Saturday, January 8

What Was The Scopes Trial?

Have you ever heard of the Scopes Trial? You more than likely have. Perhaps what you heard was related to the film Inherit the Wind, or perhaps you have read about the trial elsewhere. What was the original intention of the trial, what occurred during the trial, and how does it continue to affect us? In this entry, we will examine the Scopes Trial of 1925. *Note: This entry is double-length. (Photo credit to: HistoryNet, Law: Famous Trials,TN History for Kids)

The trial is sometimes referred to as "The Trial of the [20th] Century." It began with the passing of the Butler Act in Tennessee on March 13, 1925. The law was as follows:
House Bill No. 185
(By Mr. Butler)
AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof. 

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any 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. 

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense. 

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it."[1]

This act stipulated that evolution could not be taught in public school systems. 20 other states had already introduced similar laws. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties) set into motion a plan to have the law overturned, believing it to be an affront to "free speech." Putting out notices in different newspapers in Tennessee, the ACLU asked for someone to volunteer to be prosecuted under the Butler Act, as they would defend them. [2]

George Rappalyea, 31-year old geologist who managed local mines and a native of New York City, strongly disliked Christianity, so he responded as he felt necessary to the notice from the ACLU. Calling on his 24-year old friend, John T. Scopes, who was a mathematics and substitute teacher, he asked Scopes to teach the theory of Evolution in one of his classes. Scopes agreed. He urged students to turn him in, becoming increasingly willing to participate. Scopes was indicted in May 25, after being turned in by three students.

He was charged with having taught Evolution to a class on April 7, 1925, which was a violation of the Butler Act. Paul Patterson, owner of the Baltimore Sun, paid his bail. Rappalyea wanted to attract the major media, hoping for press coverage. He wrote to H.G. Wells, asking him to join the defense. Wells replied that he had no legal training in Britain nor America, so he declined. John R. Neal, law school professor from Knoxville, became Scopes' attorney.

William Bell Riley, a Baptist pastor and the founder and president of World Christian Fundamentals Association, called lawyer, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and leader of the Democratic party for over 25 years (as well as lifelong Presbyterian), William Jennings Bryan, to act as the organization's counsel. Bryan had originally been invited by Sue Hicks (subject of the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue") to become an associate of the prosecution, and he had accepted, even though Bryan had not tried a case in over thirty-six years. Scopes pointed out, "After [Bryan] was accepted by the state as a special prosecutor in the case, there was never any hope of containing the controversy within the bounds of constitutionality."[3]

John T. Scopes
Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), who was a very outspoken and well-known agnostic, agreed to be prosecutor and volunteered his service to the defense. The trial was broadcast as "the Monkey trial." While Bryan well-informed about the evolution/creation controversy, corresponding with scientists such as Henry Fairfield Osborn on evidences for and against evolution - he also accepted geological evolution and an Old Earth, in other words, what we now call a Theistic Evolutionist.

Darrow was a very successful criminal lawyer who specialized in defending very unpopular people as well as radical causes, winning seemingly impossible and improbably cases. His convictions as an Agnostic led him to believe that the actions of a man were merely the result of organic chemistry, and that the concepts of good/evil held no water. Darrow explains in his autobiography, The Story of My Life, "My object and my only object, was to focus the attention of the country on the program of Mr. Bryan and the other Fundamentalists in America."

The trial commenced July 10, 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee before Judge John T. Raulston for a period of 12 days (July 10-21, including weekends, technically 7), and to us seems odd, since trials in modern times can take months or even years. The only legal issue here was whether or not John Scopes violate the Butler Act by teaching evolution in the classroom or not. But for Bryan and Darrow, the issue was not his guilt nor his innocence, but whether or not evolution should be taught in public school systems. [4]

Darrow wanted to have several evolutionists testify in the court about the"fact" of evolution, but this was not permitted because the evidence for evolution was, technically, not the issue - and Darrow refused to have his scientists cross-examined by the prosecution. Most of the testimony of scientists was written and filed in record - none of it had been heard by the jury. The judge allowed them to write written statements but not testify.

Day one was generally taken up by selecting jurors. Day two (which was the following Monday) had opening arguments from the defense and prosecution. On day three, Darrow had objected to the trial being opened with prayer, but he was overruled by the judge, who was ridiculed for having a seeming bias regarding Creation, having quoted Genesis and the Butler Act.

On the fourth day, Dudley Field Malone stated the following: "The narrow purpose of the defense is to establish the innocence of the defendant Scopes... The broad purpose of the defense will be to prove that the Bible is a work of religious aspiration and rules of conduct which must be kept in the realm of theology." He also asserted, "We maintain that science and religion embrace two separate and distinct fields of thought and learning." The prosecution did not buy their argument. [5]

On the fifth day, Darrow argued that eight "scientific experts" be allowed to testify, fulfilling his intention to make the trial "a national biology lesson." These "experts" were: Fay Cooper Cole, Winterton C. Curtis, Charles Hubbard Judd, Jacob G. Lipman, Kirtley F. Mather, Maynard M. Metcalf, Wilbur A. Nelson, and Horatio Hackett Newman - professors, zoologists, directors and chairmen, geologist and dean. [6]

The prosecution argued that this testimony had no relevance as to whether or not Scopes had violated the Butler Act, but the Judge was curious and allowed Dr. Maynard Metcalf (Zoologist) to take the stand with the jury was absent. On the sixth day, the Judge ruled that Metcalf's testimony the day before was inadmissible and that none of the alleged experts would be allowed to testify in front of the jury. Darrow grew angry and argued with Raulston, who cited Darrow for contempt.

Darrow apologized to keep him from contempt of court. Darrow and his defense team of lawyers knew little about evolution, and failed to establish why it was needed in school. They attempted to justify its relevance by equating evolution with human embryology. Even Dr. Maynard (alleged expert of John Hopkins University) confused evolution with human embryonic development - and the aging process.
Darrow and Bryan

After Darrow's apology, the Judge stated, "The Man that I believe came into the world to save man from sin, the Man that died on the cross that man might be redeemed, taught that it was godly to forgive and were it not for the forgiving of himself I would fear for man. The Savior died on the Cross pleading with God for the men who crucified Him. I believe in that Christ. I believe in these principles. I accept Col. Darrow's apology."[7]

On the seventh day, the trial was moved outside to bleachers on the front lawn of the courthouse, since the crowd had over 5000 people and the courtroom could not hold that many people. Darrow then called Bryan to the stand. Though the prosecuting attorney was not usually called to the stand in such a trial, Bryan agreed and took the stand. Darrow questioned Bryan about such things as Jonah and the "whale," Joshua's Long Day, Noah's flood, the age of the earth, the Tower of Babel, Eve being the first woman, the identity of Cain's wife, and others, in an attempt to make the Bible look unscientific. Darrow even asked questions about the population of China - which is not found in the Bible, to make Bryan look bad.

Then, Darrow suddenly requested the jury to find Scopes, his own defendant, guilty as charged, preventing Bryan from presenting his closing statement, and giving the defense the option of appealing to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The jury agreed. The ACLU paid the fine and Scopes was free. Five days after the trial, Bryan died in his sleep. The Butler Act remained on the books for 42 years until its repeal. Scopes never actually testified, partially because he himself said he was never actually sure if he taught evolution or not.

Later, the film Inherit the Wind is shown in many schools and many believe it to be a historical account of the events that transpired - it is not, it was made in response to growing McCarthyism. (For an examination of the differences between the historical event and the film, visit here.) [8]

The turning point truly came when Darrow raised the issue of a six-day creation. When Darrow asked, "Does the statement, 'the morning and the evening were the first day,' and 'the morning the evening were the second day' mean anything to you?" In response Bryan said, "I do not see that there is any necessity for constructing the words, 'the evening and the morning,' and meaning necessarily a 24-hour day."

When Darrow asked, "Creation might have been going on for a very long time? Bryan replied, "It might have continued for millions of years." When Bryan compromised creation, Darrow reached his goal of making the Bible subject to reinterpretation with the fallible opinions and speculations of man, despite the clear teaching of Scripture. When the trial took place, some probably wondered what the age of the earth, days of creation, and Cain's wife had to do with the trial. Darrow understood why.

Darrow during the Trial
It was when Bryan could not answer the question about Cain's wife and admitted that he did not believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis that the world believed a Christian could not defend the Bible and therefore many people rejected God's Word. Like Bryan, many Christians today have accepted secular teaching of the world's history. Over eighty years later, most of our generation rejects the morality found in Scripture - and is it any wonder as to why?

The point is, the Scopes Trial was highly influential in opening the door to man's fallible opinions of Scripture, going against the clear teaching and evidence. The Scopes Trial was instrumental in bringing about an onslaught of investigations which eventually lead to Evolution being taught in schools and Creation being outlawed, though it is taught in some states in the US.

Troy Hillman

[1] "Tennessee Anti-Evolution Statues". Web. May 2010. <
[2] "Scopes Trial." Web. 01 Jan 2011. <
[3] Ham, Ken and Dr. David Menton. The New Answers Book 2. 5th ed. 2. Master Books, 2008. 277-282.
[4] Ibid. 278-280.
[5] Hastings, Kirk. "What Is Truth?". 1st ed. Publish America. 2009. 127-145.
[6] Ibid.  130-131.
[7] Ibid [3]. 281.
[8] Ibid [5]. 134-136.


  1. This website is a joke. Jesus never existed. Your buybull is a load of crap. Learn some science, will ya?

  2. "This website is a joke. Jesus never existed. Your buybull is a load of crap. Learn some science, will ya?"

    Thank you for your comment. Actually, you appear to lack an understanding of what science is. Science is testable, and Christianity is the only religion that is testable. I was going to merely delete your comment, as I ask people to remain civil and you clearly did not agree with the standard set.

    However, I wanted to reply, because it is foolish to simply delete. You make the claim, "Jesus never existed," but you do not back up your claim. The Truth Ministries spends long periods of time in research and studies. Personally, I research Evolution for a long time, as well as Creationism. I also studied the major world religions, and I came to find this as the truth.

    Your claim that Jesus never existed shows that you are willingly ignorant. As Peter predicted, many people choose to ignore what is right in front of them. Not all, but most scholars and historians accept Jesus as a historical figure. To say he never existed is arbitrary, fallacious, and ignorant.

    Even historians, as mentioned, agree that Jesus was a real person, thus the studies for the "Historical Jesus." Are you calling scientists and historians crap, a joke, because they agree that Jesus existed? We have many documents from the time of Jesus that had nothing to do with Christianity which backed up the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Read the entry, "Is Jesus Really God?" for a few such historical documents.

    Romans documents, Greek documents, Jewish, etc, all refer to a historical person named Jesus. We recommend you check your facts before making a fault claim based on assumptions. You also make the claim, "learn some science," which indicates, "you don't agree with science." On the contrary, science is not Evolution, nor is it Creationism.

    Very little of what we know in science is fact. Both Evolutionists and Creationists have the exact same evidence, just a different interpretation; it is a battle of worldviews. There is plenty of evidence for a Young Creation, for the reliability of the Bible and how it has never changed, for the existence of a historical figure names Jesus Christ, etc.

    You also say, "your [Bible] is a load of crap." For whatever reason, you reject God, the Bible, and Jesus. Perhaps you are atheist, perhaps you are an evolutionist, not enough information can be gleaned from your comment. However, it is obvious that you have negative emotions toward Christianity, and believe all of it to be false.

    So in summation, this website is the result of much research both in Evolution and Creation. If you would take the time to read all of the entries, perhaps you would come to a different conclusion. The claim that Jesus never existed is ignorant, since most historians and scholars who are non-Christian agree that there is a historical person named Jesus. You claim the Bible is a load of crap. It is apparent you dislike God's infallible Word, but you do not back up any of your claims or comments. You say to learn some science, our team is constantly learning science.

    Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Biology, Astronomy, etc, are all studied by its members on a day-to-day basis, and we are well aware of the arguments on both sides. Science does not prove neither Evolution nor Creation, but I could go say the same for Evolution. Here is a few closing thoughts, dear reader.

    Have you ever seen George Washington? I assume you will answer no. Have you ever smelled him, touched him, or heard him? No? Then why do you believe he existed? Why do you believe Napoleon existed, or Nero, or Alexander the Great, or the first Pope, or King James, or... and the list goes on. You believe (I assume you do) that these people exist because that is what the textbooks tell you.

  3. We believe they existed because we have historical documents, some signed by these men, but not all, some about these men. We actually have less evidence for the existence of one of the Roman Emperors than we do for Jesus: we have more evidence that Jesus existed than we do for a Roman emperor.

    Again, all comments are welcome, and you did remain civil to the point where you did not curse, which is appreciated, thank you. Thank you for your comment, you perfectly illustrated the public thought that Jesus did no exist, and if you request further proof of his historicity, I can provide quotations from historical documents that confirm his existence. They do not prove his deity, but they do prove his existence.

    Take care, whomever you may be, though your comment had little relevance to the topic at hand, and I would daresay your comment comes as a result of this trial, because if this trial did not occur, then perhaps public opinion would not be so degraded towards Scripture and the truth.

    God bless.
    -Troy Hillman-