The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925: Fundamentalism vs. Modernism

 

 

I.               Background

 

a.     Though evolution had been taught in Tennessee's public schools since the 1900s, fundamentalists brought challenges to it in the 1920s, including a proposed Constitutional amendment banning it from public schools

                                               i.     Five Fundamentals promoted by some Protestants (virgin birth of Jesus, bodily resurrection, truth of miracles of the Bible, substitutionary atonement of the cross, inerrancy of the Bible) in opposition to what they saw as modernism or a watering down of faith

                                             ii.     W. J. Bryan and others were opposed to evolution, not just for its conflict with Genesis, but because of the harmful effects of social Darwinism

b.     The Butler Act, passed in 1925, made it illegal to teach in the public universities or schools in Tennessee "any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animal"

 

II.              Challenging the Butler Act

 

a.     John T. Scopes, a 24-yr. old football coach and part-time substitute teacher was persuaded by a group of Dayton town boosters meeting in the drug store to challenge the law, thus bringing publicity to Dayton

b.     Scopes was charged, arrested, and found guilty of violating the Butler Act and ordered to pay a fine of $100.

 

III.            The Trial (July 1925)

 

a.     Clarence Darrow and the ACLU defended Scopes in an attempt to expose what they saw as narrow-mindedness and religious bigotry

b.     W. J. Bryan aided the prosecution, seeing the Scopes Trial as a means to advocate for fundamentalism and counter the rise of evolutionary thinking

c.     Since none of Darrow's scientific witnesses were allowed to testify, he called Bryan to the stand to testify as an expert on the Bible and exposed Bryan's narrow interpretation through an effective cross-examination

 

IV.            Media Attention

 

a.     First trial broadcast on the radio. Station WGN in Chicago placed a microphone and announcer in the courtroom

b.     Court testimony published daily in newspapers across the country. Front page news each day in The New York Times

c.     Baltimore Sun reporter H.L. Mencken wrote blistering attacks on the prosecution's case

 

V.             Modern Repercussions

 

a.     The Butler Act was finally repealed in Tennessee in1967.

b.     Several laws and school board actions prohibiting the teaching of evolution as fact have been overturned by courts

                                               i.     Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)—states can't prohibit the teaching of evolution in public schools

                                             ii.      Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)—teaching creation science violates the 1st amendment

                                            iii.     Kansas State Board of Education (1999)—evolution challenged repeatedly in state's curriculum

                                            iv.     Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005)—intelligent design is religion and not science