Making Monkeys of Us

Mystical as it may seem, recent wins have Bush riding tall in the saddle again

Denied an understanding of evolution, said Henry, "students end up not being able to understand natural phenomena, and if they aren't able to come to conclusions and theories supported by evidence, they're going to be at a fantastic disadvantage in a world where using science is the major basis of competition."

H.L. Mencken referred to William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes monkey trial as a sort of "fundamentalist pope," and that is the way any half-alert school principal will now see Bush. When requesting public funds, the principal should include lessons on "intelligent design" in his curriculum or face political repercussions at the Department of Education and other government agencies.

The Scopes trial was a made-up event to promote the town of Dayton, Tennessee. Townsmen persuaded John Scopes, a high school biology teacher who taught evolution, to stand in a case designed to test the state's law banning the teaching of evolution. At the trial famed lawyer Clarence Darrow represented Scopes, while Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate and populist, spoke for the state.

As the trial began, the Bible was entered as evidence. Then, in what The New York Times at the time reported as "the most amazing court scene in Anglo Saxon history," Darrow called Bryan, a self-declared student of the Bible, to the stand and proceeded to grill him on the meaning of the scriptures, asking question after question: the size of the fish that swallowed Jonah, the date of the great flood, Joshua making the sun stand still, and the temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, among other things. "Do you think the earth was made in six days?" asked Darrow. Which led to this exchange:

Darrow: Have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?
Bryan: No.
Q: You have not?
A: No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.
Q: I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
A: No.
Q: Don't you know it would have been converted into a molten mass of matter?
A: You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.
Q: Don't you believe it?
A: I would want to hear expert testimony on that.
Q: You have never investigated that subject?
A: I don't think I have ever had the question asked.
Q: Or ever thought of it?
A: I have been too busy on thinks that I thought were of more importance than that.

"Darrow has lost this case," wrote Mencken at the end of the trial, which gave Bryan a technical victory that was later thrown out. "It was lost long before he came to Dayton. But it seems to me that he has nevertheless performed a great public service by fighting it to a finish and in a perfectly serious way. Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience. Tennessee, challenging him too timorously and too late, now sees its courts converted into camp meetings and its Bill of Rights made a mock of by its sworn officers of the law. There are other States that had better look to their arsenals before the Hun is at their gates."


Additional reporting: Halley Bondy and Natalie Wittlin

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