Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Scopes Monkey Trial -- and Hollywood

Was the "Monkey Trial" an example of small town, small mind persecution of a High School teacher? Hollywood made a movie about it in 1960 called "Inherit the Wind" starring Spencer Tracy, Fredrich March, Dick York and Claude Akins. The movie was good but hardly reflects the 1925 trial and has instilled in minds of movie goers stereotypes of creationists that aren’t true. Unfortunately, many say the movie captured the essence of the time. A teacher (Dick York) persecuted by a "flat earth" preacher (Claude Akins) and a mob of religious fanatics is what sticks in the mind and continues to feed the Hollywood stereotypes of church people who are pre-disposed against science. There was a 1999 re-make of the movie reinforcing for a new generation the stereotypes of religious closed mindedness and persecution of those who wanted to shine the light of education in the class room. This inspite of the fact that one of the prime examples exhibited as "proof" for the evolution of man used at the trial (Piltdown Man) was found to be a total fraud three decades later.
In reality the atmosphere during the Scopes Monkey Trial was carnival like in Dayton where substitute teacher-coach John Scopes answered a newspaper ad placed by the ACLU designed to test the Tennessee law. And so it goes. John Scopes, Clarence Darrow and politician/lawyer William Jennings Bryan enjoyed celebrity status and the trial put the town on the map. After all, Dayton Tennessee was getting national coverage as the whose who of journalism from the nations largest papers covered the trial in the packed court room. Town's people were enjoying the infusion of money that was coming in! The trial was a circus and though Darrow lost, John Scopes didn’t even have to pay his $100.00 fine.

Today the ACLU credits the trial as opening the door for the teaching of evolution as part of public school science curriculum.

footnote: A star piece of evidence referred to at the 1925 trial was the "Eoanthropus dawsoni" more commonly called the “Piltdown Man,” who was unearthed from a gravel pit in England forever placing the town of Piltdown on the map. In 1955 Piltdown man was found to be a total hoax! It was a skull of a man and a jaw of an orangutan, painted, filed and acid dipped and fused to create the fraud. But by then virtually all US public schools were teaching Darwin’s theory as scientific fact. It is for that reason that creationists use this example above most other's to illustrate how fraud was used to support the theory of evolution.

top photo: by R. Hoeppner
bottom photo: Answers in Genesis

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