Lately, I stumbled on a web page offering a new look at the “Scopes Monkey Trial”:
I have no dog in this race; the Catholic Church has no problem with Darwin or the Theory of Evolution. But it is fascinating to see how the record has been falsified.
I never tire of rediscovering the fundamental truth that anything “everyone knows” is bound to be wrong. Almost everything everyone knows about the Scopes Monkey Trial is not true.
To begin with, what exactly was “evolution,” what was being taught as “evolution,” at the time? It is interesting to realize what the banned book actually said, in its chapter on evolution. Darwin has a rather unfortunate history as a basic ideological underpinning of Fascism, Nazism, and their ideas about eugenics.
Here it is:
"The Races of Man. - At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the others in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan and the eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America." (p.196)
"…Parasitism and its Cost to Society. - Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.
"The Remedy. - If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country."
This is what teaching “evolution” meant in 1925. Social Darwinism was all the rage. This is what Clarence Darrow was defending as “science.” So it was considered in those days.
Contrary to what most people think, William Jennings Bryan’s objection to the text and to the teaching of evolution had to do very much with its dangers in terms of social engineering and the kind of violence it had recently promoted in the First World War, not just with its supposed conflict with a literal reading of the Bible. Bryan, after all, was a politician, not a clergyman. And he was not a Biblical literalist. Compulsory sterilization was a popular cause at the time: appealed to the Supreme Court in 1927, two years after the Scopes Trial. And found constitutional.
Bryan did not advocate, and did not believe in, a strictly literal reading of the Bible. He makes this clear and categorical. He held that the Bible used figures of speech and symbols. He did not believe the Earth was only a few thousand years old, or created in 4004 BC. He did not believe that God created the world in seven days in a literal sense.
Bryan also had no objection to teaching evolution in the schools. His position was that it should be taught as theory, not as fact.
And incidentally, contrary to popular belief, that famous date given by Bishop Ussher—4004 BC for the creation of the world—is not based solely on a literal reading of the Bible, but on a combination of sources available in his day, including the Bible, Greek historians, and Babylonian records. It was a genuinely scientific best guess of the time, before the geological record was recognized as a possible source.
Also, Bryan’s claim that Darwinian evolution was theory, not fact, was borne out by the defense’s own witnesses. Darwin was not that generally accepted by scientists themselves in 1925, the time of the Scopes trial. According to one expert witness for the defense (Scopes) at the trial: “Of recent years this theory of the causes of evolution [natural selection] has suffered a decline. No other hypothesis, however, has completely displaced it. It remains the most satisfactory explanation of the origin of adaptations, although its all-sufficiency is no longer accepted.”
Bryan’s larger point was that nothing in science is certain; it is all theory. And that this must be taught. He was exactly right: the great flaw in science teaching in the schools today is that science’s current best guess is always taught as if it were revealed truth.
This tends to be borne out by the “expert testimony” at the trial, meant to show the defense’s contention that evolution is “fact,” not “theory.” A huge amount of this actual evidence for evolution, as given in 1925, is now held by science itself to be wrong. Things like the notion that embryos, in their development, retrace the steps of evolution. Something I remember being taught in science class myself back in the Sixties. Things like Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man--who turned out to be a wild pig.
Darwin’s reputation did rise again in the thirties. It has been up and down over time. But note another interesting fact: evolution was not mentioned in most US textbooks until the 1960s. Perhaps it resurfaced in reaction to the play “Inherit the Wind,” which grossly misrepresented the Scopes trial.
At the time, 1925, there was no consensus that either side had won. Technically, of course, Bryan won, and Darrow lost. Scopes was convicted. The case was designed by the ACLU to test the constitutionality of the ban on teaching evolution; the Supreme Court of Tennessee upheld the constitutionality of the statute on appeal. It remained in force until 1967. So, in legal terms, it was a clear win for the anti-evolutionists. But the case never made it to the US Supreme Court, because the judgment was overturned on a technicality.
It is now seen as a win for the evolutionists, but only since the 1950s and the success of “Inherit the Wind.” Which extensively falsified the actual trial. In 1930, the William Jennings Bryan University was founded in Dayton Tennessee, site of the Scopes trial in honour if its namesake’s “last and greatest triumph.”
It is amazing how much of the history that is taught in the schools is straight-out false, invented to support a ruling ideology or ruling elite. Orwell was simply describing contemporary reality when he portrayed the manipulation of history in 1984. “He who controls the past, controls the future. And he who controls the present, controls the past.”