History Book – A Darwinian debate, and the current U.S. flag

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, June 29th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. 

Today, the end of a two-and-a-half-week hostage crisis. Plus, the debut of the 50-star American flag.

But first, 160 years ago, a famous debate over Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the descent of man. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on June 30th, 1860, at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

WILBERFORCE: Any contribution to our natural history from the pen of Charles Darwin is certain to command attention. 

A debate is underway over Darwin’s book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. 

WILBERFORCE: Mr. Darwin claims that every living thing…every fish, plant, elephant, man, turnip, are all equally the lineal descendants of the same, common, ancestor. 

The two most dynamic personalities in the debate are Samuel Wilberforce, a skillful orator who’s also a bishop in the Church of England, and Thomas Henry Huxley, a respected biologist and anthropologist. 

Audio here from a reenactment for the 2001 PBS documentary: “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” 

HUXLEY: We have to admit that there is as little interval as animals between the gorilla and the man, as there is between the gorilla and the baboon.
WILBERFORCE: Natural selection is an ingenious theory for denying the working, and therefore the existence of the creator…

No transcript of the debate exists, and accounts afterward vary wildly. But the debate’s most memorable exchange came when Wilberforce allegedly asked Huxley a personal question. Reimagined here by PBS:

WILBERFORCE: I wonder, Mr. Huxley, is it through your grandfather or your grandmother that you claim descent from an ape?

Huxley reportedly responded that he would not be embarrassed to have a monkey for an ancestor—but he would be ashamed to be descended from a bishop who used his talents to hide the truth. 

The debate didn’t get much public attention, but many identify it as a significant turning point in the academic acceptance of Darwin’s ideas.

Next, the story behind the current United States flag. 

CLIP: I pledge allegiance to the flag…

It all started when 17-year old Robert Heft of Lancaster High School in Ohio decided to design a new flag for a class assignment. At the time, there were only 48 states in the union, but Heft began dreaming how to increase the number of stars on the flag to 50, if Alaska and Hawaii became states. 

Much to the distress of his grandparents, he cut up an old flag and reattached a blue field with five rows of six stars, and four rows of five stars. It took him 12 hours.  

HEFT: And he gave me the grade of a “B-” on it…I said “you’ve got to be kiddin’.” He said “If you don’t like the grade, get it accepted in Washington, and then come back and see me, and I might consider changing the grade.”

And that’s just what Heft did. He started with the Ohio governor, and eventually got the attention of President Dwight Eisenhower. Heft’s flag debuted on July 4th, 1960. Even though he was no longer in school, his teacher was true to his word and ceremonially amended Heft’s grade. 


And finally, June 30th, 1985. President Ronald Reagan addresses the nation:

RONALD REGAN: The 39 Americans held hostage for 17 days by terrorists in Lebanon are free, safe…They’ll be home again soon…

The ordeal started on the morning of June 14th. TWA flight 847 left Cairo en route to San Diego—with scheduled stops in Athens, Rome, Boston, and Los Angeles. 

In Athens, a new crew boarded the plane along with additional passengers—two of whom were hijackers. Not long after take-off, they showed a pistol and a couple hand grenades and took control of the plane. 

They forced the pilot to redirect to Beirut. The terrorists refueled and demanded the plane head to Algiers. Over the next few days terrorists flew back and forth between the two airports. 

REAGAN: The United States gives terrorists no rewards and no guarantees. We make no concessions; we make no deals. 

The hijackers’ demanded the release of the terrorists behind the 19-83 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait, freedom for 766 Lebanese Shias in Israeli custody, immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, and international condemnation of Israel and the United States.

REAGAN: Terrorists, be on notice, we will fight back against you, in Lebanon and elsewhere. 

After two and a half weeks, negotiators settled on an agreement and the hijackers released the hostages. Shortly after, Israel freed 700 Lebanese prisoners—though officials insisted it was not related to the negotiations.

REAGAN: We will remember and offer our thanks to all who helped us and who stood with us. We will not rest until justice is done.

Authorities later caught and tried one of the hijackers in Germany. The court gave him a life sentence, but he gained release in 2005. The other perpetrators are still on the FBI’s most wanted list.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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