Scopes revealed new evidence 42 years after famous trial

I have read a lot lately about the Scopes trial.  What was it and what was its significance?

July of this year marked the 75th anniversary of what has been called the world’s most famous court trial – the Scopes trial. The trial, also disparagingly called the “monkey trial,” was elaborately reenacted in Kansas and Tennessee this July and has received much publicity lately. 

When we recognize the significance of this trial it can help us to understand the moral condition in this country today.  It is also important to know what really happened because of the popularity of the movie/play “Inherit the Wind” which I wrote about on June 3 and June 10.  The movie, as I showed, lampooned Christianity and stretched the truth in order to spread propaganda about evolution.

In May 1925 druggist Fred E. Robinson, the president of the school board in Dayton, Tennessee held a meeting around the soda fountain of his drugstore to discuss a law passed in March of that year called the “Butler Act.”  It was the first law that made it illegal to teach evolution in public schools.  The newly formed American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) advertised in the Chattanooga News that they would pay for the defense for anyone to challenge this law.  Local businessman George Rappelyea saw an opportunity to make money for the town by making it the site for a test case for the new law.  They sent for John Thomas Scopes, a young high school teacher who had been a substitute teacher in biology.  Scopes writes in his memoirs: “Robinson said, ‘Would you be willing to let your name be used?’  I realized that the best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle.  The snake already had been wiggling a good long time.  I said, ‘If you can prove that I’ve taught evolution…then I will stand trial…To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I had taught evolution.”  Robinson, apparently unconcerned about this technicality, called the Chattanooga News and said, “We’ve just arrested a man for teaching evolution.”  Then, according to Scopes, he “went back to the high school to finish playing tennis with the kids.  I assume everyone else in the drugstore went about his normal business too.”  Thus, Scopes was not a victim but an active participant in this case.  Incidentally, Scopes did not admit until forty-two years after the trial that he wasn’t sure if he had ever taught evolution.  His image as a crusader for the truth is just another lie.

The trial brought two of the most famous orators of the time together: former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to prosecute and the chief ACLU lawyer for the defense, Clarence Darrow.  Dr. G. Thomas Sharp in his book, Science According to Moses, writes, “To fully appreciate the depth to which evolutionism had by this time already chiseled into America’s cultural imagination, an understanding of these two men and their personal philosophies will be of abundant benefit.  For they, in a very real way, are representative of a growing cavern of ideological and social disparity in America that evolutionism had actuated in the first half of this century.”

The precedent that Darrow set in his successful use of evolutionary apologetics in murder cases can help us to understand the mindset we have today that perpetrators of violence are really the victims.  In defending the confessed murderer of a fourteen year-old, Darrow reasoned, “I do not know what remote ancestors may have sent down the seed that corrupted him…If there is responsibility anywhere, it is back of him; somewhere in the infinite number of his ancestors…And I submit…he should not be made responsible for the acts of someone else…”

Darrow was also successful in promoting hatred and prejudice against Bible-believing Christians.  He said he wanted to, “prevent bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education system of the United States.”  Darrow, who agreed to take the case for free, was not interested in the Scopes Case as much as he was interested in facing the champion of “fundamentalism,” William Jennings Bryan.  He recorded in his autobiography that he believed Bryan must be discredited.  To that end, with the help of the biased media of the day and some devious courtroom theatrics, he was successful.  He agreed to be put on the stand if Bryan would.  Bryan went first and was caught off guard by a battery of well-prepared questions attacking Bryan’s faith.  Before Darrow went on the stand, he ended the trial by pleading his client guilty.  His dubious courtroom maneuvers did not end there.  He waived closing arguments thus depriving the defense of its opportunity to defend itself in the court proceeding. 

Bryan won the trial and Scopes was convicted.  But Darrow, with the media’s help, won the favor of public opinion. 

I will continue to answer your question about the significance of this trial next week.

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen