The Scopes Trial

Fundamentalism vs. Evolution | John Thomas Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee | Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan | Historical Significance | Bibliography
The Scopes Trial took place in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. The trial was between the state of Tennessee and John Scopes, a 24-year-old teacher at Rhea County High School. John Scopes was brought to trial for teaching evolution to students after a law making the teachings of evolution a crime was put in place. Clarence Darrow defended John Scopes in this trial, against William Jennings Bryan in this clear case of fundamentalism versus modern ideas of evolution. This event is significant to history because it brought the conflict between the new and the old ideas of science and religion to the public eye.[1]

Fundamentalism vs. Evolution

Charles Darwin

The Scopes trial was more than just one man breaking a law; it was fundamentalism and evolution going against each other. Fundamentalists believed in only teaching history of mankind from the word of the Bible. Biologist Charles Darwin challenged these teachings with his theories of evolution. As these theories became more popular, it caused conflict in the 1920s between scripture and science. The traditional values in America were being tested.

Charles Darwin's theories asserted that each species did not come about on their own, that humans evolved from a lesser creature like every other species. The traditional, religious values most people had during this time were clashing with modern science. His theories challenged religious creationism fundamentals.[2] The law forbidding the teachings of evolution stayed in place until late 1960s.

John Thomas Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee


24-year-old science teacher, John Thomas Scopes, was accused and brought to trial in 1925 for teaching evolution to his students. The teachings of evolution violated the Butler Act, stating that teaching evolution in a school classroom was unlawful and if found guilty, a person would be fined anywhere from $100 - $500.[3] A group headed by Earle Robinson and George Rappleyea "conspired" with Scopes to violate the law to create a court test case. Some say this was a publicity stunt. The trial started July 10 and lasted through July 21. [4]

Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan a three-time Democratic candidate for President and a populist led a Fundamentalist crusade to banish Darwin's theory of evolution from American classrooms. He was worried that Darwin's theories were being used by supporters of a eugenics movement that was looking into sterilization of "inferior stock." He thought had a concern about the teachings of evolution undermining traditional values.

After hearing about the prosecution Clarence Darrow jumped into Dayton for this case. Clarence Darrow was defending the prosecutor John Thomas Scopes because he thought that evolution should be taught in school. Darrow said that the anti-evolution law made the Bible "the yardstick to measure every man's intellect, to measure every man's intelligence, to measure every man's learning."

Historical Significance

The Scopes trial is very important to history. Without the Scopes trial, the 1920s wouldn't be the same without this event. The conflicts of evolution vs. fundamentalism wouldn't have been evaluated and been brought to the public. The ideas in this trial are still relevant to present day. The ideas of evolution are still challenged by traditional and religious values.


  1. ^ Caesar, Stephen. "Some Facts about the Scopes Trial." The Revolution Against Evolution, Last updated 6/21/2006.
  2. ^ Henderson, Paula. "Scopes' Monkey Trial." Vintage Periods, Last updated after 2003.
  3. ^ Scoville, Heather. "The Butler Act." Evolution, Last updated 2012.
  4. ^ Cornelius, R.M. "The Scopes Evolution Trial of 1925." Rhea County.