Civic Biology

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A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems (usually referred to as just Civic Biology) was a biology textbook written by George William Hunter, published in 1914. It is the book which the state of Tennessee required high school teachers to use in 1925 and is best known for its section about evolution that was ruled by a local court to be in violation of the state Butler Act. It was for teaching from this textbook that John T. Scopes was brought to trial in Dayton, Tennessee in the Scopes "Monkey" Trial. The views espoused in the book about evolution, race, and eugenics were common to American Progressives (especially in the work of Charles Benedict Davenport, one of the most prominent American biologists of the early 20th century, whom Hunter cites in the book).

Excerpts from the book give its general tone and approach to controversial topics regarding mankind:

Evolution of Man. -- Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even to-day the earth is not entirely civilized.

The Races of Man. -- At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America. ...

Improvement of Man. -- If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.

Eugenics. -- When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics. ...

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. -- Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

The Remedy. -- If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country.

New Civic Biology[edit]

A revised edition[1] of Hunter's book appeared the year after the Scopes Trial. This new edition no longer used the word "evolution", and removed most references to recognizably evolutionary concepts. A figure illustrating fossils of the precursors of horses in geological context and much of the associated text was eliminated. The section quoted above, "Evolution of Man", was renamed "Development of Man", and, rather than saying "lower in mental organization" said "lower in civilization" (page 250). The book did mention natural selection (page 383), homology (page 237), classification of plants and animals (Chapter XXI, pages 234-252) (including mention of "man" as a vertebrate, a mammal, and a primate, page 250), and had a short biography of Charles Darwin among the "Great Names in Biology" (pages 411-412).

This new edition contained an extended discussion of eugenics (Chapter XXXII "The Improvement of the Human Race", pages 394-404), but the section quoted above on "The Remedy" removed the words "If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this ...". (page 400). The supposed history of The Jukes family and The Kallikak Family was advanced (pages 398-399). The section "Parasitism and its Cost to Society" was unchanged but for the insertion of the sentence "It is estimated that between 25% and 50% of all prisoners in penal institutions are feeble-minded."

This new edition retained the section "The Races of Man" as written, with two changes about "caucasians": They were no longer described as "the highest type of all", and "the Hindus and Arabs of Asia" were included among the enumerated caucasians (page 251).


  1. ^ George William Hunter, New Civic Biology: Presented In Problems, New York: American Book Co., 1926
  • George William Hunter, A Civic Biology: presented in problems (New York: American Book Co., 1914).
  • Richard Magat. "THE FORGOTTEN ROLES OF TWO NEW YORK CITY TEACHERS IN THE EPIC SCOPES TRIAL" Science & Society. New York: Oct 2006.Vol.70, Iss. 4; pg. 541, 9 pgs (discusses Hunter's views on eugenics and racial superiority of caucasians)
  • Adam R. Shapiro,Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) ISBN 978-0-226-02945-0 Extended discussion of textbook publishing, including comparison of biology textbooks in early 20th century America, especially in chapter 6 "Biology Textbooks in an Era of Science and Religion", pages 135-156

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