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 47-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


  • Dave says:

    Of interest is this was put up by the ACLU!!
    “Monkey Trial” of 1925 Puts ACLU on the Map more:
    “Monkey Trial” of 1925 Puts ACLU on the Map
    The case that first brought widespread notoriety to the ACLU was the 1925 “Monkey Trial” that became the basis for the play, and later film, Inherit the Wind. In this case, the ACLU was looking to make a “friendly challenge” to a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The ACLU openly advertised in the state for a teacher willing to participate. The greater purpose, however, was to construct a case that could then be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. The man induced to help was John T. Scopes, who coached football and taught physics on a part-time basis. He was talked into participating in the test case by a local booster who thought the community might benefit from the publicity. Scopes barely qualified for his role, since he never actually taught evolution, but he had once used an evolution textbook to help some students prepare for a test. As it turned out, the friendly challenge drew international attention, setting the standard for all modern media circuses to follow, due in large part to the men who stepped forward to argue the case. Representing Scopes was famed criminal attorney Clarence Darrow, who made his reputation representing labor leaders. On the other side was William Jennings Bryan, who was famous for his unsuccessful presidential campaigns and skills as an orator. When the case was stripped down, the question presented to the jury was simple: did Scopes violate the Tennessee law or not. In the end, Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but the subsequent appeal thwarted the ACLU’s larger plans. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed Scopes conviction on a technicality but upheld the statute, leaving the ACLU with nothing to appeal. The Tennessee law stood for another 40 years. Moreover, many textbook publishers, in light of the Scopes trial, chose to simply drop Darwin’s theory of evolution from their textbooks rather than face legal complications. As a consequence, the ACLU’s most celebrated case was perhaps its greatest defeat.

  • Tamra Nygaard says:

    The “religion” taught in public schools is leftist, communist humanism, which places man at the center of the universe and brooks no dissent. It teaches such falsehoods as “we can change our sex at will,” and “the earth is boiling because we drive cars.” There is no science or true religion that can defeat that sort of invincible ignorance.

    • Chuck Anziulewicz says:

      “The “religion” taught in public schools is leftist, communist humanism, which places man at the center of the universe and brooks no dissent.”

      That’s an odd way of putting it. There was indeed a time when Earth was considered the center of the Universe, that everything revolved around the Earth, and the notion that Earth orbited the Sun was heresy!

      I know there are plenty of people who would rather teach kids the “Young Earth” creationist view that Life, the Universe, and Everything was just MAGICKED into existence just about 6,000 years ago. Such a belief would pretty much negate everything we know about physics, biology, archaeology, astronomy, and higher mathematics. But of course science means nothing to creationists.

      Evolution is really not that difficult to wrap your head around. Evolution is going on even as we speak. One of your own ancestors from a million years back was MUCH different in appearance from you, and if you have decendant a million years hence, they will probably be unrecognizable. The scientific evidence for evolution is simply overwhelming. The fact that it’s even being debated in 2023 is astonishing.

      • Friend of Humanity says:

        Interesting that you and Lucinda used these words within the last week: “Young Earth” creationist. Do you Luciferic minions have specific days that you receive texts or emails with the latest talking points to use or refute?


        I guess ALL scientists are “luciferic minions”

      • Pound Alaskan says:

        Chuck again read your Bible. it will tell you how old the earth is, yes 6-10 thousand years old.

      • Scrumptious Clam says:

        @Pound Alaskan:
        On which day did God create the fossils? You should never assume there might be science based explanations in a 2000 year old work of historical fiction.
        It’s ok to be comforted by your own beliefs but it’s not ok to substitute them for (or pretend that they are) science.

  • Rational Rebel says:

    I just have a curious question; Has a monkey or any other such Primate been taught to speak and talk as we People do?

    • Lucinda says:

      What’s your point?

    • Chuck Anziulewicz says:

      Other primate never evolved the ability to speak. They didn’t need to. As for ancestors of modern humans, as their intelligence and vocalizations improved, our vocal cords, tongue and facial muscles evolved accordingly.