Friday Jan. 15, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Scopes Monkey Trial
On this Day:
The Tennessee Supreme Court overturns (on a technicality) John T. Scopes’ guilty verdict for teaching evolution, but the law itself remains in force.
The Scopes Trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was the 1925 prosecution of science teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school, which a recent bill had made illegal. The trial featured two of the best-known orators of the era, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, as opposing attorneys. The trial was viewed as an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, to publicly advocate for the legitimacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and to enhance the profile of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The theory of evolution, as presented by Charles Darwin and others, was a controversial concept in many quarters, even into the 20th century.
Concerted anti-evolutionist efforts in Tennessee succeeded when in 1925, the Tennessee House of Representatives was offered a bill by John W. Butler making teaching evolution a misdemeanor. The so-called Butler Act was passed six days later almost unanimously with no amendments.
When the ACLU received news of the bill’s passage, it immediately sent out a press release offering to challenge the Butler Act.
Author H.G. Wells was approached early on to present the case for evolution, but he turned down the offer.
Clarence Darrow – a famous attorney who had recently acted for the defense in the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder trial – found out about the Scopes trial through journalist H.L. Mencken, who suggested Darrow should defend Scopes.
Darrow declined since he was preparing to retire, but news of Bryan’s involvement caused Darrow – who was also a leading member of the ACLU – to change his mind.
Darrow and Bryan already had a history of butting heads over evolution and the concept of taking the Bible literally, sparring in the press and public debates.
Darrow’s goal in getting involved was to debunk fundamentalist Christianity and raise awareness of a narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. It was the only time in his career he offered to give free legal aid.
Bryan and Darrow set the tone by immediately attacking each other in the press. The ACLU attempted to remove Darrow from the case, fearing they would lose control, but none of these efforts worked.
The grand jury met on May 9, 1925. In preparation, Scopes recruited and coached students to testify against him. Three of the seven students attending were called to testify, each showing a sketchy understanding of evolution. The case was pushed forward and a trial set for July 10.
Bryan arrived in Dayton three days before the trial, stepping off a train to the spectacle of half the town greeting him. He posed for photo opportunities and gave two public speeches, stating his intention to not only defend the anti-evolution law but to use the trial to debunk evolution entirely.
Darrow, meanwhile, arrived into Dayton the day before the trial to little fanfare.
The trial day started with crowds pouring into the courthouse two hours before it was scheduled to begin, filling up the room and causing onlookers to spill into the hallways. There was applause when Bryan entered the court and further when he and Darrow shook hands.
The trial began – somewhat ironically – with a lengthy prayer. The first day saw the grand jury being reconvened and repeating testimony from Scopes’ students who had appeared in that trial and jury selection.
Outside the courthouse a circus-like atmosphere reigned, with barbecues, concessions and carnival games, though that died down as the trial was adjourned for the weekend, over which Bryan and Darrow sparred through the press and tensions mounted.
It was to a packed courthouse on Monday that arguments began by the defense working to establish the scientific validity of evolution, while the prosecution focused on the Butler Act as an education standard for Tennessee citizens, citing precedents.
Darrow responded by laying out the case in an aggressive way, part of a strategy related to the defense planning to waive their closing argument and preventing Bryan’s own carefully prepared closing argument.
The statement Darrow made is considered an example of his best passionate public speaking. Darrow’s chief argument was that the Butler Act promoted one particular religious view and was therefore illegal. He spoke for over two hours.
The trial itself began on Wednesday with opening statements. Witnesses followed, establishing that Scopes had taught evolution and zoologist Maynard M. Metcalf gave expert testimony about the science of evolution, a signal that Scopes himself would not take the stand during the trial.
Subsequent days saw prosecutors argue about the validity of using expert witnesses. This provided Bryan with the opportunity for an extended speech on the subject. Defense attorney Dudley Field Malone then countered with a speech of his own and received a thunderous standing ovation.
The next day, the judge ruled that any experts on the stands could be cross-examined. That night, Darrow quietly prepared to call Bryan as an expert witness on the Bible.
Calling Bryan to the stand was a shock for the court. Darrow interrogated him on interpreting the Bible literally, which undercut his earlier sweeping religious speeches. It also cornered him into admitting that he didn’t know much about science since the Bible didn’t provide any answers.
When the judge ruled Bryan’s testimony be taken from the record, Darrow suggested that to save time his client should be found guilty. This prevented Bryan from making a closing statement.
The jury took nine minutes to pronounce Scopes guilty. He was fined $100.
After the trial, Bryan immediately began to prepare his unused closing statement as a speech for his rallies. He never got to use that speech, since he died in his sleep in Dayton the following Sunday.
Scopes was offered a new teaching contract but chose to leave Dayton and study geology at the University of Chicago graduate school. He eventually became a petroleum engineer.
Supporters of both sides claimed victory following the trial, but the Butler Act was upheld, and the anti-evolution movement continued (per History.com).
In 1958 the National Defense Education Act was passed with the encouragement of many legislators who feared the United States education system was falling behind that of the Soviet Union. The act yielded textbooks, produced in cooperation with the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which stressed the importance of evolution as the unifying principle of biology. The new educational regime was not unchallenged. The greatest backlash was in Texas where attacks were launched in sermons and in the press. Complaints were lodged with the State Textbook Commission. However, in addition to federal support, a number of social trends had turned public discussion in favor of evolution. These included increased interest in improving public education, legal precedents separating religion and public education, and continued urbanization in the South. This led to a weakening of the backlash in Texas, as well as to the repeal of the Butler Law in Tennessee in 1967 (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
A little girl asked her mother, “How did the human race appear?”
The mother answered, “God made Adam and Eve and they had children, and so was all mankind made..”
Two days later the girl asked her father the same question..
The father answered, “Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved.”
The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they developed from monkeys?”
The mother answered, “Well, dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.
Second, a Song:
The Monkees are an American rock and pop band originally active between 1966 and 1971, with reunion albums and tours in the decades that followed. Their original line-up consisted of the American actor/musicians Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork with English actor/singer Davy Jones. The group was conceived in 1965 by television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider specifically for the situation comedy series The Monkees, which aired from 1966 to 1968. The band’s music was initially supervised by record producer Don Kirshner, backed by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
Dolenz described The Monkees as initially being “a TV show about an imaginary band… that wanted to be the Beatles that was never successful”. Ironically, the success of the show led to the actor-musicians becoming one of the most successful bands of the 1960s. The Monkees have sold more than 75 million records worldwide making them one of the biggest-selling groups of all time with international hits, including “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, and “Daydream Believer”.
“(Theme from) The Monkees” is a 1966 pop rock song, written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart as the theme song for the TV series The Monkees. Two versions were recorded – one for their first album The Monkees and a second shorter version designed to open the television show. Both versions feature vocals by Micky Dolenz. It is based loosely on the Dave Clark Five song (including finger snap intro) “Catch Us If You Can”.
The full-length version was released as a single in several countries including Australia, where it became a hit, reaching No. 8. It also made Billboard Magazine’s “Hits of the World” chart in both Mexico and Japan, reaching the Top 20 in Japan and the Top 10 in Mexico (per Wikipedia).
Macaques are Old World monkeys, with the greatest geographical distribution of all non-human primates, across Asia, Southern Europe and North Africa. In psychological research, rhesus macaques have demonstrated a variety of complex cognitive abilities, including the ability to make same-different judgments, understand simple rules, and monitor their own mental states. They have even been shown to demonstrate self-agency, an important type of self-awareness. Unfortunately, large-scale deforestation has destroyed much of their natural habitats, resulting in the fragmentation of groups and causing monkeys to move towards rural and urban areas in search of food (per National Geographic Wild).
Here is a video of Macaque monkeys mischievously exploring the streets and homes of India to the song “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees” by The Monkees from a National Geographic Wild video. I hope you enjoy it!
Thought for the Day:
“Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” – Clarence Darrow
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky