INHERIT THE WIND AND THE SCOPES TRIAL
On this day as I write this, Alabama made us smile. I never thought I could say that, but it happened. It gave us hope. Not a solution, but hope that the future may yet be better than the present. And so, because the words spoken by Spencer Tracy are more true today than ever before, let us remember “Inherit the Wind” and the Scopes Trial during which they put the future on trial.
When the jury was polled, the future lost.
The 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 was found guilty and fined $100, though 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 issue 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.