1927 January 30

Professors, Scientists, and Fundamentalists Battle Over Evolution, Freedom to Teach

 

In the wake of the Tennessee Supreme Court decision overturning the conviction of John T. Scopes in the famous “Monkey Trial” involving a Tennessee law outlawing the teaching of evolution (January 15, 1927), the debate over the issue heated up across the country. College professors, scientists, and religious fundamentalists continued to fight over whether Tennessee-style laws were legitimate public policy or unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The famous Monkey Trial began on July 10, 1925, and became both a national and international event. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution, but an appeals court overturned the conviction on a technicality (the judge erred in imposing the sentence).  By this day, Minnesota, North Dakota, Missouri, Alabama, and Arkansas had passed anti-evolution laws. A law had been defeated in West Virginia.

Forty years later, on November 12, 1968, the Supreme Court declared the Arkansas anti-evolution law unconstitutional in Epperson v. Arkansas.

Inherit the Wind is a play and a movie based on the famous Scopes trial (see April 21, 1955). While many parts of the plot are inventions and are overly melodramatic, much of the cross-examination of the Bryan character (played by Frederick March) by the Darrow character (played by Spencer Tracy is taken directly from the trial transcript and is riveting.

Learn more: Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997)

Watch a documentary on the Scopes Monkey Trial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVD4TjxnJ0M

Learn more about the conflict between science and religion: http://ncse.com/

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