Evolution on Trial- A Legal History of the Battle Over Science Class, Part Two- Censorship Reigns Victorious

In part one of this article we examined the Scopes Monkey Trial, which laid the groundwork for declaring science class an official battleground when it comes to what our children are taught regarding the origin of life. We witnessed Darrow’s brilliant strategy that succeeded in setting the precedent for erroneously framing this unfortunate battle as religion vs science. The court cases that followed have had two results: The first, is that the theory of evolution has been legally afforded a “protection” against any rival scientific theory in the classroom. Second, religious individuals (specifically Christians) have been effectively excluded from objecting to any school curricula that promotes the indoctrination of our children regarding the teaching of evolution as scientific fact.  Let’s take a look at this victory of censorship, case by case.

Epperson vs Arkansas

In Part I of this article, I mentioned that although the Scopes Trial set a damning precedent for all trials to come, the social backlash was not immediate. Quite the opposite, the trial had resulted in somewhat of an anti-evolution movement that continued throughout the following decades. During this time, Arkansas and Mississippi were successful in passing legislation prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

For this reason, until 1965, science textbooks in Little Rock, Arkansas didn’t contain a section on evolution. However, the school administrators adopted a new textbook for the 65′-66′ school year that did cover the theory of evolution. In response, an Arkansas science teacher, Susan Epperson, sought a declaration to void the Arkansas statute so she wouldn’t be fired for teaching from the textbook.

Susan Epperson pictured above

In October of 1968 the case was finally argued before the Supreme Court. Court analysis concluded that the statute sought to prevent public school teachers from presenting evolution because it was contrary to the belief of a particular religious group. Based on that finding, in November of 1968, the court held that the law was unconstitutional because the government “must be neutral between religions and between religion and non-religion. In addition, the government should not “aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another.”

Unfortunately, subsequent court decisions have failed to follow the precedent set by this case. The imperative here is that the government must maintain religious neutrality. Otherwise, they are infringing on a person’s constitutional rights as set forth in the 1st and 14th Amendments.

From here on out, the only thing we will witness is the miscarriage of justice…

Edwards vs Aguillard

In 1981, Louisiana enacted the Balanced Treatment for Creation -Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Institution Act. This act didn’t require that either be taught, but if one theory was presented, then the other must be as well. Sounds fair. Proponents of the act pointed out that it had a secular purpose, meaning creation science is a science- not the promoting of a religious belief.

Don Aguillard was a high school advanced biology teacher in Louisiana who felt that having to teach creation science was unconstitutional. So, he sued Edwin Edwards, who was the governor of Louisiana at that time.

In December of 1986, the case was argued in front of the Supreme Court. By this time, the court had adopted the “Lemon Test” (from Lemon vs Kurtzman 1971) which details a three pronged approach to detailing legislation regarding religion.

The three prongs of the Lemon Test are as follows:

  1. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose. (The Purpose Prong)
  2. The principal or primary effect of the statute must not advance nor inhibit religion. (The Effect Prong)
  3. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion. (The Entanglement Prong)With this in mind, marvel at the decision of the Supreme Court:

    The court found that the act did not grant teachers greater flexibility. It further found that the act was discriminatory by requiring the development of curricular guidelines and research for creation science to the exclusion of evolution. The court held that the state legislature had a preeminent religious purpose in enacting the statute and that they were attempting to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind. The Supreme Court struck down the act in June of 1987.

    An important point to note: The district court had argued that the teaching of creation science necessarily entails the teaching of a religious tenet, the existence of a Divine Creator. I suppose this is somehow logically opposed to the fact that evolution science necessarily entails the teaching of an atheist tenet, the non-existence of a Divine Creator.

    If you disagree with this Supreme Court decision, you are in good company. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the late Justice Antonin Scalia both dissented. They accepted the act’s stated purpose of “protecting academic freedom” as a sincere and legitimate purpose. Furthermore, these Justices construed the term “academic freedom” to refer to “students’ freedom from indoctrination,” in this case their freedom “to decide for themselves how life began, based on fair and balanced presentation of scientific evidence.”

Pictured above the 1986 Rehnquist Supreme Court. Members: Chief Justice William Rehnquist, William Brennan, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Antonin Scalia.

From bad to worse…

Freiler vs Tangipahoa

In April of 1994, the school board of Tangipahoa, Louisiana adopted a policy mandating that a disclaimer was to be presented before any discussion of evolutionary biology. The disclaimer stated:

Whenever, in classes of elementary or high school, the scientific theory of evolution is to be presented, whether from textbook, workbook, pamphlet, other written material, or oral presentation the following statement shall be quoted immediately before the unit of study begins as a disclaimer from endorsement of such theory.

“It is hereby recognized by the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, that the lesson to be presented, regarding the origin of life and matter, is known as the Scientific Theory of Evolution and should be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept.

It is further recognized by the Board of Education that it is the basic right and privilege of each student to form his/her own opinion or maintain beliefs taught by parents on this very important matter of the origin of life and matter. Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion.”

Some parents sued the school board and won their district court case in 1997. The school board appealed, but the US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, upheld the decision of the district court in 2000. Later that year, the school board appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. This time their were 3 dissenting votes from the Supreme Court: Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist, and Clarence Thomas.

From worse to even worse…

Kidzmiller vs Dover

In October of 2004, a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania passed a resolution requiring the reading of the following statement at the beginning of each 9th grade biology class:

“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unites a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book. “Of Pandas and People,” is available in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards based assessments.”

Eight families in Dover somehow took issue with this, and backed by the ACLU, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the validity of the statement.

Notice that Dover school board’s statement doesn’t even use the words “creation science.” Instead they reference “intelligent design”. If you don’t follow science, you may not be aware that Intelligent Design is actually a movement that is wholly separate from creation science. Primarily ID differs from creationism in that, while creation science is the examination of scientific evidence through a “biblical lens,” ID is agnostic regarding their source of design and has no basis in the Bible or any other sacred text.

You might think this would be an acceptable compromise in the eyes of the court, but you would be mistaken.

The prosecution claimed that ID is indistinguishable from creation science and therefore unconstitutional. In December of 2005, US district court Judge John E. Jones agreed and rule that ID is a religion and ordered the school board to remove the statement. He went further by providing special protection for the theory of evolution stating that the school board could not require teachers to denigrate the theory.

In case you’re keeping score: The courts up to this point have ruled that schools can’t teach both creation science and evolution; they can’t verbally point out that evolution is not a fact, it’s a theory; they can’t mention any other theories regarding the origin of life; as a matter of fact, evolution is now legally beyond all criticism.

The ACLU has gone so far as to attack the Discovery Institute, which is a proponent of ID. The illustrious ACLU accuses the Discovery Institute of using ID as a strategy to “promote their religious beliefs by denigrating science and promoting supernatural intelligent design as a competing theory.” So, the ACLU does not even want evolution to have to deal with any competing theories. Doesn’t it beg the question, that if evolutionary theory cannot hold up to competing theories, shouldn’t it be allowed to collapse under its own unscientific weight? That’s what true science fosters- the discovery of truth- not the propping up of a failed theory.

The descent continues…

Selman vs Cobb County

In March of 2002, the Cobb County school district passed a policy requiring all biology textbooks bear a sticker saying:

“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

Image via NBC News Atlanta

The school board also adopted policy changes emphasizing its aim to “foster critical thinking among the students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion, and to ensure a posture of neutrality to religion.” The policy further explained that it was not its intention to restrict the teaching of evolution, nor to promote creationism.

This rubbed New York transplant, and Cobb County resident, Jeffrey Selman, the wrong way. He read about the stickers in an Atlanta alternative paper called Creative Loafing. He says that he initially contacted the school board about his concerns, but felt ignored. Selman then contacted the ACLU and filed a lawsuit challenging the disclaimer.

The district court held that the disclosure was adopted for the secular purpose of accommodating religious objections, but it had the unconstitutional effect of endorsing religion. The school district appealed to the US Court of Appeals.

In June of 2005, Americans United and the Anti-Defamation League got involved arguing that the district court had correctly found that the disclaimer had an unconstitutional effect, but that it had erred when it held that placing religiously motivated objectors is a secular purpose.

In 2006, the Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s ruling and sought to review the district court’s trial record. It found those records to be insufficient, and when Americans United requested to hold a new trial in which they would represent Selman as lead council, the court agreed.

However, the case never went to trial. Both parties settled in December of 2006. Under the resulting consent order the school district is prohibited from:

  1. Reattaching to science textbooks the evolution disclaimer stickers or any other statements regarding evolution, Charles Darwin, creation science, intelligent design, or any other religious view concerning the origin of life or the origin of human beings.
  2. Making any disclaimers regarding evolution orally, in writing, or by any other means.
  3. Exercising or redacting materials on evolution in students’ science textbooks.
  4. Violating state educational standards regarding the teaching of evolution.

Further: Should the school district violate any of these provisions, the case will be reopened and the school district may be liable for all attorney’s fees accrued since the start of the case.

As a side note, after the trial, Jeffrey Selman became president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State for Atlanta. As of the date of this article posting, he still holds that position. In 2015, Selman self-published an autobiographical account of the case, titled God Sent Me. I know what you’re thinking, but Selman states that he “did not write the book for money.”

For you scorekeepers, the courts have now added to their rulings that schools may not add written disclaimers on textbooks or encourage students to “critically consider” what their textbooks say regarding evolution.

This ruling proves to be particularly troubling and Casey Luskin, writing for Discovery Institute in this article, says it best:

“Under Judge Cooper’s ruling, a law is unconstitutional if some citizens ‘perceive the [government] to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origin’—even if the government did not adopt those religious policies. It’s all about perceptions and feelings. According to this court, if the government feels that ‘Christian fundamentalists and creationists’ have a good idea, and they adopt it, then that policy is unconstitutional even if it had a valid secular purpose, simply because it was supported by ‘Christian fundamentalists and creationists’ in the community. An otherwise constitutional policy is made unconstitutional simply because of the religious beliefs of the people in the community who support it: [Following quote from Judge Cooper]

“There is no evidence in this case that the School Board included the statement in the Sticker that ‘evolution is a theory, not a fact’ to promote or advance religion. Indeed, the testimony of the School Board members and the documents in the record all indicate that the School Board relied on counsel to draft language for the sticker that would pass constitutional muster. Thus, the presence of this language does not change the Court’s opinion that the Sticker survives the purpose prong of the Lemon analysis.

Still, the informed, reasonable [observer] would perceive the School Board to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origin.”

Luskin continues, “This ruling means that if religious citizens advocate for a particular policy position, even if that position could have legitimate secular benefits and could be passed under legitimate secular motives (as was this disclaimer), the government has acted unconstitutionally if it adopts that position simply because that policy was supported by many citizens who are religious. Such a legal rule diminishes the political rights of religious citizens by inhibiting their ability to advocate for policy positions in American politics.”

Luskin notes further that Judge Cooper’s ruling is unconstitutional because she has failed to treat religion in a neutral fashion. “Indeed, Jeffrey Selman, the plaintiff himself, participated in a ‘Rally for Reason’ sponsored by the Atheist Law Center. Much activist opposition to Cobb County’s disclaimer by the atheist community was organized through a group called ‘Internet Infidels.’ Internet Infidels is ‘a non-profit educational organization dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet’ where ‘naturalism entails the nonexistence of all supernatural beings, including the theistic God.’”

It is true that creation science and intelligent design hold implications for fields outside of science such as theology, ethics, and philosophy. But so does evolution. John G. West writes in his article for Discovery Institute, “Leading Darwinists routinely draw out theological and cultural implications from the theory of evolution.” Here are a few of West’s examples:

  1. Richard Dawkins claims that Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
  2. E.O. Wilson employs Darwinian biology to deconstruct religion and the arts.
  3. Eugenie Scott, executive director of NCSE (National Center for Science Education), acknowledges that the purpose of the group’s “clergy outreach program” is to encourage members of the practicing clergy to address the issue of evolution in Sunday schools and adult Bible classes” and to get church members to talk about “the theological implications of evolution.”

It is abundantly clear that those who are insistent upon the theory of evolution being taught in public schools exclusively, barring any suggestion by the school system of critical thought on the part of the student regarding evolution theory’s shortcomings and also barring the mention of the theories put forth by creation science or intelligent design, do so as a means of indoctrination and to promote the anti-religious belief that life did not originate with a Creator.

Therefore, these court decisions are unconstitutional by the very definition of their own Lemon Test. They have violated the 1st prong, the Purpose Prong, by failing to recognize the atheistic “anti-religious” purpose of creating pro-evolution legislation as a “non-secular purpose”, when in fact the “anti-religion” of atheism is comparative in function to the religious function that they detest. This has been illustrated in numerous trials by the failure of the courts to remain neutral between the religious and so-called “non-religious”. They have violated the 2nd prong, the Effect Prong, by advancing the atheist anti-religion of evolutionary theory centering around the absence of a Creator, and inhibiting religion that recognizes a Creator. The 3rd prong, the Entanglement Prong, has been grievously violated as the court has become almost inextricably entangled in a battle between atheism and religion. As Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas recognized, our children are the ones who suffer. The Supreme Court has failed to afford them “freedom from indoctrination” and it has failed to afford them their right “to decide for themselves how life began, based on fair and balanced presentation of scientific evidence.” Censorship reigns victorious.


Evolution on Trial- A Legal History of the Battle Over Science Class, Part One- The Scopes Monkey Trial

As a Christian parent, have you ever wondered how science class ended up being the battle ground for the age old controversy of where life began? Were we created by an omnipotent being or did life spontaneously erupt from a primordial cocktail? If you take offense to the idea that a child should be taught the concept of life originating from a Creator, then you should also be offended by the idea that a child should be taught that all life is descended from a single cell organism- and vice versa. Even more difficult to fathom, is how we have arrived at the place where our children are taught that the secular theory of evolution is a confirmed fact and creation science is labeled a religious fanatic’s fairy tale, a “pseudoscience”.

The truth is we’ve all been sold a lie. That lie is that secular scientists have no bias. That secular science merely evaluates the evidence and allows that evidence to propel sound theory. We are told that creation science, on the other hand is unavoidably corrupted by the belief in a Creator. That the underlying belief in a Creator taints and warps a creation scientist’s understanding of this mutually shared evidence, leading to biased and unprovable theories of life as we know it. We are told that secular science deals in reality and creation science deals in myth- end of story.

To be totally honest, I am in agreement on at least two counts: creation science yields theories that are biased due to its foundational belief in a Creator, and the theories that are put forth to explain the existence of life as we know it cannot be confirmed.

However, I also believe that we are deluded if we believe that secular science doesn’t suffer from the same handicap. Secular science has its own obvious and detrimental bias. Its theories are corrupted by the foundational belief that life did not begin with a Creator. And, just like creation science, the theories that are offered up to explain the existence of life as we know it cannot be (and contrary to popular belief) have not been confirmed. If you question that last statement, I hope you’ll read the following posts from my blog: Did the Human Genome Project Confirm Evolution, and Evidence for Darwin’s “Descent of Man”: Mountain or Molehill?

Fundamental truth: Secular science vehemently and dogmatically denies the existence of a Creator with the same fervor in which creation science vehemently and dogmatically declares the existence of a Creator. Secular science has become a religion in its own right. A religion dedicated to denying the existence of a Creator at all costs.

Which science is better? From a logical standpoint, the only answer is neither. Given these truths, secular science and creation science can only be considered equals. But where does that leave science class? How are we to accurately apply the separation of church and state when it comes to what our children are taught about the scientific evidences and theories for the origin of life? If the government bans either theory from the classroom, it has made a law respecting the establishment of a particular religion- a blatant violation of the first amendment. Yet, that is exactly what has occurred.

So, how have we come to a place where creation science is legally banned from the classroom and evolution is taught as fact? Christian, the truth of the matter is, historically, we own a share of the blame. A series of court decisions over the last century have shaped the policies that govern how our children are educated today. Unfortunately, these court decisions have warped the application of separation of church and state.

To get a good historical understanding we have to go all the way back to the 1920’s. Darwin’s writings were very well established and had become generally accepted in biology. As a consequence, they were being incorporated into school curricula. Teachers were beginning to unionize and the National Education Association had recommended that the states align their standards nationally. To this end, states began making science class a mandatory requirement and many textbooks were addressing evolution.

At the same time, there was a rise in what began to be called “religious fundamentalism”. The term “religious fundamentalism” was actually coined in the 20’s, and it referred to the strict adherence to certain fundamental concepts of Christian faith, including the literal interpretation of the Bible.

These fundamentalists had a big problem with Darwin’s theory of evolution being taught to their children in science class. After all, the idea of the origin of life being credited to anything other than God is a direct contradiction to the Genesis creation account. In order to keep evolution out of the classroom many states began considering laws that would ban it from being taught.

At first glance, one is tempted to be judgemental of the “fundamentalists” of the 20’s for taking up a crusade to prevent the theory of evolution being taught alongside creationism. To bring a little context to the situation, however, this is an excellent place to insert a excerpt from the textbook in question, William Hunter’s A Civic Biology Presented in Problems, published in 1914: This paragraph is taken from the section titled The Races of Men, “If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals…At present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man and the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”

This is the perfect example of the fact that the theory of evolution, definitely in its beginning, was unabashedly racist. I can’t imagine that even the most progressive agnostic or atheist today would approve of this very obviously unscientific information being included in a science text intended for educational purposes. Many will cry foul, and claim that religion, and the Bible in particular, have contributed to racist sentiment. However, it should be noted that any Christian harboring racist beliefs does so without any biblical corroboration. The creation account in Genesis makes clear that we are ALL descended from the same two people- Adam and Eve. Race is never even mentioned in the Bible. Today, the theory of evolution has divorced its racist roots.

This just goes to show that issues are not always black and white. Today, we can look back (with our new and improved, non- racist, theory of evolution) and proclaim that these Christians had no right to ban the secular creation account from the classroom. However, these “fundamentalists” were not dealing with the new and improved theory of evolution. They were dealing with a version that is even less compelling than the one espoused today.

It is true that religious individuals didn’t want their children being taught a curriculum that would cause them to question their faith, but it was not a cut and dry religious issue as secular history would recount, it was more complicated than that. I mentioned earlier that strides were being taken to move toward a national education standard. While a national standard of education certainly has its benefits, parents in the 20’s had an underlying issue- they didn’t want to give the government full control over what was taught in public schools. After all, public schools are funded by public tax dollars. Parents wanted to be sure they had a say in what was taught, rather than relinquishing control to the government.

So, in January of 1925, the Butler Act was introduced in the state of Tennessee and it was passed as law in March of the same year. This law established a $100- $500 fine for teaching evolution.

In response to anti-evolution laws, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) began to publicly advertise that they were looking for a “test case” to challenge the validity of these laws. The ACLU advertised that they would defend anyone accused with violating these anti-evolution laws.

In the small, economically struggling town of Dayton, Tennessee, a group of civic leaders read one such ad in a Chattanooga newspaper and hatched a plan while sitting at the table in Fred E. Robinson’s Drug Store where they met regularly.

Photos from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville digital library: https://digital.lib.utk.edu/collections/islandora/object/scopes%3A1319#page/2/mode/2up

Hoping to resuscitate their ailing town with the influx of tourists and attention that a high profile trial would bring, this group of men enlisted John T. Scopes (a 24 year old college graduate who had taught algebra and physics for one year at Rhea County High School) to be the center of a trial hosted in their city. Scopes was chosen because he was well liked, and he didn’t have a family whose livelihood would be threatened if he ended up losing his job. Scopes recalled that while substituting in a science class the prior April, he had done an exam review out of the state approved biology book (Hunter’s “A Civic Biology”) and thought he had probably gone over the chapter on evolution. (Scopes later refuted this statement.) Scopes agreed to play along and this telegram was sent to the ACLU:

“Professor JT Scopes, teacher of science Rhea County high school, Dayton, Tenn will be arrested and charged with teaching evolution. Consent of superintendent of education for test case to be defended by you. Wire me collect if you wish to cooperate and arrest will follow.”

Photo of John T. Scopes

Secular history tends to glaze over this point, but it’s important to highlight the fact that this trial did not arise organically from Tennessee citizens who felt oppressed by the fact that evolution was being banned in the classroom. The ACLU was shopping for a test case and the civic leaders of the town of Dayton had ulterior motives for volunteering. It should be noted that although Scopes himself did not agree with the Butler Act, he was not atheist or agnostic. He, like many others, did not believe that the theory of evolution was necessarily incompatible with the Bible.

The ACLU agreed and Scopes was arrested on May 7, 1925. He was immediately released on $1,000 bond paid by the ACLU, so he never spent any time in jail. The trial that resulted is sometimes called the most famous trial in history and became a circus comparable to the legendary Barnum and Bailey.

The Scopes Monkey Trial

Rhea County Courthouse in 1925

The town of Dayton pulled out all the stops to prepare for what they hoped would be an onslaught of visitors. They formed a Scopes Trial Entertainment Committee which presided over the building of a tourist camp to accommodate visitors, added an outdoor speaking platform to the courthouse, added camera platforms inside the courthouse to accommodate reporters, turned Dayton’s main road into a festival ground complete with vendor stalls, relabeled the constables motorcycle the “monkeyville police”, businesses hung pictures of monkeys and apes in their windows, Fred Robinson’s drug store began serving “simian sodas”, and a famous chimpanzee dressed in a suit and bow tie was flaunted around town. Evangelists from all over came to Dayton to preach about the evils of evolution.

A picture is worth a thousand words:

Local shop owners taking advantage of the trial.

Scopes, Neal, and Rappleyea walking in front of huge “Read Your Bible” sign.

Joe Mendi, a chimpanzee movie performer was in attendance.

The Scopes Trial was the first trial to be broadcast nationwide and it was also filmed for newsreels that were distributed to movie theaters. Two of the most famous lawyers of the era prepared to face off:

William Jennings Bryan, an outspoken Christian and famed orator, was the prosecuting attorney. He was the leader of the Democratic party for 25-30 years and had run for president on the Democratic ticket three times. Bryan had served as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson. Lest you erroneously equate Bryan’s outspoken Christianity with conservatism (a common trait in politics today), as secretary of state Bryan proved himself to be a true liberal progressive of his day by establishing the Federal income tax, downgrading the nation from the gold standard, championing minority rights and women’s sufferage, and establishing minimum wage, the departments of labor, health, education, and welfare just to name a few. (Not that some of these things weren’t good ideas at the time. Instead, they are prime examples of how good intentions can balloon into monstrosities.)

The famous attorney, Clarence Darrow, represented the defense. Darrow was an outspoken agnostic and critic of fundamentalism. He defended a lot of unpopular people and radical causes. Most notably, was his defense of Leopold and Loeb, two young men found guilty of murdering a young boy in what was called a “thrill killing” (just for the fun of it) in an effort to commit the perfect crime. Darrow kept them from getting the death penalty.

Darrow pictured left, and Bryan pictured right

Many aspects of society were completely different as compared to today, but one commonality shared is the media bias that was portrayed. Political cartoons of the day portrayed the favorable attention given to Darrow versus the mocking afforded to Bryan.

Political cartoon portraying Bryan as so naive that Darrow has to tell him Santa isn’t real.

Here Bryan is portrayed as “Don Quixote” taking up a pointless battle against the “windmill” of evolution.

The only legal question in the trial was whether or not Scopes had violated the Butler Act. However, both sides knew that this was a “test case” and ultimately Scopes’ guilt or innocence meant nothing.

These were the objectives of each side given in Bryan and Darrow’s own words:

Bryan: “First, to establish the right of the taxpayers to control what is taught in schools. Second, to draw a line between the teaching of evolution as a fact and teaching it as a theory. Third, to see that any teacher that might be found guilty of this offense should be given an opportunity to resign.”

*** Notice, Bryan states that his main goal is to place the control over what is taught in the hands of the public and designating that evolution is theory and not to be confused with fact. Interestingly, this is the same thing that most of us would like to achieve today- evolution taught alongside creationism, both as theories. Science class is not the place for indoctrination from either side of this argument. ***

Darrow (per his autobiography “The Story of My Life”): “My object and my only object, was to focus the attention of the country of the program of Mr. Bryan and the other fundamentalists in America.”

*** Notice, Darrow’s goal, rather than aiming for equal treatment for both sides (a fulfillment of separation of church and state), is stated as the much more personal (and bitter, if I might add) intention of exposing the prevalent teachings of fundamentalism as indoctrination. The focus of “religion vs science” was coming directly from Darrow. Even the ACLU viewed the Butler Act as an infringement on freedom of speech- not on freedom of religion.

As a matter of fact, due to Darrow’s repeated insults aimed at the judge and the jury, he was held in contempt of court.

Today, we would all laugh at Darrow’s entire presentation of his case to validate the theory of evolution. First of all, instead of focusing on all life coming from a single primitive cell (the foundation of evolution), they equated evolution with embryology. This illustrates the fact that scientists of the day actually had no idea how evolution was supposed to work. Embryology is the the study of life forming from a single cell. A sperm cell enters an egg cell (called conception), the cells then divide repeatedly and result in a fully formed organism. They argued that this was what evolution was all about- if you believe this, then you believe in evolution. Today we know that the two are unrelated.

Although embryology highlights that life does indeed form from one cell, that one cell is species specific and always gives rise to its same kind. For example, dogs will always have dogs, cats will always have cats, etc. Obviously, this is not to say that natural selection does not lead to changes within a species (the emergence of different types of dogs, cats, horses, etc.) However, nowhere do we witness any evidence of a dog evolving into a cat or any “kind” evolving into any other “kind”. To this day, science has been unable to provide even one example of a transitional form. Darwin himself expected in the years following his theory that a preponderance of evidence for his theory would be unearthed in the fossil record. Over a century has passed and scientists are still looking for this proof.

The testimony of Darrow’s expert witnesses would be nothing less than embarrassing by today’s standards. They all equated evolution with embryology and when asked to define evolution, their responses are some of the most unintelligible rambling you’ve ever heard. If you’re interested in reading the transcript of the trial complete with these ramblings, you can view it in its entirety at this link: http://moses.law.umn.edu/darrow/trials.php?tid=7

Interestingly, all evidence entered as support of evolution in the trial has been discredited today. For example, a fossilized tooth was entered into evidence in support of the existence of “Nebraska Man” as a transitional ape-man. The tooth was later found to be a fossilized pig tooth.

Darrow’s initially planned tactic was to have multiple scientists testify as to the scientific validity of evolution. However, the judge would not allow the jury to hear the testimony of the scientists due to the fact that the validity of evolution had nothing at all to do with whether or not Scopes was guilty of breaking the law, which was the only purpose of the trial. So, the jurors were not allowed to hear the scientists and their expert testimonies were entered into court records by deposition. Faced with this formidable obstacle, Darrow came up with a brilliant and unconventional plan of attack. He got Bryan to agree to take the stand as an expert witness to defend the Bible.

Why the judge would agree to allow the validity of the Bible to be questioned when he rightly refused to allow testimony on the validity of evolution is beyond me. Neither had anything to do with the case. The result of the judge’s decision not to allow expert testimony on evolution or creation, was that the jurors had both accounts explained by lawyers in lieu of experts. This proved to be Bryan’s biggest and most detrimental mistake.

Bryan, although undoubtedly an intelligent and educated Christian, was most definitely not a Bible scholar. Darrow proceeded with a line of questioning that focused, first, on illustrating Bryan’s belief in a mostly literal interpretation of the Bible, second, highlighting many supernatural (and therefore scientifically unexplainable) biblical accounts, and third, pointing out Bryan’s imprecise and sometimes contradictory responses. Bryan himself, had a compromised fundamentalist belief at best. His belief in the day age theory as opposed to the 6 day creation account, and a local rather than global flood, among other things, rendered him incapable of providing a consistent defense of either creation or biblical inerrancy. Darrow was particularly adept at making a mockery of Bryan’s belief that the creation account can be understood to impart that creation occurred over millions of years as opposed to 6 literal 24-hour days. Darrow took Bryant to task, reading directly from the biblical creation account as it is written- with the terms “morning” and “night” to define what the term “day” means in context.

Inside the courtroom.

Bryan had agreed to take the stand believing that Darrow would take the stand as an expert on evolution the next day. Instead, Darrow came in the next day and instructed the jury to find his client guilty as charged which ended the trial. The jury returned 10 minutes later with a guilty verdict. Scopes, who never took the stand, was fined $100. The goal of the ACLU at that point (and the reason Darrow recommended that Scopes be found guilty) was to appeal the verdict, ideally all the way to the Supreme Court in a case that would find laws like the Butler Act unconstitutional nationwide. However, that never occurred. Scopes’ appeal was overturned in the Tennessee Supreme Court on a technicality, and the ACLU had nothing left to pursue.

Five days after the trial ended, William Jennings Bryan died in his sleep during an afternoon nap.

Tennessee, the city of Dayton, religious fundamentalism, and anti-evolution laws were mocked in the media.

Darrow was a brilliant man. He succeeded in duping the judge as well as the prosecution into framing the argument as “religion vs science” which set, what has proved to be, an inescapable legal precedent of equating creation science with the promotion of a particular religious belief as opposed to the equation of secular science with an unbiased, non-religious collection of facts. We still operate under this fallacy today.

While the theories presented by creation science do corroborate the Bible, the only aspects of creation science that have a place in the classroom are the evidences that point to a Creator as the origin of life- not theological interpretation of the Bible. By the same token, the only aspects of secular science that have a place in the classroom are the evidences that corroborate their theory of the origin of life- not a secular “theology” that claims the superiority of their unproven theories negate the existence of a Creator.

In the beginning, I stated that we Christians share in the blame for the legal battle over science class. I say this because of the early fundamentalist Christian’s refusal to allow secular science to have a voice in the classroom. The creationists were made to look like fools in the media, but the most devastating effects of the trial wouldn’t be felt for decades. Bryan was hands down outwitted by Darrow in a court case that set a biased legal precedent that proves insurmountable to this day.

Bryan’s death and the trial coverage had coalesced the anti-evolution movement into an entire social movement. Despite the negative media portrayal, many states tried unsuccessfully to introduce similar laws in the following years. Arkansas and Mississippi, however, did pass laws banning the teaching of evolution. Many textbook publishers quietly removed references to evolution from their textbooks. Attempts to repeal the Butler Act in Tennessee began in 1935, but they all failed. The Butler Act was on the books until 1967.

In 1955, a play based on the Scopes trial came out called Inherit the Wind. The play was made into a movie in 1960 and that movie was redone in 1990. However, neither the play or the movies are historically accurate. They portray the trial as a witch hunt carried out by lynch mobs of fundamentalists against Scopes, with no mention of the fact that the entire trial was a set up.

In fact, Scopes himself seemed to be bothered by his conscience and to take issue with the way the trial played out. In a recorded conversation with William K. Hutchinson of the International News Service that took place in the last days of the trial, Scopes said, “There is something I must tell you. It’s worried me. I didn’t violate the law…I never taught the evolution lesson…The kids they put on the stand couldn’t remember what I taught 3 months ago. They were coached by the lawyers.”

The Scopes Trial, historically, had an incredible effect on public education and the legal battles that have ensued in the years to follow. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a walk through the legal history that has resulted in cementing the fallacy that secular science is unbiased and creation science is a collection of unfounded myths. I’ll illustrate how the theory of evolution has been elevated to a fact protected by law, not on its scientific merit- but on its erroneously proclaimed non “religious” basis.