scopes trial image 2The Scopes Trial, officially The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and typically referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was a famous trial in  1925. In it, a substitute high school teacher — John Scopes — was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school.

The trial was deliberately staged in the town of Dayton, Tennessee to attract publicity. Scopes was unsure whether he actually had taught evolution, but he purposely incriminated himself so the case would have a defendant.

William Jennings Bryan argued for the prosecution, Clarence Darrow for Scopes and the defense. The trial publicized the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy. This pitted Modernists — who believed evolution and religion were reconcilable — against Fundamentalists, who believed the word of God (as revealed in the bible) was the encapsulation of all human knowledge.

scopes trial image 1

Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. Despite all the publicity and hoopla, the issue was never truly settled and remains a political, religious and emotional hot potato today. Which doesn’t say much about our ability to advance our society.

Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding.

It’s a great line from a great film based on an historic trial that settled nothing and left the controversy between science and creationism alive and well, as much of a political hot potato today as it was 100 years ago.

Inherit the Wind (1960), was directed by Stanley Kramer. Much of the script was taken from the actual transcripts of the 1925 trial.

With a few minor changes of name, fundamentalism has morphed into creationism. We are stuck in the same conflict today.

Categories: American history, film, Movies, Religion, Science

Tags: , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. Almost a year ago, we went to visit my 2nd cousin (only kind I have), in Tennessee. The lake home she inherited from her parents was where we stayed. She took us down to Douglas County to see the courthouse and museum which was very interesting… Not all that far , and was quite an experience… Made history come alive….


  2. I don’t know how I missed this blog of yours the first time around, but it is so timely and so essential. Thank you for bringing this back to the light. As for Europeans laughing at us, I hope it is contagious. The day we all finally get the joke will be the day we can really move forward.


  3. A great movie … a Classic. Watched it several times. Will again.


  4. For me Inherit the Wind is one of the great all time movies, with a stellar cast and brilliant performances. It should be required viewing. I realize there are other versions, but Spencer Tracy delivers a top notch performance.


    • Spencer Tracy was a great actor, but I think Inherit the Wind may be the best of the best of his performances. He should have won the Oscar for it, but I guess it was Burt Lancaster’s year.

      Garry and I agree with you completely. It should be required viewing for high school students. I think EVERYONE should see it. Garry introduced me to the movie. It has always been one of his favorites. It has some of the most brilliant monologues of all time … and most of them come straight out of the Scopes Trial transcript. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see Clarence Darrow in action!


  5. Interesting, I didn’t know about this tidbit of history. When you get better, Marilyn, you should write a book about history. I think you’d be great!


    • Thank you. I love history, but I’m not a historian. The only history I can talk about REALLY is what I’ve personally lived through … and of course the older I get, the more history I’ve experienced. Sometimes it’s more than a bit eerie to watch a documentary and realize I was part of it.

      Occasionally, we spot Garry in the footage, somewhere in a corner, doing his reporting thing. Makes us feel kind of ancient 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that would be a little eerie, but totally cool at the same time. You have been there for some of the greatest moments in history! And spotting Garry in the footage would be a trip. You’re not ancient…you’re well-seasoned. 😀


  6. My only issue with the movie is that they put “Scopes” in jail. As you said, the trial was a publicity stunt that Scopes was in on. He was actually never arrested and definitely did not get locked up. I was lucky enough to discuss the trial with some students in the courtroom where it took place. There is nothing quite like talking about history where it really happened.


    • Agreed. But they didn’t present it as history, probably so they could make changes for dramatic effect. Still a great movie and certainly one of Tracy’s finest — and certainly presenting resounding rhetoric that still resonates.


  7. It’s the contradiction that’s so mind-boggling: that ‘fanaticism and ignorance’ can be so rampant in the most developed and influential country in the world.


  8. Should be required viewing in schools and elsewhere.


  9. A great movie and a great actor. I guess the argument is still on in some places.


  10. Yes they are. I have some European friends and they just don’t understand the politics or, most especially, the religious fervor that seems to be infecting our country.


  11. Oh, I forgot to say, Marilyn, excellent post.


  12. Isn’t it amazing…and sad…that 90 years after “The Monkey Trials,” fanaticism and ignorance are still alive and thriving in this country?

    I wrote a post – – two years ago, right after Tennessee, the very same state that was the center of the Scopes controversy, became the second state, joining Louisiana, to allow teachers to teach creationism as a viable alternative to evolution in science classes. The Tennessee law requires that teachers permit discussions of “alternative theories” to evolution and climate change in their classrooms.

    Oh yeah, we’ve come a long way, baby!

    Liked by 2 people


  2. This Day In History: July 21, 1925: Scopes Found Guilty in ‘Monkey Trial’ | pundit from another planet
  4. 1920’s Times Are Changing – GroupJ History Class

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