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Science V. Religion: The Scopes Monkey Trial

1389 words - 6 pages

The 1920’s were a time of change. New ideas were becoming more readily experimented with and even accepted by large portions of the population. Some of these included jazz music and the fight against the alcoholic prohibition. The radical idea I will focus on in this paper, however, is Evolution. It is a theory that had been around for over half a century before the 20’s but had only more recently caught on in the US. It contradicted the Christian theory of Divine Creation as described in the Bible. This caused many religious fundamentalists to fight against it. They took their battle to the law books, and they were challenged by pro-evolution modernists in the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925.
The theory of Evolution was developed by Charles Darwin throughout his life and published in 1859 in a book called "The Origin of Species." In brief, it states that all living things on earth evolved over time and that natural selection is how they evolve. Natural selection is the process by which entire populations change in response to their environment. It works because those who are better adapted to the environment reproduce at a higher rate than those who are less suited for the environment (Biology, 2001). It is widely accepted that humans evolved from primates. That is why the trial had the nickname of "Monkey Trial". In contrast, the theory of Divine Creation states that the universe was created in seven days by God and that animals have not evolved since. One can see clear differences between these two theories.
The history of the Scopes trial begins in Tennessee with the Butler Act, which passed on March 13, 1925. The Butler Act stated that “it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the... to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” This was considered by many to be an infringement on their constitutional right of free speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was on the forefront of the challenge against the Butler Act. The ACLU is a non-profit organization founded in 1920 whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It posted an announcement in a Tennessee newspaper saying that it would offer its services to anyone willing to challenge the anti-evolution statute. John T. Scopes accepted the offer, after townspeople like George Rappleyea argued that a trial would bring publicity to the small town of Dayton. Scopes was a 24 year old science teacher and coach of the local high school football team. He was indicted by a grand jury for violating the Butler Law on May 25, 1925 and the stage was set for Case Number 5232, Scopes v. State.
The main player for the prosecution was William Jennings Bryan, a three-time...

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