Scopes Monkey Trial| Example of the Clash of Science & Christian…
Scopes Monkey Trial| Example of the Clash of Science & Christian Values in the 1920s
The Stage Set|
Cultural Setting of the Day
During this period, we see an interesting change in Christianity. Mainstream evangelicals engage in a significant culture war mentality. They see it as an "us vs. them" mentality where you either believe in science or you're with the evangelicals. You cannot be both.
This was heavily promoted by the prominent speakers of the day, like Billy Sunday, who championed "getting back to the old time religion."
There was another, more thoughtful, branch of Christianity who sought to maintain the fundamentals of the Gospel while engaging the scientific community and culture. However, the loudest voice of the time was that of those who held firmly to the culture war mentality.
The Actual Story
What was this trial about?
The Scopes trial happened in small town Dayton, Tennessee. Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was invited to dinner by the powerful men of the town (i.e. mayor, chief of police, head of engineering firm).
At the dinner, the men invited Scopes to be part of their plan to put their little town "on the map." All he needed to do was read from Darwin's
Origin of Species
during a class period.
It was illegal to teach evolution in schools at this time. The Christians (remember the culture war mentality) had won that war in several states.
Scopes, not a believer in evolution, did as requested and read from the book. The Chief of Police stormed in to arrest him and to create an uproar. Major news sources came to document this showdown.
All in all, the case was all about created a spectacle. It was a publicity stint meant to generate national news. And, it did exactly that! This made a big splash on the national stage and the public gathered to watch.
The Trial Itself
The prosecutor for the trial was Williams Jennings Bryan. Bryan claimed to be a Christian, but also believed in partial evolution. Defending Scopes was Clarence Darrow, one of America's best lawyers. Both were household names.
Although Scopes was on the witness stand, the real parties of the case were Christianity and Darwinism. These were the two important topics at state.
Bryan, though not a Bible scholar or expert, defended Christianity. In the end, Christianity did win the trial and Scopes was indicted. However, this was a cost to the Christian community.
The larger cultural application had deep impact. Bryan defended Christianity rather poorly and was made to look like a fool. As a result, Christianity was a bit discredited. The thoughtful American would see Christians as not intelligent or intellectual.
A Lasting Impact|
The Effects Felt Today
Today, the culture war rages on. Many evangelicals still promote the "us vs. them" mentality. In addition, the Christian community is often viewed as unintelligent or out-of-touch with reality.
Following this time period, there was a growing idea to separate faith from science. However, science is the study of God's world! We can't separate them. Yet, many choose to separate it into 2 camps--you either believe in faith or you believe in reason/science.
This mentality is something we, as Christian believers, must work to diminish in our society. It does not help with engagement with people. And, as stated above, this is His world.
Today, evolution is the only theory really taught in most schools. Creationism is not taught, and Intelligent Design is rarely taught. The effects of this trial, and its subsequent debates, has changed our education system.