The Scopes Trial

Darwin Monkey

The Scopes trial has sometimes been called “the trial of the century” or “the monkey trial”. In this trial the defendant, John Scopes, was convicted of teaching evolution to high school students in violation of Tennessee law. The trial gained nationwide attention and attracted newsmen from all the major newspapers. It was also the first trial to be broadcast on the radio.

The trial is often portrayed as a classic battle between science and Christianity. As we will see, the truth is much more complex. Many have had their view of the trial shaped by the movie and play Inherit the Wind, which is known to have many historical inaccuracies. A more balanced and accurate view of the trial is presented in the Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer for the Gods by historian Edward Larson. The other references I have used in this paper are listed at the end.

In this presentation we will start by describing the events leading up to the trial. This will be followed by a description of the trial location, Dayton Tennessee. Next we will describe the Butler Act, which is the legal basis for the trial. This will be followed by brief descriptions of the major players in this trial. Next we provide a brief overview of the trial proceedings including the strategies employed by the prosecution and the defense. This will be followed by a summary of the appeal process and its results. Finally, we look at how the trial has affected the public's view of the interaction between science and Christianity. In the Appendix there is a complete transcript of the famous examination of William Jennings Bryan by Clarence Darrow.

There is a Table of Contents for this paper (labeled Contents) on the top bar. To view or download a copy of this paper in Adobe Acrobat format you need to click on the link Scopes Trial (PDF).