History Of The John Scopes Monkey Trial

An overview of the John Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. A look at each key player.

The Scopes Trial

On July 13, 1925 the Scopes trial began. The weeks that led up to the trial were a turbulent time. One pastor was even forbidden to preach. Several farmers even clamed that they had see evolution in process. One said that they had seen a "cat-rabbit" and one saw a "two species hen" (p

1, New York Times, July 12, 1996). The people fought to keep the trial in Dayton (p 2 New York Times, July 7, 1925). Judge Raulston explains why he did not move the trial to Chattanooga.

Here Congress has emphasized the fact that a Judge cannot act upon new matters when outside his district by specifically stating just what he can do. Section 5 if the amendment to Section 18 of the Judicial Code vest the Judge[,] while within the designated district[,] with all the powers of the Judge for that district. Viewing the law as I do, any injunction which might issue upon a flat which I might grant while not within the territorial limit of the district where the offense is alleged to have been committed and when the trial in the State court is sought to be enjoined would be void. Other reasons for refusing to grant release sought might be assigned, but it is thought the foregoing are sufficient (2, New York Times, July 8, 1925).

The jury was selected in a brief amount of time. The jury was composed of ten farmers, a schoolmaster and a shipping clerk. No one in the jury believed in evolution, but Darrow said, "he did not expect to find any who did" (p 1, New York Times, July 11, 1925).

The plaintiff of the Scopes trial was the People of the State of Tennessee. The Defendant was John Thomas Scopes who is charged with teaching evolution, which is a violation of Tennessee law. The teaching of the Bible was illegal, so the state legislators decided that it should be illegal to teach evolution. They passed the following law, which is similar to one passed in Florida.

"Be it enacted, by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, that it shall be unlawful for any teacher of the universities, normals, and all other public schools in the State, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach the 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."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it would finance a court case to test the constitutionality of the law. John Scopes volunteered to allow himself to be arrested in order to test the law. He said later that, to his knowledge, he had never taught evolution; he simply went along with the ACLU to give them a case. The day that Scopes supposedly taught evolution, he was not even in class ("Biology: God's Living Creation, 353). The penalty for teaching evolution was more than one hundred dollars but not more that five hundred dollars. The prosecution was William Jennings Bryan, who was an ex-Presidential candidate and ex-Secretary of State. The Defense team consisted of Clarence Darrow, John R. Neal, and Dudley Field Malone. The trial was presided by Judge J.T. Raulston (p 1, New York Times, July 11, 1925).

William Jennings Bryan immediately volunteered to serve as prosecutor for this case. He was known for his strong Biblical stance and his eloquent lectures against liquor and Darwinism. He believed that the Bible was at stake through this trial. He said, "Why these men would destroy the Bible on evidence that would not convict a habitual criminal of a misdemeanor.... The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death. It has been in the past a death struggle in the darkness.From this time on, it will be a death grapple in the light. If evolution wins in Dayton[,] Christianity goes - not suddenly, of course, but gradually - for the two cannot stand together. They are as antagonistic as light and darkness, as good and evil" ( 2, New York Times, July 8, 1925).

Clarence Darrow and Dudley Malone, the defense lawyers, both volunteered to defend Scopes. Darrow was the most famous criminal lawyer in his day. Darrow defended more than fifty accused murderers,

losing only one to the executioner. One of his most celebrated trials was that of the young thrill-murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, for whom he obtained life sentences instead of death (Lowman, 510). He was also a noted agnostic, which means, one who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God but does not deny the possibility that God exists.

During the trial, that only lasted eight days, much was done in the way of disproving many of the so-called scientific evidences of evolution. Darrow introduced eight men submitted what they saw to be scientific evidence for evolution. The first belief that was presented was that of the

recapitulation theory. According to this argument form comparative embryology, an organism was assumed to pass through the stages of its evolutionary history during its development as an embryo. The human embryo was said to go through an ameba stage, a fish stage, and a tailed animal stage before entering the human stage. This theory has been buried since the development of ultrasound technology. Now we can see the development of the human embryo while in the mother's womb.



The second argument was the ages of the rocks. This is an example of evolutions circular reasoning. Evolutionists say that the earth must be extremely old because of the fossils that are found in the rocks are old. When asked, how do you know that the fossils are old, they answer Because the rock are old." The third theory used was the comparative anatomy theory. This argument states that the "structural" resemblance signifies blood relationship. Because the bodies of man and animals have a basic similarity in their design, evolutionists assume that they have the same ancestry.

The fourth argument is the evidence of vestigial organs in the human body. These organs are thought to be of no use in the human body any longer, but were once necessary in our ancestors. One witness for the defense said that there were, "no less that 180 vestigial structures in human body,

sufficient to make of a man a veritable walking museum of antiquities." To date, the list of vestigial organs is down to six (Graham, 355). The fifth argument is the skeletal remains of early man. In 1925, anthropologists thought that they had found many examples of half-man, half-ape

creatures. One of the witnesses for the defense cited the following examples: Java man, Heidelberg man, Neanderthal man, and Cro-Magnon man. Java man was later proved to be hoax. Neanderthal man and Cro-Magnon man are now believed to be Homo sapiens. The only evidence for Heidelberg man is a jawbone found in Germany in 1907 (Lowman, 511).

The sixth argument was plant and animal breeding. This belief states that man can bring about new verities of plants and animals by scientific breeding, this proves that new species are brought about by natural selection. The seventh argument was the geographical distribution. At the time of the Scopes trial, evolutionist believed that the way plants and animals are distributed across the earth proves evolution. This theory actually agrees with the Biblical account of creation and the flood.

The last argument of the defense witnesses was the races of mankind. To the evolutionist, this proves that man has evolved. The Bible states in Genesis 11:1-9, that the people were all of one language and after they built the Tower of Babel, their language was confused, and they were scattered throughout the earth (Lowman, 511).

The judge ruled that the evidence should not be presented to the jury because the trial was to determine whether Scopes had violated that anti-evolution law, not to determine if evolution was true (Lowman, 511).

Darrow often resorted to emotionalism, name-calling, ridicule, insult, humiliation, and circular reasoning. He attempted "to show up Fundamentalism...to prevent bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the educational system of the United States"(Lowman, 512). He even place Bryan under cross-examination during the trial, of course, Bryan never got the chance to do the same. Darrow called the people of Tennessee ignorant and backwards so many times that many of them started professing belief in evolution just to show that they were really broad-minded and intelligent (Lowman, 512).

Bryan was named the "Silver-Tongued Orator" because of his eloquence and logical thinking. During the trial he stood firmly on his convictions despite the drillings of Darrow. Bryan saw that this was not a question of science, but of theology and philosophy. One scientist summed up Bryan's performance in this way: "William Jennings Bryan, though maligned and humiliated, was the hero of the Scopes trial. He demonstrated that he had a better basic understanding of evolution and the Bible than his detractors had."

When an eminent biologist confused evolution and embryonic development, Mr. Bryan set the record straight. When the opposition declared that no scientist of recognized standing believes that according to the theory of evolution man evolved from monkeys, Mr. Bryan pointed out that Charles Darwin himself believed this, and that he said so in one of his books. When the evolutionary forces tried to show through the testimony of experts that the Bible and the theory of evolution can be reconciled, Mr. Bryan explained why this is not true. Mr. Darrow received the adulation of the crowd, but a sober examination of the record reveals ignorance and shamefully unworthy tactics on his part" (David Heiser, 98).

The jury found John Thomas Scopes guilty of breaking the law and fined him one hundred dollars. When the case was taken to the Tennessee Supreme Court, that court ruled that the law was constitutional but acquitted Scopes on a technicality. The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee schools remained in effect until 1967.

Even though Bryan won the case in the court, the strategy of the defense and the media won a public opinion victory for Darrow. William Jennings Bryan died in his sleep on July 26, 1925. The trial and all of the things related to it took its toll on Bryan. He never had a chance to give his summary speech. It was made public two days after his death.

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