Scopes Trial

...the evolution that destroys manís family tree as taught by the Bible and makes him a descendant of the lower forms of life.

"Taxonomy Tree." A Civic Biology Presented in Problems. George William Hunter. New York. American Book Company, 1914.

There was continued popularization of evolution in the United States through the 1920s. Christian Fundamentalists and others felt threatened by how quickly scientific ideas were challenging and changing rural American society. They opposed wide-spread acceptance of the new discoveries about the age of the earth and the relationship of man to primates.

William Jennings Bryan, a popular politician, became concerned about the future of Christian civilization. He felt any theory that emphasized struggle promoted war. He was also convinced that Darwin's theories inspired Germanic jingoism and destroyed the faith of America's youth by undermining their confidence in Scripture.

Bryan actively lobbied for state laws banning public schools from teaching evolution and by 1925 such legislation was being considered in 15 states. A prominent example was the Butler Act of 1925, making it unlawful in Tennessee to teach that mankind evolved from lower life forms. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations were upset by the anti-evolution laws being passed at the state level. The ACLU found a teacher, John Scopes, who was willing to test the ban in Tennessee on teaching evolution in school.

The Scopes Trial seemed to give momentum to the fundamentalists' agenda, so the World Christian Fundamentals Association asked Bryan to represent them as counsel at the trial. The trial itself was a spectacle with tremendous press coverage and ran July 10-21, 1925. After 8 days of testimony the jurors returned a verdict in 9 minutes.

The outcome of the trial was anti-climactic; John Scopes was declared guilty and ordered to pay the $100 fine for teaching evolution. The primary outcome was an awareness of the cultural line between religion and science. Following the trial, there was a series of lobbying efforts for the suppression of references to evolution in textbooks, particularly in southern states.