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Transcript of the Scopes Monkey Trial

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After T.H. Huxley, no one did more to ensure that American Christians would embrace the sacred/secular dichotomy than Clarence Darrow. The Scopes Monkey Trial is one of the most crucial events of the first half of the twentieth century, not because it established any drastic new interpretation of law, but because it caused Americans to believe that creationism was indefensible.

The Scopes Monkey Trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. Thomas Scopes, a high school teacher, decided to challenge the law that implied it was illegal to teach evolution in the public schools. Clarence Darrow, a famous lawyer who had already defended Leopold and Loeb, defended him against the prosecution, led by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. With such larger-than-life antagonists, it is not surprising that the event became a media circus. Darrow deftly turned the trial into a debate over the merits of creationism, even putting Bryan on the stand and making him look foolish (not a difficult thing to do, from what I can tell about Bryan). It should be noted here that Bryan did not even attempt to defend the traditional young-earth position; he seemed confused and in fact died just a few days after the trial ended.

The actual verdict was anti-climactic: Scopes was found guilty and fined $100. The fine was later dismissed on a technicality. The judge’s verdict was unimportant; it was the verdict of the press and of the public that shaped American education.

The strong trend toward anti-intellectualism in the American church only grew stronger after the Scopes Monkey Trial. Now many Christians believed that their faith could not stand against science and reason, and so they willingly withdrew from important discussions in science and other “secular” realms like law, politics, economics, and education. For decades, most Christians assumed that their faith was only relevant to “spiritual” matters like church and Bible study.

This is the mindset that Worldview Academy combats every day! As Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” God’s Word is relevant to all of reality, not just some vague “spiritual” realm. There can be no distinction between the sacred and the secular—for the Christian, every aspect of reality is sacred.

Students need to understand what caused the church to abandon education and intellectual pursuits in general. Reading this excerpt of the transcript from the Scopes Monkey Trial will help them to see how a little well-timed rhetoric from Darrow caused most of the American church to retreat.

by Jeff Baldwin