Conflicting views over the role of religion in modern society was a dividing element during the 1920s.

Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy

fundamentals.jpgFundamentalism: maintain the centrality of religion in American life, as the Bible literally states; especially opposed to evolution
  • The Fundamentals: popular pre-WWI religious pamphlet
  • Mostly (though not completely) rural men and women
Modernism: adapt religion to the teachings of modern science and to the reality of modern, secular society
  • Mostly urban, middle class

The Scopes Trial


It shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.
--An Act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory

Butler Act (1925) - Tennessee bans the teaching of evolution in public schools
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - nonprofit litigation organization that fights to defend civil liberties founded 1920

The "Monkey Trial"
newspaper.gifJohn Scopes: After the ACLU promised to pay for the lawsuit, John Scopes, a Dayton, TN high school teacher, intentionally violated the act
William Jennings Bryan: Former perennial presidential candidate; fundamentalist
Clarence Darrow: Celebrity lawyer; fought for Scopes

  • Mass publicity, fueled by media circus (H. L. Mencken)(first trial to be broadcast on the radio)
  • Judge bans scientific testimony
  • Climax: Darrow cross-examines Bryan, asking about inconsistencies and scientific improbabilities in Genesis

Scopes is convicted of teaching evolution and fined.


Appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee
  • Conviction is overturned on a technicality

Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
  • Supreme Court rules that such laws violates the Establishment Clause
  • TN had repealed the law a year earlier

In popular culture

"Then to Dayton came a man
With his ideas new and grand
And they said we came from monkeys long ago.
But in teaching his belief
Mr. Scopes found only grief
For they would not let their old religion go.
You may find a new belief
It will only bring you grief
For a house that's built on sand is sure to fall.
And wherever you may turn
There's a lesson you will learn
That the old religion's better after all."
-You Can't Make a Monkey Out of Me

"It is most absurd
The fact can never be
My great grand-daddy never was
A ‘Monkey’ up in a tree"
-Too Thin, or Darwin's Little Joke

" Now the monkey swings by the end of his tail
As he flies from tree to tree,
Well there may be monkey in some of you guys
But there ain't no monkey in me."
—Lyrics to “There Ain't No Bugs (On Me)”


The battle continues...

Intelligent design vs. Evolution
  • Kansas Board of Education: restricted teaching of Evolution (2005)