"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Knocking Down Idols and the Ivory Pedestals They Rode in on, so to Speak

Chase after the truth like all hell and you'll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.

The famous, now long-departed, trial lawyer Clarence Darrow has long been a favorite of mine.   The quote above is one of his. 

Darrow was noted for his exceptional oratory and for standing up for the aggrieved.  He lost perhaps the most well-known trial in which he defended the accused.   It is popularly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial., litigated in 1925.

The State of Tennessee charged a high school teacher, John Scopes, with teaching Darwin's evolution,

strictly forbidden in any publicly-funded educational institution under Tennessee law.  The approved curriculum mandated only creationism, that man was created as defined in the Bible and did not descend from any form of lower animal.

Darrow defended Scopes.   The case was prosecuted by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.   Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the case was later overturned on a technicality.  It marked the beginning of a change in public sentiment and of a long argument about faith versus science.

This is how that trial relates to idols and ivory pedestals and things we thought we understood.  I was reading “Flesh and Bone” by the writing duo who call themselves Jefferson Bass.   The protagonist is a forensic anthropologist who, in this particular novel, is visiting the courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee, where the Scopes trial took place.

From the novel:  I had long known that the trial was a media boondoggle; what I hadn’t realized…was how thoroughly orchestrated a publicity stunt it had been, from start to finish.  Tennessee’s 1925 antievolution law was real enough, and so was the ACLU’s interest in challenging it.

What was nearly pure hokum was the trial itself.  It was the brainchild of the local businessmen, Chamber of Commerce types who dreamed of putting Dayton on the map in a big way.  When similar challenges to the new law began gathering momentum in other….Tennessee cities, the Dayton boosters maneuvered to get the….trial moved up, so Knoxville and Chattanooga wouldn’t steal Dayton’s thunder.

The authors go on to say that Scopes was a ringer.   He was a chemistry teacher, not a biology teacher.    He played the martyr, gathered up some students and coached them to say the Scopes had indeed taught evolution.

Ah, Spencer Tracy!   Did you know all this when you played the character based on Darrow in Inherit the Wind?

(Note:  I did a bit of research to determine the veracity of the authors' words.   Should you be in Dayton, TN, and visit the Rhea County Courthouse, now a museum, where the trial took place, you can gather around the table from the nearby drugstore where this publicity stunt "evolved."



  1. I love Clarence Darrow's quote. Love it, love it, love it.

    I'm in awe of your world awareness and thoughtfulness on so many, many subjects.

  2. Hummmm .. Were evolution true .. Why are there still animals that we evolved from? Why didn't they just disappear as they evolved upward. Ahhh what we do NOT know. Ahhh how little we really do know. I have heard the every seven years all of our body cells change. Really? Why then do I still have scars from childhood accidents if all cells are replaced .. Smiles ..