In the quiet, sleepy town of Dayton, Tennessee in 1925, a news-related furor was started. One of the high school biology teachers who also taught sports became indicted for teaching the theory of evolution to his biology class.
What would follow would become not just the stuff of ordinary, everyday newspaper headlines, but it would generate national headlines, prompting citizens, nation-wide, to wonder what could possibly come from Tennessee that would be of value. Was it wrong to teach evolution in the publicly funded classroom or was it wrong to teach it as the only theory of the origin of humankind?
It all depends on how one phrases the question, doesn’t it?
For generations, the Scopes Trial has taken on a surreal place in the American imagination. It has become an opportunity to develop a fairy-tale about educated individuals winning the battle against those who are poor and uneducated. The media wished to portray the public court-room demonstration as a fight between people who read and naively trusted their Bible and those who were scientifically literate and would never naively trust the biblical narratives.
When Genesis, Chapter 1 reported that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth, the statement itself could not be taken at face value without somehow incorporating beliefs that simple forms of life spontaneously develop into more complex, more advanced, and in the minds of progressive scientists, more “evolved” life forms. In other words, God could not simply be true and every man the liar, to use Paul’s parlance via the KJV’s Romans 3:4. The Genesis text had to be controversialized to satisfy the demands of evolutionary theory. In that sense, the Scopes Trial is perhaps supposed to illustrate from American history how God is a shrinking God. He devolves from Creator and Sustainer to a cog in the overall evolutionary wheel of life. Natural processes are themselves “deified” and God is rendered a god of the deists. This thinking portrays a god, not omnipresent, yet who manages to wind of the gears of evolutionary change and progress and “kick back” as it were. If the scientific elite had their way, The Scopes Trial would have been the historical turning point of American culture away from benighted fundamentalism toward the Enlightenment world-view of science and rationality.
Hollywood got in on the gig, too. While the playwrights who wrote Inherit the Wind and helped to spawn its subsequent Hollywood production renounced any historical accuracy or merit of this fictionalized dramatization of the Tennessee trial, many American authorities, including historians, later came to recognize the film as authoritative for understanding fundamentalism. Once an idea gets stuck in the head of the popular American imagination, it becomes mighty hard to dislodge it and replace it with a sounder view. Hollywood’s jumping on the bandwagon to turn the play into a film is not only highly inaccurate, as AiG scientist, Dr. Menton complains, but it is ironically viewed as a sort of “documentary” film despite the film’s actual intentions. Was the trial a momentous occasion in the history of U.S. litigation? Absolutely! Was it a quintessential display of learned scientists triumphing over uneducated Tennessee hicks who believed the Bible word-for-word? Absolutely not! And it is the latter sort of conception which has to be challenged in order to make headway against the movement to monkey with history to support a doctrinaire stance that wouldn’t stand two minutes in the company of civilized dialogue and debate over the real issues of history, such as whether the American cause for eugenics and sexual sterilization, and even some forms of racism, would play a substantial role in how Darwinism would be taught in the classroom.
Next week, Locust & Honey will be releasing a new book on faithful servant and protestor of the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This short work covers the basics of Bonhoeffer’s life vis-a-vis the movement of Hitler up the echelon of power in Germany, as it became more and more imperative for churches and their representatives to take a stand for or against Hitler’s “pro-Aryan” ideology.
This week, we are promoting the YA work of western Wisconsin author, AR Horvath, entitled Warden Watch (Audible linkhere). If you would like to try out a free copy of the audio book in exchange for providing a review after listening to it, you can comment below or message us at LocustandHoneyProductions@gmail.com and simply put “Warden Watch” in the subject line. Casey, the young protagonist of the story, goes on an amazing and other-worldly adventure while deepening his faith along the way. This special promotional offer will also be listed with audiobookboom.com for those listeners who are already involved in the listen-and-review process there.