The Bible On Trial - The Scopes Monkey Trial

The Scopes Trial, formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was a famous American legal case in 1925 in which a high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school.[1] The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he purposely incriminated himself so that the case could have a defendant.

Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The trial served its purpose of drawing intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to Dayton to cover the big-name lawyers who had agreed to represent each side. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow, the famed defense attorney, spoke for Scopes. The trial publicized the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy, which set Modernists, who said evolution was not inconsistent with religion,[2] against Fundamentalists, who said the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. The case was thus seen as both a theological contest and a trial on whether modern science regarding the creation-evolution controversy should be taught in schools.


JR Harris's picture

The conspirators summoned John Scopes, a twenty-four-year old general science teacher and part-time football coach, to the drugstore. As Scopes later described the meeting, Rappalyea said, "John, we've been arguing and I said nobody could teach biology without teaching evolution." Scopes agreed. "That's right," he said, pulling a copy of Hunter's Civic Biology--the state-approved textbook--from one of the shelves of the drugstore (the store also sold school textbooks). "You've been teaching 'em this book?" Rappalyea asked. Scopes replied that while filling in for the regular biology teacher during an illness, he had assigned readings on evolution from the book for review purposes. "Then you've been violating the law," Rappalyea concluded. "Would you be willing to stand for a test case?" he asked. Scopes agreed. He later explained his decision: "the best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle." Herbert and Sue Hicks, two local attorneys and friends of Scopes, agreed to prosecute.

Rappalyea initially wanted science fiction writer H. G. Wells to head the defense team. "I am sure that in the interest of science Mr. Wells will consent," Rappalyea predicted. Wells had no interest in taking the case, but others did. John Neal, an eccentric law school dean from Knoxville, drove to Dayton and volunteered to represent Scopes. When William Jennings Bryan offered to join the prosecution team--despite having not practiced law in over thirty years--, Clarence Darrow, approaching seventy, jumped to join the battle in Dayton. Darrow was not the first choice of the ACLU, who was concerned that Darrow's zealous agnosticism might turn the trial into a broadside attack on religion.The ACLU first preferred former presidential candidates John W. Davies and Charles Evans Hughes, but neither was willing to serve alongside Darrow. Instead, it dispatched Arthur Garfield Hays, a prominent free speech advocate, to join the defense team. The final member of the defense team was Dudley Field Malone, an international divorce attorney (and another volunteer who the ACLU might have preferred to stay at home). Completing the prosecution team in Dayton were present and former attorneys general for Eastern Tennessee, A. T. Stewart and Ben B. McKenzie, and Bryan's son, federal prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, Jr. Time has a way of simplifying events and today Darrow and Bryan are remembered as the key adversaries in the trial, even though Hays for the defense and Stewart for the prosecution played equally important roles at the trial.

Read it all:

Read the entire edited version of "A treatise of the law of evidence (1899)" at from Harvard Law School.

~You can not moderate the truth. Just don't lie, steal or make stuff up out of thin air and expect to get away with it without it being pointed out to you. It's really very simple.~

live_free_or_die's picture

Maybe I will visit the UMKC law library & see what else they have on that case.

btw, the trial was made into a movie. Inherit The Wind starring Spencer Tracy & Gene Kelly, and Darren from Bewitched. It is a great movie.

JR Harris's picture

~You can not moderate the truth. Just don't lie, steal or make stuff up out of thin air and expect to get away with it without it being pointed out to you. It's really very simple.~


Is intelligent design a scientific theory?
Yes. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.

Or in other words, when you're looking for God, you find God.

live_free_or_die's picture

The Scopes trial by no means ended the debate over the teaching of evolution, but it did represent a significant setback for the anti-evolution forces. Of the fifteen states with anti- evolution legislation pending in 1925, only two states (Arkansas and Mississippi) enacted laws restricting teaching of Darwin's theory.

Arkansas & Mississippi? Those are two Bible-belt states, right?

How does AA & the 12 Steps do in the South?

live_free_or_die's picture

babelfish and pond scum.

For those interested in the REAL story of the Scopes Trial as contrasted with the Hollywood history in "Inherit the Wind," see the website or download the original trial transcript. For starters, the State of Tennesee never outlawed teaching the theory of evolution in the public schools or anywhere else; it DID outlaw the teaching in the public schools that ONE SPECIES (out of an estimated 2,000,000) evolved: namely that mankind evolved from a lower order of animal (monkeys). This aspect of Darwinism was contained in the biology text that John Scopes allegedly (but never actually) taught from where the races of mankind are ranked from the lowest (Negro) to the highest (Caucasian). Sick stuff to teach kids but very popular at the time. The biology text also contained plenty of "eugenics" -- the idea that mankind should be bred to weed out the weak and purify the strong. You might want to also look at the 2010 movie on this trial starring Brian Dennehy as Charles Darwin, Sen. Fred Thompson as William Jennings Bryan, and Colm Meany as H.L. Mencken. Fun!

live_free_or_die's picture

I find it amazing that you were able to register and post your link within, like 12 hours, of my posting about the Bible on trial. I have always been interested in this case, and I especially like the Inherit The Wind movie.

How were you able to post so soon after my post? Pretty impressive, that.

I was not aware of the 2010 version. I will check that out. I do like Brian Dennehy although I think Hollywood pretty much puts out crap these days.

So it looks like you own the Kindle version of the Scopes trial transcripts? It is for sale for $3? Is the transcript available on the University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor's website? Also, is the website you link to above yours? The looks like it is owned by somebody else.

Again, thanks for the links and additional information on the case. My questions are just out of curiosity and trying to figure out your interest in the Scope's case. I live about 10 minutes from the UMKC campus and I think I may try to get in touch with the professor.