Scopes Trial Essay

Submitted By andersminor
Words: 1549
Pages: 7

How did life begin? How was the Earth created? How were humans created? These questions have long been studied by all sorts of people, and there are many theories. According to the Bible and those who worship God, it is believed that God created the Earth and the heavens, along with the human race and all life. Modern geologists and scientists have a different theory, though; that, billions of years ago, dust collected into rings that gradually spun, heated up, and later formed the planets. Scientists also believe in evolutionism; that humans slowly evolved over years of evolution, and that humans are descended from monkeys. These different theories on creation have been debated many times since they were introduced; some believe evolutionism is correct, while others think creationism is the correct theory, and neither side can agree with the other. The debate between these theories came to a head in the 1920s when a teacher, John Scopes, was arrested and tried for teaching evolution in school. The ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, defended Scopes and declared the charges unconstitutional. The trial made headline news for weeks; reporters from all over the world gather outside the courthouse to be the first to report new information. All the publicity from the trial allowed the evolutionism vs. creationism conflict to once again be headline news. After this trial, Americans grew even more divided on the issue, but slowly the theory of evolution became more accepted throughout the country. To what extent did the Scopes Trial expose evolutionism and help the theory become more accepted? The Scopes Trial had a seemingly innocuous start. In 1925, the Butler Act was passed by Tennessee legislature; it stated that denying creationism and promoting evolution in its place in Tennessee public schools was prohibited, and breaking the law would be considered a misdemeanor, with the convicted paying a fine of up to $500 (Linder, 1). While this law was generally abided, the ACLU opposed it, stating that the law was unconstitutional. The ACLU wanted to argue the act in court, but needed a defendant with which to do so. They put out an ad that they would fund a test case against the Butler Act, and were looking for a teacher to act as a defendant. George Rappleyea, a businessman in Dayton, Tennessee, saw this announcement and thought it was a perfect opportunity to draw needed attention to their town. He met John T. Scopes, a substitute teacher and football coach at Rhea County High School, at a drug store and convinced Scopes to accept the role as the defendant in the ACLU’s case (Linder, 2). Scopes, however, didn’t recall whether or not he ever taught evolution; the textbook he used when substituting, though, did contain a chapter on evolution (Scopes, 1). Anti-evolutionist William Bell Riley saw the case, and immediately told his friend William Jennings Bryan of it, who quickly became the lead prosecutor of the case. Bryan’s addition to the case cast national attention on the case, as he had been Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson (Edwards, 2). Upon hearing of Bryan’s involvement in the case, Clarence Darrow, a famous criminal lawyer, volunteered to lead the defense. Darrow had openly disputed with Bryan for years over the subject of evolution, and the case was the perfect opportunity to openly debate Bryan. With the addition of these two superstar lawyers, the case grabbed headlines around the world. The town quickly built new hotels and stores in preparation for the onslaught of reporters. Over $1000 of telephone lines was laid just for the event (Cornelius, 3). Hundreds of reporters from as far away as Hong Kong came to Dayton, along with preachers, politicians, and even some performers (Cornelius, 3). The most famous reporter, from Baltimore, was H.L. Mencken, whose account of the trial was very influential on the world. The attention that the trial drew was greater than anyone would have expected.