Birdblog

A conservative news and views blog.

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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Scopes Monkey Trial....Again

(My brother Brian-that`s Dr. Birdnow to you, Drs. Myers and Hurd-gives the straight dope on the infamous Scopes trial. For those of you who were raised believing Inherit the Wind it will come as something of an eye-opener.)


Few events in American history have become as thoroughly propagandized as the celebrated 1925 criminal case of John Scopes v. Tennessee. In the popular imagination, spurred on by stage plays and movies such as "Inherit The Wind" a brave band of free thinking schoolteachers, aided by an idealistic legal team faced down the forces of bigotry and ignorance in Dayton, Tennessee in the summer of 1925. In this view of reality, Clarence Darrow demolished William Jennings Bryan in cross-examination and exposed Biblical theories of creation as scientific balderdash. The laws against teaching evolution were overturned. the "creationists" slunk back under the rock whence they came, Jennings Bryan died, and the world lived happily ever! How do we know this is true? The popular culture tells us this, so it must be so!

Unfortunately, this account of "What really happened" at Dayton is almost entirely false. The myths about this case were generated even as the legal drama was unfolding and slanted reporting, led by the dean of American journalists, H.L. Mencken framed the context in which the historical event has been viewed ever since. A careful study of the records involved in the case, along with all other historical information that is available show that the propaganda victory won by Darrow and company is, in fact, propaganda. It is certainly not truth!

What must be understood at the outset when beginning a study of the Scopes case is that it was a publicity stunt from the very start. It was, in fact, a "Put-up job" orchestrated by the fledgling American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU publicly announced that they would defend, without fee, any public schoolteacher who would challenge the laws concerning the teaching of evolution in public school classrooms. The ACLU would not be using rookie attorneys, they would be retaining some of the best in the business. A schoolteacher who agreed to take up the cudgel in this case would be represented by the best lawyers in the land and all free of charge!

The actual development of this case as a practical matter in Tennessee followed the same carefully choreographed script that originated in the ACLU boardroom. In Dayton, Tennessee a couple of attorneys decided to challenge the Tennessee state law banning the teaching of evolution in the state schools. Their motives had more to do with the promotion of their growing town than for idealistic or scientific concern. the attorneys recruited John T. Scopes, a part-time biology teacher at the local high school. Scopes admitted that he knew nothing about Darwin and nothing about evolution, but after receiving assurances that he would not be placed in any true danger, Scopes agreed to participate in this charade.

When Scopes was cited for teaching evolution in the classroom(he received a summons-he was not hauled away in handcuffs) in the early spring of 1925 the decks were cleared for action. The ACLU retained Clarence Darrow, the most famous trial attorney in America to defend Scopes. Darrow was assisted by a partner, Dudley Field Malone. Malone was a New York divorce lawyer and sometime politician whose main claim to fame had come in 1915. Malone, fully aware that the British passenger liner the "Lusitania" was violating all of the laws of neutrality, nevertheless allowed the ship to sail out of New York harbor. Malone was the collector of customs at the port and should have prohibited the departure of the ship. He played fast and loose with the law and bore at least a share of the blame for the infamy which followed. This gross misconduct should have at least cost Malone his law license, but nothing happened!

The state prosecution team was headed by veteran Tennessee lawyers. They were aided in their preparation by William Jennings Bryan, whose main role was to serve as an adviser to the prosecution team on the nuances of the law in questin. Bryan had helped to draft the law in Tennessee and a number of other states and his explaination of the way in which the law was supposed to work was considrered important. Bryan did not lead the prosecution, he did not question witnesses, he did not condemn scientists. Bryan was, however, subjected to slander, ridicule, and malicious defamation from people who claimed to stand for tolerance and freedom of thought. Does this sound familiar to readers of this blog?

The trial itself was somewhat monotonous in its early phases. The only legal issue in doubt was whether Scopes had violated the law. The law, itself, was not on trial and the defense team had a slender reed on which to base their case. After much jockeying back and forth the defense asked for permission to question William Jennings Bryan on questions of Biblical accuracy. Bryan consented to answer questions and Darrow subjected Bryan to a tough grilling. What is generally un known is that Bryan needled Darrow on his amoral approach to the law and society. When Bryan questioned Darrow's decision to defend the admitted murderers Leopold and Loeb, Darrow replied that they were actually victims of a society that filled their minds with bad philosophy. Bryan argued that if society convinces people that they have no more capacity for moral reasoning than monkeys society will end up getting many more people like Leopold and Loeb. Yet the only thing that we "know" about the Bryan cross-examination today is that he was reduced to a blithering fool by the folksy, yet razor-sharp Clarence Darrow.

During the trial Darrow did mock religion, he did make sport of conventional morality and the liberal contempt for everything associated with middle class America was much in evidence. For his own part Bryan emphasized Darwinism's incomplete scientific proof. he stressed that evolution could not answer questions about the beginning of life, the ascent of man, the morphing of one species into another and other questions.

In the end, Scopes was found guilty and fined one hundred dollars. The Tennessee appellate court overturned the verdict on a technicality and attempted to put the case to rest. Thanks to some slanted writing by the eastern press the impression was left that the trial was a catastrophe for Bryan and the evolutionists. A stroke killed Bryan five days after the trial ended adding weight to the legend that he had been broken in spirit by Darrow's relentless hectoring. In fact H.L. Mencken was reported to have been positively gleeful at Bryan's death saying "How do you like that? We killed the Son-Of-A-Bitch!" When Darrow was informed of Bryan's fatal strke he remarked (noting Bryan's overeating) "Stroke hell! Bryan died of a busted belly!"

Forgotten in all of this was John T. Scopes. What did Mr. Scopes get out of this spectacle? Most accounts say that he gave up teaching, attempting to leave the impression that Scopes was hounded out of the profession by the strain of the case. Actually, the ACLU paid for Scopes to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago. This expensive perk is left unmentioned by most of those who comment on the trial. Scopes became asuccessful petroleum engineer in later years.

So we find that evrything "Inherit The Wind" tells us about Scopes v. Tennessee is not the whole story. The public should read some of the new works out there concerning the Scopes trial including Marvin Olasky's new work on the subject. Without this information most observers will not know the truth of the "Monkey Trial". Come to think of it, that is exactly the thing the evolutionists want!


Brian E. Birdnow Ph. D

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18 Comments:

Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Many thanks for a fascinating and illuminating article! I knew that we really did not have the accurate story on that whole episode but it is wonderful to finally know the whole truth. I'll be posting a link on UT.

It's disheartening to realize how little things have changed.

5:17 PM  
Blogger BobG said...

Excellent blog, Tim, I have linked to your post. Thanks.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous KWWilliams said...

I would just like to point out that even if the whole trial was rigged, it has no bearing on the illegitimacy of creationism in schools. Just like judging Christians to be evil because of the Spanish Inquisition would be pretty questionable.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

KW, do they teach the history of science in science class? Creationism has been the dominant biological theory until 200 or so years ago. Aristotle was an Intelligent Design theorist, for example.

String theory is taught in school, and it is mathematical construct; there is not one shred of physical evidence for string theory.

Why not teach Darwinism, Lamarckianism, I.D., and any other theory which has a basis in the history and developement of biology? What`s there to be afraid of?

I would like to point out that according to Edward Larson in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer for the Gods Darwinism was floundering as a theory until the Piltown Man hoax breathed new life into it. Darrow used Piltdown as a key part of his evidence in Scopes. We now know that Piltdown was a fake, and the popular reporting of the Scopes trial is a sham. Yet this propelled Darwinism into the accepted theory. Why all the dishonesty? Why couldn`t Darwinists allow the theory to sink or swim on it`s own merits?

4:09 PM  
Anonymous kwwilliams said...

Of course creationism was popular until 200 years ago ... no one had formulated an alternate explanation that fit the evidence better.

I can't speak to string theory ... I try my best to not have opinions on things that I don't understand. As I've said before, everyone is entitled to an informed opinion, but no one is entitled to an uninformed opinion.

Lamarckism has been essentially disproved: characteristics acquired during an organisms lifetime generally can't be inherited. There are a few exception cases involving a few kinds of bacteria.

The foundations of ID have been disproven as well. Until someone develops an actual theory of ID, that theory can't be formally disproven, but so long as it rests on things like misapplied statistics, invalid probability calculations, eyes, wings, and flagellums, the individual pieces of evidence that it tries to explain can each be explained by science (or just better math).

Actually, Lamarckism and creationism/ID have a lot in common. Both were originally proposed as an honest explanation of observed events. Both were disproven in the early 1900s. Lamarckism was revived by the Soviet Union out of emotional/political objections, because Marxist philosophy demanded that each worker have an opportunity to better himself by the dint of his own labor, and creationism was revived out of emotional/religious objections, because so many religions demand that man be the purpose of the universe. Both were resurrected not because they explained anything well, but only because they made adherents feel better.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So we find that evrything "Inherit The Wind" tells us about Scopes v. Tennessee is not the whole story.

From what I understand Inherit the Wind never claimed to be an accurate portrayal of the Scopes trial. In the print edition of the play the authors wrote a forward which stated:

Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely of its own. [. . .]
The collision of Bryan and Darrow at Dayton was dramatic, but it was not a drama. Moreover, the issues of their conflict have acquired new dimension and meaning in the thirty years since they clashed at the Rhea County Courthouse. So Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as "Not too long ago." It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow.
(source)

1:19 AM  
Blogger TJ Willms said...

“but no one is entitled to an uninformed opinion.”


Ah… KW, have you ever heard of a little place called America?

It’s a wonderful country were anybody can harbor even advance any opinion at all, based on any evidence that they deem fit.

You for example seem to believe whole-heartedly in the theories advanced 200 years ago by one Charles Darwin, and your right to do so is unquestionable. Tim, however and it now appears his brother Dr. Birdnow have a differing opinion based a completely different body of evidence. Hence, this running debate that has ranged for several weeks now, some would say it indicates that a controversy exists.

That is what the President commented on some weeks ago regarding ID and has been so mischaracterized in the media. He did not demand that public schools immediately begin teaching ID alongside evolution. He signed no edict or presidential proclamation making it so, I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t possess that authority. He simply noted in a speech that there was an obvious controversy between evolution, ID, and or creationism in many people’s minds and schools should therefore teach students about that controversy. Giving the students the whole story instead of the “my way or the highway” one-sided view of the origin of the world currently offered in public schools.

The response from the scientific and public education community was predictably hysterical. A disinterested observer might judge from that reaction to a seemingly reasonable observation offered by one American to the rest of us that there is no room for reason in public education. Perhaps our children are just too feeble to make up their own minds when given all of the facts in this or any arena.

From viewing the current trends in pop-culture involving English, that same disinterested observer might surmise that English teachers are teaching students only half of the words in the English language and that our young people are left to fill in the blanks however they choose.

“What up dog.”

2:11 AM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Anonymous,

Inherit the Wind may not actually claim to be history, but it is clearly a piece of propoganda, and is often believed to be true. Why was it written, if not to distort what really happened?

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Ian H Spedding said...

I think you'll find that many if not most evolutionists are aware that "Inherit The Wind" is not a documentary about the Scopes trial and that the authors intended it more as a commentary on McCarthyism. And whether it's an accurate account of the trial or not makes no difference to the strength of the case for evolution.

You for example seem to believe whole-heartedly in the theories advanced 200 years ago by one Charles Darwin, and your right to do so is unquestionable. Tim, however and it now appears his brother Dr. Birdnow have a differing opinion based a completely different body of evidence.

I was under the impression that the debate was about differing interpretations of the same evidence. I had no idea the Birdnow brothers were in possession of a whole new body of evidence. What is it?

Hence, this running debate that has ranged for several weeks now, some would say it indicates that a controversy exists.

Plainly, there is a controversy. The problem is that it's not amongst scientists and on scientific matters the opinions of scientists count for rather more than those of lawyers or philosphers or engineers or clergy even property managers.

That is what the President commented on some weeks ago regarding ID and has been so mischaracterized in the media. He did not demand that public schools immediately begin teaching ID alongside evolution....He simply noted in a speech that there was an obvious controversy between evolution, ID, and or creationism in many people’s minds and schools should therefore teach students about that controversy. Giving the students the whole story instead of the “my way or the highway” one-sided view of the origin of the world currently offered in public schools.

That's all the President said, it's true, but he avoided the crucial issue. No one is saying you can't teach students about creationism or ID in school, the question is whether they should be taught in the science classes when scientists - who should know - are adamant that whatever else they might be, creationism and ID are not science.

As for the "my way or the highway" crack, do you want your kids to be taught science or superstition in the science classes because that's the choice. There isn't a shred of evidence for either creationism or ID nor even a half way decent hypothesis. Whether you say God did it or an Intelligent Designer did it, it's still just a statement of belief not a scientific theory.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

KW,

Until the Piltdown fraud and Scopes Neo-Lamarckianism was the favored Evolutionary theory. As part of the history of science it should indeed be taught.

Your assertion that ID has been exploded by science is precisely that-you have no solid basis.

You said;
``Soviet Union out of emotional/political objections, because Marxist philosophy demanded that each worker have an opportunity to better himself by the dint of his own labor, and creationism was revived out of emotional/religious objections, because so many religions demand that man be the purpose of the universe.``

Intelligent Design was revived because of weaknesses in Darwinian theory. After 145 years Darwinism has still not closed the case. Religious people accept quantum physics, which has just as large (if not larger) religious implications. Why? Because the quantum physicists were able to prove their case decisively.

4:51 AM  
Anonymous kwwilliams said...

Actually, Tim, many religious people don't accept physics, either. When you find someone that believes the Earth is 6000 years old, you have found someone that doesn't believe in physics.

Evolution has settled its case quite convincingly. For a science involved in historical recreation, it is extremely solid. Certainly, there are a few unexpected results that get discovered, but they all find a place eventually. Physics has those, too. The only thing evolution doesn't provide for people is a reason for things being the way they are. They come up with wild claims about how improbable various things are, but fail to consider how probable it is that *something* will happen. Certainly, humans are a rather improbable result of evolution, but so is every result. It's like the lottery: it is very unlikely that you will win Powerball tomorrow, but it is very likely that someone will. Somewhere in the universe, some form of life will exist. Nothing about evolution says it has to be us, and that it has to be here. That is a valid topic for religion, but doesn't invalidate the science.

And to TJ Willms: There is no scientific controversy regarding evolution. It is the only explanation available which fits the evidence. A large group of people in America refuse to accept that for emotional reasons, and are creating a controversy in the political arena. Still, only informed opinions really matter. The reaction to Mr. Bush's opinion was one of hysterical disbelief ... why would someone want to expose people to something so ludicrous in science class? Why choose this particular piece of wrongness for a compare and contrast exercise, instead of geocentrism, phlostigon, or any of the myriad other discredited theories? Most educated people have a hard time understanding why something so fundamentally wrong has such a grasp on the American public.

7:29 AM  
Anonymous TonyL said...

Creationism has been the dominant biological theory until 200 or so years ago. Aristotle was an Intelligent Design theorist, for example.

Planets tracing perfectly circular orbits with cycles and epicycles was the dominant astronomical theory until 400 years ago. Aristotle was a geocentrist.

String theory is taught in school,

Name one high school that teaches string theory.

and it is mathematical construct; there is not one shred of physical evidence for string theory.

At least string theory has a mathematical framework and can explain all existing evidence. When Intelligent design can do that, let us know. Heck, when there is one consistent theory of intelligent design, let us know.

I would like to point out that according to Edward Larson in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer for the Gods Darwinism was floundering as a theory until the Piltown Man hoax breathed new life into it.

That seems at odds with the actual history of the theory and its acceptance within the scientific community. Is that what he actually says, or is that what you've been told he says? Was he talking about evolution in general, or specifically about the evolution of man? Was he referring to the scientific community, or the lay public? I

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would like to point out that according to Edward Larson in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer for the Gods Darwinism was floundering as a theory until the Piltown Man hoax breathed new life into it. Darrow used Piltdown as a key part of his evidence in Scopes."

I don't think that's what Larson's book actually argues, but regardless, the Piltdown Man was controversial from the start in the actual scientific literature. The whole reason it was exposed as a hoax was that it DIDN'T fit in to the rest of the fossil record. If Creationists really wanted to disprove evolution, they should have hoped that the Piltdown Man was real, because it would have thrown a wrench into the steadily emerging picture of early man. Long before it came out as being a hoax, it had been dismissed as a troubling anomaly and generally ignored in the face of much more complete and well established finds.

Then again, you seem to be under the impression that "evolution" is all about early man. It's not. It's about _every_ species every alive on earth. What was at stake in the controversy over the Piltdown man was the exact lines of ancestry of a _single_ species that we study (which also happens to be our own species and so inspires a lot of press). That may have a lot of emotional press emphasis attached, but in terms of relevance to evolutionary theory as a whole, it's pretty darn minor. So it's a little hard to see how that one debate, no matter how it came out, could "breathe new life" into evolution in general, unless you mean in the popular imagination.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Woody said...

I was sucked in by "Inherit the Wind" and believed that it was meant to be a historical portrayal. Their "disclaimer" wasn't exactly prominent enough for most reasonable people to notice or interpret--which was their intention. Truth likes light and deceit likes darkness, which is why the left engages in misinformation and hides their intentions. I should have known better than to believe the play/movie, because liberals are liberals, whether today or eighty years ago, and they don't change their colors.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Steve Rankin said...

It's worth noting that Darwin's theory was not original with him. He copied it from Lord Monboddo, a Scottish judge and anthropologist who was a laughing-stock.

This reminds me of a First Person article by John Scopes that I read in Reader's Digest 40-plus years ago. I recall Scopes, commenting on Bryan's inability to answer one of Darrow's questions, saying that Bryan wiped his head "in domed silence"-- a reference to Bryan's baldness.

Bryan-- the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, 1900, and 1908-- may have been a Christian fundamentalist, but he also incorporated populism into that party and moved it away from the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian tradition personified by Grover Cleveland. Bryan helped pave the way for Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ.

This debate has inspired me to revisit the whole subject of the Scopes Trial.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Frank Stalter said...

"most observers will not know the truth of the "Monkey Trial". Come to think of it, that is exactly the thing the evolutionists want!"

That the Scopes trial was a publicity stunt is common knowledge and reported on sites like AbsouteAst­ronomy.com­, AmericanHe­ritage.com­, CNN and MSNBC
and in books from Michael Shermer, who wrote "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design", and Donald Prothero, who wrote, "Evolution: What The Fossils Say And Why It Matters."

11:25 PM  
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