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Monkey Business

The Scopes Trial which took place in July of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, is known to many as the Scopes Monkey Trial. The ACLU engineered this trial in order to test anti-evolutionary legislation that had been passed in Tennessee earlier that year. Modern public perception of this trial has been established mostly by the 1955 play (and 1960 movie) called "Inherit the Wind." However, according to an article in the secular American Heritage magazine, the public perception is wrong. Here are some factual corrections to that perception.

  1. The trial was basically a publicity stunt. The ACLU advertised for a defendent for the case. The volunteer, John Scopes, had only taught biology as a substitute and was not sure he had even mentioned the word evolution.
  2. The law against the teaching of evolution was not unconstitutional and was never proven to be so. The Supreme Court of the 1920's would almost certainly have upheld the law if it had ever reached the Court.
  3. William Jennings Bryan, who served as the prosecutor, was not an idiot and gave a quite good defense of creationism considering the understanding of the time. "There is no evidence that Bryan felt embarrassed or humiliated."
  4. The courtroom audience did not turn on Bryan. "He repeatedly elicited cheers or appreciative laughter from the audience, and their support was at least as strong at the end as it had been at the beginning."
  5. Bryan did not leave the debate a broken man; nor did he embarrass his side. His death of a heart attack five days after the trial cannot be attributed to the trial (he was 65 years old, overweight, and in poor health).
  6. At the end of the trial, Bryan was seen as the winner by many more people than those who saw his opponent, Clarence Darrow, as the winner. Today's twisted perception began with a slanted book by Frederick Lewis called "Only Yesterday" and published in 1931. It was then fixed in the mind of the people by "Inherit the Wind." The propaganda on this trial is just that--propaganda.