Beliefnet
Monday, July 10, marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the "trial of the century," the Scopes monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee, at which schoolteacher John Scopes was fined for teaching evolutionary theory in defiance of a state statute. The Scopes trial left a lasting impression on American culture, in part because it was the first modern media event, elaborately covered by newspaper and radio, and in part because science and religion were pitted against each other.

Beliefnet has compiled an extensive collection of documents, transcripts, and articles about the Scopes trial and the 1999 decision by the Kansas Board of Education advising some schools not to teach Darwinism (see links to the right).

We are much more scientifically informed today than in 1925. What might the Scopes trial be like if it were held today?

DAYTON, TENN., July 10, 2000 (AP)--Thousands jammed the steps of the Rhea County Courthouse on the opening day of the trial of Jessica Scopes, granddaughter of John Scopes and a part-time biology teacher at the town's Central High School, who is accused of teaching creationism in violation of state and federal law.

Demonstrators for and against Scopes were joined by hundreds of journalists from around the world. Scopes was arrested after volunteering to serve as the defendant in a test case sought by Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist group run by James Dobson. "It is an outrage that in the United States today, schools can teach children about sex and DNA and evolving monkeys but cannot tell them about the Garden of Eden," Dobson told a press conference held at a basketball arena, the only local structure large enough to accommodate all the journalists present.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that states cannot prohibit the teaching of evolution in public schools. Some states responded by enacting laws saying evolution and creation theories would be taught side by side. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that public schools cannot teach divine-creation theories at all, because such theories inherently promote religion.

To protest this situation, Scopes deliberately brought a creationism book into class, held it up, and said the words "God created humanity" as federal marshals looked on. She was immediately taken into custody, though processing of the arrest was interrupted repeatedly as Scopes and the officers paused to sign autographs, give CNN interviews, and pose for souvenir pictures with students.

Speaking at a campaign stop, Vice President Gore declared, "If we're going to make America a fully digitized, LAN-compatible, wireless networked country for the 21st century, we must have nothing but the best scientific education in our schools." Gore quickly added, "Buddhist creation stories are fine, though."

Governor Bush of Texas released a prepared statement that read, "This is a matter for the states, for the states to--and I believe this sincerely--God and country, sure, but science is really out there, and anyway, Tennessee is one of the states."

One of the central issues in the case is expected to be the fact that in the 75 years since the first Scopes trial, biologists have discovered a great deal but still have not found any explanation for the origin of life. (Darwin's theories apply only to how living things that already exist react to changes in their environments; natural selection theory says nothing about how life itself began, which Darwin considered an impenetrable mystery.) Critics of evolutionary theory says this leaves open the possibility that a creator God started the process of evolution. Also, they charge, Darwinianism has become a new dogma, which now seeks to repress religious thought in the same way that churches once tried to repress evolution.

In a shift from the first Scopes trial, the pro-creationism forces are expected to make heavy use of scientific evidence. The Scopes defense team, led by former federal judge Kenneth Starr, plans to present credentialed, scientific witnesses who will testify that, contrary to the popular conception, science has hardly disproved the possibility of divine creation. Among the witnesses the Scopes defense will present:

· Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. He will testify that at its cellular level, life is "irreducibly complex" and therefore could not have come into existence without the aid of some higher intelligence.

· Thomas Cech of the University of Colorado, a Nobel Prize winner in biology and originator of the theory that the first living organisms were based on RNA, a precursor of DNA. He will testify that the origin of life is so improbable, it must have been "a near miracle."

· Stephen Jay Gould, a zoologist at Harvard University and a past president of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. Gould has often criticized natural selection theory and will testify that the idea that evolution solves all riddles of biology is "Darwinian fundamentalism," a new dogma replacing the old.

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