John Scopes, Creationist?
Photo taken of Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) during the Scopes Trial in 1925.

John Scopes, Creationist?


Scientific American: “The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public SchoolsThe Scopes “monkey trial” of Dayton, Tennessee, over eighty years ago, plays a unique role in the modern creation–evolution controversy. From the original media circus to the trial’s misrepresentation in the film Inherit the Wind, evolutionists have pointed to the trial as an example of creationist inanity. So should creationists be blamed for trying to advance our interpretation of the trial?

Much of today’s debate over the trial concerns the basic facts. Hollywood’s Inherit the Wind (based on a play of the same name) was a dramatic retelling of the event that distorted many of the basic facts, with those distortions uniformly weakening the creationist position. Unfortunately, many viewers never realized how much “dramatic license” the film took, mistaking caricatured creationists and their views for the real thing. (If you’re not sure about the real history of the Scopes trial, check out our articles on the topic or watch a detailed analysis.) In fact, even the “real thing” was in many ways a distortion; it was a ploy by local businessmen and the ACLU, who persuaded a local substitute (not science!) teacher-cum-football coach to stand for trial despite never having actually taught evolution. Furthermore, Tennessee’s teachers at the time of the trial were permitted to teach evolution, except that they were not allowed to discuss the possibility that humans had an ape-like ancestor. Contrary to the widely held myth, instruction regarding all other biological evolution was not forbidden in the state’s schools.

The latest twist is the invocation of John Scopes (and the Scopes trial by extension) by creationists to argue that teachers should be more free to discuss the creation–evolution controversy. Scientific American (which passes along at least one inaccuracy about the Scopes trial) reports that proponents of a proposed “anti-evolution” bill in Tennessee have argued that Scopes would support a bill giving teachers more academic freedom. Although this site has made analogies between the teaching restrictions evolutionists opposed then and the restrictions creationist teachers face now, Scientific American includes a quotation from a much older Scopes that suggests he would not support the latest legislation.

Unsurprisingly, Scientific American repeatedly characterizes the efforts in Tennessee and those in other states as “anti-evolution,” though it admits that the Tennessee bill, at least, “does not actually mandate the inclusion of creationist or [intelligent design] teachings.” Instead, the bill ensures that teachers are not restricted from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” Such a protection would certainly be uncontroversial were it not for opponents’ fear that it is a Trojan horse to facilitate the teaching of creationist views.

Even if such bills become law, parents should never be fooled into thinking their children will get a fair and balanced perspective on evolutionary ideas in the public school classroom.

Answers in Genesis certainly applauds efforts to encourage open and honest discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory in the classroom. That said, even if such bills become law, parents should never be fooled into thinking their children will get a fair and balanced perspective on evolutionary ideas in the public school classroom. Christian youth must be raised by parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers to understand the true account of origins as taught in Genesis, along with (ideally) an understanding of what evolutionists believe and why it contradicts both Scripture and sound science. Taught properly, the Bible-believing student can face science class confidently prepared to learn about and critically analyze evolutionary theories.

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