Ninety-eight years ago, the war between science and religion began in American culture in the small Tennessee town of Dayton, labeled “The Bible Belt” by scoffing secular media outlets, whose fictionalized pre-event script of the event was already being written for fake history books.

H. L. Mencken was a leading cheerleader for the event as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, but he had to admit that the chosen venue did not fit the stereotype he was looking for. Expecting to see his caricature of glowering, angry, white, southern Christians unfold, he himself admitted that the carnival atmosphere inside Dayton totally overturned his preconceived notions.

“The town, I confess, greatly surprised me. I expected to find a squalid Southern village, with [blacks] snoozing on the horse blocks, pigs rooting under the houses and the inhabitants full of hookworm and malaria. What I found was a country town of charm and even beauty.”

The supposed smashing of Bryan’s inconsistencies by Darrow have been over-hyped, but as one observer noted, “He gave as good as he got.”

What caused this event, a self-induced media feeding frenzy, is still largely ignored, but remains indisputable. The state of Tennessee introduced the Butler Act, a statute that made teaching evolution illegal in the public schools. It was signed into law reluctantly by the governor in fear of a well-ensconced voting bloc, but was expected to remain unenforced. The entire affair was complicated by the fact that the state of Tennessee required the use of the textbook Civic Biology, which devoted a chapter to the theory of evolution. Thus, teachers would be forced to violate the Butler Act!

Mencken, however, offered a reward for any teacher who broke the act, as well as free counsel. Dayton’s chamber of commerce types were led by mining engineer George Rappleyea, a transplanted Yankee who detested Dayton, its people, their rural culture and Christian fundamentalism. He understood that the controversy would put the town on the map, albeit in a negative light.

But first, they had to find a victim.

John T. Scopes was called in for a conference. Only a substitute teacher, but the popular varsity football coach, he was asked if he had ever substituted for a biology teacher. He was certain that he had, but could not recall any specific dates.

Was it possible that he had taught about the theory of evolution to the students? Again, he could not recall, but he was pressed: Was it possible that he had? Well, since he could not recall, but the class was using Civic Biology, it certainly was.

On that thinnest of thin dimes, Dayton had found a hero for the ages, wrote Mencken. Thus, the machinery of liberal lies took over from there.

The selective devotion of liberals toward “science” is ignored when facts do not match the politicized outcomes the Left is looking for, and is relegated to “misinformation” and “disinformation.”

Portrayed in movies and plays as an oppressed teacher – up against a benighted school board and a culture of angry, southern, white racists – Scopes was seen to be standing for freedom of speech, press and thought. In reality, Scopes was a surfer riding an enormous wave on the North Shore of Oahu. He glided safely into the comfortable landing of fake history books, and a legacy of invented victimhood.

The antics of the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” however, are real: the arrival of William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution was a media dream. Bryan’s unbroken record of liberal progressivism did not include atheistic evolution, so his political reputation was ignored in order to satisfy the media’s need for a fall guy. He has proven to be the true victim in this affair.

Clarence Darrow had defended the undefendable in the Leopold/Loeb “recreational murder” trial, and represented the now familiar liberal role of making obviously guilty criminals into victims of their environment and circumstances.

Print media was king in those days, but WGN radio in Chicago demonstrated its pioneering advances in radio, and later TV, by carrying portions of the trial live from Dayton. It was so hot that it was moved outdoors into the town square to accommodate the crush of observers.

The supposed smashing of Bryan’s inconsistencies by Darrow have been over-hyped, but as one observer noted, “He gave as good as he got.” The transcripts are available, and anyone can make their own judgments.

What are we to make of this event, still of such obvious importance today?

Well, for one thing, Darrow suggested that if evolution could be outlawed in the classroom, so might God. That was unthinkable in 1925, but is exactly where we are today.

Then, we might observe the selective devotion of liberals toward “science.” It is ignored when facts do not match the politicized outcome that the Left is looking for, and is relegated to “misinformation” and “disinformation.” These are two terms that we are still attempting to define a difference for, but are the hallmarks of the progressive Left in all things that pertain to scientific data that they don’t like, whether it be looking for that “homosexual gene,” man-made climate change or transgender “identities.”

The Scopes trial of 1925 began a sordid habit of inventive, weaponized history. It will take a long time, but as with Covid, global warming and other pseudo-sciences … “The truth will out.”

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: ‘Monkey Trial’ launched the media’s war of science vs. religion

Bob Bird
Bob Bird ran for U.S. Senate in 1990 and 2008. He is a past president of Alaska Right to Life, a 45-year Alaska resident and a retired public school teacher. He has a passion for studying and teaching Alaska and U.S. constitutional history. He lives on the Kenai Peninsula and is currently a daily radio talk-show host for The Talk of the Kenai, on KSRM 920 AM from 3-5 pm and heard online