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The current legal and political battles surrounding the teaching of evolution in American schools are part of an 80-year-old debate stretching back to the summer of 1925 and the famous Scopes “monkey” trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Now, as then, the fight reflects deep divisions within the country over the appropriate role of religion in explaining life’s origins.

In December 2005, the Pew Forum invited Edward Larson, Talmadge Chair of Law and Russell Professor of American History at the University of Georgia, to its biannual Faith Angle Conference on Religion, Politics and Public Life to discuss today’s debates over teaching evolution in light of the Scopes trial and other historical developments. Larson is uniquely qualified to speak on the issue, having won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for his book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. In his presentation, Larson also considered recent efforts to promote intelligent design as an alternative theory on the origins of life. This Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Discussion includes excerpts from Larson’s remarks. It has been edited for clarity.