(This is the fifth part in the Florida’s Greatest Menace series. For an introduction to the series, go here.)
A new leader
Waging a battle against the teaching of evolution has but one requirement: a leader with a fire in the belly and time to devote to the cause. The 1920s in Florida featured “The Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan, Bible Crusaders of America leader George Washburn, state Representative Leo Stalnaker, and Florida Purity League founder L.A. Tatum. There are always people around who are eager to join in the antievolution fight, but it takes someone special to rally the troops and make something happen. When antievolution efforts fizzled in the 1930s and went dormant for the next few decades, maybe there just wasn’t a striking personality to take up the cause. Antievolution sentiments are always evident among the general population no matter the time period, but the leadership apparently wasn’t available during this lull. All of that changed in the 1970s. Enter Rev. Clarence E. Winslow.
Winslow was about 64 years old when he first made waves about evolution in 1971. He was a retired minister from the First Church of the Nazarene, Clearwater, and became a chaplain of the Kenneth City Police Department. He had been doing a lot of reading in his free time, and was kicked into action by a newspaper article that reported on anthropological research of the time. The article overall upset him, but what really fired him up was this quote: “Dr. Russel H. Tuttle, a University of Chicago anthropologist, subscribed to the theory that man’s forbearers were a special species of apes which began walking upright soon after leaving the trees.” The article went on to say that some scientists thought man never went through a so-called “knuckle walking” phase, while others said man did.
All of that was offensive nonsense, Winslow thought. He wrote a letter to the Pinellas County School Board, citing that news article and following it up by saying “The Genesis record indicates that God created Adam and Eve as adults and pronounced them husband and wife.” And so began Winslow’s crusade to battle the evils of evolution. Yes, he did think evolution was horribly immoral, echoing some of William Jennings Bryan’s sentiments from the now distant past. We’ll sample some of Winslow’s justifications for his stance in a little bit. But right now we’re going to look at how one man can make things happen when he takes the reins.
The Winslow Resolution
Winslow typed up a document he entitled “The Bible and Evolution – The Winslow Resolution.” This resolution stated that the Bible had been abolished from public schools by atheists and “certain others.” On the other hand, children are being exposed to the theory of evolution, which “is grievously offensive and inexcusably reprehensible to Bible believers.” He called for action. He wanted people to sign his resolution and “correct this un-American imbalance in our Educational process.” He found his first sympathetic audience at the Pinellas County School Board.
On August 25, 1971, Winslow gave a presentation to the school board members. The five men and women liked what they heard and accepted the Winslow Resolution in a unanimous vote. This didn’t require that the school district actually do anything. The board just added the weight of its authority to the resolution so that Winslow could then proceed with his quest. At the time he wasn’t too worried about what was happening on the local level; he had his eyes set on much bigger goals. He wanted the state legislature to create a law balancing the teaching of evolution with the Bible. From there he then wanted to tackle the U.S. Congress. Propelled by the school board’s approval, his next step was the Pinellas Legislative delegation where he successfully captured the attention of state Representative Dennis McDonald (R-St. Petersburg).
On February 1, 1972, Rep. McDonald filed the following bill:
HB 2937 – A bill to be entitled An act relating to education; directing the school board to require in the teaching of evolution the reading of appropriate religious passages dealing with creation and evolution including, but no limited to, chapters one and two of Genesis; providing an effective date.
In a news article announcing the filing of the bill, Winslow said: “It is utterly unfair to teach young people the unprovable theory of evolution without including … the biblical account. Kids are growing up not even knowing what the Bible is.”
Rep. McDonald was aware that his bill would be heavily challenged, especially on separation of church and state grounds, but he wasn’t deterred. “It’s not denominational in any way shape or form,” he said. “It’s one of two widely accepted theories. To drop it would be the equivalent of dropping any reference to biblical history.”
The bill was referred to the Committee on Education, but apparently didn’t get any traction. After the initial news article the media didn’t mention it again. This sudden roadblock stalled Winslow’s antievolution efforts for a year or two, but he wasn’t idle during that time. What he needed was a new approach, and he soon found it.
Order in Complexity
In August 1975, University of Texas professor Harold Slusher visited St. Petersburg to give a talk called “A Look at Creationism versus Evolution.” Slusher’s biography said that he was a Research Associate in Geoscience for the Institute of Creation Research, San Diego, Calif. He also was a co-editor of a high school textbook called Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity. The talk was sponsored by a local organization called the Committee for Creationism in Education headed by none other than Winslow.
Winslow had learned a thing or two about how to challenge evolution’s place in the schools when his push for legislation failed. After the bill’s defeat he had consulted with the state Commissioner of Education and the state Chief of Curriculum. The revealed problem was that the Bible simply wasn’t going to get into the science classroom no matter how hard he tried. In Tennessee, a law requiring that Biblical creationism be given equal time with the teaching of evolution was shot down by both the state’s Supreme Court and the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1975. No Florida lawmaker was going to grab that live wire now.
An alternate approach would be to attack evolution on its own scientific turf somehow. But the Florida Commissioner of Education and the state Chief of Curriculum told Winslow that there were no educational materials to support such a move in the public school system. When Winslow discovered Order in Complexity, his prayers were answered. It was time to get back to work.
Just a few days after Slusher’s visit, Winslow was back in front of the Pinellas County School Board, toting along with him 100 copies of Slusher’s textbook. Winslow donated the books to the school system, saying: “It is utterly unfair to deny students the creation view by brainwashing them with unprovable scientific philosophy.”
This is when we get to see Winslow’s views on the immorality of evolution. He told the board: “The psychological impact of the theory of evolution has reduced man’s image of himself from a divinely created personality to a mere animal. We are witnessing the surfacing of animalism.”
Since the Slusher text was not on the official state-adopted textbook list, the Pinellas schools superintendant, Gus Sakkis, said that the book would be made available to the biology teachers as a resource book only. Upon hearing this, Winslow asked for the board’s help in getting it on the state list. Whether they responded to this request or not is not recorded, but it’s worth noting that school board member Ron Fisher also happened to be the vice chairman of the Committee for Creationism in Education. Winslow was definitely establishing allies right where he needed them.
During his presentation to the board Winslow mentioned that he was also discussing the issue of creation versus evolution with school boards in Manatee and Hillsborough Counties. Winslow’s new strategy was to establish a network of people friendly to his cause on the local level. For instance, Winslow stated his case to the Manatee County School Board in May 1979. He found support in Superintendent William Bashaw, who agreed that theories of both evolution and the creation should be included in biology classes. No action was taken by the Manatee board yet, but more people were boarding the antievolution train. Winslow was making progress.
Scientific creationism arrives in Tallahassee
A few months later, state Representative Tom Bush (D-Fort Lauderdale) and state Senator Joe Carlucci (D-Jacksonville) rode the antievolution train to Tallahassee. They filed companion bills that introduced the new antievolution rage of “scientific creationism.” Rep. Bush’s bills said:
HB 11-C – A bill to be entitled An act relating to education: creating the “Balanced Treatment for Scientific Creationism and Evolution Act”; providing legislative findings and intent; providing definitions; requiring balanced treatment; prohibiting religious instruction under certain circumstances; providing for nondiscrimination; providing applicability; providing an effective date.
In defense of his bill, Rep. Bush said, “The more I study it, the more I find that evolution is much more myth than the account in Genesis could ever be.”
But there was opposition to the bill. Rep. Bill Sadowski (D-Miami) said, “It’s fascinating that at this day and time something like this could be offered.” He also commented: “It’s reminiscent of Tennessee in days gone by and the debates over evolution. Those debates are fun and can be meaningful in some times and places, but I don’t think they belong on the floor of the Legislature.”
As was the case with the Rep. McDonald’s bill a couple of years prior, the scientific creationism bill didn’t have enough support and so died. That didn’t stop the antievolution forces that were slowly but surely growing, though. As the decade of the 80s dawned, both Winslow and Rep. Bush got pushier. New voices joined the fight. Finally, two Florida county school boards gave in to the pressure and voted to mandate the teaching of scientific creationism, garnering national media attention. To find out which counties they were and how things looked when the dust finally settled, stay tuned for the next installment of Florida’s Greatest Menace.