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Scopes' Monkey Trial

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« on: September 17, 2008, 03:46:12 pm »

Scopes'Monkey Trial

An important event in the history of this conflict occurred in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher was on trial for contravening the state's Butler Act law which forbade the teaching of "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." 5,6 The trial quickly degenerated into a media circus. The leading protagonists were a leading conservative religious spokesperson, former US Secretary of State and Presidential candidate: William Jennings Bryan. Opposing him was a leading intellectual and lawyer: Clarence Darrow. Although Scopes was found guilty, it was generally felt that he and Darrow had won a moral victory. Nonetheless, popular opposition to evolution remained high, with the result that most textbooks made little or no mention of evolution until the early 1960's. Those that discussed it often omitted it from their index.

During the Scopes trial, Bryan had been able to name only two creationist geologists. One had recently died; the other George M Price, had had no formal geological training. For several decades, however, Price remained the foremost voice of creationist opposition to evolution in the US.

American Developments, 1950-1975

The Roman Catholic Church had never formally condemned the theory of evolution. However, in 1950, Pope Pius XII issued a papal encyclical letter Humani Generis which discouraged belief in evolution because it played into the hands of materialists and atheists. Since approximately that time, the Church taught that the Genesis creation story should not be interpreted literally, but symbolically.

The National Science Foundation funded the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study in the late 1950's which was instrumental in emphasizing the theory of evolution in high school biology textbooks. In the 1960's, in response to the wide-spread perception that the Soviet Union had gained the upper hand in science and technology, evolution gained prominence in American public schools. Instruction in biology was now framed explicitly in evolutionary terms. Indeed, the historian Richard Hofstaedter wrote at the time that opposition to evolution seemed only a very distant memory.
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« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2008, 03:50:57 pm »

In 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act which made it a misdemeanor to teach the evolution of only one species—mankind—in the public schools. The evolution of 99.99% of all other plant and animal life (some two million other species), or the evolution of the earth or the solar system, could all be taught as either compelling theory or proven fact without violating the Butler Act.

It bears repeating: The Tennessee legislature—as a practical matter—did not outlaw the teaching of evolution but for one drop in a very large bucket. To suggest, therefore, that entire fields of academic study such as astronomy, botany, anatomy, geology, etc., were dealt a death blow in the Volunteer State seems alarmist. Yet this allegation was repeated constantly by the mainstream press with Columbia University perhaps going the furthest in suggesting that it (and other northern universities) begin to refuse to matriculate students from Tennessee because the Butler Act would now be rendering them so utterly unsuitable for further academic study.

The statute was supported by a large majority of Tennessee parents exercising what they believed to be their responsibilities in the oversight of their children’s educations; the Butler Act did not touch upon the teaching of evolution outside of the tax-supported public schools.

The intent of the Butler Act was not to favor Christianity but to put the two prevailing theories pertaining to the creation of mankind on a level playing field of silence. The supporters of the Butler Act did not advocate teaching the Bible in the public schools (which they believed to be impermissible) and so they naturally felt powerless as a competing theory (Darwinian evolution) could be freely taught in opposition to the silenced story of creation contained in the book of Genesis.

Violation of the statute was punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.
The Butler Act provided only for a fine from $100 to $500 (same as bootlegging) and there was no provision in the Act for any jail time.

At the time that the anti-evolution statute was passed, the biology textbook used in the Tennessee public schools supported the theory of creation taught in the Bible.
The biology textbook used in Tennessee in 1925 was Prof. George W. Hunter’s Civic Biology, the most popular biology text for secondary schools in the country. It was 100% pro-evolutionist and had been so for over a decade. There is no mention in the text of God, creation, Adam, Eve, the book of Genesis, or any other book or person in the Bible.

John Scopes (“Bertram Cates” in Inherit the Wind), a young and earnest high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee (“Hillsboro” in Inherit the Wind), was arrested by a grim clergyman and heavy-handed town fathers as he was teaching evolution in his classroom. He was the victim of a fundamentalist witch hunt. Click here for a video clip from ITW.
John Scopes, a high school football coach and mathematics teacher who only substituted for Dayton’s regular biology teacher, never taught evolution to anybody. As he confided to acclaimed newspaper reporter, William K. Hutchinson, “I didn’t violate the law. . . . I never taught that evolution lesson. Those kids they put on the stand couldn’t remember what I taught them three months ago. They were coached by the lawyers.”

Although not actually guilty of the alleged crime, Scopes (who, unlike the regular biology teacher he substituted for, was single and adventuresome) cooperated in a clever and friendly plan to test the constitutionality of the Butler Act. The ACLU in New York City had advertised in Tennessee newspapers for a willing teacher/defendant. This ad was then answered by Scopes with the encouragement of a few town fathers of Dayton on both sides of the evolution issue. Their reasoning was that such a case—held in the local courthouse—would boost the economic prospects of their small and shrinking town. No clergymen (mean-spirited or otherwise) were involved in the instigation, planning, or hosting of the trial.

Bryan did not oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools as a theory. For a number of reasons noted below he did oppose teaching the evolution of mankind (one species) as scientific fact in the public schools and especially in the manner in which evolutionary theory was practically being applied in the textbooks of his day.

As Bryan wrote in the New York Times as far back as 1922:

The only part of evolution in which any considerable interest is felt is evolution applied to man. A hypothesis in regard to the rocks and plant life does not affect the philosophy upon which one's life is built. Evolution applied to fish, birds, and beasts would not materially affect man's view of his own responsibilities. . . . The evolution that is harmful . . . is the evolution that makes him a descendant of lower forms of life [i.e., of ape-like creatures]. (de Camp, p. 45)

Specifically, Bryan opposed those applications of Darwinism to mankind that were rapidly gaining popularity in academic circles and were contained in Prof. Hunter’s Civic Biology (a rather suspicious title if one thinks about it). These teachings included (1) that mankind can be described in terms of five “races” of differing evolutionary status with the Caucasian race being the most advanced, followed by the “yellow” race, etc.—p. 196, (2) that public houses for the poor and asylums for the sick or insane make no “civic” sense from an evolutionary perspective and should be at least reconsidered if not dramatically curtailed—p. 263, (3) that the reproduction of certain “parasitic” elements of the human population should be discouraged (“If such people were lower animals,” the text teaches, “we would probably kill them off”) and, in some cases, such reproduction should be forcibly prevented (“Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe”)—p. 263, (4) that society’s business classes should be given generous economic latitude (known as “hands off” or “laissez faire” capitalism) to further advance the most successful members of the human species—p. 261ff, and (5) that physically, at least, the gap between the monkeys and the most evolved apes is greater than the gap between those apes and the lowest human “savages”—p. 195.

The above teachings were referred to as “eugenics”—a term invented by Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton—and generally pertain to the active management of the gene pool of the human species by the more evolved (presumably scientists at the major universities) over the less evolved (people genetically or sociologically less “fit”).

Statutes permitting sterilizations by force, laws forbidding marriages between people of different races (miscegenation), immigration quotas favoring Northern Europeans, and economic policies benefiting the most successful capitalists were all popular policies with elitists (university professors, industrialists, Planned Parenthood, liberal ministers, etc.) that self-consciously and persuasively invoked the “scientific” principles of Darwinism.

Despite vocal opposition from Bryan and the enormously popular evangelist Billy Sunday (both of whom regarded all men as created equal by God), eugenics enjoyed steadily increasing currency in the 1920s among liberal academics. Nazi Germany eventually brought to horrific fruition many of Bryan’s worst fears and put a halt to public support for eugenics and its euphemistic “civic biology.” The Soviet Union and, later, the Communist Chinese adopted the practices of eugenics with similar results.

The majority of the scientists called by the Defense to testify on behalf of John Scopes in 1925 belonged to eugenic societies—protoNazi organizations now regarded as no less (and perhaps more) reprehensible than the dreaded KKK.

No intellectual or other person of decency and goodwill could reasonably oppose the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

As noted above, Bryan did not oppose the teaching of evolution in the public schools.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- center>news
By Raju Chebium
CNN.COM Correspondent

July 13, 2000

Evolution continued to be taught in some Tennessee schools and elsewhere in the nation in the years after the Scopes trial, Larson [historian] said. But many schools to this day stay away from the topic because it is controversial--proof that the ''culture wars'' brought to the fore by the Scopes trial are still going on.
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