The Truth About 'Inherit the Wind'
- Grady McMurtry
- April 04, 2020
Last month I wrote about the revisionist history concerning Columbus, the flat earth and the discovery of the New World. This issue, I want to take on another piece of revisionist literature.
If you were to be present at many of the live presentations that I do on behalf of the ministry, you would hear me frequently, and often, say, "Never, ever, get your education from PBS (Public Broadcasting System) or Hollywood."
This time, lets take on Hollywood. Every year various TV channels will air the play made into a film Inherit the Wind. Although it is presented as a fictionalized documentary-drama it is anything but that. It is a highly biased and liberal, politically and historically, account of the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. This is the famous "Monkey Trial" which pitted the Christian creationist attorney, William Jennings Bryan, against the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union [American Communist Legal Union]) evolutionist attorney, Clarence Darrow. While some actual excerpts of the trial were inserted into the dialog, the vast amount of fiction makes the package a total misrepresentation of the facts.
For comparison purposes I will quote from the play, Two-Act Version of Inherit the Wind, 1986, and the trial transcript contained in the book, The Worlds Most Famous Court Trial, first published in 1925.
In the play, John Scopes is portrayed as a totally sympathetic character who was thrown in jail and faces a fine and imprisonment for teaching evolution, and stands to lose his job and girlfriend. (p. 8, 43,66)
John Scopes was never jailed, nor did he ever face the possibility of imprisonment. The maximum penalty which could have been imposed upon him under the Butler Act (the law which he was accused of breaking) was a $500.00 fine. A considerable sum in 1925, but not imprisonment.
Who was John Scopes? He was not a science teacher. He did not have a degree in science. He had an undergraduate degree in law from the U. of Kentucky. The closest he came to teaching science was as a substitute in a biology class for two weeks at the end of the school year because the regular teacher, Mr. Fergusan, was ill.
In Sprangue de Camps book, The Great Monkey Trial, (p. 432) he documents that the reporter for the International News Service, William K. Hutchinson, recorded that ACLU lawyers had to coach the school student witnesses to perjure themselves by claiming that Scopes had taught them evolution when, in fact, he had not.
Scopes involvement in the trial was a willful and intentional act. In 1925, the ACLU had advertised in the newspapers of Tennessee seeking any teacher that would be willing to stand trial, with the ACLU paying all the court costs, in an effort to repeal the Butler Act. The ad read, "We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law in the courts." In response to this ad, Scopes was recruited by a local Dayton businessman, George Rappleyea.
Scopes wrote in his autobiography, Center of the Storm; Memoirs of John T. Scopes, 1967, (p. 60), that "To tell the truth, I wasn't sure I had taught evolution." His only qualification was that he was willing to stand trial.
In the play, Bryan is portrayed in the worst of terms. He is depicted as stupid, intolerant, pompous, close-minded, and even gluttonous. During the trial Bryan is quizzed by Darrow and responds that he had not and would not read Origin of Species. (p. 51)
Lawrence W. Levine wrote a biography of Bryan in which he records that Bryan had read Origins in 1905, 20 years before the trail. Although influenced by his Christian views, Bryan had authored many thoughtful and well-argued articles about the theory of evolution. He understood and was critical of the evidence to support evolution in his day. Bryan had had a long chain of correspondence concerning the subject of origins with the then world famous evolutionist, Henry Fairfield Osborn. For a nonscientific layman, Bryan was unusually sophisticated and prepared to argue in court the relative merits of evolution versus creation.
Even more to the point, when one reads the trial transcript, the conclusion would be that it was Darrow who was woefully ignorant of the meaning and methods of evolution. Darrow based his faith in evolution solely upon the scientific authority of other evolutionists.
Was Bryan intolerant? Hardly. In 1923, he wrote to Senator W. J. Singleterry asking that the Florida legislature attach no penalty to a proposed anti-evolution bill under discussion. He asked only that the law prohibit the teaching of evolution as a fact, for "a book which merely contains it as an hypothesis can be considered as giving information as to views held, which is very different from teaching it as a fact."
In the play, when the satirist H. L. Mencken arrives in town the Dayton citizens are discourteous, ignorant and even hysterical. (p. 13, 24) Yet, in his first dispatch sent to his newspaper Mencken wrote, "Nor is there any evidence of that poisonous spirit which usually shows itself when Christian men gather to defend the great doctrine of their faith. . . On the contrary, the Evolutionists and the anti-Evolutionists seem to be on the best of terms, and it is hard in a group to distinguish one from the other."
Darrow had much the same description of the population of Dayton. In the transcript on day seven he stated: "I don't know as I was ever in a community in my life where my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have found them since I have been in Tennessee. Yet I came here a perfect stranger and I can say what I have said before that I have not found upon any body's part - any citizen here in this town or outside the slightest discourtesy. I have been treated better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north." (p. 225-226)
In the play, Darrow objects to the announcement of an evening prayer meeting at the end of the first day of trial.
No such announcement was ever made. Darrow did object to each court session being opened with prayer, the custom in Tennessee at that time, and still the custom of the U. S. Supreme Court. Likewise, the prayer meeting in the play is totally fictitious and absurd in the extreme.
In the play, a "girlfriend" of Scopes is cruelly interrogated by Bryan while Darrow refuses to cause her further duress. (p. 19, 46,47) No woman participated in the trial, nor did Scopes have a special girlfriend in Dayton at that time. Bryan never lost control. The transcript proves that he was always courteous. On the other hand, Darrow was often condescending and even contemptuous of everyone not on the defense team. He was even cited for contempt of court for repeatedly interrupting and insulting the judge. (p. 212)
In the play, there is a ludicrous question and answer exchange concerning sex when Darrow attacks Bryan as an expert on the Bible. (p. 54) Neither sex nor the origin of sex were mentioned during the trial.
During the play, Darrow questions Bryan about the age of the earth. Bryan responds by quoting the date attributed by Bishop Ussher, October 23, 4004 BC (p. 56) During the trial Darrow twice questioned Bryan about the age of the earth and Bryan responded both times that he could not say or did not know. (p. 296, 298)
In the play, at the end of his testimony, Bryan flies into a fanatical frenzy concerning his belief in the Bible. (p. 59, 60) No such event occurred. (p. 304)
Many more comparisons could be made concerning the fictions of the play and the facts of history. The play and the film, Inherit the Wind, are pure Hollywood propaganda. They were written and filmed to promote the evolutionary worldview and they do so very well. The errors are systematic, substantive and intentional.