God's Country by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster

The ghost of William Jennings Bryan smiles on Aiken, S.C. -- where the debate between evolution and creationism still rages

Adapted with permission from "In Search of America," published by Hyperion in conjunction with the ABCNews series. Copyright (c) 2002 The America Project, LLC


The Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, is one of the few Cold War nuclear weapons plants still operating into the 21st century, though its five towering reactors are all now shuttered. Glenn Wilson is a 39-year-old nuclear technology instructor who works there. By day, Wilson trains workers in the principles of nuclear waste disposal; principally, the delicate methods by which they will discard over 35 million gallons of radioactive waste still being stored in tanks on the site, the residue of fifty years of production when SRS supplied the killing material for every kind of nuclear weapon in the American arsenal.

By night, he tirelessly plots a campaign to have the Aiken public schools adopt a new biology curriculum that would include not only the study of the theory of evolution, as the present program does, but a "scientific" argument for a competing theory as well, the one which argues the world is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, that men once inhabited the earth with dinosaurs, that a man called Noah lived to be 950 years old, and that God began life by placing a fully formed human being named "Adam" in the Garden of Eden. In other words, Wilson is one man of science who rejects the theory of evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the Bible.


Wilson’s campaign recalls the celebrated "Monkey Trial" of 1925, when the state of Tennessee, in order to protect its children from "blasphemous" science (read more), actually banned the teaching of evolution in its public schools and the fledgling American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, leading to America’s first nationally broadcast courtroom drama. Then, and particularly later, when the trial was the subject of "Inherit the Wind" (read more about the movie vs. the trial), an immensely successful play and movie, it was popularly identified as the moment when religious fundamentalism was defeated by the force of reason.

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