Monday, August 11, 2008

A few uncomfortable truths about the Scopes Trial you won't find in "Inherit the Wind"

Just when you thought all those Darwinists who were protesting that the movie "Expelled" made too much of the connection between evolution and racism, turns out that the book that was the subject of the Scopes Trial--the one being defended by the forces of scientific truth--was a racist book:
The trial has usually been remembered merely as a conflict between a primitive religiosity and disinterested science, but the facts of the case are rather more complicated. Bryan was in his youth one of the most passionate and populist of 'progressive' politicians, a champion of labour and of the poor, an enemy of race theory, and a firm believer in democracy. In his day, evolutionary theory was inextricably associated with eugenics, an from early on he had denounced Darwinism as a philosophy of hatred and oppression, ardently believing that the Christian law of love was the only true basis of a just society. As yet, the rather obvious truth that evolutionary science need involve no social ideology whatsoever was not obvious even to Darwinian scientists.

Moreover, Civic Biology [the book that was the subject of the Scopes suit] was a monstrously racist text, which ranked humanity in five categories of evolutionary development (with blacks at the bottom and whites at the top), advocated eugenic cleansing of the race, denounced intermarriage and the perpetuation of 'degenerate' stock and suggested 'humane' steps for the elimination of social 'parasites'. These were the ideas that Bryan had long believed would lead humanity into an age of war, murder, and tyranny; and given what came in the decades following the trial, it would be hard to argue that Bryan--whatever his faults--was simply an alarmist.
From the excellent book, The Story of Christianity, by David Bentley Hart

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is a little known fact that all the Klansmen in the 1920's were closet "Darwinists" too! And this recently discovered Darwin letter to a certain German woman shows the true evil side of the dastardly "Darwinists": http://sneerreview.blogspot.com/2008/05/darwin-exposed.html

Anonymous said...

Hart is lying. The trial was not over the racism and eugenics promoted in the book. The trial was specifically and only over the teaching of evolution in the standard textbook, "Civic Biology" (which expended but two sentences on Darwin, and all of five or six pages on evolution, and even that treatment tepid and Lamarckian rather than Darwinian).

The "Darwinists" did not insist that Scopes had a right to teach the racist and eugenic sections of the book; neither did the Creationists demand that they be removed. As point of fact, after Scopes was convicted, for the next edition of "Civic Biology," the author and publisher calmly erased all positive references to evolution and Darwin, while leaving unexpurgated all the racism and eugenics - and the State of Tennessee continued to buy the book and feed it to school kids for many years after. A year after the trial, the publisher issued a temporary special edition for sale to Southern states, with all six pages on evolution removed and unreplaced, and all else the same. A year or so later, they issued Hunter's revision, "A New Civic Biology." Creationists showed no objections or outrage, nor did they advance censorious legislation. The Tennessee Creationists cared little about eugenics, and positively advocated racism; what they objected to was evolution.

For however much Creationists thrive on bitter fantasies about their own history, Tennessee schools had been segregated and had taught racism long before Civic Biology went to paper, and remained so long after it ceased to advocate evolution. Indeed, most public and private institutions in Tennessee were segregated and remained legally segregated until in the 1960s, when forced to stop by the Federal government. And so it was and has been the case in every state, evolution-free, dominated politically and socially by white Fundamentalist Protestants.

Bryan never, to my knowledge, advocated racism. On the other hand, while he does not seem to have been personally racist, by the 'teens and 'twenties his primary constituency was Southern voters, in whose consideration he ignored the segregation and official racism of the entire region.

Creationists' revisionist history of the Scopes Affair as a trial against racism is an invention of recent years, possibly only now that white Southern Fundamentalist Protestants have for the most part ceased publicly to advocate racism. It is a fraud, pious and perverse, existing only for Creationists' cynical campaign against science.

Anonymous said...

Anon2: Excellent post. Don't be disappointed if no one addresses the points you made. (Mitchell?)

jah

Martin Cothran said...

It might help lower your blood pressure and reduce the felt need to sling epithets around to read the passage again, in which case you will discover that nowhere does Hart say that the trial was over racism. What he does say is that Bryan was concerned about evolution because of its social implications. In fact, although Hart doesn't discuss this (the article I drew it from is very brief), this seems to have been the primary reason Bryan opposed it--at least it was his biggest motivation for his public opposition.

Although Bryan was conservative in religion, he was a political and social progressive whose disagreement with evolution was partly shaped by the writings of the biologist Vernon Kellog, one of many people who noted the Nazi's use of evolution to bolster their genocidal philosophy ... oh, but I forgot, we're not supposed to talk about that, are we?

We can criticize religious people (justifiably) for rascist beliefs, but we must never, never mention the even more egregious beliefs and actions of those who used Darwin to justify mass murder.

Hart's comments were about the contents of the book and the motivation of Bryan's opposition to evolution, nothing more.

So the next time you go criticizing creationists for being careless in their portrayal of events, you might try to be more careful yourself about how you interpret what people say.

In fact, you're in good company on this blog in this regard. Jah (who, on another thread on this blog, is refusing to say that the Holocaust is absolutely wrong) seems to have the same problem in reading comprehension.

Martin Cothran said...

I've got an idea: let's compare what Hart said about the trial (which is completely accurate) with the portrayal of the trial in "Inherit the Wind" (which contains blatant fabrications of actual events in order to promote evolution).

Anonymous said...

MC: Jah (who, on another thread on this blog, is refusing to say that the Holocaust is absolutely wrong) seems to have the same problem in reading comprehension.

And refusing to say that the Holocaust is absolutely wrong is somehow a less defensible position than stating that the Holocaust is absolutely wrong but being unable to demonstrate what this absolute standard is, and whose adherents now think slavery is wrong but once overwhelmingly accepted it along with other internal inconsistencies?

jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Who says I can't say what the absolute standard is by which I can judge the Holocaust wrong?

"Thou shalt not murder." Exoxus 20. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

MC: Who says I can't say what the absolute standard is by which I can judge the Holocaust wrong?
"Thou shalt not murder."

Can you do it in a non-tautologous fashion? [I'm assuming Mr Cothran is using "murder" to more or less mean "the unauthorized taking of a human life".]

Why is the Holocaust wrong in an absolute sense but the Inquisition (or various other incidents) wasn't? Isn't the root cause of the Holocaust, resentment of Jews, religious in nature?

Again, as I have asked before, faced with some situation, how does one decide what the moral course of action is?

jah

Anonymous said...

Inherit the Wind does not claim to be a history of the Scopes Trial. ITW is a work of fiction. The printed version of the play makes this very clear in the introduction.

Anonymous said...

Martin can't get anything right. Vernon Kellog was not aware of the Nazi's as he wrote in the years immediately following WWI NOT WWII. Kellog was writing about German Militarism not eugenics. If I recall, the book is titled _Headquarter Nights_ and involved talks Kellog had with German officers on German nationalism and militarism.

For all the bluster over claiming Bryan opposed evolution because of his "social views" it is revealing that Bryan did not act on eugenics or racism, only evolution. A complete transcript of the Scopes Trial is available as a book first printed in the late 1920's and recently reprinted. See: http://books.google.com/books?id=rndb5m5xNk0C&dq=scopes+trial+transcript&pg=PP1&ots=A_OkYEQ4ky&source=citation&sig=ze14vyOMBcSfbMtu0DK7JkVx8Pw&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=12&ct=result

Show us where Bryan criticized eugenics or racism at the trial. Portraying the Scopes Trial as being about Bryan's "social views" is revisionist history.

Anonymous said...

William J. Bryan's last speech at the Scopes Trial has been widely reprinted. One online version can be found here: http://www.csudh.edu/oliver/smt310-handouts/wjb-last/wjb-last.htm

Bryan's reasons for joining the prosecution of Scopes, at least stated in public, were explicitly grounded in fundamentalist religion. For example, read these quotes from the above mentioned speech:

"Our first indictment against evolution is that it disputes the truth of the Bible account of man's creation and shakes faith in the Bible as the word of God. This indictment we prove by comparing the processes described. as evolutionary with the text of Genesis. It not only contradicts the Mosaic record as to the beginning of human life, but it disputes the Bible doctrine of reproduction according to kind - the greatest scientific principle known."

"Our second indictment is that the evolutionary hypothesis, carried to its logical conclusion, disputes every vital truth of the Bible. Its tendency, natural, if not inevitable, is to lead those who really accept it, first to agnosticism and then to atheism. Evolutionists attack the truth of the Bible, not openly at first, but by using weasel-words like "poetical," "symbolical" and "allegorical" to suck the meaning out of the inspired record of man's creation."

It sure reads as if his main objections are religious instead of being his "social views".

Anonymous said...

Also Headquarters Nights and A Civic Biology are available.

http://books.google.com/books?id=-ylCAAAAIAAJ&printsec=titlepage&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0

http://books.google.com/books?id=RhIjAAAAMAAJ&printsec=titlepage&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0

The scopes book referenced is limited preview for me
http://books.google.com/books?id=rndb5m5xNk0C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0#PPA107,M1


Also, "Speeches of William Jennings Bryan" Revised and Arranged by Himself
(nothing on Scopes since it was published in 1909)


http://books.google.com/books?id=Qte0CdftsDYC&printsec=titlepage&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0




My question is, are the misrepresentations above accidental or deliberate?


jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah: My question is, are the misrepresentations above accidental or deliberate?

C'mon. I let you get on here and disagree with me to your heart's content. I could shut you down with click of my mouse. I let you on here because I enjoy spirited discussion and it holds me accountable for what I say. And when I disagree with you I disagree with you, I don't speculate on some evil motive you have saying what you say. Quite frankly, that's just childish.

I think we'll both enjoy these discussions a whole lot more if we stick to the argument.

Now, first, Anonymous is absolutely correct that Vernon Kellog was talking about World War I, not II, and it had to do with German militarism (although German militarism was wrapped up in Prussian delusions of cultural and racial superiority). That's what I get for quoting something from memory. Besides, if I had thought about it two seconds longer, I would have realized that the statement was a complete anachronism: Bryan died in the 20's, several years before the rise of the Nazis.

But I am trying to figure out where Jah thinks I misrepresented Bryan. I said that his objection to evolution "was partly shaped" by his concerns over social Darwinism and that this had to do with his political progressivism.

Is Jah saying that is not true simply because he doesn't mention it during the Scopes trial? Are we just going to forget about the greater part of Bryan's career as a political and social crusader? Is Jah disagreeing with Bryan's biographers and others who discuss this era?

I think it would be true to say that Bryan's concerns over evolution were primarily theological by the time of the Scopes trial and that that's what he talked about (Oh, and there's also the matter that he was a politician concerned about his populist image and he coveted popularity in the south). But I doubt you could establish that he had completely forgotten his earlier concerns over the social implications of Darwinism--concerns which he was widely known to have.

Maybe Jah could clarify exactly what I said that he thinks is misrepresentation.

Anonymous said...

MC: But I am trying to figure out where Jah thinks I misrepresented Bryan.

I never said you did. You misrepresented the link between the science of evolution and racism.


MC: Maybe Jah could clarify exactly what I said that he thinks is misrepresentation.

The statement that "Expelled" did not make too much of evolution and racism, that the two are inextricably associated.

While some (or many) proponents of evolution were racist, the racism was not solely, or even primarily, the product of belief in evolution. This is clearly shown by the facts that racism preceded evolutionary theory, that the states were happy with the textbook when only the six pages on evolution was removed (I'm assuming the other post is true), but primarily because those who complained most about evolution weren't also complaining about racism. I don't see how anyone who has lived in/travelled through/read about the South could imagine that the racism there was the product of evolutionary thinking.





MC: I let you on here because I enjoy spirited discussion and it holds me accountable for what I say.

But a discussion is a two way street. Elsewhere I urge lee to consider that others do not necessarily think as he does, which leads to false conclusions. But I have tried and really can't understand how someone can say - 'the only rational reason is religious' and not think it worthwhile to consider why similar feelings exist in other situations, the strength of this feeling compared to that for worse acts, what part is religious, etc. So I do not feel that there is much in the way of discussion taking place.




MC: I think we'll both enjoy these discussions a whole lot more if we stick to the argument.

I feel the above should be attributed to me.


jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah: You misrepresented the link between the science of evolution and racism.

Where?

Martin Cothran said...

Jah: While some (or many) proponents of evolution were racist, the racism was not solely, or even primarily, the product of belief in evolution.

Where did I say it was?

thomas said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jennings_Bryan#Fighting_Darwinism:_1918.E2.80.931925

This section of Bryan's view of social darwinism, the influence Kellogg had on him, and so on. Bryan was clearly concerned not so much about the direct moral implications of evolution as the way it was being used by German nationalists and combined with the philosophy of Nietzsche (both Bryan and the Nazis completely misunderstood Nietzsche as it happened). He even accepted evolution theologically as long as there was a supernatural creation of the soul.

And David Bentley Hart points this out in the book not to reject evolution (in fact, he has publicly criticised the ID movement), but because even though Bryan was mistaken, his motives were at least better than is suggested by most accounts today. Even wikipedia makes a big deal out of this, and wikipedia is not known for any friendliness to creationists.

Lee said...

> jah: "Elsewhere I urge lee to consider that others do not necessarily think as he does, which leads to false conclusions."

One false conclusion could be that my reasoning has lead to false conclusions -- but that is your conclusion, and more or less a conclusion begged from the start. But we won't know unless you specify which conclusions you think I have drawn falsely, and what I did that was incorrect.

Anonymous said...

lee: But we won't know unless you specify which conclusions you think I have drawn falsely, and what I did that was incorrect.

Your belief that those who have no sense of absolute morality just do whatever feels good. This leads you to incorrectly conclude that such individuals can have no sense of justice.

jah

Andrew T. Dolan said...

William Jennings Bryan's summation of the Scopes trial sounds to me more concerned about social implications of evolutionary theory than about reading Genesis 1-2 as a historical account. Here it is:

Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane, the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world.

It is for the jury to determine whether this attack upon the Christian religion shall be permitted in the public schools of Tennessee by teachers employed by the state and paid out of the public treasury. This case is no longer local, the defendant ceases to play an important part. The case has assumed the proportions of a battle-royal between unbelief that attempts to speak through so-called science and the defenders of the Christian faith, speaking through the legislators of Tennessee. It is again a choice between God and Baal; it is also a renewal of the issue in Pilate's court.

Again force and love meet face to face, and the question, "What shall I do with Jesus?" must be answered. A bloody, brutal doctrine--evolution--demands, as the rabble did 1,900 years ago, that He be crucified. That cannot be the answer of this jury representing a Christian state and sworn to uphold the laws of Tennessee. Your answer will be heard throughout the world; it is eagerly awaited by a praying multitude. If the law is nullified, there will be rejoice wherever God is repudiated, the savior scoffed at and the Bible ridiculed. Every unbeliever of every kind and degree will be happy. If, on the other hand, the law is upheld and the religion of the school children protected, millions of Christians will call you blessed and, with hearts full of gratitude to God, will sing again that grand old song of triumph:

"Faith of our fathers, living still, In spite of dungeon, fire and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy Whene'er we hear that glorious word--Faith of our fathers--Holy faith; We will be true to thee till death!"