The Scope’s Trail – A Revolution against Evolution


Creationism vs. Evolution


Science and Religion are two folks who never get along with each other. In 1925 a case from a small town in the state of Tennessee drew national interest and sparkled a nationwide debate. According to the Butler Act1 of the State, teaching the theory of evolution in the state funded schools was unlawful. John Thomas Scopes, a high school teacher from the town of Dayton was convicted to have violated the law, teaching Darwin’s theory to his pupils.


Teacher John T. Scopes

Teacher John T. Scopes


In fact the case was blown up so as to gather public attention. The case became a national sensation- with the entire national media hooked in Dayton- after leading law practitioners of that era agreed to take sides on the trail.  A Statesman and three time presidential candidate and famous layer, William Jennings Bryan prosecuted. On the defense side Clarence Darrow appeared.

Bryan was a leading American politician, served as two time member the House of Representatives from Nebraska and Secretary of States under President Woodrow Wilson (1913-15). Notwithstanding he resigned in 1915 while the World War I was in progress. Besides all his ideologies that center on the common welfare of the people, he was a strong opposer of Darwinism.  Bryan believed that only morality could bring a change and help to end all the conflicts among the countries. The morality he referred was religious morality. He strongly believed that scientific theories like Evolution theory would challenge biblical belief which clearly contradicts his stand in religious morality. He also thought such theories would initiate conflicts and hatred.  This made him to take the prosecution side.


Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan

Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan


On the other hand Clarence who hailed from an unorthodox family, his father being a religious free thinker, whose ideologies were just polar to that of Bryan’s. This should’ve attracted him to defend the 24 year old Science Teacher Scope. He considered Scope’s case not as an individual’s case, but looked it as a challenge posed religious fanatism to radical free thinking. Indeed the national curiosity that this case managed to attract was also mainly due to the fact that many supporters advocating free thinking also perceived the case Darrow’s way.

This trail that put the Butler Act to test soon turned out to be the case of scientific free thinking Vs religious fundamentalism. Though the case is The State of Tennessee Vs John Thomas Scope, this historically important case, in the headlines of the national print media, was addressed famously ‘Scope’s Monkey Trail’.


Scope's Trail

Courtesy :


The trail that lasted just two weeks sparked debates across America, where most of the American Christians denounced Evolution at that time. The court found Scope guilty and posed him a fine of $100, which his defense lawyer Darrow refused. Later he appealed the case- challenging the verdict -to the Supreme Court of Tennessee where the final verdict slashed the fine, on grounds of legal technicality, for the fine should’ve been imposed by the jury and not the judge himself.

Despite the fact that the case was blown up, it is undeniably one of the most important events of the 1920s. The scope of the case is so crucial. If not for this case the America would not have come down to discuss the issues that are religiously sensitive. The trail had initiated many books on the core issue and had inspired plays and films.


Inherit the Wind



A stage play ‘Inherit the Wind’ was debuted in 1955 that gave a fictionalized account of the trail. Later in 1960 the play was adapted into a Hollywood film of the same name directed by Stanley Kramer. In spite of the reviewers pointing the inaccuracies of the film with that of the original event it helped the much changed American society of the 60s to contemplate and debate on the core issue afresh. Some of the fictitious characters had been included in the film to heighten the drama, along with memorable power house performances by veteran Hollywood actors. Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond portrayed Clarence Darrow, Fredric March as Mathew Harrison Brady depicted William J. Bryan on screen. There have also been several remakes of the film as TV movie.


1.The Butler Act, named after John W. Butler, the head of World Christian Fundamentals Association and a State representative of Tennessee. He played the key role in passing the anti-evolution law, which was passed on March 21, 1925.  The State of Tennessee repealed the act in 1968.