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God—or Gorilla

Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age

Constance Areson Clark

Publication Year: 2008

As scholars debate the most appropriate way to teach evolutionary theory, Constance Clark provides an intriguing reflection on similar debates in the not-too-distant past. Set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, God—or Gorilla explores the efforts of biologists to explain evolution to a confused and conflicted public during the 1920s. Focusing on the use of images and popularization, Clark shows how scientists and anti-evolutionists deployed schematics, cartoons, photographs, sculptures, and paintings to win the battle for public acceptance. She uses representative illustrations and popular media accounts of the struggle to reveal how concepts of evolutionary theory changed as they were presented to, and absorbed into, popular culture. Engagingly written and deftly argued, God—or Gorilla offers original insights into the role of images in communicating—and miscommunicating—scientific ideas to the lay public.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Science, like art, suggests radically new ways of seeing. This is a book about scientists’ and artists’ attempts to offer the public new ways to imagine the human evolutionary past; about how scientists responded to the evolution debates of the 1920s in the United States; and about the central importance in those debates of visual images. It focuses on the changing appearance of evolutionary theory as...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book had a lucky start in life: from the beginning it has benefited from the generosity of an extraordinary group of friends and colleagues. Mark Pittenger, Fred Anderson, Phil Deloria, John Enyeart, Susan Jones, and Erica Doss all read complete drafts (in some cases several complete drafts!) at various stages in the book’s progress, always perceptively and in detail. John may have read...

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1. The Caveman and the Strenuous Life

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pp. 1-16

Monkeys were everywhere in the 1920s. In a July 1925 cartoon in the magazine Judge, a congregation of friendly looking animals watched an appealing little monkey set off to go somewhere alone. The caption read, “The upstart.” Anyone reading Judge that summer would immediately have understood that the little monkey was heading off to evolve and that the cartoon referred to the coming trial of John...

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2. The Museum in the Modern Babylon

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pp. 17-40

In 1935 the Reverend Henry Sloane Coffin told the story of his debate, some thirteen years earlier, with the Reverend John Roach Straton, recalling that Straton— railing against the rampant immorality of New York City—had asked rhetorically, “Who is responsible for this lewdness and this animalism?” Then, answering his own question, Straton thundered...

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3. Nineteen Twenty-two or Thereabouts

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pp. 41-68

On Friday, February 24, 1922, Henry Fairfield Osborn recorded in his private diary: “Bryan in the Times!!!!” William Jennings Bryan’s enlistment in the anti-evolution cause, and the publicity it generated, galvanized scientists—at least some of them. On hearing from the New York Times that Bryan’s article would be featured on the following Sunday, Osborn flew into action. Invited by the paper...

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4. Saving the Phenomena

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pp. 69-84

Scientists found themselves in a difficult position in the 1920s. The fossil evidence for human evolution remained fragmentary, and evolutionary theory was in disarray. Although scientists accepted the fact of evolution, they did not agree on natural selection. And natural selection had implications that turned their attention to the philosophical dimensions of evolution. The scientists who defended...

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5. Unlikely Infidels

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pp. 85-106

Even John Roach Straton must have been impressed by the movie Evolution, judging by the vehemence of his denunciation of it. An August 1925 editorial in the New Republic described the movie, being shown “in all the better theaters” during that summer of the Scopes trial, as “quite remarkable in its effects.”1 The movie began—in the beginning—with the evolution of planets, then of the earth....

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6. Stooping to Conquer, and a Hall Full of Elephants

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pp. 107-131

Early in 1926, Osborn received a note from O. Farneur, a man from Brooklyn, who had read in the New York World of attacks by Boston’s Cardinal William Henry O’Connell on the human evolution exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Farneur suggested that Osborn reply to such attacks in a series of radio broadcasts, beginning with a program about dinosaurs—“most...

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7. The Pictures in Our Heads

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pp. 132-161

According to H. L. Mencken, “the climax” of William Jennings Bryan’s address to the court at the Scopes trial was “a furious denunciation of the doctrine that man is a mammal.” Mencken marveled: “It seemed a sheer impossibility that any literate man should stand up in public and discharge any such nonsense. Yet the poor old fellow did it. Darrow stared incredulous. Malone sat with his...

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8. Scientists and the Monkey Trial

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pp. 162-194

It was no coincidence that William Jennings Bryan’s denunciation of the family tree diagram at the Scopes trial came up during a dispute over the relevance of scientific testimony. Bryan’s was one of three passionate speeches adding drama to the discussion of expert testimony. The other two were by Dudley Field Malone for the defense and by the chief prosecutor, Tom Stewart, who until that moment...

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9. Redeeming the Caveman, and the Irreverent Funny Pages

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pp. 195-223

An advertisement for Alfred Watterson McCann’s book God—or Gorilla, devoted to excoriating Osborn and challenging the veracity of the Hall of the Age of Man, claimed that the book disproved the “Tadpole and Monkey Theory of Evolution.”1 Both anti-evolutionists and newspaper and advertising copywriters seemed to find the word tadpole useful, heuristic, or humorous, perhaps implying...

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pp. 224-233

In his 1940 autobiography, Dusk of Dawn, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote, “I remember once in a museum, coming face to face with a demonstration: a series of skeletons arranged from a little monkey to a tall well-developed white man, with a Negro barely outranking a chimpanzee.”1 Du Bois’s reminiscence illustrates the long resonance of images of evolutionary ideas and suggests a reason for his...


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pp. 235-280


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pp. 281-289

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401669
E-ISBN-10: 1421401665
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801888250
Print-ISBN-10: 0801888255

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 4 halftones, 28 line drawings
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context
Series Editor Byline: Ronald L. Numbers, Consulting Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 636036184
MUSE Marc Record: Download for God—or Gorilla

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Public opinion -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Human beings -- Origin.
  • Human evolution -- Public opinion.
  • Human evolution -- Caricatures and cartoons.
  • Art and science.
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