Reprinted from the September 2013 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
Tennessee Code Annotated Title 49 (Education) Section 1922 was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay in 1925. It came to be known as the Butler Act, and it prohibited public school educators from teaching that humans evolved from lower animals. Members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) declared the law to be a violation of the right to free speech, and they looked for a way to challenge it in court. As a result, the ACLU advertised in newspapers throughout Tennessee that they would pay the expenses of legal defense if a teacher would come forward to challenge the law.
The citizens of the small town of Dayton, Tenn., saw this as an opportunity to gain attention for their town. The men of Dayton approached John T. Scopes, a young teacher, and asked if he would be willing to be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act.1 Scopes agreed; the warrant and legalities were duly arranged; and thus began what has been called “The Trial of the Century” or “The Scopes Monkey Trial.”
The Truth About the Trial
Few people, however, know what really happened during the trial. That is not because proper records were not kept. On the contrary, the trial was copiously documented. The reason few know what really happened is because most people have seen a version of the events that never took place. The vast majority who know anything about the trial have been fed their information through a play written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee titled Inherit the Wind. The play was made into a movie in the 1960s and has been seen by millions.
Although the play was not billed as “history,” it was clearly based on the trial. The presentation was so different from reality, however, that James Perloff stated: “Inherit the Wind did not alter facts merely to stimulate the audience. It grossly perverted the Scopes trial to advance a specific agenda.”2 Phillip E. Johnson stated, “Inherit the Wind is a masterpiece of propaganda, promoting a stereotype of the public debate about creation and evolution that gives all the virtue and intelligence to the Darwinists.”3
To manifest the truth of these statements, Perloff filled about 15 pages of his book Tornado in a Junkyard with comparisons between the play and what really happened. In the play, the character portraying Scopes is treated viciously and jailed by the “bigoted” creationists. In real life, he never spent any time in jail and was treated with the utmost cordiality. Likewise, the play depicts the townspeople of Dayton despising the character who represents Clarence Darrow, who was Scopes’ defense lawyer. Yet Darrow himself stated that he never experienced “the slightest discourtesy.”4
In the movie, the character portraying William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent person for the prosecution, is presented as a Bible-thumping science-hater. In reality, Bryan was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science who once stated, “Give science a fact and it is not only invincible, but of incalculable service to man.”5 Inherit the Wind is the only Scopes Trial most people ever saw, and it was purposefully designed to misrepresent the facts.
What has been the aftermath of “The Trial of the Century”? The trial certainly did much to affect the way the creation/evolution controversy is currently viewed. It is interesting to note that the ACLU initiated the trial in an attempt to challenge a law that the organization believed violated the freedom of speech. Supposedly, it was unconstitutional to censor the teaching of evolution. From the current state of affairs in the public school system, however, it is evident that the pendulum has swung full arc.
As it stands, about two generations after the trial, it has become anathema to teach creation or mention the Bible in many public school venues. To include the teaching in an actual textbook is unheard of. And a sure-fire way for a teacher to entangle his school in a lawsuit in many parts of the country is to offer evidence in favor of creation and against evolution. If free speech was the original goal, it was not achieved.
In addition, the presentation of the trial as seen in Inherit the Wind left the general impression that creationists and those who believe in the Bible are ignorant, close-minded, bigoted and unscientific. Such is unfortunate because of how one-sided and incorrect that stereotype often is. Many of the greatest minds in the history of science have been staunch creationists.
Among the many scientific detractors of the false theory of evolution is Dr. Michael Houts, who holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and works for NASA at the Marshall Space Center. He has an extensive article titled “Evolution Is Religion – Not Science” (and a video series by the same name) in which he documents copious scientific problems that plague Darwin’s evolutionary hypothesis.6 Jerry Bergman has assembled a list of more than 3,000 credentialed scientists who discount evolution on scientific grounds, not only biblical ones.7
The Bible-thumping, bigoted creationist caricature can be maintained only when the real facts of the situation are omitted. In truth, creation is the model that actually aligns with all the available scientific evidence.
One paramount reason that evolution has been propelled to its position of prominence is because its proponents have been willing to stand up for their theory, even though it is wrong. At the same time, many creationists have refrained from teaching the truth because “we can’t at our school” or “we will get in trouble” or “we might be viewed as ignorant” or “it violates the separation of church and state” or “we might lose our jobs.”
We can be sure of one thing: Until Christians are willing to teach the truth regardless of the consequences – regardless of the bad publicity and regardless of the lawsuits – we can expect evolution to continue its domineering progress because its advocates seem more than willing to sacrifice for their ungodly cause. o
1 James Perloff, Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism (Arlington: Refuge Books, 1999) 200.
2 Perloff 198.
3 Phillip E. Johnson, An Easy-to-Understand Guide for Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997) 25.
4 Perloff 201.
5 Perloff 202.
6 Michael Houts, “Evolution Is Religion – Not Science,” Apologetics Press, 2007, 29 July 2013 <http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=2299>.
7 Jerry Bergman, “Darwin Skeptics,” 29 July 2013 <http://www.rae.org/pdf/darwinskeptics.pdf>.