Science Series: “Inherit the Wind”

The supposed conflict between science and religion that proliferates culture today possibly originated with the depiction of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial in the movie Inherit the Wind (1960).  Thinking back to your high school American history class, one event that is usually taught is the infamous Scopes Trial in which John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in a Dayton, Tennessee classroom.  While this event is worthy of study for political reasons as well as educational policy, my focus in this post is the propaganda that the movie heaved upon the cultural understanding of the relationship between science and religion.

Clarence Darrow

A young teacher by the name of John T. Scopes was accused of teaching evolution in a state-funded school that allegedly violated the Butler Act of 1925 in Tennessee which prohibited the teaching of evolution.  Defended by the well-known trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, Scopes was prosecuted by the three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.  The atmosphere in Dayton, TN that hot summer of 1925 was electric like a sideshow carnival.  Hundreds of reporters descended upon the town, including H. L. Mencken of the Baltimore Evening Sun.  Articles for newspapers and magazines produced countless articles and cartoons on the trial.  Stories were wired by telegraph as far as Europe and Australia. This was the first American trial that was broadcast by radio, while thousands of people crowded the festival-like town of Dayton.  Scopes was found guilty and was fined a $100.

William Jennings Bryan

While the Scopes Trial in its own right was newsworthy, playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee created it for Broadway in 1955 as Inherit the Wind.  It was later produced as a theatrical film in 1960 (directed by Stanley Kramer with Oscar-winning performers Spencer Tracy and Fredric Marchand along with Gene Kelly) and subsequently in 1965, 1988, and 1999 for television.  Kevin Spacy and David Troughton starred in a 2009 revival at The Old Vic in London.

Krameraward
Stanley Kramer (dir.) receiving an award, 1960 Berlin Film Festival, Inherit the Wind

The 1960 film has by far been the most influential iteration of the Scopes Trial and unfortunately so. A much more faithful depiction of the trial is Edward J. Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning history book Summer for the Gods.

summerofthegods

Randall Balmer of Dartmouth writing a review of Summer for the Gods states that:

Although Bryan has generally been regarded as the loser in Dayton, a hopeless throwback to the fundamentalist, antediluvian past, not all contemporaries saw it that way. “At the time,” Larson says, “in sharp contrast with later legends about the Scopes trial, no one saw the episode as a decisive triumph for the defense” (206). Only later, beginning with the 1931 publication of Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties, did the Scopes trial begin to succumb to caricature, a caricature that was shamelessly perpetuated by Richard Hofstader in The American Political Tradition (1948) and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). The main culprit, however, was the play Inherit the Wind, which appeared in 1960 and which, as Larson demonstrates, was intended not so much as a representation of the trial

Balmer correctly pinpoints that Inherit the Wind was the “main culprit” for depicting the trial as an exaggeration to create a comic or grotesque effect.  Why should we be concerned with a film instead of history?  Well, because of the influence movies have on culture.  For example, there are numerous lesson plans (here, here, here, and here) for high school students on the movie.   Just do a simple Google search to see the plethora of lesson plans available for teachers of history, English, science, and humanities that utilize Inherit the Wind.  Thousands if not tens of thousands of students are exposed to the Scopes Trial via the movie every year.

The problem is that the movie promotes the propaganda of the conflict thesis between science and religion that I have written on before (see here and here). Carol Iannone describes it aptly: “While Inherit the Wind remains faithful to the broad outlines of the historical events it portrays, it flagrantly distorts the details, and neither the fictionalized names nor the cover of artistic license can excuse what amounts to an ideologically motivated hoax.”

History of the Film:

Inherit the Wind film was a originally a theatrical play in 1955 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.  It was later produced into the well known film staring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.  The movie was remade in 1999 starring Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott (it has several other television remakes as mentioned before).  The play, and later the movies, change the names of the actual people.  Here is a breakdown to help with watching the movie.

Movie Name:                           Actual Name:
Bertrum T. Cates                     John T. Scopes
Matthew Harrison Brady        William Jennings Bryan
Henry Drummond                   Clarence Darrow
E. K. Hornbeck                         H. L. Mencken
Heavenly Hillsboro                  Dayton, Tennessee

Continue reading “Science Series: “Inherit the Wind””

Apologetics Resource: What Would You Say?

Since September 2019, the Colson Center for Christian Worldview has been producing a series of 5 minute videos under the title: “What Would You Say?” Ranging from topics such as abortion, the Bible, apologetics, culture, family, economics, and theology, these videos provide “Quick answers to hard questions about gender, race, identity, equality, justice, and more. In a world where “truth” seems to change every five … Continue reading Apologetics Resource: What Would You Say?

Science Series: Scientism-The idea that science is the only path to knowledge

Have you ever heard someone say, “you have to prove that scientifically.” Or even in news reports that “studies have shown . . . ”  Or maybe you have heard that science is the final or ultimate source of knowledge.  Behind these sentiments may lie a belief called “scientism.”  This mentality has even been put as simply as “If I can’t see it, hear it, or … Continue reading Science Series: Scientism-The idea that science is the only path to knowledge

Science Series: The Flat Earth Myth

Quickly, answer the following question: “Who proved the world was round?” If you said Columbus, you are certainly not alone. We have all heard the idea that before Columbus, the Church and all the Christian intellectuals of the Middle Ages taught that the earth was flat.  If you sailed out far enough you would fall off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, you, along with … Continue reading Science Series: The Flat Earth Myth

Religion is Good For You

It has been stated, repeatedly, that religion, especially Christianity, has done more harm that good. Bertrand Russell in his book Why I am Not a Christian stated categorically that “the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.” In short, Christianity and religion is evil, and as the late Christopher Hitchens put … Continue reading Religion is Good For You

Apologetic Resource: Animated Apologetic Videos

Over the past several years there has been a boom in Christian Apologetic animated videos.  While there are plenty of apologetic videos from debates, podcasts, presentations, etc., here I want to focus on just those videos that are of high animated quality, relatively short (under 10 minutes), and are focused on Christian apologetics. Over at Prove the Bible, the whole website is videos (live and … Continue reading Apologetic Resource: Animated Apologetic Videos

Science Series: Book Notice – “Unbelievable”

New book out titled Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion by Michael Keas.  Michael Keas earned a PhD in the history of science from the University of Oklahoma, and is adjunct professor of the history and philosophy of science at Biola University.  The book covers much of what I have posted about here on this site such as the myths … Continue reading Science Series: Book Notice – “Unbelievable”

Science Series and an Apologetic Resource: “Scientism and Secularism”

“Scientism” is the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality. Fortunately, J. P. Moreland; Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, California with four earned degrees: a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri, a Th.M. in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M. A. in philosophy from the University of California-Riverside, … Continue reading Science Series and an Apologetic Resource: “Scientism and Secularism”

Science Series: Warfare Myth-Science vs. Religion

Over at The Stream Dr. Sean McDowell has continued the discussion about the warfare between science and religion (which is a myth as I have discussed here).  He starts by stating, “the belief that Christianity is opposed to modern science is one of the top reasons young people cite for leaving the church.”  Tracing the myth back to Andrew Dickson White’s book A History of the Warfare … Continue reading Science Series: Warfare Myth-Science vs. Religion

Biblical Archaeology: 12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave Found!

A twelfth cave has been found!  Craig Evans, of Houston Baptist University reports its importance: The last Dead Sea Scrolls cave, linked to the ruins on the marl shelf at the mouth of Wadi Qumran, was discovered in 1956, bringing the total number of caves to eleven — eleven caves containing the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, ceramic jars, and a number of other artifacts. For … Continue reading Biblical Archaeology: 12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave Found!