Lessons from the Scopes Trial

Posted by on Mar 20, 2005 in Think & Believe Newsletter | 0 comments

The summer of 2005 marked the 80th anniversary of the infamous Scopes trail.  Creationists have drawn attention in recent years to the way in which this event has been distorted by humanists – especially through the well-known play and movie “Inherit the Wind”.

“Inherit the Wind” portrays Biblical creationists as narrow-minded persecutors of evolutionists, resorting to bad tactics to enforce their own viewpoint.  However, the Scopes trial transcript tells quite a different story.  To test your knowledge of what really happened, consider the following questions;

  • Which side had its chief spokesman cited for contempt of court?
  •  Which side used a deceptive tactic to deny a fair hearing to the opposition?
  •  Which side sought to override the democratic process to force their view on others?

If your answer was “the pro-evolution side” for each of these questions, you were correct.  Here are the details:

Conflict developed during the trial about the defense’s expert witnesses for evolution.   The prosecution wished to cross-examine the evolution experts, while Clarence Darrow and the defense wanted to shield them from embarrassing questions.  When the judge didn’t rule decisively in his favor, Darrow openly insulted him.  After due consideration, the judge had Darrow’s words read back from the record. Darrow’s words were plainly abusive and the judge held him in contempt of court, appointing a future court date for him and assigning a bond of $5,000.

Darrow then offered a rather insincere apology, insinuating that he had actually been misunderstood.  The judge graciously revoked the contempt citation, noting that forgiveness is a Christian virtue.

When William Jennings Bryan and the prosecution asked for the right to cross-examine the “witnesses” of evolution, the defense challenged Bryan himself to be cross-examined on the witness stand.  This was an unorthodox legal move of questionable propriety.  Bryan knew that it would put him at a disadvantage.  Darrow could ask him questions in any form he liked while Bryan could initiate nothing himself.  Still, Bryan also knew that if he refused the challenge, it would appear to the watching world that he was afraid.

So, he warily accepted the challenge on the condition that he would have equal opportunity to cross-examine Darrow and his colleagues.  Bryan then endured a humiliating series of barbed and sarcastic questions in which Darrow did his utmost to heap scorn upon the Bible and conservative Christians.

Afterwards, topping discourtesy with treachery, Darrow suddenly changed his client’s plea form “not guilty” to “guilty.”  This ended the trial without Darrow having to publicly answer Bryan’s questions.

The Scopes trial was an early example of “judicial activism,” in which an elite minority would try to bypass the democratic process by having a liberal higher court declare a law to be unconstitutional.  It was the defense’s intention all along to appeal the lower court ruling to a higher court for this purpose, and they were eventually successful.

The Scopes trial reminds us that creationists are not only confronted by distortions of evidence and outright lies, but also by smear tactics, ridicule, and unfair suppression.  The bad tactics used by evolutionists at the Scopes trial are still with us today.

In the face of such opposition, what should our response be?  First of all, we must remember that Christians have always been called upon to return blessing for cursing, and good for evil.  As always, we should maintain a Christ-like standard of truthfulness and sound judgment.  In addition, we should make it a particular point to maintain a Christ-like love those who ridicule and persecute us.

By Dave Demmick, MD (Guest Writer)

Originally published in the March/April 2005 issue of Think & Believe newsletter.

Please call our office or email us at aoi@discovercreation.org for additional resources on these subjects.

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