A Look Back at the Scopes Trial | The Institute for Creation Research

A Look Back at the Scopes Trial

The 1925 Scopes Trial remains a pivotal point in American history. It behooves us to look back and learn from it.

It all began with the growing acceptance of Darwinism in the early 1900s. It had taken decades for evolution to affect the sciences. Many had readily welcomed secular evolution's religious and moral implications, and a great push was on to teach it in the schools. In response, several states including Tennessee passed laws forbidding public schools from teaching that man had an animal ancestry. Leaders in the newly formed ACLU were among those who embraced a fully secularized worldview based on Darwinian naturalism and desired to change this law. The Scopes Trial was its first case.

As with many of the ACLU's ground-breaking lawsuits, an effective strategy was utilized. Ads were placed in several Tennessee newspapers seeking a teacher who was willing to test the law. Businessmen in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, saw an opportunity to bring attention to their community, and recruited John Scopes. Scopes was not a biology teacher, but did substitute from time to time. He never recalled actually mentioning evolution, but after his "arrest" the lawyers arranged for him to speak privately of evolution to one student, to make sure he broke the law.

Sure enough, Dayton received excessive publicity, with news reporters and radio coverage from around the world. Prominent scientists gathered to testify for evolution, but the judge limited the testimony to the bare facts of the case. Did Scopes break the law? Thus, the bulk of the push for evolution, barred from the courtroom, was aired in the international media, which exhibited a great disdain for Christianity and a stinging ridicule of Christians.

In the end, after several twists, turns, and dirty tricks, John Scopes was convicted -- a ruling later overturned on a technicality. The ACLU welcomed the conviction, intending to appeal it to the Supreme Court where they expected a great victory for evolution. When the case was overturned, no appeal was possible.

What did occur was a debilitating defeat for Christians in the public eye. Believers retreated into their churches, and abandoned the schools, media, and influence in the public arena to the secularists. We still suffer from this retreat today, as we find Christian principles systematically excluded. America, whose citizenry overwhelmingly identifies with Christianity, has become fully secularized. The Scopes Trial was the turning point.

Many Christian activists, legislators, and educators desire to reverse this ruling, and many have been the misguided attempts. Lacking proper strategy, they all have failed. Conversely, ICR has never advocated a legislative or legal solution to this problem, and recommends a long-range educational approach instead.

But it should not be assumed that ICR doesn't care. I have long felt that a helpful lawsuit is possible, and without being explicit, let me say that I would welcome an opportunity to sit down with legal scholars and plan out a winning strategy, just like the ACLU did for the Scopes Trial, and just as they do today.

Truth is on our side, as is the scientific evidence, but the majority opinion of influence peddlers and legal precedent stand against us. Nevertheless, I am convinced a careful plan, with realistic goals, can begin to mend the damage inflicted at the Scopes Trial. I stand ready to participate in a careful and prayerful effort.


There are several books available through ICR's Customer Service at 800/628-7640 which deal with this issue:

  1. A Second Look at Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and Inherit the Wind by N. M. Aksionczyk
  2. Scopes: Creation on Trial by R. M. Cornelius and J. Morris
  3. History of Modern Creationism by H. M. Morris
  4. The Long War Against God by H. M. Morris

Cite this article: John D. Morris, Ph.D. 2007. A Look Back at the Scopes Trial. Acts & Facts. 36 (7).

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