Scopes Monkey Trial Aftermath

Dear Uncle Cecil,

The famous Scopes monkey trial in the 1920s involved teaching the Theory of Evolution in the Bible Belt south — which was against the law at the time. It became a national event when Clarence Darrow squared off against William Jennings Bryant in the courtroom.

My recollection is that Mr. Scopes lost and was ordered to pay a fine under Tennessee law. But didn’t Darrow appeal it? Who really won in the end? Is evolution taught in the Deep South today? And what eventually became of the main characters involved?

You’re the Best!

Scopes lost the case and appealed, claiming the law was in contravention of the establishment clause.

The appeal court found the law WAS constitutional (as while it did ban teaching evolution it didn’t mandate teaching an alternative), but set aside the conviction on a technicality, and (unusually) recommended the state did not pursue the case any further.

A later case in 1968 found the ban to be unconstitutional and in violation of the establishment clause.

One fact that I always illuminating about the case is the PROSECUTOR in the case was actually more famous outside that case for progressive causes like campaigning for a living wage, womens suffrage, union rights, agricultural subsides, and end to gender discrimination.

Yes, evolution is taught in the Deep South. But yes, creationism is also taught in the Deep South and elsewhere in the country, though mostly at the high school level. The creationist mindset never left and many communities, small and large, are deeply in thrall to the Christian majority. There have been endless examples of sneaking creationism into the curriculum, sometimes overtly, sometimes by “teaching the controversy.” For a while, Creationism was disguised as “intelligent design,” with purportedly scientific textbooks giving it supposed credence. That dodge was mostly destroyed by a celebrated judicial decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Dover is in Pennsylvania: no state is immune.

That should have destroyed creationism but since it is a religious tenet it cannot be eradicated by logic and reason. It keeps popping up in community after community, although it is fought by a variety of groups.

As for the aftermath, just read Scopes Trialon Wikipedia.

It was a put-up job. There was no case law and both sides wanted to set a precedent.

Even if the verdict had not been vacated, I doubt Scopes would have paid the fine out of his own pocket.