The Scopes Monkey Trial

On this page:

On The Importance of Evolution

On Evolutionary Genealogies

On Universal Orthogenesis

On Darwin and Fossils

On the Superiority of the White Race

On Eugenics


Myth:   Hunter's textbook presented nothing more radical than the simple 'facts' of evolution.

7:   What Hunter's Civic Biology Really Taught

SO what about the textbook at the centre of the furore?
Written by a New York high school teacher, surely this will give us a reasonably accurate picture of the facts of evolution, so far as they were known at that time?  Let's see just what Hunter's Civic Biology had to say.

On the Importance of Evolution

The defence team originally based their case on two main claims:

  1. That evolution was not a theory or a hypothesis, but a fact (though the mechanism by which evolution came about was still open to discussion) and was essential to a competent understanding of science in general as well as biology in particular
  2. That it was entirely in order to be a Christian and be totally in agreement with evolutionary ideas

If the first claim is true then we can only wonder why the section on evolution occupied so little space and why it only appeared so late on in the book (pages 191-196).   If the author had regarded evolution as being so basic to an understanding of biology/science why didn't he open the subject on page 1?

On Evolutionary Genealogies

Page 193 of the textbook carried a very simplified illustration labelled "The geological history of the horse ..." in which the evolutionary development of modern equus is presented as a straight-line progression from Eohippus.  This is hardly surprising, perhaps, since the illustration is credited as being "After Matthews, in the American Museum of Natural History".  In practice this illustration is highly misleading - as Garrett Hardin Professor of microbiology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained in his 1961 book Nature and Man's Fate:

"... there was a time when the existing fossils of the horses seemed to indicate a straight-line evolution from small to large, from dog-like to horse-like, from animals with simple grinding teeth to animals with the complicated cusps of the modern horse.  It looked straight-line - like the links of a chain.  But not for long.  As more fossils were uncovered, the chain splayed out unto the usual phylogenetic net, and it was all too apparent that evolution had not been in a straight line at all. but that (to consider size only) horses had now grown taller, now shorter. with the passage of time.  Unfortunately, before the picture was completely clear, an exhibit of horses as an example of orthogenesis [straight line development] had been set up at the American Museum of Natural History, photographed, and much reproduced in elementary text books (where it is still being reprinted today)."

Though the diagram in question was subsequently removed from all further editions of A Civic Biology, by the time Hardin wrote his comments, at the start of the 1960's, this particular piece of misinformation had resurfaced and went on being circulated in school and college textbooks for years afterwards.  Indeed, it may still be going the rounds, for all I know.

So at least one piece of the story of evolution, as portrayed by Hunter's textbook, was very much 'opinion' rather than fact.  But maybe we can find something more 'factual' later on.

On Universal Orthogenesis

On the same note,

"So in animal life, from the Protozoa upward, there is constant change, and the change is toward greater complexity of structure and functions.  An insect is a higher type of life than a protozoan, because its structure is more complex and it can perform its work with more ease and accuracy."

This passage simply compounds the misconception that all change is progressive.  It is now clear that any process dependent on random mutations (over 90 per cent of which will be neutral or destructive) is unlikely to follow an unswerving course in any direction, let alone a path of unremitting progress.
The textbook, at least, seems to be a very unsatisfactory witness as to the state of our 'knowledge' of evolution in 1925.

On Darwin and Fossils

"The great English scientist, Charles Darwin, from this [fossil] and other evidence, explained the theory of evolution." (p.194)

Actually Darwin gained little comfort from the fossil record which, in his day, was notoriously sparse.  Even then it was recognised that an overwhelming majority of the exhibits in the fossil record offered little no evidence to support the evolutionists' view.  As Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species:

"But, as by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?"

On the Superiority of the White Race

Darrow also argued that acceptance of evolutionism would pave the way to a kinder, more loving world.  Yet Hunter's textbook carried the kind of deep-seated racist message that has been used as justification for the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in America and for the decades of apartheid in South Africa, such as:

"Although anatomically there is a greater difference between the lowest type of monkey and the highest type of ape than there is between the highest type of ape and the lowest savage, yet there is an immense mental gap between monkey and man."


"The Races of Man. - At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the others in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure  These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan and the eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America."

On Eugenics

Mind you, if Hunter regarded non-whites as inferior to whites, he was none too kind to members of the white community who didn't behave as he thought they should:

"Parasitism and its Cost to Society. - Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country.  The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society.  They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money.  Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return.  They are true parasites.
"The Remedy. - If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.  Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.  Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country."
(Italics added for emphasis)

The phrase "the remedy" is somewhat akin to the Nazi euphemism "the final solution," which actually meant "wholesale slaughter of anyone we don't like."
In Hunter's case "the remedy" was actually wholesale sterilization of anyone the authorities didn't think were fit to have children.
To be fair, the material on eugenics appears to have been contributed by Charles Davenport, who had set up the Eugenic Records Office just four years before the original publication of A Civic Biology.  . Nevertheless, the book carried Hunter's name, and presumably there was nothing in there that wasn't entirely in accord with his own beliefs and opinions.
(The work of the Eugenics Records Office became the basis of the Nazii's programme of "ethnic cleansing" as we would call it now.)

To be charitable we must suppose that Darrow - who frequently demonstrated that the only facts he cared to know about were the ones that tallied with his own opinions - never actually bothered to read the relevants parts of the book all the fuss centered around, as demonstrated by the fact that approximately one year later he launched a blistering attack on the whole eugenics movement.  Or maybe it was yet another example of the "ends" (attacking Bryan and Christianity) justifying the "means" (see Part 11:   Was Scopes Guilty? for more details on this point.)

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.

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 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.