to which these bones belong was named Pithecanthropus erectus, and probably represents a "missing link." This animal had among his contemporaries a form of elephant, rhinoceros, Indian hippopotamus, tapir, hyena, a deer, and an animal somewhere between a tiger and a lion. The climate and vegetation were similar in many ways to those we now find in southern India and the island of that region. This form is in many ways intermediate between the apes and more recent man, but we must not expect it to be an average between the two extremes. It is more like Homo in some ways and more like the apes in others and in some respects it is between, as in the character of some of the teeth.

A more recent discovery of ancient remains in Sussex (England) seems to point to a more closely related ancestor. The skill is larger than that of Pithecanthropus, and the teeth are more like those of modern man (Fig. 257).

Large numbers of specimens have been found in various parts of France, Germany, and Belgium that belong apparently to the same races of primitive men. The first of these was found in a cave in the Neanderthal in Germany, in 1856, and the type is frequently referred to as the Neanderthal race. Although these had much larger skulls than the Piltdown (Sussex), - even larger than is found among races living to-day, - the characters of the jaws and teeth, the low and retreating forehead, the prominent ridges over the eyes, and other features indicate a lower stage of development. This group has been named Homo primigenius, or Homo neanderthalensis.

About this Source: Elementary Biology was one of the two textbooks originally approved by the North Carolina Text Book Commission, but later rejected by the State Board of Education after Governor Cameron Morrison spoke out against the two texts, criticizing them for their treatment of evolution.

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