Hollywood seems intent upon rewriting history to destroy belief in the Creator and his creation. For example, if you have not had the opportunity to watch the 1960 version of The Scopes Trial, known as Inherit the Wind, you might want to check this film out from your local library. If the 1960 black and white version isn’t available, perhaps they will have the 1999 version. This movie is watched by students nationwide as an educational film in science, history, and social study classes; and the students watching it are usually led to believe that the film was based on true facts—facts surrounding the infamous Scopes Trial. If you would like a challenge, read the following true facts about the Scopes Trial before watching this movie and try to count the number of outright lies or twisting of truths you find. I promise . . . it will be eye-opening!
Actual history: (All material below taken from Inherit the Wind: a Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial by Dr. David N. Menton.)
Scopes was a physics and math teacher and a football coach, not a biology teacher. He merely substituted for the biology teacher the last two weeks of school when the teacher became sick.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York City had advertised for a biology teacher who would be willing to be the pawn in testing the Butler Law, a law that prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee public schools. So it wasn’t the town’s people who were on the witch hunt, it was the ACLU.
The ACLU and George Rappleyea, a mine operator from Dayton, Tennessee, were responsible for indicting John Scopes for teaching evolution in the classroom. In reality, Scopes never taught on evolution. He even skipped over the topic while reviewing the students for their final exam.
Scopes was never jailed for teaching evolution. Nor was he prosecuted for his courageous stand on behalf of evolution by religious fanatics as the film portrays.
There was no Reverend Brown, so there was obviously no Reverend Brown’s daughter. They were both totally fictitious characters inserted with the seeming intention of making Christians look like foolish, ignorant, and backward people. Yet these are two of the most influential characters in the film where children and youth are concerned. Reverend Brown even goes so far as to curse his own daughter for not “disowning” her boyfriend, John Scopes. Incidentally, Scopes didn’t have a girlfriend at that time in history, so obviously she was never mistreated by Bryan on the witness stand.
The conservative Christians of Dayton, Tennessee are portrayed as greedy, ignorant, closed-minded, and discourteous people. They even behave in a threatening manner towards the defense lawyers, the news media, and outsiders in general. Yet Darrow himself stated, “I don’t know as I was ever in a community in my life where my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have found them since I have been in Tennessee. Yet I came here a perfect stranger and I can say what I have said before that I have not found upon any body’s part—any citizen here in this town or outside the slightest discourtesy. I have been treated better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north.”
Bryan was not ignorant of the teaching of evolution. In fact, he had written many well-argued articles which were critical of the scientific evidence used as proof of evolution in his day. He had long carried on a correspondence on the subject with the famous evolutionist, Henry Fairfield Osborn—the same Osborn who made the statement that if a hypothetical unbiased zoologist from Mars visited our planet he would classify people into several distinct groups or species. Osborn taught that the darker the person’s skin, the less evolved to full human status that person was. In contrast, Darrow gave the impression of having a very poor grasp of both the meaning and mechanism of evolution.
The testimony of the evolutionists assembled by the defense was prevented because Darrow adamantly refused to allow them to be cross-examined by Bryan. After Bryan received permission of question them, Darrow never called them to the witness stand.
The definition of the term evolution was constantly muddled by the defense and its witnesses throughout the entire trial, even to the point that it would have been unlikely that the jurors could have understood what it truly meant. Remember, at that point in history it wasn’t as widely taught in the educational system as it is today.
After spending the seventh day of the trial systematically grilling and ridiculing Bryan for his Christian beliefs, including the belief in the miracles of the Bible, Darrow abruptly ended the trial by asking the judge to instruct the jury to find his client guilty. There was a purpose for this. Bryan had only agreed to take the witness stand to answer questions on his Christian beliefs on the condition that he could then, in turn, question Darrow about his own agnostic and evolutionary beliefs. But with Darrow’s conniving move of requesting his client’s guilt, Bryan would never be allowed to examine Darrow. Also, he would not be allowed to give his closing argument, which was a well-supported scientific and religious argument against the theory of evolution.
In Inherit the Wind, when his client is found guilty (as Darrow requested), Darrow is visibly shaken by this great injustice. Bryan, on the other hand, is vindictive and argues bitterly that the $100.00 fine leveled against Scopes wasn’t enough for a crime of such great magnitude. In reality, all of Scopes’ expenses were covered by various interests, as was his tuition for a graduate education in geology after the trial finished. So he never spent time in jail, he wasn’t persecuted, nor did the trial cost him a cent.
The entire purpose for the trial was to (a) declare the Butler Act unconstitutional, (b) expose fundamentalist Christian views on the subject of origins to public ridicule in the press, and (c) focus the attention of the world on evolution.
Never did Bryan lose his senses and begin crazily ranting in the courtroom, nor did he, while trying to recite the books of the Bible, fall dead on the courtroom floor. He died 5 days later while resting in a peaceful sleep.
“The Christian fundamentalists are consistently lampooned throughout the film, while skeptics and agnostics are consistently portrayed as intelligent, kindly and even heroic.”
The writers obviously did not intend to write a historically accurate account of the Scopes trial, yet this is how it is presented in many of our school systems today. Why do you think the world feels it necessary to belittle someone who believes the biblical story of creation?