Scopes Trial

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The trial in 1925 of John Scopes, for teaching evolution in Tennessee, was a defeat of Darwinism, and Tennessee has remained conservative ever since. The ACLU and liberal trial lawyer Clarence Darrow brought the Scopes case in the hopes of winning a public relations and legal victory, but in fact William Jennings Bryan decisively beat them.

The ACLU challenged a Tennessee statute that imposed a fine for teaching in public school that man descended from more primitive life forms. The statute did not prohibit teaching most aspects of evolution. The textbook at issue in the case taught eugenics, including that man supposedly descended from lower life forms and that some racial groups had evolved to more advanced levels than others.

The textbook also featured the fraudulent Piltdown Man. At the time, Darwinists claimed that this and eugenics were indisputable science to be taught to students. The Hollywood version heaped mockery on any argument that teaching evolution could be socially harmful.

In the real trial, Bryan quoted for the court how Darrow had previously claimed that murder defendants Leopold and Loeb were driven to crime by what they were taught, which was Nietzche's atheistic philosophy. Bryan quoted Darrow as saying that "Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche's philosophy seriously and fashioned his life on it? ... The university would be more to blame than he is. ... Your honor, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university."

Bryan was an extraordinary speaker, recognized to be among the best in American history. Darrow wanted to prevent Bryan from making a persuasive closing argument to the jury, and Darrow searched for another way to try to score points for his side.

So Darrow stunned the court by requesting to cross-exam Bryan, in the hope that Bryan, like many attorneys, would be a poor witness. Darrow's attempt was unprecedented, because trial attorneys almost never take the witness stand in their own cases. Bryan agreed only on the condition that he could cross-examine Darrow. Based on that agreement, Bryan took the witness stand.

A witness in a trial is always at a disadvantage, because he can only answer questions that are posed by a hostile adversary. Attorneys are particularly vulnerable, because their knowledge of the law and tendency to speak in legalese hinder their performance.

Darrow undoubtedly thought that he could turn Bryan into the proverbial buffoon that liberals wanted. As the transcript reveals, however, Bryan got the better of his accuser. Bryan repeatedly turned the tables on Darrow's questions, which the large courtroom audience found amusing at Darrow's expense. Here is a sample:[1]

Bryan--These gentlemen have not had much chance--they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please. Judge--All right. (Applause in audience.) … Bryan--Those [the audience] are the people whom you insult. Darrow--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion. .... Darrow: Wait until you get to me [N.B. this apparently refers to Darrow's agreement to be a witness]. Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago? Bryan --No. Darrow--Have you ever tried to find out? Bryan--No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been in interested in it. (Laughter in audience.) Darrow--Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man? Bryan--You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods. Darrow--Where have you lived all your life? Bryan--Not near you. (Laughter and applause in audience.)

Darrow tried again and again to trap Bryan, but struck out each time. A later exchange ended, once again, with the audience laughing at Darrow:

Darrow--I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly? Bryan--I believe that. Darrow--Have you any idea how the snake went before that time? Bryan--No, sir. Darrow--Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not? Bryan--No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter in audience).

Darrow ended his cross-examination weaker than when he began -- an enormous defeat for any trial attorney.

The next day, it was Darrow's turn to be cross-examined. But Darrow stunned the public by giving up rather than upholding his end of the bargain. Darrow took the unprecedented step of asking the jury for a guilty verdict against his client, the defendant teacher John Scopes. To save his own skin, Darrow handed over his client!

The jury gave Darrow exactly what he requested: it found Scopes guilty. His fine was eliminated on a technicality on appeal.

Hollywood has little regard for the truth. Its movie version Inherit the Wind changed everyone's name, thereby preventing libel suits, and changed the facts in order to ridicule religious belief. It featured the popular Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow, and even garnered a few Academy Award nominations.

The movie features an angry mob trying to lynch a jailed teacher; in fact, the ACLU ran advertisements with offers to pay expenses for a teacher to volunteer for the case, and Scopes was never jailed and never paid even a fine.

The movie portrayed the former Secretary of State Bryan as a complete buffoon. In fact, as shown above, Bryan beat Darrow in the courtroom so convincingly that Darrow surrendered, breaking his own promise to testify. Even the New York Times article the next day reflected surprise at Darrow's abrupt capitulation.

Bryan, a 65-year-old diabetic lacking in modern treatments, died peacefully in his sleep five days after the conclusion of the Scopes trial. Bryan's victory in the Scopes trial was a fitting end to a principled, illustrious career.[2]

History proved Bryan to be right in opposing eugenics and the textbook used in the Scopes trial. Bryan won the trial and kept Tennessee mostly free from the evolution indoctrination that has plagued the United States and Europe. To this day Tennessee is among the least intrusive states in requiring evolution. In the eyes of a liberal, pro-evolution group, Tennessee and a few similar states "fail so thoroughly to teach evolution as to render their standards totally useless."[3]

Thanks to Bryan's victory in the Scopes trial, Tennessee voters have been educated without oppressive evolution theory for 75 years. Free from the liberal indoctrination, Tennessee voted against native son Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential election - probably the only time a candidate has lost the Presidency due to losing his home state. If Tennessee had a high level of belief in evolution comparable to that of East Germany, then you can bet Gore would have won his state and the Presidency.