Friday, 23 October 2009

Famous Monkey Trial Presented in London

A parody of the famous monkey trial of 1925 is being presented at the Old Vic in London. Image from the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum.

Joel Kontinen

Inherit the Wind is a court drama written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee in 1955. It flagrantly misrepresents the 1925 Dayton monkey trial.

At the time John Scopes, a football coach and substitute teacher, was accused of breaking the Butler Act of Tennessee that prohibited the teaching of evolution in the state’s schools. The purpose of the trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) was to ascertain whether he had claimed that man descended from apes.

The stage version currently playing at the Old Vic in London is based on this 1955 production of Inherit the Wind.

In reporting the play, Celeste Biever of New Scientist fails to mention that Inherit the Wind was an attempt to re-write history. Although John Scopes, who is known as Bertram Cates in the film, was accused of teaching evolution, he later admitted that the entire case was a hoax and that he did not even reach the part of the biology textbook that discussed evolution.

The trial was a ploy. The Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was looking for a teacher who would challenge the Butler Act. They also wanted to propagate evolution. Moreover, local politicians hoped to make Dayton more widely known.

Ms. Biever mostly uses the play as a ruse to attack Intelligent Design in general and Michael Behe in particular.

Defence lawyer Clarence Darrow, who in the film is called Henry Drummond, was anything but an objective defender of the truth. He insulted the judge during the trial and instructed both Scopes and his students to lie that he had taught evolution. Scopes acknowledged this later.

William Jennings Bryan, one of the prosecutors in the case, who is called Matthew Harrison Brady in the film, was not a simple-minded fundamentalist as he is described in Inherit the Wind. Bryan was one of the most popular speakers and politicians of his time. He served as Secretary of State during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and he had been the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States three times.

It is perhaps revealing that Ms. Biever is absolutely silent about the evidences that evolutionists at the time (in 1925) used in trying to convince people that they are descended from apes. Their two outstanding fossils were Nebraska man or Hesperopithecus haroldcookii, consisting of one single tooth that was later identified as belonging to an extinct pig, and Piltdown man or Eoanthropus dawson, one of the greatest hoaxes in science of all time.

The book that Scopes used in his classes was Hunter’s Civic Biology (1914). It includes some interesting details about humans:

"At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America."

It seems that the ”facts” of evolution have changed quite a bit since the days of the Dayton monkey trial.


Biever, Celeste. 2009. 'Monkey trial' drama is more than a defence of evolution. New Scientist (19 October)

Excerpts from Hunter's Civic Biology (1914).

Menton, David. 2003. Inherently Wind: A Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial. Answers in Genesis DVD.