The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 The tumultuous twenties were a time in which there was much commotion and chaos. The country was emerging out of World War 1, where many Americans in the South and Midwest turned to their faith for comfort (Background, November 26, 2001). In the rest of the country, technology flourished and America was becoming an industrialized nation. Many new inventions were being built and the nation was becoming more and more urbanized. Because of the changes the nation was bargaining with, there was a steady struggle between liberal and modern viewpoints. While children and adolescents were busy with the fads of a new youth culture, some conservative parents blamed the wave of new ideas sweeping the nation for the schism between the generations.
The controversies that took place in the twenties most often dealt with the challenges that new ideas presented to the more traditional values of the Victorian period. During the twenties, two groups became extreme opponents. These two groups were the Modernists and the Fundamentalists. The Modernists were those who held modern views, especially when referring to science. The Fundamentalists were those who strictly held onto Christian ideologies that were based on literal interpretations of the Bible and disputed many of the teachings of science (Hanson 54). Evolution was one of the main debates that erupted between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists (Linder, November 27, 2001).
An event that emphasizes the clash of values between these two groups was the Scopes Monkey Trial. During this trial, the issue of teaching evolution in schools was debated over and it proved to be one of the greatest trials of the century. The Scopes Monkey Trial was a pivotal point in American history because it changed the viewpoints on evolution for the American people, brought about a new surge of scientific thought, and began the long-lasting feud between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists. The Scopes Monkey Trial came at a crossroads in history where people were choosing whether to cling onto the past or jump into the future. The trial stirred up much confusion for the American people because the society as a whole was turning away from religion and leaning more towards scientific thought.
The trial surfaced out of the Butler Act, which was implemented in the state of Tennessee (the state in which the trial took place). The Butler Act, which was written by John Washington Butler, settled that the teaching of evolution was prohibited in schools. It stated that it was, "An act prohibiting the teaching of the evolution theory." It went on to say, " be it enacted by the general assembly of the sate of Tennessee, that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals, and all other public schools of the state... to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals (McGowen 24)." Many people did not believe the Butler Act would be enforced. Austin Peay, the governor of the Tennessee state legislature who had signed the act stated, "Nobody believes that it is going to be an active statute" (Background, November 26, 2001). When the Butler Act became a law of Tennessee, no one had really paid much attention to whether or not it might contradict the state or national constitution.
A small article was written about the Butler Act which caught the eye of the ACLU; the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU was created by several men who strongly believed that there should be an independent organization to provide free lawyers and legal help to defend the rights and freedom of any person or group in the United States that might be to poor, too ignorant or too hated to get a lawyer of legal help anywhere else (McGowen 33-34). Their objectives were to educate the public on evolution, to show that science and religion are not incompatible, and to demonstrate the necessity of having education unhampered by restrictive legislation (Epstein, November 29, 2001). With this in mind, the ACLU searched for someone to accept the case. George Rappleyea, a modernist, held a meeting at the Dayton Town Drugstore where he and two other men (both fundamentalists and lawyers), argued their beliefs on evolution.
During their meeting, the story about ACLU's offer to test the law came up. The three men decided to take up the offer that the ACLU was presenting and argue their beliefs in a courthouse trial. The only thing left to do was find someone to challenge the law. During the meeting, one of the men mentioned a man by the name of John T.
Scopes. Scopes was informed of ACLU's offer and volunteered to fight against the law. He reported that he was substituting a biology class when he read a sentence from George William hunter's A Civic Biology Textbook: "We have now learned that animal forms may be arranged so as to begin with simple one-celled forms and culminate with a group which includes man himself" (San 120). Since this book was pro-evolutionary, it was considered illegal to use in the classroom. Because of this, Scopes was arrested and taken into court for a trial. The actual court trial lasted for only twelve days, but made a lasting impression on America.
The two main attorneys were William Jennings Bryan for the prosecuting side and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Darrow was dubbed as being an avowed agnostic whereas Bryan was deeply religious (Grebstein 9). These two men represented the schism of feelings in the country during the roaring twenties. Darrow always said, "Religion is all too often narrow-minded and intent on keeping people ignorant and obedient" (McGowen 48).
For Darrow, the Scopes Monkey Trial was a chance to make people aware of what he thought was the Fundamentalist threat to both religious freedom and freedom of American schools to teach scientifically established fact rather than mere rigid belief in the Bible. The judge, John Raulston, was a Methodist minister who insisted on starting each day of the trial with a prayer. Furthermore, the jury was drawn from an all-white, all-male population who were poorly educated farmers. All but one of these jurors were also church members and attended church regularly. On the one side, you had the Fundamentalists who were trying to maintain the basic ignorance of the society, while the "radical" Modernists were attempting to open the eyes and minds of the American people. The Modernists achieved their goals of opening the eyes and minds of the American people.
The trial created a great deal of commotion and frenzy across the nation. This could be seen especially in Dayton, Tennessee where the trial was taking place. Colorful banners and flags were hung along Main Street, right outside of the courthouse. A number of wooden refreshment stands selling sandwiches, hot dogs, ice cream, and soft drinks were erected along the adjacent streets. Since most people were under the impression that evolution taught that humans had descended from monkeys, rather than apes, many began calling the event "The Monkey Trial." Many local merchants began selling stuffed toy monkeys and started putting cardboard monkeys in the windows of their shops. The trial was highly publicized by the media.
A number of motion picture cameramen from Hollywood were sent by the film studios to make what were known as "newsreels" (all-news films) of the trial. Judge Raulston was confronted with packs of reporters, radio microphones set up to broadcast the trial live, telegraph lines, and film cameras. There were even British, French, and German reporters present to cover the trial (McGowen 53-54). The reason for the great interest in Dayton, Tennessee was due to what the trial represented. The emotions in the matter of religion were so deep-rooted that it seemed blasphemous to contradict them in a court, especially a court in the south.
Farm families began coming in from the surrounding countryside for miles around. Religion, for these people, was the most important thing in their lives and they had come to watch the champions of Christianity cast down the devil-inspired atheists and scientists who were trying to corrupt their children (McGowen 54). During the trial itself, the prosecutors' defense was extremely brief, and the defense's turn came remarkably quickly. The indictment (formal accusation of a crime) stated, in general, that John Scopes had "unlawfully" but "willingly" taught in school "a certain theory and theories that deny the story of a divine creation as taught in the Bible, and did teach instead thereof that man has descended from a lower order of animals" (McGowen 55). The defense's case was heard without the jury present so that the judge could decide whether the expert testimony would be relevant or not. Both sides fought for the testimony's validity.
The prejudiced Judge Raulston sided with the prosecution and decided that the testimony was not valid. He did not let the defense present the testimony to the court but Darrow was allowed to call up witnesses to support his case. The trial continued on for twelve days. On the last day Darrow ended up calling Bryan as a defense witness, which surprised the court who were expecting to hear closing arguments.
There were three thousand people watching and listening as Darrow questioned Bryan. The questioning quickly turned into a rapid-fire give and take. Darrow continually switched directions, hoping to catch Bryan contradicting himself. Darrow questioned Bryan for two hours before Raulston abruptly adjourned the court (Background, November 26, 2001). However the damage was already done because Darrow had reduced Bryan to mere stupidity by asking him questions about the Bible that even he could not explain. Bryan was even quoted to saying, "I do not think about things I do not think about" (Linder, November 27, 2001).
This was a great move for Darrow because it brought much of the public sentiment over to his side, and Bryan ended up becoming the butt of many jokes and political cartoons. However, Darrow lost the trial and John Scopes was found guilty. The biased jury had only deliberated over the matter for eight minutes before coming to their verdict. The case represented the conflict between social and intellectual values that were being challenged (Linder, November 28, 2001). The American people were becoming more educated about science and evolution.
The conservative minds of the people were opening up and they were realizing that there were new and better explanations to the unknown questions of the world, rather than God. Scopes told the Chicago Daily Tribune, "People who have never thought before are now beginning to think. One of the purposes of this trial has been accomplished." New questions arose in the minds of the American people about the school systems and questions concerning academic and parental conflicts. Who controlled the school-the masses or the teachers? Who determined the law-the people or the leaders of the town? (Background, November 28. 2001).
The Scopes Monkey Trial brought on a new surge of scientific thought. People were becoming more aware of Charles Darwin and his book "The Origin of Species" which he had written over five decades ago. Ideas and theories on evolution from Darwin's book became noticed and research began on evolution. Evolution helped the spread of new sciences. Because of the trial, scientific thought became very prominent and self-consciousness was elaborated upon.
With the clear understanding of why mankind was self conscious, commercialism and consumerism began booming (Grebstein 14). The Scopes Monkey Trial opened the peoples' eyes as well as their pocketbooks and wallets. Consumerism flourished at this point in history, because people could use reasoning to justify the spending that they did. By developing a scientific outlook on life, people felt less indebted to their contemporaries, and instead found them concentrating on material possessions (Zielinski, January 2, 2002).
The Scopes Monkey Trial also opened doors to media. The Scopes Monkey Trial was the first trial ever to be broadcasted over the radio (Zielinski, January 2, 2002). This meant that even though it already held the public's attention because of the topic it covered, it could now be listened to in a private citizen's home. The trial set a precedent that all other court proceedings have followed, in particular, the ones that had involved celebrities, political figures, or scandals. The trial was so highly publicized and because of the media, it helped the nation in many aspects. Because it was greatly exposed, many people became more educated on the topic of evolution and people began thinking in a new mindset.
The Scopes Monkey Trial began the long-lasting feud between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists. New religions such as Scientology have risen up against Christianity and the Bible. Scientology is based on the individual person and their own beliefs, not based on a holy book. Scientology also teaches that the world was created by science, not by God (Hubbard, December 30, 2001). Today, the textbooks used in classrooms are not focused on the Bible, but are focused more on science and technology. People have realized that Christianity is not the only religion to be regarded because the First Amendment enlists the right to freedom of religion.
The Scopes Monkey Trial helped the spread of new religion along with the spread of new thought. Even though Darrow lost the case to Bryan, the Scopes Monkey Trial was a theoretical victory for the Modernists and evolutionists. Scopes and Darrow represented the group of thinkers, with great ability as they reduced Bryan's credibility. The Scopes Monkey Trial was not important for what it was, but for what it represented. It represented the gap between the past and the future, the Fundamentalists and the Modernists, and social and intellectual values. The case epitomized the controversial challenge of the existence of God and the Christian beliefs.
Most people were struggling to decide whether they wanted to cling to the safety of the past or venture into the world of scientific knowledge. The debate between science and religion was just one of the liberating ideas that captured America. Even though this trial was most famous for bring the religion vs. science debate to the forefront, the most lasting aspect of the trial was undoubtedly that it brought the courtroom into the homes and the lives of ordinary Americans.
Because the court case was so widely publicized, the matters of the court became a public spectacle, and the Scopes Monkey Trial set a precedent that other court cases would follow. The Scopes Monkey Trial helped push people into the new age of thought and into the future. Perhaps the greatest importance for the Scopes Monkey Trial was the removal of a great amount of ignorance in the nation. Change is and always has been difficult for a nation to adjust to. Yet with the Scopes Monkey Trial, the nation began to look at education and the school systems in different manners and was led into a new frame of thinking that removed itself from the Fundamentalist approach and opened the door to the unknown and unexplored world of science..