In July of 1925, a silly trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee. A school teacher named John Thomas Scopes had broken Tennessee law by teaching evolution. People call it the Scopes monkey trial.
On the prosecution side was William Jennings Bryan, the spokesman for fundamentalist advocates of the Bible. (Bryan is sitting on the left side of the picture.) Clarence Darrow was the humanist opponent arguing for the defense. (You can see him standing on the right questioning Bryan. The judge had moved the trial outside because of the heat in the packed courtroom.) At the time, people called it “the trial of the century.” After eight days of the trial, it took the jury nine minutes to convict Scopes, and the judge fined him $100.
The problem was that no one bothered to define “evolution.” Nobody took the time to see what the Bible really said. The weaknesses of denominational teaching were attacked, not the evidence or understanding of what science and the Bible actually say on the subject. Both sides claimed a win, but in reality, neither side won. Books, theatrical productions, and movies have perpetuated the story, and it has given great promotional value to the little town of Dayton.
The latest example of how this battle goes on appeared on July of 2017 when a statue of Clarence Darrow was dedicated on the Dayton courthouse lawn. The dedication drew an organized protest by fundamentalists who already have a statue of William Jennings Bryan in the area. The newspapers billed it as a “religion versus science” debate. A recent Gallup poll shows that the number of Americans who believe that evolution is the only possible answer to the origin of all living things has grown from 9% in the late 1980s to 19% today.
Science and faith are friends and not enemies. That has to be true because the same God who created the universe and life gave us the account of what He did. If there is a conflict, we either have bad science or bad theology. The lesson of history and the Scopes monkey trial is that we have had a lot of both.
–John N. Clayton © 2017