[Paleopsych] Gary North: The Significance of the Scopes Trial

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Gary North: The Significance of the Scopes Trial

    On July 10, 1925, the culturally most important trial in American
    history began: Tennessee vs. John Scopes. It was the first trial to be
    covered on the radio. Hundreds of reporters showed up in Dayton,
    Tennessee, from all over the world. The monkey trial became a media

    The trial ended on July 24. William Jennings Bryan died in Dayton on
    July 26. With this, the American fundamentalist movement went into
    political hibernation for half a century, coming out of its sleep
    fifty-one years later in the Ford-Carter Presidential race.

    There is a great deal of confusion about the details of the trial, but
    not its fundamental point: the legitimacy of teaching Darwinism in
    tax-funded schools, kindergarten through high school. On this point,
    all sides agree: the trial was a showdown between Darwinism and

    What is not recognized is the far greater importance of the far more
    important underlying agreement, an agreement that had steadily
    increased for half a century by 1925 and still prevails: the
    legitimacy of tax-supported education.

    What I write here is a summary of a lengthy, heavily footnoted chapter
    in my 1996 book, [9]Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the
    Presbyterian Church. That book is [10]on-line for free. So is the
    chapter: "[11]Darwinism, Democracy, and the Public Schools."


    The origins of the trial are generally unknown. It was begun as a
    public relations stunt by a group of Dayton businessmen. They had
    heard of the challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
    regarding a test case for the Tennessee law against teaching evolution
    in the public schools. They thought that if they could get someone in
    Dayton to confess to having taught evolution in the local high school,
    the town would get a lot of free publicity. We can hardly fault their
    assessment of the potential for free publicity - monetarily free, that

    Scopes agreed to be the official victim. The irony is this: he was not
    sure that he had actually taught from the sections of the biology
    textbook that taught Darwinism. Had he been put on the witness stand
    and asked by the defense if he had taught evolution, he would have had
    to say he did not recall. He was never put on the stand.

    Also forgotten is the content of the textbook in question. The
    Wikipedia encyclopedia entry has refreshed our memories. The textbook,
    like most evolution textbooks of the era, was committed to eugenics
    and a theory of racial superiority. The textbook declared:

      "Although anatomically there is a greater difference between the
      lowest type of monkey and the highest type of ape than there is
      between the highest type of ape and the lowest savage, yet there is
      an immense mental gap between monkey and man. At the present time
      there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each
      very different from the others 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." (pp. 195-196).

      ". . . if such people were lower animals, we would probably kill
      them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow
      this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums
      or other places and in various ways of preventing intermarriage and
      the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.
      Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and
      are now meeting with success in this country." (pp. 263-265).

    This was the wisdom of high school biology textbooks, circa 1925. The
    ACLU came to its defense. This information had to be brought to the
    children of Tennessee, the ACLU decided.


    The city's merchants did very well from the influx of media people who
    could not resist seeing William Jennings Bryan take on Clarence

    The ACLU's strategy was to lose the case, appeal it, get it confirmed
    at the appellate court level, and appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court,
    which they believed would overturn it. And why not? This was the Court
    that, two years later, determined that the state of Virginia had the
    right to sterilize a mentally retarded woman, without her knowledge or
    consent that this was the operation being performed on her. While she
    had a daughter of normal intelligence, this had no bearing on the case
    in the joint opinion of eight of the nine members of the Court. In the
    words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who wrote the Court's opinion:
    "[12]Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

    Bryan offered to pay Scopes' fine. Both sides wanted conviction.
    Darrow threw the case. He told the jury it had to convict, which it
    promptly did.

    The ACLU hit an iceberg. The Dayton decision was overturned by the
    appellate court on a legal technicality. The case could not reach the
    Supreme Court's docket. Sometimes judges are more clever than ACLU
    attorneys expect.


    Beginning with the publication of his book, In His Image in 1921,
    Bryan began calling for state laws against the teaching of Darwinism
    in tax-funded schools. What is not widely understood was his
    motivation. It was ethical, not academic. Bryan understood what Darwin
    had written and what his cousin Francis Galton had written. Galton
    developed the "science" of eugenics. Darwin in [13]The Descent of Man
    (1871) referred to Galton's book favorably. Also, Bryan could read the
    full title of Darwin's original book: [14]On the Origin of Species by
    Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in
    the Struggle for Life.

    Bryan was a populist. He was a radical. In terms of his political
    opinions, he was the most radical major party candidate for President
    in American history, i.e., further out on the fringes of political
    opinion compared with the views of his rivals. Clarence Darrow had no
    advantage with respect to championing far-left political causes.

    Bryan had read what Darwin had written, and he was appalled. He
    recognized that a ruthless hostility to charity was the dark side of
    Darwinism. Had Darwin's theory been irrelevant, he said, it would have
    been harmless. Bryan wrote: "This hypothesis, however, does
    incalculable harm. It teaches that Christianity impairs the race
    physically. That was the first implication at which I revolted. It led
    me to review the doctrine and reject it entirely." In [15]Chapter 4,
    Bryan went on the attack. He cited the notorious passage in Darwin's
    Descent of Man (1871):

      With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and
      those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We
      civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the
      process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the
      maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men
      exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last
      moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved
      thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have
      succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised
      societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the
      breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly
      injurious to the race of man." (Modern Library edition, p. 501)

    He could have continued to quote from the passage until the end of the
    paragraph: "It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly
    directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting
    in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow
    his worst animals to breed" (p. 502). It is significant that Darwin at
    this point footnoted Galton's 1865 Macmillan's magazine article and
    his book, [16]Hereditary Genius.

    Beginning that year, Bryan began to campaign in favor of state laws
    against teaching evolution in tax-funded schools. He did not target
    universities. He knew better. That battle had been lost decades
    before. He targeted high schools. A dozen states had introduced such
    bills. Tennessee passed one.

    The Establishment recognized the threat. It saw that its monopoly over
    the curriculum of the public schools was its single most important
    political lever. So did Bryan. Bryan was targeting the brain of the
    Beast. He had to be stopped.

    Across America, newspapers and magazines of the intellectual classes
    began the attack. I survey this in my chapter, citing from them
    liberally - one of the few things liberal that I do. The invective was
    remarkable. They hated Bryan, and they hated his fundamentalist
    constituency even more.

    Yet the Democrats had nominated his brother for Vice President less
    than a year earlier. His brother had developed the first political
    mailing list in history, and the Democrats wanted access to it.

    Bryan wrote in a 1922 New York Times article (requested by the Times,
    so as to begin the attack in response):

      The Bible has in many places been excluded from the schools on the
      ground that religion should not be taught by those paid by public
      taxation. If this doctrine is sound, what right have the enemies of
      religion to teach irreligion in the public schools? If the Bible
      cannot be taught, why should Christian taxpayers permit the
      teaching of guesses that make the Bible a lie?

    This surely was a legitimate question, one which has yet to be
    answered in terms of a theory of strict academic neutrality. But
    Paxton Hibben, in his 1929 biography of Bryan (Introduction by Charles
    A. Beard), dismissed this argument as "a specious sort of logic. . . .
    [Tax-funded] schools, he reasoned, were the indirect creations of the
    mass of citizens. If this were true, those same citizens could control
    what was taught in them." If this were true: the subjunctive mood
    announced Paxton's rejection of Bryan's premise.

    Bryan had to be stopped. They stopped him.

    The most famous reporter at the trial was H. L. Mencken. That Mencken
    was drawn to Dayton like a moth to a flame is not surprising. He hated
    fundamentalism. He also loved a good show, which the trial proved to
    be. But there was something else. He was a dedicated follower of
    Nietzsche. In 1920, Mencken's translation of Nietzsche's 1895 book,
    [17]The Antichrist, was published. Bryan had specifically targeted
    Nietzsche in [18]In His Image. "Darwinism leads to a denial of God.
    Nietzsche carried Darwinism to its logical conclusion." Mencken was
    determined to get Bryan if he could.

    Two months before the trial, Mencken approached Darrow to suggest that
    Darrow take the case. In a [19]2004 article posted on the University
    of Missouri (Kansas City) website, Douglas Linder describes this
    little-known background.

      Mencken shaped, as well as reported, the Scopes trial. On May 14,
      1925, he met Darrow in Richmond, and - according to one trial
      historian - urged him to offer his services to the defense. Hours
      after discussing the case with Mencken, Darrow telegraphed Scopes's
      local attorney, John Randolph Neal, expressing his willingness to
      "help the defense of Professor Scopes in any way you may suggest or
      direct." After Darrow joined the defense team, Mencken continued to
      offer advice. He told defense lawyers, for example, "Nobody gives a
      damn about that yap schoolteacher" and urged them instead to "make
      a fool out of Bryan."


    Both sides accepted the legitimacy of the principle of tax-funded
    education. Both sides were determined to exercise power over the
    curriculum. But there was a fundamental difference in strategies.
    Bryan wanted a level playing field. The evolutionists wanted a
    monopoly. Bryan's defeat did not get the laws changed in the three
    states that had passed anti-evolution laws. It did get the issue
    sealed in a tomb for the rest of the country.

    The evolutionists made it clear during the war on Bryan that democracy
    did not involve the transfer of authority over public school
    curriculums to political representatives of the people.

    The New York Times (Feb. 2, 1922) ran an editorial that did not shy
    away from the implications for democracy posed by an anti-evolution
    bill before the Kentucky legislature. The Times repudiated democracy.
    It invoked the ever-popular flat-earth analogy. "Kentucky Rivals
    Illinois" began with an attack on someone in Illinois named Wilbur G.
    Voliva, who did believe in the flat earth. Next, it switched to
    Kentucky. "Stern reason totters on her seat when asked to realize that
    in this day and country people with powers to decide educational
    questions should hold and enunciate opinions such as these." To banish
    the teaching of evolution is the equivalent of banishing the teaching
    of the multiplication table.

    Three days later, the Times followed with another editorial,
    appropriately titled, "Democracy and Evolution." It began: "It has
    been recently argued by a distinguished educational authority that the
    successes of education in the United States are due, in part at least,
    'to its being kept in close and constant touch with the people
    themselves.' What is happening in Kentucky does not give support to
    this view." The Progressives' rhetoric of democracy was nowhere to be
    found in the Times' articles on Bryan and creationism, for the editors
    suspected that Bryan had the votes. For the Progressives, democracy
    was a tool of social change, not an unbreakable principle of civil
    government; a slogan, not a moral imperative. Though often cloaked in
    religious terms, democracy was merely a means to an end. What was this
    end? Control over other people's money and, if possible, the minds of
    their children.

    In the Sunday supplement for February 5, John M. Clarke was given an
    opportunity to comment on the Kentucky case. He was the Director of
    the State Museum at Albany. His rhetoric returned to the important
    theme of the weakness of democracy in the face of ignorant voters. I
    cite the piece at length because readers are unlikely to have a copy
    of this article readily at hand, and when it comes to rhetoric,
    summaries rarely do justice to the power of words. It began:

      Our sovereign sister Kentucky, where fourteen and one half men in
      every hundred can neither read nor write, is talking about adding
      to the mirth of the nation in these all too joyless days by
      initiating legislation to put a end to that "old bad devil"
      evolution. Luther threw an ink bottle at one of his kind; the
      Kentucky legislators are making ready to throw a statute which will
      drive this serpent of the poisoned sting once and for all beyond
      the confines of the State, and not a school wherein this
      mischiefmaker is harbored shall have 1 cent of public moneys.

    The issue was democratic control over tax-funded education. Mr. Clark
    was against any such notion.

      When the majority of the voters, of which fourteen and a half out
      of each hundred can neither read nor write, have settled this
      matter, if they are disposed to do the right thing they will not
      stop at evolution. There is a fiction going about through the
      schools that the earth is round and revolves around the sun, and if
      Frankfort [Kentucky] is to be and remain the palladium of reason
      and righteousness, this hideous heresay [heresy] must also be wiped

    Here it was again: the flat earth. It has been a favorite rhetorical
    device used against biblical creationists for a long time. The claim
    that pre-Columbus medieval scholars regarded the earth as flat, it
    turns out, is entirely mythical - a myth fostered in modern times.
    Jeffrey Burton Russell, the distinguished medieval historian, has
    disposed of this beloved myth. The story was first promoted by
    American novelist Washington Irving. The modernists who have invoked
    this myth have not done their homework.

    Because Bryan was a great believer in tax-funded education, he entered
    the fray as just one more politician trying to get his ideas fostered
    in the schools at the expense of other voters. He professed
    educational neutrality. His opponents professed science. He lost the
    case in the courtroom of public opinion.


    Bryan won the case and lost the war. The international media buried
    him, as they had buried no other figure in his day. His death a few
    days later in Dayton sealed the burial.

    A year later, liberals captured both the Northern Presbyterian Church
    and the Northern Baptists. Bryan had a leader in the Northern
    Presbyterian Church, running for moderator and barely losing in 1923.
    The tide turned in 1926. In the mainline denominations, the
    conservatives began to lose influence.

    In a famous 1960 article in Church History, "The American Religious
    Depression, 1925-1935," Robert Handy dated the beginning of the
    decline in church membership from the Scopes trial. Handy taught at
    liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1980, Joel
    Carpenter wrote a very different article in the same journal:
    "Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical
    Protestantism." He pointed out that Handy had confined his study to
    the mainline denominations. In 1926, he said, an increase in
    membership and church growth began in the independent fundamentalist
    and charismatic churches. The fundamentalists began to withdraw from
    the mainline churches. What Handy saw as decline, Carpenter saw as
    growth. Both phenomena began in response to the Scopes trial.

    Fundamentalists began to withdraw from national politics and
    mainstream culture. The roaring twenties were not favorable times for
    fundamentalists. Their alliance with the Progressives began to break
    down. [20]This alliance had gotten the eighteenth amendment passed. By
    the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the fundamentalists had
    begun their Long March into the hinterlands. Only in the 1976
    Presidential election did they begin to re-surface. In 1980, they came
    out in force for Reagan. Two events mark this transformation, neither
    of which receives any attention by historians: the "Washington for
    Jesus" rally in the spring of 1980 and the "National Affairs Briefing
    Conference" in Dallas in September.


    The Scopes trial was a media circus. The play and movie that made it
    famous three decades later, Inherit the Wind, was an effective piece
    of propaganda. The website of the law school of the University of
    Missouri, Kansas City, offers [21]a good introduction to the story of
    this trial. But this version has a hard time competing with the
    textbook versions and the documentaries.

    The victors write the textbooks. These textbooks are not assigned in
    Bryan College, located in Dayton, Tennessee - or if they are, they are
    not believed.

    There is no Darrow College.

    Gary North [s[22]end him mail] is the author of [23]Mises on Money.
    Visit [24]http://www.freebooks.com. He is also the author of a free
    multi-volume series, [25]An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

                           [26]Gary North Archives


    9. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0930464745/lewrockwell/
   10. http://www.freebooks.com/docs/243a_47e.htm
   11. http://www.freebooks.com/docs/html/gncf/Chapter07.htm
   13. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140436316/lewrockwell/
   14. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674637526/lewrockwell/
   15. http://www.scopestrial.org/inhisimage.htm
   16. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1417947705/lewrockwell/
   17. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1884365205/lewrockwell/
   18. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1417912812/lewrockwell/
   19. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/menckenh.htm
   20. http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/9_1/9_1_5.pdf"
   21. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/scopes.htm
   22. mailto:gary at kbot.com
   23. http://www.lewrockwell.com/north/mom.html
   24. http://www.freebooks.com/
   25. http://www.demischools.org/economic-bible-commentary.html
   26. http://www.lewrockwell.com/north/north-arch.html

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