Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution states “that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.” Darwin probably did not fully predict the complete chaos his theory was going to create. Commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, this trial mainly dealt with the issue of whether the teachers at public schools in the U.S. should be allowed to teach the theory of evolution, which denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible. Although this debate still goes on, the Scopes Trial has greatly influenced the American culture over time.
The Scopes Monkey Trial is formally known as The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes due to the Butler Act passed by Tennessee in 1925. This act forbade public school teachers from teaching the theory of evolution in place of the Biblical account of man’s creation. The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) felt that this law was in violation of the US Constitution, and they wanted to challenge the Butler Act in court. While Scopes was not a biology teacher, he volunteered to be tried under the new law because he admitted he had used a textbook that supported evolution while serving as a biology teacher (Szalay). An act is supposed to lean toward to protecting people’s rights. However, the Butler Act is ironic in a sense that the act itself was actually violating teachers’ individual rights and their academic freedoms. In addition, “It is for the jury to determine whether this attack upon the Christian religion shall be permitted in the public schools of Tennessee by teachers employed by the state and paid out of the public treasury,” (Bryan). The Scopes Monkey Trial was heated because it was related to religion, and people are sensitive when something becomes associated with their beliefs. The trial caught the attention of both religious Fundamentalists and Modernists who supported modern science. Moreover, the Scopes Monkey Trial overall increased American awareness in the issue of teaching modern science in public schools.
Science teachers had to be extra careful with the content they teach their students. “The penalty prescribed in the law for such violation is a fine from $100 to $500,” (Teaching Evolution). The teachers probably had conflicting feelings toward whether to teach what they believe is right or what the government says is right. In other words, the government was narrowing the students’ views of the world. In addition, “Your answer will be heard throughout the world; it is eagerly awaited by a praying multitude,” (Bryan). The Monkey Trial was important to different groups of people for different reasons. The trial lasted for eight days, and journalists from all over the world paid deep attention. The Scopes Monkey Trial was heated and famous for a reason: it left both immediate and long-term impacts in America.
Throughout the 1920 and 30s, biology textbooks eliminated references to evolution in an attempt to avoid controversy. The Scopes Monkey Trial highlighted the growing American religious fundamentalist movement, as well as the changing American culture. Today, the Scopes Trial is remembered as a pivotal moment in American history. “Education, you know, means broadening, advancing; and if you limit a teacher to only one side of anything, the whole country will eventually have only one thought, be one individual. I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory,” said John T. Scopes.
Bryan, William. “Bryan's Last Speech.” 1925, Oklahoma, Scopes Trial.
The Monkey Trial 1925. Historic Films Stock Footage Archive, 31 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watchv=ofM99LFZhxo. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.
“Scopes Is Indicted in Tennessee for Teaching Evolution.” Schoolroom Is Declared a Place to Develop Character, Not to Violate Laws, 25 May 1925, p. 1.
“Scopes Trial.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/08/2/l_082_01.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
Szalay, Jessie. “Scopes Monkey Trial: Science on the Stand.” LiveScience, Purch, 30 Sept. 2016, www.livescience.com/56343-scopes-monkey-trial.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7091, Science Service Records, Image #SIA2007-0124
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