After Effects

The views expressed immediately following the trial were mixed. Some saw Darrow as the hero and others thought Bryan carried the day. However, neither side declared absolute victory. Many of the issues raised are still debated today. The editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal observed that they had seen an attempted duel between science and religion at Dayton, but both sides lost ground. Historian Ronald Numbers examined the coverage of five geographically scattered newspapers and over a dozen national magazines and proclaimed “I discovered not a single declaration of victory by the opponents of antievolutionism, in the sense of their claiming that the crusade was at an end.” Bryan himself spent the days following the trial lecturing and preparing his final summation (which he didn't get to give) for publication. In this summation he said

Let us, then, hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Science is a magnificent material force, but is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. … It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its un-proved hypotheses rob [society of its moral] compass and thus endangers humanity.

The final words of his summation were lifted from his favorite hymn “Faith of our fathers — holy faith. We will be true to thee till death.“ Bryan died five days after the trial while taking an afternoon nap. For most people, interest in the trial died quickly after the intense media coverage came to an end. Bryan's death seemed to have overshadowed the events of the trial itself. In education, most book publishers cut back on the presentation of evolution in high school textbooks. By 1930, one pro-evolution commentator, Maynard Shipley, estimated that 70% of all high schools omitted any mention of evolution in their science classes. Harvard Professor of paleontology George G. Simpson observed that “Most [US high school science textbooks] relegate evolution to a single section, preferably in the back of the book, which need not be assigned.” This situation persisted into the 1960s when worries about Russian technology spurred an increased interest in improving science education.

The views of many have been formed not so much by the trial itself, but by the play and movie Inherit the Wind. The play opened in 1955 and the movie came out in 1960. The play and movie portray the character corresponding to Bryan as a bigoted religious fanatic and the character corresponding to Darrow as a courageous champion of tolerance and a protector of civil liberties. Unfortunately, the movie is still often used to represent the Scopes trial even though it has little resemblance to the actual trial. The playwrights never claimed that the movie and play accurately represented history, but their main purpose was to attack the McCarthyism of the 1950s. The title comes from Proverbs 11:29, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” Recently a number of historians have presented a more balanced view of the trial. Edward Larson published an excellent account of the trial in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer for the Gods. In addition, Alan Dershowitz has a chapter in his book America on Trial that deals with the Scopes trial. In it he says

Nor was Bryan the know nothing biblical literalist of Inherit the Wind. For the most part, he actually seems to have gotten the better of Clarence Darrow in the argument over the Bible (though not in the argument over banning the teaching of evolution).

And also

All in all, a reading of the transcript shows Bryan doing quite well defending himself, while it is Darrow who comes off quite poorly — in fact, as something of an antireligious cynic.

Overall, I don't think that the trial itself really changed many people's attitudes about the relation of science and religion, but the play and movie Inherit the Wind have had an effect. They reinforced the popular idea that science has now replaced religion as the arbiter of truth.