Alexandria Digital Research Library

Darwinism and religion in England's state secondary schools, 1920-1980

Thomasson, Brian Alan
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. History
Degree Supervisor:
Michael A. Osborne
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Religion, General, History of Science, and Education, Secondary
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2014

This dissertation examines the teaching of evolution in England's state secondary schools from its curricular entrance for an elite minority in the 1920s through its spread to the masses over the next sixty years. Historians writing on the teaching of evolution in schools have focused almost exclusively on the United States, where it has been surrounded by creationist opposition and judicial contention. This dissertation is the first comprehensive historical study of such teaching in England, Darwin's homeland, whose state schools also included mandatory religious education. It investigates four important aspects: the expansion and content of evolution in science curricula; how religious education classes dealt with evolution; what role the teaching of evolution played in secularization; and how the English case differed from the American. I navigate England's localized, complex school system, with its highly variable curricula, mainly via external examination boards' syllabuses, textbooks, counties' "agreed syllabuses" of religious education, educational journals, and archival records of science and religious education organizations.

For English thinkers the debate lay not between creation and evolution; by the late nineteenth century, English clergy had come to accept the common descent of man and animals from primitive forms. Rather the contention among educators centered on evolutionary mechanism, pitting Darwinism's random variation and natural selection against teleological theories of evolution, or those based on predesigned goals and directed change. Was man a cosmic accident or was he created in the image of God? I offer three conclusions. First, English schools failed to give students satisfactory answers regarding Darwinism and Christian doctrine, preferring avoidance, obfuscation, vagaries, appeals to mystery, or reconciliation via non-Darwinian theories. Second, the teaching of the Darwinian mechanism played only a small part in sparking England's great secularization in the 1960s, because its haphazard nature was non-existent or clouded in most students' education before the 1970s. Nevertheless, evolution teaching still significantly contributed to this secularization by conflicting with some students' imbibed Biblical literalism or by offering escape from the God hypothesis. Third, England's state religious education gave rise to science trumping religion while America's separation of church and state facilitated fundamentalist-influenced students' rejection of evolution.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (391 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Brian Thomasson
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