The Scopes Trial

The Scopes Trial: A Clash of Cultural Conflicts

The 1925 Scopes Trial, in Dayton, Tennessee, was the most famous trial of its time and an example of what many today regard as one of the deepest, most persistent cultural conflicts of the twentieth century. It attracted massive national attention and provided a public spectacle of the conflict between fundamentalists and modernists in American religion and culture that continues to this day.

The Butler Act and the Clash

The case was a clash between religious fundamentalists and the scientific community over the teaching of evolution in schools, as exemplified by the Butler Act (State of Tennessee). A number of states passed laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution, but the Scopes trial marked a major setback for anti-evolution forces.

Prosecution and Defense Arguments

In the courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee, prosecutors tried to convince the jury that John Scopes violated a state law against teaching evolution. They used the testimony of several students who said that Scopes taught them that man and all other mammals evolved from a single-celled organism. They also called a professor of biology, who testified that evolution theory was true.Defense lawyer Clarence Darrow, a legendary labor and radical figure, agreed to defend Scopes. He was joined by William Jennings Bryan, a former candidate for president and a Christian pacifist, who argued that evolution theory was dangerous and should be interpreted in accordance with the Bible.

The Testimony and Cross-Examination

On July 16, 1925, the defense called its first witness, Dr. Maynard Metcalf, a zoologist at the John Hopkins University who testified that the evolutionists had not given an adequate explanation of how man descended from monkeys. The jury was not persuaded and Judge Raulston ruled that the testimony did not shed light on the issue of whether Scopes had violated the state's anti-evolution statute.Darrow also questioned Scopes about his personal faith and whether or not his teaching was consistent with it. He cross-examined seven students who said they had been told by Scopes that man and all other mammals have evolved from a single-celled organism.

National Attention and Broadcast

At the close of his evidence, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty so that the case could be appealed to the state Supreme Court. He also asked them to reject Bryan's closing speech, which had taken weeks of preparation.The trial had drawn enormous national media attention and a large crowd of citizens, including tourists, who came to Dayton to view the drama. The trial became the first to be broadcast on radio.

The Defense's Goals

While the prosecution argued that Scopes had violated a law against teaching evolution, the defense fought to have the case thrown out on constitutional grounds. It was their goal to have the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the legality of laws against evolution in schools.It was also their hope that the court would hear expert testimony on the subject, so that the jury could be convinced that science had proven evolution to be true. In addition, they planned to use the trial as a means to rebut the claim that religion and creation were separate.

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