Smithsonian Institute Releases 25 New Photos For Public On Anniversary of Scopes’ ‘Monkey Trial’

It had been labelled as the Trial of the Century’ last century and has been variously referred as Scopes Trial’, Monkey Trial’ or Scopes vs State of Tennessee Trial’. The bone of contention struck at the very heart of American education system the teaching of evolution. The end of the trial saw a defeat for pro-evolutionists, with school teacher John T. Scopes, being found guilty of teaching evolution in classrooms and fined $100. The verdict would be overturned in a few days, but the impact would last. Often regarded as the first legal tussle in the evolution creationism debate, the Scopes’ Trial would be a landmark case and a pitstop in any discussion on Conflict Thesis. Marking the 86th anniversary of the trial, the Smithsonian Institute released 25 photos, hitherto unseen, adding them both to their own archives and releasing them for public viewing on their Flickr stream.

Anti-Evolution lobby
The Fundamentalist Christian Lobby

The Monkey Trial

The story of the infamous Monkey trial started with one Charles Rappleyea, a local owner of several mines in Dayton, Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union prohibited the teaching of evolution in the classrooms and this was legally upheld in the form of the Butler Act. Rappleyea convinced his friend, John Scopes, a biology teacher in a local school, to go against the textbooks and teach evolution, since the state explicitly required teachers to teach evolution, effectively against the law. Rappleyea actually wanted enough controversy so that the sleepy town of Dayton would get noticed and bring in big business. And a controversy is what he would get.

John T. Scopes

The prosecution comprised the heavyweight William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential nominee and the former US Secretary of State and was led by Tom Stewart, the district attorney. The defense had notable members like Clarence Darrow, an agnostic and Dudley Malone, an international lawyer. Malone’s speech later in the trial would be a pivot around which the judgement would be based. The speech is regarded as the real high point of the trial.

Clarence Darrow and William Bryan at the Scopes' Trial

The trial veered wildly off the initial legal course and delved inevitably in the minefield of the evolution-creationism’ debate. Both the Butler Act and the Genesis was quoted at length inside the courtroom, personal attacks flew in hordes and whether God had any hand in the process of creation became the real bone of contention.

Scopes participated in the proceedings to the extent of indicting himself and even urging his students to testify against him. Eventually after 8 days in court from 10th to 21st of July and heated drama that was covered by the international media, the deliberation took only nine minutes. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in classrooms and released on bail for $100 (which comes up to about $1300 in present circumstances).

The Backlash

A backlash forced the overturn of this decision. What seemed like a victory for the anti-evolutionists, soon turned into a major triumph for the pro-evolution groups, comprising both agnostics and liberal Christians. The anti-evolution lobby had faced its first serious defeat.

The drama has also inspired films like Inherit the Wind’.


Monkey Trial - the media was at its sarcastic best

In 2005, the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial sought justified parallels with the Scopes trial, with many labelling it as the Second Scopes’. This trial saw a resounding victory for the evolutionists; the verdict was so astoundingly damning against the creationist (or Intelligent Design) side that they have still not recovered from it.

The Smithsonian Institute showcased 25 new pictures celebrating the 86th anniversary of the Scopes Trial.   The Flickr Stream now has 73 photos of the famous incident.

Whether directly or indirectly, the Scopes trial cemented the place of evolution in school textbooks and brought it back to many schools, where it was previously absent. It is certain that the Monkey Trial helped our mental evolution towards science…

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.