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Darwin Scholar Will Explore Debate Over Teaching Evolution in Schools University News
For release: March 1, 2010

For press information, Jonathan Judaken, 901-488-7475

Historian and legal scholar Edward J. Larson will be the guest speaker for the Belle McWilliams Lecture in American History on Tuesday, March 16, at the University of Memphis. He will discuss “Dayton to Dover: Darwinism on Trial, Then and Now” at 7 p.m. in the Rose Theatre Entertainment Lobby. The lecture will be based on Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.

A reception will begin at 6 p.m. Sponsored by the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities, both events are free and open to the public.

Just after the 1925 passage of a Tennessee law that banned the teaching of human evolution in public schools, the town of Dayton, Tenn., became the setting for one of the 20th century’s most contentious courtroom dramas – the Scopes Trial, also known as the “Monkey Trial.” It pitted famed politician and orator William Jennings Bryan and the anti-evolutionists against Clarence Darrow, the best criminal defense lawyer of the time, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union. Known afterwards as “the trial of the century,” it was a battle over science, religion, and their place in public education. The trial marked the start of a contentious debate that continues today.

Larson is professor of history and holds the Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. He retains a professorial appointment at the University of Georgia, where he has taught for 20 years. A graduate of Williams College, Larson received his law degree from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin. An expert on the debate about teaching evolution in schools, Larson has published articles in The Atlantic Monthly, Nature, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, and many other journals.

The Rose Theatre is located east of the Student Plaza and the main Administration Building. Parking is available in the Zach Curlin garage or in the Southern Avenue parking lot.

More information about any of the programs of the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities is available online at

For information about the McWilliams lecture, call Jonathan Judaken at 901-488-7475.

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