10 Jul: Evolution on Trial

The Scopes Monkey Trial – one of the most famous show trials in U.S. history – began in Dayton, Tennessee on 10th July, 1925. 

Though it centred on John T. Scopes – a high school teacher put on trial for teaching evolution – he was actually a substitute teacher who may never have really taught the textbook concerned, and had put himself in the frame to test the Butler Act, a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of any theory that contradicted the biblical account of creation.

The trial transformed Dayton into a chaotic carnival. Spectators and journalists from around the world flocked to the small town, which became a hub of street preachers, revival tents, and vendors selling Bibles and toy monkeys. 

Both sides of the trial brought in heavyweights: William Jennings Bryan, renowned fundamentalist and three-time presidential candidate, volunteered to assist the prosecution, while the famous defence attorney Clarence Darrow, took up Scopes’ defence. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how the trial came to be heard out on the courthouse lawn; explain what happened to Scopes after receiving his sentence; and reveal which real-life monkeys were harmed in the making of the trial… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Scopes Monkey Trial: The Historic Trial That Began 90 Years Ago’ (TIME, 2015): https://time.com/3952775/scopes-monkey-trial-1925/

• ‘Timeline: Remembering the Scopes Monkey Trial’ (NPR, 2005): https://www.npr.org/2005/07/05/4723956/timeline-remembering-the-scopes-monkey-trial

• ’Inherit the Wind’ (MGM, 1960):

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