Discussion on the effects of the Scopes Monkey Trial on society
The Scopes Monkey Trial:
It's Effect on Contemporary Society and Education
In 1517 Martin Luther delivered his 95 thesis denoting the issues he had with the Catholic Church thus beginning the Protestant Reformation. Christians protested what they believed to be corruptions in the Catholic Church and set about to correct those issues. Most historians and educators agree that the reformation ended by the early 17th century with the Peace of Westphalia which, among other conflicts, ended the Thirty Years War. However, other historians believe that the reformation has yet to end, that other denominations have continued to splinter from the Catholic Church. There is however an alternate point of view, a point of view in which society is splitting away from Christianity completely. Secularism is gradually forcing Christianity from society.
In his book, The Reformation 500 Years Later, Benjamin Wiker posits a theory that secularists and anti-Christian groups have taken the statement "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" to heart. Throughout the country you see instances in which Christians are barred from public events and even taken to court over choices they have made based on their faith, being labeled as bigots, racists, ignorant and intolerant. At the same time you have instances of true hatred, Islamic terrorism. However, after these attacks, secularists call for love and tolerance, and claim the attacks had nothing to do with Islam.1 The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
On a more local scale we can see this attitude in our schools, our centers of learning, and that attitude is further propagated in our society. To further drive support Wiker's claim, recently A Seattle school district has sent out a letters to teachers asking them to bless Muslim students in Arabic for Ramadan giving them preferential treatment, such as obtaining preference for classes and exams2 while at the same time Christianity is banned from the classroom in many districts except as a possible sidebar to let the student know it exists. Mentioning Christianity in any form other than as a historical note can bring possible severe consequences for the teacher. In 1925 we were provided with a harbinger of our current situation in the form of a court case, Tennessee v Scopes, or the Scope Monkey Trial. This trial effectively placed religion and faith on trial rather than the defendant, and provided a handhold for secularism to replace religion in schools and society. This replacement of religion for secularism has caused a paradigm shift in western society. What was once "do what is right" has become "do what feels good."
The year was 1925 and the State of Tennessee had just passed the Butler Act. The Butler Act effectively made it illegal, in the State of Tennessee, to teach the theory of evolution in any school funded wholly or partially with state funds. These schools included both universities as well as local public schools. While several states had already debated various anti-evolution laws, only three at the time, Tennessee being one of them, had actually passed anti-evolutionary laws. Even the federal government was contemplating its own version of anti-evolution laws prohibiting the discussion of evolution theory on the radio3. Immediately upon the passing of the Butler Act the American Civil Liberties Union offered, via newspaper, to pay for the defense of any Tennessee teacher that would be willing to test the new law. Ironically the entire ordeal took place despite the fact that no one, as of yet, had attempted to enforce the law. Additionally, while signing the bill, Governor Peay stated that he doubted that it would ever be enforced. The ACLU forced the issue.
Local businessmen of Dayton, Tennessee decided that Dayton should be the location for this particular showdown. Of course their reasoning was less than altruistic when they convinced John Scopes to admit to teaching evolution. They were in search of notoriety and possible business investors, not educational or religious beliefs. After Scopes was arrested the ACLU secured the assistance of Clarence Darrow, a well-known defense attorney and agnostic. The State of Tennessee requested the assistance of William Jennings Bryan, a faithful Presbyterian, former presidential candidate and Secretary of State, for the prosecutorial team.
The case itself should have been a straight forward one. The Butler Act made the teaching of the theory of evolution illegal; John Scopes admitted to teaching evolution even though he had not and was simply substituting on that particular instance.4 Scopes taught evolution, it was illegal and he admitted it, case closed. However, while the defense team admitted to these facts they were working from the point of view that the Butler Act was unconstitutional based on the first amendment and the establishment clause. It was the defenses argument that by not allowing the teaching of evolution the state was infringing on Scope's freedom of speech and violating the establishment clause by favoring Christianity. Despite what many historians believe, what should have been a simple, uneventful trial, turned into a battle over religion, not evolution, on a national scale. To this day science educators and laymen alike flock to Dayton every July, a secular pilgrimage, to celebrate the triumph of evolution over religion.5
John T. Scopes was a 24 year old teacher and football coach at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee.6 On occasion he would fill in for the schools biology teacher and in this particular instance followed lesson plans that utilized Hunters Civic Biology which contained Social Darwinism passed off as evolution. While Social Darwinism barrows Darwin's name and attempts to connect itself to the original theory a racial component was applied to the former theory in an attempt to make white Europeans look better socially in order to keep various minorities in line.
In all reality Scopes never even taught the section on evolution, he confessed to it for the sake of the case.7 Additionally, not only did he not teach the section, Scopes told the students to lie about it and say that he did teach it, thus coaching them to lie.8 These facts compound the educational and religious issues that have risen out of this trial. A law that the state never expected to enforce, based on the governor's own statement, was tested by a secular organization, backed by a self-proclaimed agnostic lawyer that wanted to place religion on trial, using a defendant that, by his own admission, never violated the law in question. Money and pride via both local citizens and the legal system were ultimately at the foundation of this contest.
In 1965, five years before his death, John Scopes provided a reflection on his part in the events of the trial he was so famous for. Within this reflection he stated the following:
The trial marked a beginning of the development of a national consciousness of the roles played by religion, science, and education. I think the importance of communicating the thinking of the professionals in these fields to the general public was first generally appreciated during and immediately after the trial.
I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. Each year--as the result of someone's efforts to better interpret what the defense was trying to do--more and more people are reached. This, in conjunction with the labor of scientists, educators, ministers and with the dissemination of the results of their efforts through books and news media, has retarded the spread of fundamentalism.
But most importantly, I feel that restrictive legislation on academic freedom is forever a thing of the past, that religion and science may now address one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and of a common quest for truth. I like to think that the Dayton trial had some part in bringing to birth this new era.9
Little did he know that rather than working together, science and secularism began to push religion out like an undesirable houseguest.
The Defense Team
As discussed earlier, the ACLU made what amounts to a preemptive strike by offering to pay for the legal fees of any Tennessee teacher willing to fight the new anti-evolution law. After a warrant was sworn out for Scopes, the ACLU, as well as the press, was notified. In addition to the financial support provided by the ACLU, the defense team was joined by Clarence Darrow. While not especially happy about Darrow's offer, due to his reputation, the ACLU finally accepted his offer to defend Scopes. While not an official member of the defense team, but just as important to their case, H.L. Mencken used his national reputation as a journalist to report on the trial in an effort to sway public opinion to the side of the defense.10
Darrow had a reputation for defending unpopular causes and people, including Leopold and Loeb as well as a group of approximately 20 communists that had been charged with sedition. In addition to being an extremely competent lawyer Darrow had also written several books.11 All in all Darrow was well read and an eloquent speaker, making him a more than appropriate counter to William Jennings Bryan. What would prove to be highly combustible in the courtroom was the fact that Darrow was agnostic. Supporting Darrow in the court of public opinion was H.L. Mencken.
Mencken was a well-known journalist for the American Mercury. He was well known to be an opponent of organized religion and the middle class often using satire in his description of them. He was often disrespectful of small town life as well as religion as could be seen in his writing:
I have been attending the permanent town meeting that goes on in Robinson's drug store, trying to find out what the town optimists have saved from the wreck. All I can find is a sort of mystical confidence that God will somehow come to the rescue to reward His old and faithful partisans as they deserve--that good will flow eventually out of what now seems to be heavily evil. More specifically, it is believed that settlers will be attracted to the town as to some refuge from the atheism of the great urban Sodom's and Gomorrah.12
This particular attitude from Mencken continued throughout and after the trial while at the same time making Darrow look like a Greek hero, describing Darrow as a "Brilliant Agnostic."13
On the opposite side of the courtroom facing Scopes and his defense team were the group of men representing the State of Tennessee. Despite the fact that the members of the prosecution were experienced, educated men, including, A.J. Stewart (Attorney General for the 18th Judicial Circuit Court) and Ben O. McKenzie (former Assistant Attorney General from Dayton)14, the name that everyone was looking for was that of William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was considered a highly skilled and eloquent orator and considered a spokesman for Christian Fundamentalism.15
William Jennings Bryan was more than a skilled speaker, more than simply a Christian Fundamentalist. Bryan was nominated and ran for President of the United States three times, 1896, 1900, and 1908, unfortunately losing all three times. Subsequently, he was appointed Secretary of State in 1912 after the election of Woodrow Wilson. Following his term as Secretary of State, he took various social causes including, women's suffrage and prohibition. It was not until 1920, after World War I, when Bryan began to seriously crusade against the Theory of Evolution. From this time until the Scopes trial, and ultimately his death, he lobbied endlessly to get state anti-evolution laws passed, prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. Upon arriving by train in Dayton, Bryan gave a speech in which he made a highly prophetic statement. "The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death. If Evolution wins, Christianity goes."16
Evolution and the Trial
There is, within the story about the Scopes trial, a great misunderstanding. A misunderstanding other than the Scopes trial being about evolution. It is a misunderstanding about Fundamentalists and evolution itself. Darwin had published his theory of evolution in 1859, 66 years before the scopes trial ever took place. According to Lee, in Inherit the Myth, Fundamentalists never voiced any opinion or argument against Darwin's theory.17 The greatest issue concerning evolution didn't come up until after World War I, again Fundamentalists, until this point, held a neutral stance concerning the theory.
Fundamentalist objections came after observing the carnage that science offered during the war in the form of tanks, machine guns, flame throwers and poison gas. How could the same science that offered this insanity be correct when it came to evolution? Fundamentalists witnessed the exploitation of the working class at the hands of industrial giants. They viewed the faulty theory of Social Darwinism as wholly anti-American and completely lacking in Christian morals.18 While the theory of Social Darwinism, today, is disregarded as racist nonsense, it was a very widely held belief in the early 20th century. Social Darwinism was such a widely held belief at this time that it was included in the textbook at the center of the Scopes trial, Hunter's Civic Biology.19 According to the textbook:
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.20
The science that was being argued over during the trial is, today, discredited as racist and preposterous.
From the outset of the trial the arguments, on the part of the defense, was not about the law that was broken, after all, Scopes had admitted to teaching evolution, but making religion look overbearing and ignorant. During jury selection Darrow's main focus was on weeding out people who might be too religious. Of course he took a condescending attitude towards these jurors was well. Further evidence that the trial was all about religion came on day 3 of the trial. On this day Darrow decided to object to an opening prayer, that would have been given prior to the jury coming out, on the grounds that it would be prejudicial, thus prompting a confrontation with both the prosecutor and the judge.21
While the legal outcome of the trial was expected, Scopes was found guilty (Darrow requested that the jury find him guilty so he could argue the constitutionality in the appeals court), the societal impact of the trial was not. During day 7 of the trial, Bryan agreed to be questioned, as an expert on the Bible, by Darrow. Darrow began by asking Bryan questions about stories within the bible and if they were to be taken literally or if they were up to interpretation. He discussed Jonah and the Whale and asked if the whale could be big enough to swallow Jonah and if so did God make the fish that big specifically to swallow Jonah. Bryan explained that the Fish must have been that big but had no idea what was in the mind of God concerning why God made the fish that day. This, however, is where Darrow starts to back Bryan into a corner. Darrow began to question him about Genesis, specifically about the length of the days that occur in Genesis, did they refer to a 24 hour period. Bryan responded that some people do believe they refer to 24 hours while some believe they represent longer periods of time as he himself believed.22 Through this line of questioning Darrow was able to make a case that the bible was not necessarily fact, but was open to interpretation. If the Bible was open to interpretation then it cannot be held to be the ultimate truth of all matters. This is what was remembered about the trial. Not that the case was about a teacher that confessing to a crime that he never committed or that the textbook that was used relied on the faulty theory of Social Darwinism.
Lasting Effects on Society
After the Scopes trial was completed it refused to die away. Scopes continued to be used in subsequent cases as an argument against religious establishment.23 In 1962, Engel v Vitale, the Supreme Court ruled that organized prayer in school violated the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.24 While public opinion went against the court ruling it wouldn't last. These court cases effectively opened the door, allowing secularism into our schools, over God. As stated by Billy Graham, freedom of religion became freedom from religion.
After the Supreme Court rulings of the 1960's Justice Goldberg warned about taking government neutrality of religion to the extreme. The court actually recommended religious studies in educational settings in an objective manner. This advice was followed by many school systems during the 70's and 80's, but as a comparison between religions, not as a moral foundation. While the academic benefits of this new curriculum was a somewhat positive move, there was one glaring issue that could not be ignored. In 1973, after a turbulent decade of free love and questioning of religious values, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion with Roe v Wade.
While the 70's and 80's saw a renewed interest in purely academic version of religion, actual religious values declined, less people attended church services or church in general.25 At the turn of the 21st century that decline sharpened even more. This sharp decline can be attributed to a focus on student rights of religious expression or more to the point lack of religious expression. If a teacher discusses religion in a school setting it must be purely academic. World religions must be discussed on an equal basis and mentioning a connection to any of those religions and current events can lead to serious consequences.26
1973 was a blow to society in the form of abortion. Changing religious values of the 60's and 70's made doing whatever felt good, acceptable. Sexuality became something you flaunt or gave away freely, moral norms were a thing of the past. Science was in charge now, not religion, and science didn't judge you, doesn't tell you what to do. With the ability to dispose of an unborn life there was no need to be responsible, you could do whatever felt good. What was right took a back seat.
We are still dealing with this lack of responsibility in the 21st century, 94 years after Scopes. In 2016 over 200,000 babies were born between the ages of 15 and 19 and one in six of these girls had more than one baby.27 While the teen birth rate has dropped from 1991 to 2005 by 33% (only live births were counted, not pregnancies), a study done in 200928 has shown that the birth rate was actually higher in states that tended to be more religious. The current thought behind these numbers is that the teen from the more religious states are raise to not believe in contraception and that the abortion rate in the less religious states is higher, accounting for less births. While teen pregnancy is an issue the teens from more religious regions appear to place more value on the lives of the unborn than those from regions that are not as religious. According to the United States Conference of Bishops, there were 1.21 million abortions performed in the United States in 2005 and a total of 45 million between 1973 and 2005.
Finally, the loss of religion in schools is not all about sex or abortion. It is about the societal norms and morals that have become accepted in western society. In 1925 science began to push religion out of the way and secularism became the god of modernity. Following Christian beliefs became backwards and ignorant, unscientific. Secularism has come full circle, but somewhere along the line it has jumped the track. It is still a belief of whatever feels good, but the science that was once there is no longer. Today it is accepted that men can believe they are women, that women can believe they are men and if you attempt to speak the truth about the matter you ignorant and intolerant. Religion in and of itself is viewed as intolerant while pedophilia, in some psychiatric circles is looked at as acceptable. The moment the Scopes trial was decided so it appears was the fate of religion.
Bois, Paul, "Seattle School District Wants Teachers To Bless Muslims During Ramadan", Daily Wire, May 7, 2019, https://www.dailywire.com/news/46894/seattle-school-district-wants-teachers-bles...
Brown, Mathew, "Supreme Court ruling 50 years ago set modern course for religion in public schools," Church News, Deseret News, June 13, 2013, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865581712/Supreme-Court-ruling-50-years-ago-...
Bryner, Jeanna, "Teen Birth Rates Higher in Highly Religious States," Culture, Live Science, September 16, 2009, https://www.livescience.com/5728-teen-birth-rates-higher-highly-religious-states...
Cameron, Jacquelyn and Randy Moore, "Exploring the Scopes "Monkey" Trial in Dayton, Tennessee: A Guide to People & Places," The American Biology Teacher 77, No. 5 (May 2015), pp. 333-337
Cole, Lauren, "Religion in schools," Issues, Education Week, September 21, 2004, https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/religion-in-schools/
Cornelius, R.M., "World's Most Famous Court Trial," Scopes Festival, http://www.scopesfestival.com/about-the-scopes-trial
Encyclopia Britannica, "Clarence Darrow," Accessed May 07, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Clarence-Darrow
Holscher, Kathleen, "'A decision that spits in the face of our history': Catholics and the midcentury fight over public prayer and bible reading." The Catholic Historical Review 102, no. 2 (2016): 341, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/apps/doc/A454729992/AONE?u=vic_lib...
Hunter, George William, A Civic Biology, (New York, NY: American Book Company, 1914), 196.
Lee, Kevin, "Inherit the Myth: How William Jennings Bryan's Struggle with Darwinism and Legal Formalism Demythologize the Scopes Monkey Trial," Capital University Law Review 33, no. 2(Winter 2004): 380
Linder, Doug "William Jennings Bryan," Famous Trials, UMKC School of Law, https://www.famous-trials.com/legacyftrials/conlaw/bryanwilliam.html
Menton, David, "The Scopes "Monkey Trial"--80 Years Later," Answers in Genesis, July 25, 2005, https://answersingenesis.org/scopes-trial/the-scopes-monkey-trial-80-years-later...
UMKC School of Law, "Day 7," Famous Trials, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2124-day7
UMKC School of Law, "Day 3: Debate Over Prayer," Famous Trials, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2120-debate
UMKC School of Law, "H.L. Mencken's Reports from the Scopes Trial," Famous Trials, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2132-menckenaccount
UMKC School of Law, "Reflections--Forty Years After (by John Scopes)," Famous Trials, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2139-reflections
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing," Office of Adolescent Health, May 1, 2019, https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/reproductive-health-and-teen-...
Wiker, Benjamin, The reformation 500 years later (Washington, D.C.:Regnery History, 2011), 187-188
Wood, L. Maren, "The Monkey Trial Myth: Popular Culture Representations of the Scopes Trial," Canadian Review of American Studies 32, (2002): 149
1 Benjamin Wiker, The reformation 500 years later (Washington, D.C.:Regnery History, 2011), 187-188
2 Paul Bois, "Seattle School District Wants Teachers To Bless Muslims During Ramadan", Daily Wire, May 7, 2019, https://www.dailywire.com/news/46894/seattle-school-district-wants-teachers-bles...
3 Kevin Lee, "Inherit the Myth: How William Jennings Bryan's Struggle with Darwinism and Legal Formalism Demythologize the Scopes Monkey Trial," Capital University Law Review 33, no. 2(Winter 2004): 370-371
4 David Menton, "The Scopes "Monkey Trial"--80 Years Later," Answers in Genesis, July 25, 2005, https://answersingenesis.org/scopes-trial/the-scopes-monkey-trial-80-years-later...
5 Jacquelyn Cameron and Randy Moore, "Exploring the Scopes "Monkey" Trial in Dayton, Tennessee: A Guide to People & Places," The American Biology Teacher 77, No. 5 (May 2015), pp. 333-337
6 Kevin Lee, "Inherit the Myth: How William Jennings Bryan's Struggle with Darwinism and Legal Formalism Demythologize the Scopes Monkey Trial," Capital University Law Review 33, no. 2(Winter 2004): 372
7 David Menton, "The Scopes "Monkey Trial"--80 Years Later," Answers in Genesis, July 25, 2005, https://answersingenesis.org/scopes-trial/the-scopes-monkey-trial-80-years-later...
8 "These Boys Told on Scopes," Bismarck Tribune, July 9, 1925
9 "Reflections--Forty Years After (by John Scopes)," Famous Trials, University of Missouri Kansas City, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2139-reflections
10 R.M. Cornelius, "World's Most Famous Court Trial," Scopes Festival, http://www.scopesfestival.com/about-the-scopes-trial
11 "Clarence Darrow," Encyclopia Britannica, Accessed May 07, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Clarence-Darrow
12 "H.L. Mencken's Reports from the Scopes Trial," Famous Trials, UMKC School of Law, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2132-menckenaccount
13 L. Maren Wood, "The Monkey Trial Myth: Popular Culture Representations of the Scopes Trial," Canadian Review of American Studies 32, (2002): 154
14 R.M. Cornelius, "World's Most Famous Court Trial," Scopes Festival, http://www.scopesfestival.com/about-the-scopes-trial
16 Doug Linder, "William Jennings Bryan," Famous Trials, UMKC School of Law, https://www.famous-trials.com/legacyftrials/conlaw/bryanwilliam.html
17 Kevin Lee, "Inherit the Myth: How William Jennings Bryan's Struggle with Darwinism and Legal Formalism Demythologize the Scopes Monkey Trial," Capital University Law Review 33, no. 2(Winter 2004): 348
18 Ibid: 349
19 L. Maren Wood, "The Monkey Trial Myth: Popular Culture Representations of the Scopes Trial," Canadian Review of American Studies 32, (2002): 149
20 George William Hunter, A Civic Biology, (New York, NY: American Book Company, 1914), 196.
21 "Day 3: Debate Over Prayer," Famous Trials, UMKC School of Law, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2120-debate
22 "Day 7," Famous Trials, UMKC School of Law, https://www.famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey/2124-day7
23 Kevin Lee, "Inherit the Myth: How William Jennings Bryan's Struggle with Darwinism and Legal Formalism Demythologize the Scopes Monkey Trial," Capital University Law Review 33, no. 2(Winter 2004): 380
24 Kathleen Holscher. "'A decision that spits in the face of our history': Catholics and the midcentury fight over public prayer and bible reading." The Catholic Historical Review 102, no. 2 (2016): 341, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/apps/doc/A454729992/AONE?u=vic_lib...
25 Mathew Brown, "Supreme Court ruling 50 years ago set modern course for religion in public schools," Church News, Deseret News, June 13, 2013, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865581712/Supreme-Court-ruling-50-years-ago-...
26 Lauren Cole, "Religion in schools," Issues, Education Week, September 21, 2004, https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/religion-in-schools/
27 "Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing," Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, May 1, 2019, https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/reproductive-health-and-teen-...
28 Jeanna Bryner, "Teen Birth Rates Higher in Highly Religious States," Culture, Live Science, September 16, 2009, https://www.livescience.com/5728-teen-birth-rates-higher-highly-religious-states...