INHERIT THE WIND AND THE SCOPES TRIAL – Marilyn Armstrong

INHERIT THE WIND AND THE SCOPES TRIAL

Because the words spoken by Spencer Tracy in his summary to the jury are truer now than ever before, it’s a good time to remember “Inherit the Wind” and the Scopes Trial during which the future went on trial.

When the jury was polled, the future lost.


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, 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.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

24 thoughts on “INHERIT THE WIND AND THE SCOPES TRIAL – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. Yep. And personally? I think we’re de-evolutionizing, i.e. returning to more primitive creatures. All one has to do to prove that, is to look to the ‘leaders’. I’m a ‘Christian’ (Mormon Christian, which apparently isn’t a REAL Christian), but I have never thought God in His wisdom, cared much about the evolution versus creationism argument. He leaves that kind of debate to lesser beings..

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    1. The dialogue for almost the entire movie is out of the actual trial records. It is appalling to realize that we have made SO little progress and appear to be going forever backward — again or is that STILL going backward? Because that what the Tracy character (Clarence Darrow) said and he was most horribly right on the money.

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      1. Evolution is a fact of science, we see it all around us. Even the mutation of several viruses that plague us today is evolution on a minute scale. Creationism is a distinct possibility that has yet to be expressed as a fact out side the realm of theory and faith. Bottom line; I believe both have a place in our world and may actually exist side by side working, as we speak, to drive man and nature forward no matter what individual opinions, or popular concepts, may express. Mankind continues to attempt to divorce itself from nature and deny any connection with the overall scheme of things. This is a BIG mistake.

        We need to pay more attention to Native American and other indigenous people who celebrate the oneness of nature including our role as beings upon the earth. Whatever implied, or actual, dominion we are supposed to have over animals and plants is to be used conservatively, with respect, and ONLY as needed. These wise people do not believe in “land ownership” as the land is given to us to use.., and more importantly, to replenish for the use of future generations.
        We continue to entertain the same arguments over and over and, YES, even with the gifts bestowed upon us, progress, sadly, is slow to non-existant.

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        1. I don’t think creation and science are inherently antithetical. I never felt that religion needed to be taken literally. Everyone — even then — knew that times change and the world moves on. I don’t personally believe in a god who is in our lives and fixing things for us. But that’s me. I have no problem with other people thinking otherwise.

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          1. I read an interesting writing, a few years ago, by Herbert Armstrong, about God’s modern day involvement. He said that essentially God gave up intervening in the personal lives of men a while ago, but left the choice of the path of good or evil up to the individual. This made a lot of sense at the time, and does so especially now that there seem to be so many choosing one path or the other.

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        2. I don’t group creationism and religion into the same pot. Religion is a desperate attempt at an answer to the currently, unanswerable. It’s more or less “invented comfort” and fraught with human flaws and weaknesses. For that reason, I belong to no religion. I don’t trust the people involved or its leaders. While principles expressed in the Bible are well intended, adherence to those suggestions are mostly ignored when it comes to extending them to “non-members” of a given religious group.

          Creationism is an unknown quantity. I believe that things are being created constantly in the universe due to natural processes explainable by science. Maybe we are just the result of one of those processes? Maybe there was a little help, of some kind, along the way? Who knows?

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      1. A lot of intolerance rearing its head in myriad ways. Neo Nazis and White Supremacists riding the wave with nods of approval from the Oval Office Squatter.

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  2. I haven’t seen the film, but it’s hard to escape the decades of influence this philosophical/scientific divide has on our politics to this day. The entrenched views of science deniers has unfortunately expanded and built platforms to control and undermine scientific growth and rational processes in our government. Ironically, it’s as though the monkeys were left in charge. (I’d say more, but my son is pushing us to leave the playground now that he’s “All done!”)

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    1. Rich, I would’ve love to been near the set when they shot those court room scenes. Other actors have said the “Inherit The Wind” sets were the place to be to watch Tracy and March work. Actress Lee Grant is one of many who said actors flocked to see Tracy and March. Quite a tribute.

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