Scopes Trial

THE SCOPES INDICTMENT-Reah County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee,
THE SCOPES INDICTMENT-Reah County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee, the courtroom where the Scopes evolution case is being tried. (1925) - CPL Archives/Everett Collection
The Scopes Indictment, Reah County Courthouse (1925)

Debunking the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ Stereotype

Whenever a challenge to the truth of Darwinian evolution arises, the scientific establishment and its allies trot out the Scopes Monkey Trial. It is their position that if the scientific establishment has ratified a science textbook, such as the book from which Scopes taught evolution, the state should not engage in “censoring” the material in that book.

The Scopes Monkey Trial plays such a prominent role in the debate that I purchased a copy of the transcript; a copy of the textbook from which Scopes taught, A Civic Biology; and a copy of the companion lab guide to that textbook. Review of these source materials-very different from the biased picture presented in Inherit the Wind-was a real eye-opener.

In the Scopes trial, there was never any judgment or verdict that Darwinian evolution is true. The prosecution argued and the judge agreed that the Tennessee statute in question barred the teaching of the Darwinian theory even if it were true, so its truth was not an issue in the case. Nor, notably, was the truth of the theory of Darwinian evolution and the supposed evidence for it ever subjected to cross-examination. Scopes’ lawyers presented extensive written statements from seven scientists stating that Darwinian evolution is the correct explanation for the diversity of life on earth. The prosecution sought permission to cross-examine the five pro-Darwinian science experts whose statements had been read in open court, but Clarence Darrow and the other Scopes lawyers objected and the court refused to allow it.

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Several prosecutors standing, arms folded at Scopes Trial
From the "Of Monkeys and Men: Public and Private Views from the Scopes Trial" Collection

When the Lines Were Drawn

To nobody's surprise, Scopes was found guilty — he had clearly broken the law — but the verdict did little to resolve the difficulties over teaching evolution in public schools. This year alone, 13 states have introduced legislation that would require schoolteachers to take a more critical approach toward evolutionary theory. Read More ›

The Evolution Debate:

Deep cultural conflicts often give rise to myths. Some article of propaganda resonates so strongly with a part of the community that eventually - sometimes quickly - a deeply biased or simply false story is accepted as the truth about a set of historical events. Read More ›
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Tumbleweed On Road In Desert
Licensed from Adobe Stock

Facts to the Wind

Sunday, February 17 at 9:00 PBS viewers will be treated to an historical account of the famous Scopes Trial called Monkey Trial. According to the advance billing, “Monkey Trial explores the dramatic moment when a new fault line opened in society as scientific discoveries began to challenge the literal truth of the Bible. Often humorous and at times frightening, the Read More ›

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Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Ohio

Scopes Trial Symbolism Holds Today

If a deeply entrenched academic truth is challenged by new scientific insights and discoveries, should authorities allow classroom discussion of such challenges? That was the question many people believe was placed on the national stage by the famous Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. This week is the 75th anniversary of the famous trial over the freedom of a Read More ›

Scopes in Reverse

As Kansas wound down its week long observance of the 75th anniversary of the Scopes Trial, a striking irony largely escaped notice: Whereas in 1925 the teaching of evolution was banned from the classroom, in 2000 the teaching of anything but evolution is effectively banned from the classroom. Academic freedom is just as restricted as ever–only this time it’s the Read More ›