The Scopes Monkey Trial

13:   Education After the Scopes Trial

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The Decline in the Teaching of Evolution in Schools

What Americans Believe Now

And in Britain ...



Myth:  The Confrontation between Science and Religion, personified by Darrow and Bryan, brought the antievolution movement to a grinding halt.

The Decline in the Teaching of Evolution in Schools

MANY commentators, misguidedly following in the footsteps of F.L. Allen (Only Yesterday, 1931), have suggested that Darrow's grilling of Bryan was so effective that it made a laughing stock of the fundamentalist cause and put an end to the anti-evolution campaign across American.  The reality is somewhat different.

Although the Press mostly chose to pillory Bryan, his own followers seemed to have regarded his performance as highly admirable.  Indeed, far from losing momentum, even after Bryan's death the fundamentalist cause went from strength to strength.  Just three days after Bryan died, an anti-evolution bill was put before the Georgia state legislature.  In 1926 similar bills were presented to three more state assemblies.  And in 1927 no less than eighteen different anti-evolution bills were submitted in fourteen states.  Overall, two-thirds of all anti-evolutionist political activity in the 1920s occurred after the Scopes trial ended.
(For an analysis of the Darrow-Bryan confrontation - with extensive quotes - see Part 9:   Bryan and Darrow.)

Most of the attempts to gain political support for the anti-evolutionist position eventually came to nothing, and beyond 1929 overtly political efforts in this direction dwindled down to a mere trickle.  But this was certainly not, as many commentators still suggest, because the movement to remove evolution from the school curriculum ran out of steam, however.
On the contrary, the legal manouevres may well have come to an end because the battle to extinguish the teaching of evolution in schools was virtually (though only temporarily) won without the need for such draconian measures.

In 1926 the Superintendent of Education for the state of Louisiana demanded the removal of the six pages on evolution from Hunter's A Civic Biology (the textbook featured in the Scopes trial and the most popular biology textbook in use in high schools nationwide).  Sure enough, when the book was released in a new edition in 1927 - as A New Civic Botany - the 'offending pages' had been substantially rewritten.  The title "The Doctrine of Evolution" had been removed, along with the charts on pages 193 and 194 showing alleged evolutionary sequences.  In fact even the word "evolution" had been changed to "development" wherever it occurred.  The one remaining potential hot spot - the reference to Man's scientific definition as a member of the taxonomic class mammalia - was tempered by the assurance that "Man is the only creature that has moral and religious instincts".

By 1930, according to one pro-evolution commentator, Maynard Shipley, an estimated 70% of all public high schools omitted all reference to the theory of evolution in their science classes.  This situation prevailed for over three decades after the Scopes Trial, so that as late as 1959 Harvard Professor of palaeontology George G. Simpson, in a lecture entitled "One Hundred Years Without Darwin are Enough", observed that "Most [US high school science textbooks] relegate evolution to a single section, preferably in the back of the book, which need not be assigned."
According to researchers Judith Grabiner and Peter Miller, "Not until 1960 was the treatment of evolution in the most widely used high school texts substantially improved over that found before the Scopes trial".

Another popular textbook - Truman Moon's self-published Biology for Beginners - clearly illustrates this trend.  Having started out in 1921 with a picture of Darwin as the frontispiece, and an opening statement that the whole subject of biology was "based on the fundamental idea of evolution" and that "both man and ape are descended from a common ancestor", subsequent editions gave less and less attention to evolution.  According to Grabiner and Miller, however, the less it featured evolutionist teaching, the more popular the textbook became until, by the 1950's - with all mention of the evolution of man, natural selection and even the word evolution removed - it "dominated the market".

The late Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard Professor of Geology, recalled (in his book Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (1981)) how, as late as 1956, "In a year of biology, ... the teacher granted Mr. Darwin and his entire legacy only an apologetic two days at the end of a trying year."  As to his textbook on that course (Modern Biology, by Moon, Mann and Otto), Gould noted that it contained just one chapter on evolution - Chapter 58 (of 60) The hypothesis of racial development - which took up pages 618-636 out of a total of 662 pages.

We note, however, that this neither halted Mr Gould's interest in evolution, nor prevented him from becoming an internationally renowned evolutionist.

In the next two decades the teaching of evolution in schools began to move ahead, and at the same time a number of states which had adopted restrictive legislation began to repeal those laws (the Butler Act remained on the statute book, though it was never again invoked, until 1967).  Yet even this was a less than wholehearted success for evolutionist teaching.

In 1986, Dr Michael Zimmerman investigated what was happening in high schools in the state of Ohio.  (Zimmerman was Professor of biology at Oberlin College - the same college that Defense witness Maynard Metcalf graduated from, and subsequently taught at, many decades earlier).  The results of the survey were a scientist's nightmare.
Some 37.6% of the respondents (all high school biology teachers) agreed that creationism should be part of the curriculum, and 25% thought that creationism should be part of the science course.  Nor was this merely a theoretical reflection of the teachers' religious ideals.  Taking account of both public and private schools it emerged that approximately 22% of all high school students in the state were already being taught creationism during science classes.

And that, from the evolutionist perspective, might be called the "good" news!

Myth:  Despite initial setbacks, in the 21st century people at last realise that evolution is the best explanation of the evidence.

What Americans Believed in the Past

WHILST evolutionists have won most of the legal battles over the teaching of evolution in American schools, they seem to be as far as ever from winning the war to persuade members of the general population that their explanation is a "best fit" for the wealth of evidence now available.
Back in 1982, when Gallup ran a poll on Americans' views on how human beings came to be as they are today, people were offered four basic choices:

  1. God created Man pretty much in his present form at some time within the last 10,000 years
  2. Man today is the result of a process of evolution guided by God
  3. Man today is the result of a process of organic evolution without any outside influence or guidance
  4. Don't know

In 1982 the results of the poll were as follows:

  1. God created Man much as he is now - 44%
  2. Man is the result of God-guided evolution - 38%
  3. Man evolved by the laws of nature - 9%
  4. Don't know - 9%

When the same questions were asked twenty-two years later (November 2004) the results were almost identical.  (Notice that the percentage for option 3 increased significantly, but only by eating into the "Don't Knows"):

  1. God created Man much as he is now - 45%
  2. Man is the result of God-guided evolution - 38%
  3. Man evolved by the laws of nature - 13%
  4. Don't know - 4%

Two more recent polls, conducted by CBS (November 2004) and Newsweek (December 2004), asked different questions, but showed the same relative strength of support for evolutionism and creationism.  In this case both surveys first asked whether people would support the teaching of creationist ideas rather than evolutionist ideas.
On this point evolutionists came out slightly ahead:

  1. In favour of creationism instead of evolutionism - 40%(Newsweek) and 37%(CBS)
  2. Against creationism instead of evolutionism - 44%(Newsweek) and 51%(CBS)

However, when the subjects were asked whether they would support the teaching of both evolutionism and creationism, the ratio changed quite considerably:

  1. Against teaching both sets of ideas - 28% (Newsweek) and 29%(CBS)
  2. In favour of teaching both sets of ideas - 60% (Newsweek) and 65% (CBS)

Some commentators put this down to a poor understanding of evolutionist ideas in the general population (apparently unaware that our views are far more likely to be based on pure "gut instinct" rather than careful reasoning).  It is interesting, then, to note that surveys have shown that quite a significant number of teachers still think that creationism should be given equal time in the classroom, and that isn't restricted to just the Southern portion of the USA.
A study in Louisiana, in 1999, showed that 29% of the teachers polled favoured equal time.  Perhaps more surprising was the finding of a survey in Pennsylvania (1997) which showed that 39% (thirty-nine per cent) of High School teachers polled supported the idea of equal time for evolutionist and creationist ideas in schools.

It all seems to give added meaning to this news item from Time magazine of August 18th, 1930:

"For the purpose of establishing, conducting and perpetuating a university for the higher education of men and women under auspices distinctly Christian and spiritual, as a testimony to the supreme glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Divine inspiration and infallibility of the Bible," William Jennings Bryan University was last week chartered to operate as an institution of learning at Dayton, Tenn., scene of its namesake's last triumphs and death.  Until buildings are completed, classes will be held at the Rhea County High School."
(Italics added for emphasis)

What Americans Believe Now

Since I posted the information in the last section, things have changed a bit.  Gallup have gone on doing their polls, but the results have seen some very obvious fluctuations which many have claimed they can explain, but few (if any) have provided explanations that have stood the test of time.

The figures in the latest Gallup poll (highlighted on Scienceblogs by Jason Rosenhouse (, and not suprisingly passed on by an ID blogsite ( reveal that the seemingly significant downturn in support for creationism about two years ago.  At that time support for creationism dropped to only 40% and atheistics/skeptics were triumphantly forecasting the death of Americans' faith in religion as an answer to the world's problems.  In mid-2012 that figure has bounced back to 46% (45% in 2004), much in line for the figures for the last 30 years.

The upward trend in support of creationism is matched by falling support for theistic evolution - the idea that God is behind the whole history of our world, but through the use of evolutionary processes rather than through personal intervention.  Exactly matching, though in reverse, the success of creationist ideas, support fot theistic evolution has fallen from 38% (same in 2004) to 32%.

Even with these new figures, we still find 78% - almost four fifths (same in 2004) - of Americans supporting some kind of God-based belief concerning the origins of the universe, our planet, and all of the life forms thereon.  Which seems to show that straightforward atheism (old or "new") still has aq very, very long way to go before it can be described as having any kind of significant effect on the American people other than what little it has been able to achieve through the American court system.  It is hardly surprising then to find that support for atheism has also fallen during the last few years, from 16% to 15% (13% in 2004).
This is particularly relevant in the case of the USA, where nearly ten years of military activities overseas have demonstrated the powerlessness of brute strength where insufficient efforts have been made to win the hearts and minds of the people.

This may not look very significant until you realise that a fall of 1& in relation to the overall survey reslt actually represents a fall of 6.25% in comparison to the previous percentage voting in support of atheism.  It seems that the strident barracking from the bleachers by Dawkins, Dennet, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and physicist Victor Stenger, etc. have (at least for the time being) have had exactly the opposite effect from that which the "prophets of despair" had hoped for.

And in Britain ...

I must confess that when I started to create this site I was under the impression that creationism and "Intelligent Design" were mainly related to the religious scene in America, with relatively little support in the UK.  A recent (Spring, 2006) survey conducted on behalf of the BBC has revealed a very different picture, however.

When asked what explanation best accounted for the origins of mankind, some 48% chose evolution.  Less than half that many people - 22% in fact - selected "creationism" as the best explanation.  However, that is certainly not the end of the story, because nearly as many people - around 17% - selected "Intelligent Design" as the best answer; which puts the creationists, by whatever name, only 9% behind the evolutionists.  Which must come as something of a shock to all those people who assumed that the secularisation of Britain was more or less complete.

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial Site Map

A brief description of the Scopes Trial - the original proceedings, the effective fictionalising of the event in F.L. Allen's book Only Yesterday, and the confusion surrounding the play Inherit the Wind.  Also a short biography of the author.

Part 1: Summary
A short history of the events leading up to the Scopes Trial, the trial itself, and what happened afterwards.  Includes lists of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, etc. involved in the Scopes Trial.  Explains why it was called the "Monkey" trial.

Part 2: Inherit the Wind
Looks at the real story behind the writing of the play Inherit the Wind, and some of the key differences between the play and the actual trial.  Explains where the title came from, and what it signifies.

Part 3: A Cult of Misinformation
The Scopes Trial has been the subject of a mountain of misinformation from the time of the trial through to the present day.  The members of this "cult" include not just journalists and authors but also lawyers, university professors, the Encyclopaedia Britannica and even the Library of Congress.  This section shows why the real life events are so widely misunderstood today.

Part 4: How it Began
Discusses the Butler Act (the basis for the charge against John Scopes), the action of the ACLU, the "Drugstore Conspiracy" which led to the trial being staged in Dayton, and how the two sets of lawyers were selected - or in some cases selected themselves.  This section includes the names of all of the lawyers on both sides.

Part 5: The Experts - and Others
Details of the expert witnesses due to give evidence for the defense - and two potential witnesses, one of whom did make an appearance (Piltdown Man), and one who didn't (Nebraska Man).

Part 6: The Expert Evidence
Arthur Hays claimed that the expert witnesses would deal only in "facts."  This section discusses specific items of "expert testimony" in the light of that claim and subsequent discoveries.

Part 7: Hunter's Civic Biology
Details of the true nature of the contents of Hunter's textbook A Civic Biology.

Part 8: The Trial - Part 1     In preparation
A timeline of the main events of the trial on a day-by-day basis.

Part 9: The Trial - Part 2
A detailed evaluation of the confrontation between Darrow and Bryan on the afternoon of day 7, with numerous quotes from the trial transcript and elsewhere.

Part 10: The Appeal
Many people know that the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the original result of the trial, but why?  Was John Scopes found "not guilty"?  What reasons did the Supreme Court give for their decision?
And what the heck is a nolle prosequi anyway?

Part 11: Was Scopes Guilty?
Another remarkable feature of the Scopes Trial was the number of lies involved - the biggest of which centers on the likelihood that the defense lawyers deliberately concealed the fact that Scopes was genuinely "not guilty."

Part 12: 80 Years of Evolution and Species
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
In Part 6 we looked at the kind of "evidence" offered by the expert witnesses.  In this section we look specifically at the meaning of terms such as "evolution" and "species" in 1925 and 2006.

Part 13: Education After the Scopes Trial
This section describes: What happened to the teaching of evolutionary theory in American schools after the trial; and what Americans believe about the teaching of evolutionism and creationism today.
Also, the shock results of a poll in the UK.

Part 14: Clarence Darrow - Attorney for the Damned?
Whilst the ACLU triggered the Scopes Trial, and the "drugstore conspirators" brought it to Dayton, the guiding force behind the events during the trial itself was Clarence Darrow.  This section looks at what motivated Darrow to essentially hi-jack the ACLU campaign and use it for his own ends.

Part 15: The Significance of the Scopes Trial
This section considers some of the many clashes in American society in the 1920s and considers whether they were genuine clashes, and if they were, what influence the Scopes Trial had an on any of them.
It also reveals what will be, for many people, surprising new information about the role of the University of Chicago in American culture at that time discovered by Professor of the History of Science, Edward Davis.

Part 16: The Play, the Movie and the Trial
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
A detailed examination of the differences between the play and first (1960) film version of Inherit the Wind, and the real life Scopes Trial.

Part 20: Links and Resources
A list of websites and books related to the Scopes Trial, including the trial transcript and the script of Inherit the Wind.