Remembering to Avoid Repetition
Rhea County Courthouse Rhea County Courthouse
As we look at history, we learn a great deal. It has been nearly 90-years since the Scopes Monkey Trial took place in Dayton, TN on the second floor of the Rhea County Courthouse. It was for its time the event of the 20s. However, I have taught history at the college level for years. We must look at history at three levels:
  1. Understand how it was understood years ago
  2. Understand how it is understood today
  3. Understand how people in the future might understand it.

As George Santayana warns us: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Therefore, let us go back to 1859 when Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. He was stating that species did not just appear ex nihilo (Latin for out of nothing). Species evolved overtime from other forbearers. However, Darwin was reluctant to publish his theory due to it contradicted what was in the book of Genesis. He knew that his contradicting the biblical assumption would create an emotional backlash from very conservative Christians. Therefore, he wanted to wait until his death to have The Origin of Species published. However, Darwin was forced into facing public scorn, because others were working on a similar theory.

The most important one was Alfred Russel Wallace. While Darwin reached his conclusion several years before Wallace, waiting for his death would have resulted in his work being considered an afterthought in science. Therefore, he published his findings in 1859. In 1871, Darwin wrote The Descent of Man in which he specifically dealt with the evolution of human beings.

Alfred Russel Wallace Charles Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace Charles Darwin

George William Hunter's book, A Civic Biology, Presented in Problems was the textbook used in Dayton, TN at the time of the trail. The problem was that Hunter's book talked about evolution. In spite of this, Tennessee passed the Butler Act in 1925, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The Butler Act was only three months prior to the trial in Dayton, which started in early July of that year.

William Jennings Bryan was a major leader within the group opposing Darwin and the entire notion of evolution. In a speech, Bryan said, "...it is better to trust in the Rock of Ages, than to know the age of the rocks; it is better for one to know that he is close to the Heavenly Father, than to know how far the stars in the heavens are apart." While that is a cute literary play on words, it is not based on science.

John Scopes John Scopes
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wanted to challenge the Butler Act at Dayton, TN. John Scopes was a teacher in Dayton who taught evolution as opposed to the biblical theory of Genesis. By early May 1925, Scopes was indicted, and the trial started on July 10, 1925. Clarence Darrow was Scopes' defense attorney, and William Jennings Bryan was the prosecutor.
On July 17, Darrow wanted bring someone who was an authority on science and evolution to testify at the trial. However, the judge overruled Darrow's request saying that an expert in science would "shed no light" at a trail about evolution. Realizing that getting an expert in science would not work, Darrow called William Jennings Bryan to testify as a biblical expert. A long and heated discussion resulted between Darrow and his biblical expert.

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during a recess of the trial

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during a recess of the trial

By July 21, Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in a public school in Tennessee. It took the jury a total of 9-minutes of deliberation to determine his guilt.


Here, from July 10 to 21, 1925 John
Thomas Scopes, a County High School
teacher, was tried for teaching that
a man descended from a lower order
of animals in violation of a lately
passed state law. William Jennings
Bryan assisted the prosecution;
Clarence Darrow, Arthur Garfield
Hays, and Dudley Field Malone the
defense. Scopes was convicted.

Inscription on a plaque at the courthouse in Dayton

Interestingly, Bryan dies only 5-days after the trial concluded. Five years later in 1930, the William Jennings Bryan Memorial University is founded in Dayton, TN. Today it is called Bryan College.

In 1955, the play, Inherit the Wind, opened on Broadway and in 1960 a film version based upon the play was released to theaters. By 1967, Tennessee repealed the Butler Act. However, in 1973 Tennessee passed a law requiring equal time to teaching evolution and "the Genesis account in the Bible". In 1975, the Tennessee's law was declared unconstitutional.

What have we learned from history? There are several things. In spite of Darwin and scientific facts, people still believed in the notion of a 6-day creation. When I teach a philosophy class, we deal with the relationship between science and various other belief systems. At least 25% of the class is still not swayed by science.

Another issue is that the Judeo-Christian does not possess the only religious narrative of about creation. While all the world's scientists buy into evolution, not all religions by into the 6-day creation narrative. Finally, any biblical scholar, excluding Bryan, is aware that there are two different creation narratives in Genesis 1-2. As Forrest Gump would say, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Scientist will argue over which species morphed into another and precisely when that occurred, but there are no scientists out there that doubt evolution. In addition, there is agreement among all scientist that we share a common ancestor with the apes. Humans evolved from what we describe as a lower form of animals.

Proof? Science will provide further proof if doubters would only listen. However, the doubters will not listen. Nonetheless, I will provide proof that we evolved from a lower form of animals. Bear in mind that evolution is not something that occurs overnight for humans or any other animal. We evolved overtime. Some evolution of H. sapiens is faster and some slower, but we all move forward over an extended timeline.

Case in point: look at the Tea Party, birthers, and even some mainline republications. If you wish proof, it is clear that these politically conservative groups evolved more slowly than the rest of us.

All you need to do is to look at some of the politicians in Washington and farther down the governmental food chain to the local level. At the national level, Ted Cruz, Michele Bachman, John Boehner, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Todd Akin, and Jim DeMint have opened a two-front war...a war of jealousy against the more evolved in the Republican and Democratic parties.

Sarah Palin and her notes Sarah Palin and her notes
Now, they are all evolving. Sarah Palin is still evolving on her memory skills. However, someone told Palin to write things down so she does not have to remember everything all the time. She adopted that suggestion, which is a step in the right direction. In addition, whenever she is without any paper, she will jot things down on her palm of her hand.

John Boehner announcing his good fight

John Boehner announcing his good fight

John Boehner pumps his arm in a strange gesture indicating some triumphal victory in his fight to stop Obamacare by stopping the government for a week and a half. I do not get his gesture of a triumphal defeat. Standard & Poor's calculated that the 16-day shutdown cost $24 billion. Someone wrote, "You could buy 83 Dreamliners, and it still wouldn't add up to the cost the government shutdown had on the economy over the past 16 days."

One expensive Dreamliner

One expensive Dreamliner

That analysis I can understand...somewhat. I will be traveling to Burma in a month. If I had the $24 billion, I could buy 83 new Dreamliners. My wife and I could fly in one of them and the rest of the fleet could be used to bring back souvenirs for our friends and family.

Interestingly, Michele Bachman announced that the GOP applauded Boehner's work of shutting down the government for 16-days at a cost of $24 billion. What did the Tea Party get for all their efforts? Nothing. Forrest Gump is correct, "Stupid is as stupid does."

This video is an excellent set back in time to Dayton, TN:

This video is an excellent view of the present by Neil Tyson:

Finally, this next video is between Stephen Colbert and Neil Tyson:


Forrest Gump Film Poster

Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Visit the Stupid is As Stupid Does page to read more about this topic.