Scopes Again

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Scopes again as Canada's Vancouver Sun features historian Edward Larson's (Harvard Press, 1998) exposure of a host of historical falsehoods in the way the Hollywood movie Inherit the Wind mythologised the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee USA. Larson shows that Dayton officials welcomed the show-trial, believing it would put their struggling city on the map. They encouraged the American Civil Liberties Union's attempt to test the Tennessee law against teaching evolution by having a school football coach, John Scopes, teach it in a biology class.

Unlike the movie, Scopes never went to jail for doing so. There was also no love affair between the daughter of a Bible-thumping preacher and Scopes. Bryan, contrary to the movie, was not a Biblical literalist. He said in court the Genesis account of God creating the world in six days was allegory. Bryan actually became involved in the Scopes trial because he was a "majoritarianist". He believed, as many do today, that the majority should be able to determine what is taught in public schools. Inherit the Wind and other biased accounts also ignored that Bryan, a Democratic presidential candidate, was a humanitarian. He was primarily opposed to social Darwinism, the theory of survival of the fittest, because in his era it was used as a pseudo-biological justification for imperialism, capitalist greed and ethnic war. Hitler made it a feature of Naziism.

Inherit the Wind, was the most famous distorter of the Scopes “monkey trial”. The Baltimore Sun's brilliantly cynical columnist, H.L. Mencken, was another. It took almost 70 years for the mass media's anti-religious errors about the trial to be disclosed by scholars such as Larson, Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould and Notre Dame's George Marsden. (See Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Editorial Comment: The press has made much of the fact that in Ontario Canada, the government has gone the way of many jurisdictions and simply squeezed evolution out of its curriculum, except for an optional biology course in Grade 12. Elsewhere, science teachers quietly find their own ways to avoid the touchy topic. But, be assured evolution is still strong and being taught in David Suzuki's home territory.

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