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The Scopes Monkey Trial
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He and his adversaries had agreed to
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Hi, I'm Frank Couvares for About.com, and I'm here to talk to you about the Scopes Trial.In 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, a famous trial occurred - the so-called "Monkey Trial," the Scopes Trial. Most people who think they know something about this trial learned it from the feature film, Inherit the Wind, in which Spencer Tracy plays a heroic Clarence Darrow-type character, defending the innocent teacher. In this version of the story, the moral is simple: science or enlightened modern thought, against a kind of fanatical, fundamentalist religion - superstitious, almost.We've come to learn that's not quite happened in Dayton, Tennessee. Scopes had been accused of violating the Butler Act, which forbid the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution - or any theory that violated the Biblical account of Creation.John T. Scopes was actually the friend of many of the people who were prosecuting him. He, and his adversaries, had agreed to stage essentially a test trial, in part to bring publicity to Dayton, Tennessee, a declining town that thought all of the news coverage would help it.The character who the film called Drummond is of course Clarence Darrow, probably the most famous lawyer in America, and who defended scores of labor leaders, socialists and others on the margin of American society - with great fanfare, with great effectiveness. His adversary is actually William Jennings Bryan, who was the most famous liberal-left politician in America of the previous era. He was a man who supported virtually every progressive cause of his era. His prosecuting Scopes was not the work of some reactionary, but the work of a man who saw himself always promoting justice, equality and democracy.Having lost his case, Scopes was subject to a $100 fine, which was paid for by his supporters. Later, on appeal, the case was dismissed by the higher courts. So there was never that constitutional that the ACLU especially, and Darrow among others, had hoped the case would bring about.In the end, I think we have to see the Scopes Trial as a very complex event. Indeed, it was to some extent about the conflict between religion and science - but also about the tension in the modern world between elites, experts, bureaucracies on the one hand and ordinary citizens on the other. And also about the conflict between those parts of modernity that we embrace, and those parts that trouble us.Thanks for watching. To learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.
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