Scopes Trial - Definition, Results and Significance

Scopes Trial - Definition, Results and Significance

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

The Scopes Trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was the 1925 prosecution of science teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school, which a recent bill had made illegal. The trial featured two of the best-known orators of the era, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, as opposing attorneys. The trial was viewed as an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, to publicly advocate for the legitimacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and to enhance the profile of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Butler Act

The theory of evolution, as presented by Charles Darwin and others, was a controversial concept in many quarters, even into the 20th century.

Concerted anti-evolutionist efforts in Tennessee succeeded when in 1925, the Tennessee House of Representatives was offered a bill by John W. Butler making teaching evolution a misdemeanor. The so-called Butler Act was passed six days later almost unanimously with no amendments.

When the ACLU received news of the bill’s passage, it immediately sent out a press release offering to challenge the Butler Act.

John Scopes

What became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial began as a publicity stunt for the town of Dayton, Tennessee.

A local businessman met with the school superintendent and a lawyer to discuss using the ACLU offer to get newspapers to write about the town. The group asked if high school science teacher John Scopes would admit to teaching evolution for the purposes of prosecution.

Scopes wasn’t clear on whether he had precisely taught the subject, but was sure he’d used materials that included evolution. Scopes taught physics and math, and while he said he accepted evolution, he didn’t teach biology.

It was announced to newspapers the next day that Scopes had been charged with violating the Butler Act, and the town wired the ACLU to procure its services. The Tennessee press roundly criticized the town, accusing it of staging a trial for publicity.

William Jennings Bryan

A preliminary hearing on May 9, 1925, officially held Scopes for trial by the grand jury, though released him and didn’t require him to post bond.

Three-time presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan volunteered to present for the prosecution. The politician was already well-known as an anti-evolution activist, almost single-handedly creating the national controversy over the teaching of evolution and making his name inseparable from the issue.

Clarence Darrow

Author H.G. Wells was approached early on to present the case for evolution, but he turned down the offer.

Clarence Darrow – a famous attorney who had recently acted for the defense in the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder trial – found out about the Scopes trial through journalist H.L. Mencken, who suggested Darrow should defend Scopes.

Darrow declined since he was preparing to retire, but news of Bryan’s involvement caused Darrow – who was also a leading member of the ACLU – to change his mind.

Darrow and Bryan already had a history of butting heads over evolution and the concept of taking the Bible literally, sparring in the press and public debates.

Darrow’s goal in getting involved was to debunk fundamentalist Christianity and raise awareness of a narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. It was the only time in his career he offered to give free legal aid.

Bryan and Darrow set the tone by immediately attacking each other in the press. The ACLU attempted to remove Darrow from the case, fearing they would lose control, but none of these efforts worked.

William Jennings Bryan Arrives

The grand jury met on May 9, 1925. In preparation, Scopes recruited and coached students to testify against him. Three of the seven students attending were called to testify, each showing a sketchy understanding of evolution. The case was pushed forward and a trial set for July 10.

Bryan arrived in Dayton three days before the trial, stepping off a train to the spectacle of half the town greeting him. He posed for photo opportunities and gave two public speeches, stating his intention to not only defend the anti-evolution law but to use the trial to debunk evolution entirely.

Darrow, meanwhile, arrived into Dayton the day before the trial to little fanfare.

Scopes Monkey Trial Begins

The trial day started with crowds pouring into the courthouse two hours before it was scheduled to begin, filling up the room and causing onlookers to spill into the hallways. There was applause when Bryan entered the court and further when he and Darrow shook hands.

The trial began – somewhat ironically – with a lengthy prayer. The first day saw the grand jury being reconvened and repeating testimony from Scopes’ students who had appeared in that trial and jury selection.

Outside the courthouse a circus-like atmosphere reigned, with barbecues, concessions and carnival games, though that died down as the trial was adjourned for the weekend, over which Bryan and Darrow sparred through the press and tensions mounted.

Clarence Darrow’s Speech

It was to a packed courthouse on Monday that arguments began by the defense working to establish the scientific validity of evolution, while the prosecution focused on the Butler Act as an education standard for Tennessee citizens, citing precedents.

Darrow responded by laying out the case in an aggressive way, part of a strategy related to the defense planning to waive their closing argument and preventing Bryan’s own carefully prepared closing argument.

The statement Darrow made is considered an example of his best passionate public speaking. Darrow’s chief argument was that the Butler Act promoted one particular religious view and was therefore illegal. He spoke for over two hours.

Clarence Darrow’s Plan

The trial itself began on Wednesday with opening statements. Witnesses followed, establishing that Scopes had taught evolution and zoologist Maynard M. Metcalf gave expert testimony about the science of evolution, a signal that Scopes himself would not take the stand during the trial.

Subsequent days saw prosecutors argue about the validity of using expert witnesses. This provided Bryan with the opportunity for an extended speech on the subject. Defense attorney Dudley Field Malone then countered with a speech of his own and received a thunderous standing ovation.

The next day, the judge ruled that any experts on the stands could be cross-examined. That night, Darrow quietly prepared to call Bryan as an expert witness on the Bible.

William Jennings Bryan on the Stand

Calling Bryan to the stand was a shock for the court. Darrow interrogated him on interpreting the Bible literally, which undercut his earlier sweeping religious speeches. It also cornered him into admitting that he didn’t know much about science since the Bible didn’t provide any answers.

When the judge ruled Bryan’s testimony be taken from the record, Darrow suggested that to save time his client should be found guilty. This prevented Bryan from making a closing statement.

The jury took nine minutes to pronounce Scopes guilty. He was fined $100.

After the Scopes Trial

After the trial, Bryan immediately began to prepare his unused closing statement as a speech for his rallies. He never got to use that speech, since he died in his sleep in Dayton the following Sunday.

Scopes was offered a new teaching contract but chose to leave Dayton and study geology at the University of Chicago graduate school. He eventually became a petroleum engineer.

Intelligent Design

Supporters of both sides claimed victory following the trial, but the Butler Act was upheld, and the anti-evolution movement continued.

Mississippi passed a similar law months later, and in 1925 Texas banned the theory of evolution from high school textbooks. Twenty-two other states made similar efforts but were defeated.

The controversy over the teaching of science and evolution has continued into the 21st century. In 2005, the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District battled over the constitutionality of teaching “intelligent design” in Pennsylvania schools alongside evolution.

The court ruled against intelligent design – now largely discredited as a pseudoscience – as a legitimate topic suitable for education.


Summer For The Gods. Edward J. Larson.
The Legend of the Scopes Trial. Slate.
A Witness To The Scopes Trial. Scientific American.
The Scopes Trial. University of Minnesota.
State of Tennessee v. Scopes. ACLU.

Why Is the Scopes Trial Significant?

Christian morality on the whole seems to be rapidly declining in America and the western hemisphere, but did you know there is a connection between this and the 1925 Scopes trial?

In recent years, removing the Ten Commandments from public spaces has been big news. In fact, Christian morality on the whole seems to be rapidly declining in America and the western hemisphere: abortion is on the rise, divorce rates are climbing, gay marriage issues are increasing. But did you know there is a connection between these events and the 1925 Scopes trial?

In 2003, news reports featured many people demonstrating in front of the Alabama court building after the decision to remove the Ten Commandments monument as a public display. Some were lying prostrate on the ground, crying out to the Lord to stop this from happening. But how many of these people really understood the foundational nature of this battle?

If we asked the demonstrators, “Do you believe in millions of years for the age of the earth—and what about the days of creation in Genesis 1 ?”—well, our long experience in creation ministry indicates that the answer would most likely be something like “What? They’re taking the Ten Commandments out—why are you asking me irrelevant questions?”

Or if asked, “Where did Cain get his wife?” they might say, “Can’t you see what’s happening? They’re taking the Ten Commandments out of a courthouse—don’t waste my time asking a question that has nothing to do with this!”

In fact, these questions do relate to the real reason the culture is acting this way. During the Scopes trial similar questions were asked the answers given still resonate today. Let us explain.

Scopes Trial

Scopes Trial Summary: The Scopes Trial, commonly referred to as the Scopes Evolution Trial or the Scopes Monkey trial, began on July 10th, 1925. The defendant, John Thomas Scopes, was a high school coach and substitute teacher who had been charged with violating the Butler Act by teaching the theory of evolution in his classes. The Butler Act forbid the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical story of Creationism. By teaching that man had descended from apes, the theory of evolution, Scopes was charged with breaking the law.

The trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee, and was the result of a carefully orchestrated series of events that were intended to bring publicity, and therefore money, into the town by a group of local businessmen. In reality, Scopes was unsure of whether he had ever technically taught the theory of evolution, but he had reviewed the chapter in the evolution chapter in the textbook with students, and he agreed to incriminate himself so that the Butler Act could be challenged by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Several students were encouraged to testify against Scopes at the trial.

The Scopes Trial brought in hundreds of reporters from all over the country, and it was the first trial to be broadcast on radio. Both the prosecuting attorney and Scopes’ defense attorney were charismatic men and drew significant attention to the case, which for the defense was more about defeating the Butler Act then about defending Scopes. Scopes was found guilty and charged a fine of $100, but the verdict was thrown out on a technicality on an appeal. For the next few years, textbooks in Tennessee had all mention of evolution removed. The Butler Act was repealed in 1967.

Travelers wandering through Dayton, Tennessee, in mid-July 1925 might have been excused for thinking that the tiny hill town was holding a carnival or perhaps a religious revival. The street leading to the local courthouse was busy with vendors peddling sandwiches, watermelon, calico, and books on biology. Evangelists had erected an open-air tabernacle, and nearby buildings were covered with posters exhorting people to ‘read your Bible’ and avoid eternal damnation.

If there was a consistent theme to the garish exhibits and most of the gossip in Dayton it was, of all things, monkeys. Monkey jokes were faddish. Monkey toys and souvenirs were ubiquitous. A soda fountain advertised something called a ‘monkey fizz,’ and the town’s butcher shop featured a sign reading, ‘We handle all kinds of meat except monkey.’

As comical as this scene sounds, its background was anything but amusing. Sixty-six years after Charles Darwin published his controversial Origin of Species, the debate he’d engendered over humankind’s evolution from primates had suddenly reached a fever pitch in this hamlet on the Tennessee River. Efforts to enforce a new state statute against the teaching of evolution in public schools had precipitated the arrest of Dayton educator John T. Scopes. His subsequent prosecution drew international press attention as well as the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It also attracted two headliners of that era–Chicago criminal attorney Clarence Darrow and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan–to act as opposing counsel.

Bryan characterized the coming courtroom battle as a ‘duel to the death’–one that would pit religious fundamentalists against others who trusted in scientific conclusions, and would finally determine the right of citizens to dictate the curricula of the schools their tax dollars supported. The case rapidly took on a farcical edge, however, as attorneys shouted at each other and outsiders strove to capitalize on the extraordinary publicity surrounding this litigation. (At one point, for instance, a black man with a cone-shaped head who worked New York’s Coney Island sideshows as Zip, the ‘humanoid ape,’ was offered to the defense as the ‘missing link’ necessary to prove Darwin’s scientific claims.) The ‘Scopes Monkey Trial,’ as history would come to know it, also included a personal dimension, becoming a hard-fought contest not just between rival ideas, but between Bryan and Darrow, former allies whose political differences had turned them into fierce adversaries.

Crusades to purge Darwinism from American public education began as early as 1917 and were most successful in the South, where Fundamentalists controlled the big Protestant denominations. In 1923, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill banning the use of all school texts that included evolutionist instruction. Later that same year, the Florida Legislature approved a joint resolution declaring it ‘improper and subversive for any teacher in a public school to teach Atheism or Agnosticism, or to teach as true, Darwinism, or any other hypothesis that links man in blood relationship to any other form of life.’

To Fundamentalists, for whom literal interpretation of the Bible was central to their faith, there was no room for compromise between the story of God’s unilateral creation of man and Darwin’s eons-long development of the species. Moreover, these critics deemed evolutionist theories a threat not only to the belief in God but to the very structure of a Christian society. ‘To hell with science if it is going to damn souls,’ was how one Fundamentalist framed the debate.

John Washington Butler couldn’t have agreed more. In January 1925, this second-term member of the Tennessee House of Representatives introduced a bill that would make it unlawful for teachers working in schools financed wholly or in part by the state to ‘teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible.’ Violation of the statute would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 for each offense.

Butler’s bill flummoxed government observers but delighted its predominately Baptist backers, and it sailed through the Tennessee House on a lopsided 71 to 5 vote. It went on to the state Senate, where objections were more numerous, and where one member tried to kill the legislation by proposing an amendment to also ‘prohibit the teaching that the earth is round.’ Yet senators ultimately sanctioned the measure 24 to 6. As the story goes, many Tennessee lawmakers thought they were safe in voting for this ‘absurd’ bill because Governor Austin Peay, a well-recognized progressive, was bound to veto it. However, Peay–in a prickly political trade-off that won him the support of rural representatives he needed in order to pass educational and infrastructural reforms–signed the Butler Act into law. As he did so, though, he noted that he had no intention of enforcing it. ‘Probably,’ the governor said in a special message to his Legislature, ‘the law will never be applied.’

Peay’s prediction might have come true, had not the ACLU chosen to make the statute a cause célèbre. Worried that other states would follow Tennessee’s lead, the ACLU agreed in late April 1925 to guarantee legal and financial assistance to any teacher who would test the law.

John Scopes wasn’t the obvious candidate. A gawky, 24-year-old Illinois native, he was still new to his job as a general science teacher and football coach at Rhea County Central High School. Yet his views on evolution were unequivocal. ‘I don’t see how a teacher can teach biology without teaching evolution,’ Scopes insisted, adding that the state-approved science textbook included lessons in evolution. And he was a vocal supporter of academic freedom and freedom of thought. Yet Scopes was reluctant to participate in the ACLU’s efforts until talked into it by Dayton neighbors who hoped that a prominent local trial would stimulate prosperity in their sleepy southeastern Tennessee town.

On May 7, Scopes was officially arrested for violating Tennessee’s anti-evolution statute. Less than a week later, William Jennings Bryan accepted an invitation from the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association to assist in Scopes’ prosecution.

No one who knew the 65-year-old Bryan well should have been surprised by his involvement in the case. Bryan had been trained in the law before being elected as a congressman from Nebraska, and he made three spirited but unsuccessful runs at the presidency on the Democratic ticket. He had served as secretary of state during President Woodrow Wilson’s first term but had spent the last decade writing and lecturing more often about theology than politics. With the same silver tongue he’d once used to excoriate Republican office seekers and decry U.S. involvement in World War I, Bryan had since promoted religious ethics over man’s exaltation of science. ‘It is better to trust in the Rock of Ages than to know the ages of the rocks,’ Bryan pronounced ‘It is better for one to know that he is close to the Heavenly Father than to know how far the stars in the heavens are apart.’ Ever the rural populist– ‘the Great Commoner’–Bryan saw religion as the crucial backbone of agrarian America, and he reserved special enmity for accommodationists who struggled to reconcile Christianity and evolution. Such modernism, he wrote, ‘permits one to believe in a God, but puts the creative act so far away that reverence for the Creator is likely to be lost.’

Bryan’s role elevated the Scopes trial from a backwoods event into a national story. Clarence Darrow’s agreement to act in the teacher’s defense guaranteed the story would be sensational. A courtroom firebrand and a political and social reformer, the 68-year-old Darrow was still riding high from his success of the year before, when his eloquent insanity defense of Chicago teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who had kidnapped and murdered a younger neighbor, had won them life imprisonment instead of the electric chair. The ACLU would have preferred a less controversial and more religiously conservative counsel than Darrow, an agnostic who characterized Christianity as a’slave religion’ that encouraged complacency and acquiescence toward injustices. According to biographer Kevin Tierney, the Chicago attorney ‘believed that religion was a sanctifier of bigotry, of narrowness, of ignorance and the status quo.’ The ACLU feared that with Darrow taking part, the case would, to quote Scopes, ‘become a carnival and any possible dignity in the fight for liberties would be lost.’ In the end, Darrow took part in the Dayton trial only after offering his services free of charge–’for the first, the last, and the only time in my life,’ the attorney later remarked.

After spending the previous Friday impaneling a jury (most members of which turned out to be churchgoing farmers), all parties gathered for the start of the real legal drama on Monday, July 13, 1925. Approximately 600 spectators–including newspaper and radio reporters, along with a substantial percentage of Dayton’s 1,700 residents–elbowed their way into the Eighteenth Tennessee Circuit Court. Presiding was Judge John T. Raulston, who liked to call himself ‘jest a reg’lar mountin’er jedge.’ The crowded courtroom made the week’s stifling heat even more unbearable. Advocates on both sides of the case quickly resorted to shirtsleeves. The prosecution included Bryan, Circuit Attorney General Arthur Thomas Stewart, and Bryan’s son, William Jennings Bryan, Jr., a Los Angeles lawyer. For the defense were Darrow, New York lawyer and co-counsel Dudley Field Malone, ACLU attorney Arthur Garfield Hays, and Scopes’ local lawyer, John Randolph Neal.

The prosecution’s strategy was straightforward. It wasn’t interested in debating the value or wisdom of the Butler Law, only in proving that John Scopes had broken it. ‘While I am perfectly willing to go into the question of evolution,’ Bryan had told an acquaintance, ‘I am not sure that it is involved. The right of the people speaking through the legislature, to control the schools which they create and support is the real issue as I see it.’ With this direction in mind, Bryan and his fellow attorneys took two days to call four witnesses. All of them confirmed that Scopes had lectured his biology classes on evolution, with two students adding that these lessons hadn’t seemed to hurt them. The prosecution then rested its case.

Scopes’ defense was more problematic. Once a plea of innocence had been lodged, Darrow moved to quash the indictment against his client by arguing that the Butler Law was a ‘foolish, mischievous, and wicked act . . . as brazen and bold an attempt to destroy liberty as ever was seen in the Middle Ages.’ Neal went on to point out how the Tennessee constitution held that ‘no preference shall be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.’ Since the anti-evolution law gave preference to the Bible over other religious books, he concluded, it was thus unconstitutional. Raulston rejected these challenges.

From the outset, defense attorneys focused their arguments on issues related to religion and the influences of a fundamentalist morality. Early in the proceedings, Darrow objected to the fact that Judge Raulston’s court opened, as was customary, with a prayer, saying that it could prejudice the jury against his client. The judge overruled Darrow’s objection. Later the defense examined the first of what were to be 12 expert witnesses–scientists and clergymen both–to show that the Butler Law was unreasonable and represented an improper exercise of Tennessee’s authority over education. When the state took exception, however, Raulston declared such testimony inadmissible (though he allowed affidavits to be entered into the record for appeal purposes).

With the defense’s entire case resting on those 12 experts, veteran courtroom watchers figured that this decision effectively ended the trial. ‘All that remains of the great case of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes is the formal business of bumping off the defendant . . . ‘ harrumphed journalist H.L. Mencken after the sixth day of litigation. ‘[T]he main battle is over, with Genesis completely triumphant.’ So sure were they of a swift summation that Mencken and others in the press corps simply packed their bags and left town. Yet Darrow had a surprise up his sleeve. When the court reconvened on Monday, July 20, the ACLU’s Arthur Hays rose to summon one more witness–William Jennings Bryan. ‘Hell is going to pop now,’ attorney Malone whispered to John Scopes.

Calling Bryan was a highly unusual move, but an extremely popular one. Throughout the trial, the politician-cum-preacher had been the toast of Dayton. Admirers greeted Bryan wherever he went and sat through long, humid hours in court just for the opportunity to hear him speak. He’d generally been silent, listening calmly, cooling himself with a fan that he’d received from a local funeral home, and saving his voice for an hour-and-a-half-long closing argument that he hoped would be ‘the mountain peak of my life’s effort.’ But Bryan didn’t put up a fight when asked to testify. In fact, he agreed with some enthusiasm, convinced–as he always had been–of his righteous cause.

Judge Raulston, concerned that the crowd massing to watch this clash of legal titans would prove injurious to the courthouse, ordered that the trial reconvene on the adjacent lawn. There, while slouched back in his chair and pulling now and then on his signature suspenders, Darrow examined Bryan for almost two hours, all but ignoring the specific case against Scopes while he did his best to demonstrate that Fundamentalism–and Bryan, as its representative–were both open to ridicule.

Darrow wanted to know if Bryan really believed, as the Bible asserted, that a whale had swallowed Jonah. Did he believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans on the planet? That all languages dated back to the Tower of Babel? ‘I accept the Bible absolutely,’ Bryan stated. As Darrow continued his verbal assault, however, it became clear that Bryan’s acceptance of the Bible was not as literal as his followers believed. ‘[S]ome of the Bible is given illustratively,’ he observed at one point. ‘For instance: `Ye are the salt of the earth.’ I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God’s people.’ Similarly, when discussing the creation, Bryan conceded that the six days described in the Bible were probably not literal days but periods of time lasting many years.

With this examination dragging on, the two men’s tempers became frayed, and humorous banter gave way to insults and fists shaken in anger. Fundamentalists in the audience listened with increasing discomfort as their champion questioned Biblical ‘truths,’ and Bryan slowly came to realize that he had stepped into a trap. The sort of faith he represented could not adequately be presented or justly parsed in a court of law. His only recourse was to impugn Darrow’s motives for quizzing him, as he sought to do in this exchange:

BRYAN: Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his questions . . . and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee–

BRYAN: –to slur at it, and, while it will require time I am willing to take it.

DARROW: I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.

It was a bleak moment in what had been Bryan’s brilliant career. He hoped to regain control of events and the trust of his followers the next day by putting Darrow on the stand. But Attorney General Stewart, who’d opposed Bryan’s cross-examination, blocked him and instead convinced the judge to expunge Bryan’s testimony from the record.

Before the jury was called to the courtroom the following day, Darrow addressed Judge Raulston. ‘I think to save time,’ he declared, ‘we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty.’ This final ploy by Darrow would ensure that the defense could appeal the case to a higher court that might overturn the Butler Law. The defense also waived its right to a final address, which, under Tennessee law, deprived the prosecution of a closing statement. Bryan would not get an opportunity to make his last grandiloquent speech.

The jury conferred for only nine minutes before returning a verdict of guilty. Yet Bryan’s public embarrassment in Dayton would become legend–one that the prosecutor could never overcome, for he died in his sleep five days after the trial ended.

Following the trial, the school board offered to renew Scopes’ contract for another year providing he complied with the anti-evolution law. But a group of scientists arranged a scholarship so he could attend graduate school, and Scopes began his studies at the University of Chicago in September. Mencken’s Baltimore Sun agreed to pay the $100 fine Judge Raulston levied against Scopes. On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the jury, rather than the judge, should have determined Scopes’ fine, but it upheld the Butler Law’s constitutionality. Darrow had hoped to take the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Any chance of that, though, was foreclosed when Tennessee’s chief justice nullified Scopes’ indictment and threw what he called ‘this bizarre case’ out of the courts.

Not until April 1967–42 years after the Butler Law was passed, and 12 years after Inherit the Wind, a play based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, became a Broadway hit–did the Tennessee Legislature repeal the anti-evolution law.

Since then, a series of court decisions has barred creationists’ efforts to have their beliefs taught in public schools. Yet 75 years after the Scopes trial, debate over evolution still continues to simmer as states and education boards struggle with the subject that pits science against religion.

This article was written by J. Kingston Pierce and originally published in the August 2000 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!

The Most Important Legacy of the Scopes Trial

Matthew Avery Sutton, in his impressively researched American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), argues that the primary legacy of the 1925 Scopes trial was not how it changed the law, or how it changed education or the perception of Darwinian evolution, or even how it led to a retreat by the Fundamentalists. Rather, he argues as follows:

Perhaps the most important legacy of the Scopes trial was not its impact on American education but its central role in facilitating the redefinition of fundamentalism.

Before Scopes, “fundamentalism” referred to a well-defined, close-knit radical evangelical apocalyptic movement. [Note: Sutton argues more expansively that “fundamentalism” in the interwar period referred to “the interdenominational network of radical evangelical apocalypticists who joined together to publicly and aggressively herald the imminent second coming while challenging trends in liberal theology and in the broader American culture” (p. 103).]

Thanks to the work of Bryan, Darrow, Mencken, and many others during the antievolution crusade and Scopes trial, “fundamentalism” was transformed for many into a pejorative term. The press, liberal intellectuals, and theological modernists began using it generically to refer to all socially conservative, antimodernist, antiscience, antieducation Christians, whether they had any relationship to the fundamentalist movement or not.

Because many southerners seemed to fit the new, broader definition of the term, “fundamentalism” evolved from an apt characterization of a relatively small network of Christians based primarily in the North and West, with some key players in the South, into a more stereotypical term applied to expressions of Christianity that appeared anti-intellectual, antiprogressive, rural, and intolerant (and often southern-based). The faithful spent the next decade and a half trying to reclaim the term before realizing that their efforts were futile.

Sutton’s overall argument in this book may not convince every reader, but his book is one of the most important to be published in years on the history of evangelicalism, reviving and building upon Ernest Sandeen’s argument about the central role of premillennial eschatology in the fundamentalist identity, in contrast to the work of George Marsden and Joel Carpenter.

Justin Taylor is executive vice president for book publishing and publisher for books at Crossway. He blogs at Between Two Worlds and Evangelical History. You can follow him on Twitter.

Scopes Trial: The Trial of the Century and Why It Still Matters Today

The Scopes trial-some say a major turning point in US history-occurred 80 years ago this month.

A momentous trial-some say a major turning point in US history-occurred 80 years ago this month.

In 1925, George Rappleyea, a Dayton, Tennessee coal plant manager, read an article in the Chattanooga Daily Times, in which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that it was looking for a Tennessee teacher willing to accept the ACLU’s services to challenge the recently passed Butler Act. The Act forbade public education institutions from teaching that man was descended from a lower form of life.

The next day, at a gathering of Dayton town leaders at Robinson’s Drug Store, Rappleyea proposed holding a trial that would test the constitutionality of Tennessee’s new anti-evolution law as a public relations ploy, intended to boost Dayton’s ailing economy.

The town leaders agreed and asked 25-year-old John T. Scopes, who was in his first year as a science teacher and football coach at Dayton High School, if he would be willing to volunteer as the defendant in a test case of the Butler Act. Scopes agreed. At the time, Dayton’s leaders didn’t know that the trial would turn out to be one of the most important court cases of the 20 th century.

It is not commonly known that Scopes was not even a biology teacher and he had never taught evolution . Scopes had filled in for the regular biology teacher for two weeks during an illness and used the state-approved biology text, which contained a section on human evolution . The town leaders decided it was enough for the trial.

In mid-May, William Jennings Bryan, a Christian and former presidential candidate who believed in the revealed Word and who was perhaps the greatest orator of the day, telegraphed local prosecutors and expressed his willingness to be a member of the prosecution team, which the prosecutors accepted.

It was at this stage that Clarence Darrow, a self-professed agnostic and probably the best-known trial lawyer in America at the time, heard about the case and volunteered his services for the defense for free. The involvement of the national figures of Bryan and Darrow placed what otherwise could have been an obscure trial into the national spotlight. Reporters from all over the country traveled to Dayton to cover the trial, and the trial was broadcast live on radio.

So what was the Scopes trial about? The defendant, his local counsel and Dayton’s businessmen were eager for the publicity. Suddenly their small town was in the national news, and the local businessmen expected the visitors to boost revenue considerably. For his part, Bryan considered the trial to be mainly about majority rule and democracy. The ACLU saw it as a matter of freedom of speech and intellectual freedom. It was said that two models of democracy were clashing.

Darrow saw a chance to ridicule Christianity on a scale previously unforeseen. He shifted the focus of the trial away from the democratic issues to a debate about creation and evolution .

On July 10, 1925, the Scopes trial opened in the Rhea County Court House in Dayton and dragged on for 12 days in the sweltering heat. The Scopes trial’s significance is that it fueled the public debate over creation and evolution that has continued into the 21 st century. The debate has far-reaching implications in our increasingly secular society, since evolution has helped undermine: the validity of the Declaration of Independence that asserts our Creator has endowed men with certain inalienable rights—i.e., life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness our system of government our civil rights sanctity of human life and whether absolute truth exists as the basis of our legal system.

The debate is just as relevant today as it was 80 years ago since America’s broad acceptance of the theory of evolution has brought the country to a crisis. Symptoms of this crisis are abortion on demand the debate over human embryonic stem-cell research the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court House and other places and the death of Terri Schiavo.

To dispel the many myths surrounding the Scopes trial and to educate the public about the creation-evolution debate, Creation Science Fellowship of New Mexico1 is sponsoring the re-enactment of the Scopes Trial titled “Monkey in the Middle” by Gale Johnson, which uses the verbatim transcript of the trial. The performance will be held in the historic KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on July 29 and 30, 2005.

The performance also will be produced in Dayton, Tenn., on July 15–17 as part of the Scopes Festival.

The Monkey Scopes Trial and its Impact on Intellectual Freedom

The consequences of many historic court cases are apparent in contemporary society, but how we learn from them and understand their faults and benefits truly allows us to mature as a population. A trial that arose from a small dispute regarding the extent of scientific versus religious thought evidences the lessons that we can derive from our past. This court case began in the mere 1,800 soul town of Dayton, Tennessee, across several balmy June afternoons in 1925, and it kindled the creation-evolution controversy that exists to this day. An individual known as Sir John Thomas Scopes shattered the schism between the public and private spheres, as Immanuel Kant would voice, and revolutionized the ideology of speaking against the norms, or constraints, of society. Scopes believed a certain academic freedom to speak of his intellectual beliefs had been hindered by the state school board. By analyzing the overall impact and the resulting disparate perspectives on Scopes’s actions in the infamous State of Tennessee vs John Thomas Scopes trial, also known as the “Monkey Scopes trial,” a better understanding of this censorship, and whether it had been appropriate, can be grasped.

Fig. 1:

Dayton, Tennessee began with a hoorah for the arriving of Sir William Jennings Bryan in early June, 1925 (see Fig. 1). Three-time presidential candidate and the main arguer of the prosecution in favor of the Tennessee law, Bryan had been a well known Presbyterian orator and politician from Nebraska, perhaps even the best-known lecturer of the era. He had come to defend the newly passed Butler Act of Tennessee, which “prohibited the teaching of Evolution Theory in all the Universities…and all the other public schools of Tennessee… and to provide penalties for the violations thereof” (UMKC). Professor John Thomas Scopes had been prosecuted for reading from a book not prescribed by the Tennessee legislature to a high school biology class, reading instead from Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, an act verboten by section two of the Butler Act. He anticipated to make a statement in the debate of creation versus evolution, but with Bryan as prosecuting attorney, the courtroom already expected an upcoming “’duel to the death’ between science and Christianity” (Morgan 48). A devout Christian orator, Bryan would fight to the death – and quite literally – to support the Genesis text regarding the creation of man by God. According to the bible, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… And God said, Let there be light and there was light” (Genesis 1.2-1.3). The prosecuting supported this belief and this belief only.

Sir Clarence Darrow spoke as the defense attorney for Scopes, assisted by Attorney Hay. Darrow, despite his oratory prowess and quick intuition, had been infamous in the South for his scientific loyalty and lack of religious vigor. Still, the defense was heroically brave in its adamant statement on evolutionism. Rather than God creating man on the sixth day of the existence of the universe, Scopes read to the students how “all the individuals of the same species, and all the species of the same genus, or even higher group, are descended from common parents and therefore, in however distant and isolated parts of the world they may now be found, they must in the course of successive generations have travelled from some one point to all others” (Darwin 2). Homo sapiens had essentially been derived from previous origins over the course of many million years. As mammals, apes, or the hominids, had been the direct predecessors of Homo sapiens. Over the millennia, humans grew taller and leaner, became harrier and more sophisticated. This notion of deriving from monkeys granted the trial its name and further antagonized many devout Christians. It seems rather condescending, referring to humans as offspring of apes rather than of a divine being. Still, Scopes decided to enlighten his students with this new philosophy of the origins of humans and oppose his defined restrictions of speech as a schoolteacher. He had ignited an everlasting battle questioning the appropriateness of rebelling over submitting to the defined law.

On day eight of the trial, the jury rules Sir John Thomas Scopes unanimously guilty. The judge sets the fine at the minimum of one hundred dollars (equivalent to $1,349 in 2015) and the case is appealed to the state court. Scopes loses the trial, but in essence, still implants his image on history. His actions reverberate discussion thereafter and the effects of the verdict too garner controversy of the appropriateness of his actions (see Fig. 2). Following the trial, many publishers feared the expulsion of their textbooks from the academic curriculum around the United States and hence self-censored their work to exclude any mention of Darwinism or evolution. Such a trepidation signified an unsaid lack of expression, a lack of voice, a lack of freedom. Immediately following the verdict, “Anti-evolutionists recognized quickly that state laws were not their only weapons. On the country level, hundreds of boards of education, in the South especially, took formal and informal steps to ban evolution and to bar the hiring of evolutionists and ‘non-believers’” (Morgan 52). A nationwide anti-evolution campaign became vulgar in its efforts to adapt and censor science textbooks, and “evolution” was nowhere to be seen, replaced with “development” and other religious quotations. By witnessing the lasting effects of the case, one can today question whether Scopes had been justified in violating the law, in acting against his defined role as a schoolteacher, in acting according to his own moral framework.

Many individuals would object, as the jury had done, that Scopes’s actions had been unrighteous, uncalled for, and completely inappropriate for his duty as a public education schoolteacher. By referring to page one of Origin of Species, Scopes had disobeyed the law and the school district policy and impaired his status as a teacher. According to political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt of the early twentieth century, Scopes had acted against the will of his society and acted without true purpose. Arendt believes that action consists primarily of two spheres: freedom and plurality. Yet, Arendt’s definition of freedom contrasts from the Christian philosophy of freedom wherein God grants man the ability to choose among a set of alternative possibilities. Rather, she argues that freedom is the capacity to enact something new and do the unexpected, only possible because of man being born. Because man is born, because of natality, there is a promise of a new opportunity to be pursued. Still, acting cannot be performed with isolation of others. Arendt defines plurality as “the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world,” and declares it the condition of human action “because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live ” (Arendt 7-8). Hence, she emphasizes plurality as a supplement to freedom. This ideology is what antagonizes her from Scopes’s actions, for she believes that one has the obligation to act so that others can judge the quality of what is being enacted. With the variety of perspectives – and hence judgment — of others, action has a purpose in the context of plurality. Therefore, action requires the consent of others, the approval of society, and the synchronization with the thoughts and ideals of the community. Sir John Thomas Scopes inhabited a town wherein the majority did not see his actions as righteous. Rather, most of the town had been devout Christians, adamant in their views presented in Genesis on the origin of man. Because Scopes behaved on his own behalf, and without eliciting the consent of the community, he did not practice a freedom of action, but rather practiced an act of selfishness. The norms of his society opposed the teachings of Darwinism, and according to Arendt’s beliefs, by teaching evolution anyway, Scopes alienated himself from his society and was truly guilty in breaking the law.

Another figure shares similar thoughts to those of Arendt. German philosopher of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant, argues a position that also finds the actions of Scopes as unjustified and guilty. Through one of his most well-known works, What is Enlightenment?, Kant emphasizes a schism that exists between the public and private spheres of a individual, two spheres that do not necessarily contradict one another, but that include disparate views and duties of an individual’s role in society. The public sphere is a place where individuals are free from obligation of their calling, and subjects are free to speak or write critically. An individual retains “public use of his reason, an unrestricted freedom to employ his own reason and to speak his own person” (Kant 61). Opposed to this, the private sphere is where people have an actual duty to restrain the expression of political judgment and withhold the critique of societal norms. “Here one is certainly not allowed to argue,” Kant discerns, “rather, one must obey… he is engaged in part as a passive member” (Kant 60). In understanding Scopes’ situation, Kant would argue that as a public education school teacher, Scopes already sacrificed his rights of freedom of speech for his ability to teach school children the prescribed curriculum as provided by the Tennessee board of education. Scopes’s obligation in society had been to teach the materials from Genesis regarding the creation of man. His defined private role ensured that he would remain submissive and perform his job. If Scopes had wished to voice his opinions regarding evolution, Kant would argue that Scopes should pursue such inclinations in his public sphere, in writings outside of the classroom, potentially criticizing the school system and voicing his loyalty to Darwinian thought. From there, he could garner public support and potentially lead a movement in changing the school curriculum. However, by articulating his beliefs inside the classroom, Scopes shattered the schism between the two spheres and broken the etiquette of the distribution of reason. In such ways, Scopes was rightfully guilty in his actions and deserved to be incarcerated to prevent further disorder in Dayton, Tennessee.

Still, despite much public support for Scopes’s incarceration and the justification thereof by both Arendt and Kant, another perspective could actually shed light on Scopes in kindling a revolution for free thought against the norms of society. This perspective is that of Rene Descartes. Descartes, known as the father of rationalism, had lived during the time of the scientific revolution and throughout the course of his life witnessed many objections and reactions to the societal norms – especially during the time of the Copernican revolution and the works of Galileo Galilei. From the rebuttal, arrival, and revival of many ideologies of the time, Descartes spent one European winter evening in a warm sauna, contemplating his philosophies on life and how he could comprehend all of what had been occurring. After such contemplation, Descartes established what is known today as the Cartesian method, wherein one breaks down elements for further analysis of just the simple components in order to form a basis of unequivocal knowledge. To do this, Descartes would have to eliminate his previous developed thoughts that society had implanted and construct new thoughts according to the exacting standards of his own reason. Before abandoning his former opinions entirely, though, Descartes formulates a law that would direct his inquiry, a guiding philosophy that distinguishes Descartes to this day. Descartes planned “never to accept anything as true that [he] did not plainly know to be such that is to say, carefully to avoid hasty judgment and prejudice and to include nothing more in [his] judgments than what presented itself to [his] mind so clearly and so distinctly that [he] had no occasion to call it in doubt” (Descartes 11).

With such philosophy, Descartes would have similarly supported Scopes during the trial, not because of his doubt in faith, but rather because of the many proofs of natural selection. Evolutionary evidence was provided in Darwin’s Origin of Species and especially by archeologists thereafter. Fossils depicting the natural selection of specific species evidenced a favoring of certain genes and a slow manipulation of the genotype and phenotype of animals. The whale, for example was proven to have higher nostrils than previous generations to prevent complete surfacing for acquiring oxygen (Than). The seal, too, was scientifically proven to have had clumsier limbs as a Ambulocetus natan before its evolutionary front fins, and the peacock was similarly demonstrated to have experienced a sexual natural selection, whereupon more vibrant tail fathers attracted female mates, causing a favoring for such genes (Bioscience). From such evidence, firm conclusions could be validated in support of Darwinist theory. Meanwhile, Descartes’s philosophy chooses to shun aspects of the world that remain nebulous and can cause doubt. Because the teachings of Genesis stood indefinitely, Scopes actions were in synch with Descartes thought. Scopes behaved appropriately, not because of the rebuttal of a God creating man, but because he acted against ideals that were not completely certain. Even though he had been in the classroom, presenting information that could be uncertain was against Descartes’s ethic code. Only an unequivocal truth was justified to be reason, and hence, only unequivocal truth should be taught. Descartes would thus dignify Scopes as a hero of independent thought and a champion of intellectual curiosity and boldness.

A full analysis on the appropriateness of Scopes’s deeds cannot be made without exploring the repercussions of either reading from Genesis or reading from The Origin of Species. Had Scopes, according to Kant, remained in his private sphere and conformed with the norms of his community, the case would not have occurred and the stance on the evolution versus creationism debate would have been delayed to another date and location. Dayton schoolteachers would have thereafter continued to read from Genesis and potentially voice their concerns elsewhere, outside the classroom, where a political voice may or may not be heard in the clunky gears of government and eventual societal progression. If this voice were to be heard, however, a similar court case would arise, with the usual creation versus evolution positions. By choosing to read form The Origin of Species, Scopes may have caused an immediate trepidation and mass self-censorship for biology publishers, but he also kindled the revolution, ignited the path so that the issue was voiced and the debate now created into words and actions, rather than an unsaid battle between submission and uncertainty. Scopes possessed an intellectual freedom and chose to teach students what he believed to be the unequivocal truth of mankind’s past. By undermining the will of the community and by entangling his private and public roles in society, Scopes executed the unprecedented, and although “losing” the case, set a model for today: despite the restrictions set by others on intellectual freedom, according to Descartes, with the proper evidence and reasoning, an individual should have the right to explore and distribute knowledge and make a stand in his community.

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1958. Print.

“Bible Gateway Passage: Genesis 1-4 – New International Version.” Bible Gateway. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. < 1>.

“BioScience.” The Lingering Impact of the Scopes Trial on High School Biology Textbooks. Web. 27 Nov. 2015. <>.

D’Entreves, Maurizio. “Hannah Arendt.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 27 July 2006. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <

Darwin, Charles, and Gillian Beer. The Origin of Species. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.

Descartes, René. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Trans. Donald A. Cress. 4th ed. Indianapolis / Cambridge: Hackett, 1637. 1-22. Print.

Kant, Immanuel, and James Schmitt. “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (1784).” Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy: 58-63. Print.

Scopes Trial - Definition, Results and Significance - HISTORY

Interestingly enough, fundamentalism and modernism actually grew up side-by-side in America during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Fundamentalism was basically a restatement of the values and beliefs of traditional Christianity, and the factors which led to the printing of The Fundamentals (see The Petro-Dollars Connection), along with William B. Riley's formation of the World Christian Fundamentals Association in 1919, was as much as anything a response to so-called Higher Literary Criticism which had become popular in some quarters during the previous century.

Higher Literary Criticism

An approach to study of the Christian Bible adopted by a group based in Tubingen (Germany) in the 19th century, lead by Ferdinand Christian Baur. Like the self-styled Jesus Seminar of today, Baur's group held that the supernatural elements described in the Bible such as miracles, the Virgin Birth and the literal physical resurrection of Jesus after the Crucifixion were fictitious and might be explained by natural methods and/or the allegedly mythological nature of much of the Bible.

To a large extent, the group's thinking was based on Hegelian metaphysics (after the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)), which was something of a giveaway, to put it mildly, since Hegel himself was prone to ignore any facts that didn't support his theories. A typical example of Hegel's attitude can be found in the account of a class in which he was explaining his philosophy of history by using a specific series of events as an example.

"But, Herr Professor," one of his students interrupted, "the facts are otherwise."
"So much the worse for the facts," Hegel replied.

Where fundamentalists were opposed higher criticism in every respect, most people who described themselves as Christian modernists eagerly allied themselves with the wider modernist or "progressive" movement, including many of the claims made by advocates of higher criticism.

The main point of contention between fundamentalists and modernists within the Christian community was a difference of opinion over what became known as the five "fundamentals":

  • The inerrancy of scripture
  • The divinity of Christ (including a literal interpretation of the "Virgin Birth")
  • Christ's death as substitutionary atonement
  • Christ's resurrection as a literal event
  • Christ's return (the "Second Coming") as a literal event.

As you might imagine, fundamentalists were, in America in the 1920s, those Christians who upheld the five fundamentals the modernists had other ideas.

The Inerrancy of Scripture

Fundamentalists believed that the Bible was to be taken as straight fact, in those places where there was no indication that it should be taken otherwise. Hence Bryan's answer to Darrow's question about whether he took everything in the Bible to be literally true:

"I believe that everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance: 'Ye are the salt of the earth.' I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people."
(See The Duel In the Shade for details of Darrow's cross examination of Bryan.)

Important note:

Commentators often confuse fundamentalist and literalist views on inerrancy. In practice, literalists, so called because they take the entire text of the Bible as being literally true, are also fundamentalists (they also accept the other four Fundamentals). Though having said that, it can sometimes be hard to get a literalist to specify which particular version/translation of The Bible is is that they regard as inerrant.

Fundamentalists who are not also literalists, on the other hand, are distinguished by the fact that they do not insist on an "end to end" literal interpretation of the Bible, but accept that the text contains numerous metaphors, parables, descriptions of visions and so on.

However, it would appear that many fundamentalists do share the belief that the account of the Creation in the Book of Genesis is historically accurate. Though even on this subject it should be noted that opinions differ between "Old Earthers" (who accept that the Earth may be billions of years old), and "Young Earthers," who believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old). This leaves lots of room for a wide variety of belief on specific details.

The Divinity of Christ

  • A fictional character who embodied mythical characteristics drawn from earlier religions, or
  • Had existed, but was basically no more than a good man who lived out his beliefs so that there was nothing supernatural about him or the things that he did.

The Crucifixion as Substitutionary Atonement

The Fundamentalist view of the significance of Christ's cricifixion was, and is, very simple and straight forward. The Modernist views are a little for difficult to understand.

For Fundamentalists it makes sense that only someone such as the authentic "Son of God" - taken as a literal description of Jesus - could serve as the atonement for the sins of all mankind throughout the history of the world. Whether or not one accepts the underlying theory that God required such a sacrifice in the first place, the internal logic of this claim is entirely consistant. The Christ must be genuinely divine in order for his death to be sufficiently significant to serve its intended purpose. And the crucifixion can be efective only because Jesus is the genuine "Son of God".

The modernist view was/is also consistent in one sense, but is thoroughly inconsistent in another.

Once the modernists had effectively excluded any and all possibility of a supernatural dimension to the crucifixion (yet again, shades of the Jesus Seminar), hanging on to the idea of Jesus literally dying in order to 'overcome death', or surrendering his life in order to give everyone else the opportunity to have eternal life, was clearly nuts. And having arrived at that interpretation, what point would there be to declaring oneself a Christian at all?

Remember Kirtley Mathers' concern to:

. promote a religion that is respectable in light of modern science"

This typifies one widely held modernist attitude that humankind should not look to God (any God or god) for their salvation, but to scientists. Mather clearly shared this view, and yet he boasted of how he had served for several decades as teacher of 'a large adult Sunday School class (known as "the Mather Class"), for the Newton Centre Baptist Church near Boston' ((Science and Religious Fundamentalism in the 1920s, Edward B. Davis. In American Scientist, Vol. 93, Issue 3, May-June 2005 (pages 253-260. This quote is from page 256.)
(Further references to this article, which can be found online at

will simply read "(Davis, page


No wonder, given this background, William Jennings Bryan is said to have told one reporter at Dayton, "I have no complaint against evolutionists. I'm opposed to the people who claim to be Christians but aren't."

The Resurrection as a Literal Event

According to the accounts of the crucifixion and its aftermath in the New Testament, on the third day after the crucifixion Jesus' body was found to have disappeared from the tomb where his body had been placed, and he subsequently appeared to a number of his followers in a sufficiently substantial form to allow "Doubting" Thomas to feel the wounds made by the nails that had been hammered into Jesus' hands.

The "Second Coming" as a Literal Event

Evolutionism and Creationism

Strictly speaking there was no "Evolutionism versus Creationism" in the sense that we use the terms today.

As described in earlier sections (see Part 6: The Expert Evidence, for example), ideas on Darwinism and evolution were still at a formative stage in America at the time of the Scopes Trial, and even scientists who were allegedly experts on the subject had decidedly strange ideas on what actually constituted evolution (see comments by Maynard Metcalf and Arthur Hays, for example).

By the same token there were those who accepted the description of the Creation in the Book of Genesis as fact, and those that didn't. But there was little or no thought for putting forward the Genesis account as "scientific fact", and certainly nothing along the lines of Intelligent Design, or anything of that kind.

Rural and Urban Values

Religion and Science: The Chicago Connections

  • Whilst John Neal (from Knoxville) was the "attorney of record," and Arthur Garfield Hays (New York) was (at least in theory) managing the defense team on behalf of the ACLU, it was Clarence Darrow - from Chicago - who dictated the way the case for the defense was handled.
  • Despite the vast distance involved, it was WGN - the Chicago Tribune's radio station - which set up its microphones in the Rhea County courthouse during the Scopes trial, making it the first ever live broadcast of court proceedings in America.
  • Of the eight scientific "expert witnesses" for the defense, three - Judd, Cole and Newman - were serving faculty members of the University of Chicago, and a a fourth - Kirtley Mather - had received his Ph.D from the University of Chicago just ten years earlier.
  • Shailer Mathews, one of the defense's experts on religious matters, was also on the faculty at the University of Chicago - as well as serving as editor for a series of "Popular Religious Leaflets" published by the intriguingly named American Institute of Sacred Literature (the relevance of these pamphlets will be explained later on).
  • At the end of the trial several of the expert witnesses contributed to a scholarship fund to send John Scopes to study for a master's degree in geology at - the University of Chicago.

Route 1 - Wilhelm Wundt

The shortest of the eight affidavits written by the expert witnesses at the Scopes trial was that of Charles Hubbard Judd. At a mere 411 words it was considerably less than half the length (by word count) of the next shortest affidavit, supplied by the soil scientist, Jacob Lipman. And yet - Charles Hubbard Judd's affidavit, together with the brief biography which precedes it, provide us with a series of crucial clue as to what lay behind the Scopes Trial.

The first point to notice is that:

"[Judd] received the degree Ph. D. at Leipsig [sic] University, where he took comparative anatomy as a minor subject, with psychology as a major."

Nothing too earthshaking there, you might think - but there is.
Because to obtain his Ph. D. Judd had spent two years as a student and, as it turned out, a disciple of the Prussian psychologist Wilhelm Max Wundt,
In 1875, Wundt used his appointment as a professor at Leipzig as an opportunity to set up one of the first two experimental psychology laboratories in the world (William James also set up an experimental psychology lab in that year). But this wasn't his only claim to fame, for Wundt had some fairly radical ideas, for his day, about the essential nature of human beings.
According to Wundt, with human beings what you saw was what you got. The whole idea that we might have a spirit, a soul, a mind, or whatever, was complete wishful thinking as far as Wundt was concerned. In fact even the idea that we had any capacity for self-determination was nonsense, according to Wundt. In reality, he claimed, we were utterly at the mercy of whatever environment we find ourselves in. All we could do, like Pavlov's dogs, was respond to our experiences. Only he didn't actually mention Pavlov's dogs, because Pavlov was also one of Wundt's students at Leipzig and hadn't done the experiments yet.

Words nearby Scopes trial

Meanwhile, almost exactly 30 years after the trial, the judge left his home to board a steamboat and was never heard from again.

Seventy-two adults between the ages of 18 and 50 are participating in the trial, led by the pediatrics department at Oxford.

The next phase of the trial consists of vaccinating Ebola workers on the front lines.

He lambasts the case as without evidence, an unfair trial, and damaging for the American reputation.

While in pre-trial detention, Krivov undertook two hunger strikes.

The challenge was accepted and the hay-wagon driven round and the trial commenced.

No doubt it will be a trial for Miss Rowan, but I think she would feel better to have her father buried here.

He consented to the trial, receiving Planner's solemn promise that, in the event of failure, it should be the last.

British parliament passed an act for transporting Americans to England for trial.

Receiving small encouragement in England, he applied to sugar-cane planters to give his engines a trial in the West Indies.

English 110- Darwin&Evolution

Published by smullad at 11:43 pm under Uncategorized

For this research paper, my group’s assignment was to study the Scopes Trial of 1920. John Thomas Scopes was accused of teaching evolution to his students at a time when it was strictly upheld that humans were created by the hand of God. This caused a heated debate between two groups of people, the creationists and the evolutionists. However, there are actually many various opinions on what exactly was the real case that was argued. It may have been a debate over science and religion, or in some cases, a battleground for northern views versus southern ones. Nevertheless, it sparked many issues regarding how these teachings would contort the minds future generations, if they were exposed to different teachings. I believe that the Scopes trial was so heatedly debated because of its conflict dealing with the question regarding individual freedom and religious oppression. At the close of the trial, John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution to his students and thereby breaking the law. This trial was in a sense, a gateway to new ideas and possibilities for children back in the early twentieth century because everyone was taught that God created man. I think that even though the outcome of the trial was not in favor of the teachings of evolution, it provided an advantage for teachings today in the education systems because the knowledge of the theory of evolution was eventually adapted and implemented into today’s school curriculum. The Scopes Trial was an exhibition that showed that oppression of speech cannot hinder teachings that would prove to be just as accepted by common law.

One article that will be useful in proving the idea that the Scopes Trial was commonly known to be a debate between individual liberties versus religious oppression would be the one written by, history professor, Edward J. Larson, in two of his articles, “The Scopes Trial and the Evolving Concept of Freedom,” and “Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.” In these articles, he explains his position on the Scopes trial as a major debate regarding the issue of science and religion. As the law in the early twentieth century denied any other explanation for the creation of man other than what is written in the bible, the case in a sense, helped shape the structure of the law in America. Larson believes that the trial also became a dispute over individual rights and liberties as a result of the fundamentalist movement that strived to make everyone only believe the word of the bible.

The article, “Says Scopes Issue is Not Religious,” from the New York Times, follows the theory of a man named Dr. Stockman who claimed that the issue of religion and evolution was a pointless topic to argue because they can both coexist without conflicting with each other, and that there would be no harm in believing the theory of evolution. This article can be used in the paper to explain that there was no direct case that was being debated on during the trial. It seems as if it were only a roadblock that could have been easily avoided. Wadsworth Likely apparently had the same theory, that since the law prohibits speaking of evolution or any other possible theories, then the freedom of speech, which is the First Commandment is being disobeyed.

Since the trial had a great impact on modern society, especially in the school districts, I believe that the article, “The Lingering Impact of the Scopes Trial on High School Biology Textbooks,” best explains just how much the trial has had an effect in classrooms today. People today are still hesitant on whether or not it is morally right to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution in public schools. As the article explains, several years before the trial, evolutionary theory was already explained in several textbooks, and later became frowned upon because of the Tennessee trial. This proves that a case as important as the Scopes trial will have a lasting impact because no one will ever be able to determine whether or not teaching evolution or using the bible is the right way of teaching.

This research paper focuses on the motives that drove the Scopes Trial of Tennessee in the 1920’s. While it was well known to be a debate about a dispute between evolution and God, there is reason to believe that the trial was more so a debate between the freedoms of individuals, mainly, their right to speak, and the oppression by religion. Decades have passed since the verdict was placed on the trial. While evolution was overruled by the law during the 1920’s, the theory of evolution still made its way into textbooks and the educational curriculum. This proves that the oppression of speech cannot hinder teachings that would prove to be just as accepted by common law.

7 Responses to “The Impact of the Scopes Trial”

I see a lot of interesting posts on your page. You have to spend a lot of time writing, i know
how to save you a lot of work, there is a tool that creates unique, SEO friendly posts in couple of minutes,
just search in google – k2 unlimited content

Finally i quit my regular job, now i earn a lot of money online you should try too, just
type in google – bluehand roulette system

I read a lot of interesting content here. Probably you spend a lot of
time writing, i know how to save you a lot of work, there is an online tool that creates high quality, SEO friendly
articles in seconds, just type in google – laranitas free content source


The Scopes trial has had a wide-reaching effect on American culture and policy regarding the evolution education debate.

Bryan made three claims that continue to be influential, said Branch: "Evolution is scientifically problematic that evolution undermines morality, society, and religion and that this position on teaching evolution is supported by secular considerations like fairness, objectivity, etc." These ideas have been called the pillars of creationism.

The public perception, heavily influenced by the media's coverage of the case, was that the anti-evolution crusade was dealt a serious blow. Linder wrote that in 1925, 15 states had anti-evolution legislation in the works, but after the trial only Arkansas and Mississippi passed the laws.

"But," said Branch, "the case had a chilling effect on the teaching of evolution. Fearing controversy, publishers frequently removed, downplayed, or used euphemisms in the treatment of evolution in their textbooks &mdash including Hunter's "Civic Biology." This development was not reversed till the 1960s, as the federal government started to pour money into science education as part of the Space Race with the USSR.

"We don't have a good baseline for the situation before Scopes, but a 1940 national survey of high school biology teachers found that only slightly more than half were teaching evolution (and teachers from parochial and Southern schools were probably underrepresented in the survey, so that overstates the likely rate) one in five reported avoiding or denying it. It's hard not to believe that the memory of the Scopes trial played a role."

Branch advised against interpreting the Scopes trial as the creationism/evolution controversy in a nutshell. "It was artificial, overblown, and not decisive a lot of its features are peculiar to its historical context (constitutional law, for example, has developed significantly since the 1920s)," he said. Nevertheless, it is the form through which many understand controversy. As recently as 2012, a Tennessee legislator dubbed a new anti-evolution legislation "the monkey bill."

The memory of the Scopes trial lingers in the American consciousness because of its larger-than-life players, its rhetorical spectacle and, perhaps most of all, because it raised questions that continue to divide the country.

Watch the video: Physics greatest mystery: Michio Kaku explains the God Equation. Big Think (July 2022).


  1. Kailene

    In the first year, she studies hard for the first few years, then it will be easier! All cavities are submissive to love! A magic wand from a Russian fairy tale: you wave three times - and any desire disappears ... The prostitute takes money not because she sleeps with you, but because in spite of this she does not bother your nerves. You can't put it there without effort! Spectacled snake is a worm.

  2. Dwyer

    I congratulate, the idea magnificent and timely

  3. Lemuel

    Bravo, what the correct words ... another idea

  4. Cedro

    People, it was already somewhere. But where?

  5. Goran

    I confirm. And I have faced it. Let's discuss this question. Here or in PM.

  6. Meara

    In this something is excellent idea, we maintain.

Write a message