"INHERIT THE WIND":
A HOLLYWOOD HISTORY OF THE SCOPES TRIAL
David N. Menton
St. Louis, MO; October 1984
(C) copyright 1991 Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.
In his book the 'History of Modern Creationism,' the popular creationist
speaker Dr. Henry Morris commented that while on a speaking tour in New
Zealand he found that in "city after city, either during my visit or
immediately afterward, the government-controlled television channels kept
showing the Scopes trial motion picture, 'Inherit The Wind', over and over."
Dr. Morris concluded that it is an indication of the poverty of the
evolutionists' scientific arguments that this 25 year old film, based on a 35
year old play, based finally on a 60 year old trial, is still being used to
argue the case for evolution over against creation. Here in St.Louis, this
film has been viewed many times on television. The continued and frequent
showing of the film is rather surprising given its' marginal quality as
theater. Undoubtedly the appeal of "Inherit The Wind" rests largely on its
perceived relevance to the growing creation-evolution controversy. While the
film is obviously not a documentary, it is understood to be a "documentary-
drama" of the famous Scopes trial of 1925, which pitted William Jennings
Bryan against Clarence Darrow in a classic confrontation over the teaching of
evolution and creation in the public schools. Considerable theatrical
liberties were exercised in developing the plot but occasional court room
exchanges were taken verbatim from the transcript of the Scopes trial. The
composite that resulted has unfortunately become widely perceived as
essentially an historical account of the trial. Indeed, "Inherit The Wind"
is now even being used as an "educational" film in science, history and
social studies classes. In the Mehlville school district in St.Louis County,
for example, this film is being shown to junior high students in their earth
science class. Their teacher claims that the film shows "the triumph of
science over religious dogma." But does this film, or even the Scopes trial
itself, show the triumph of science (evolutionism) over religious dogma
(special creation)? More importantly, is the film a fair and accurate
representation of the great battle of ideas and beliefs that was waged at the
Rhea County Court House in Dayton Tennessee? The answers to these questions
are important in view of the impact that a film of this type is likely to
have on the attitudes and beliefs of students.
The purpose of this study was to carefully compare the film "Inherit The
Wind" with the actual transcript of the Scopes trial as well as with various
biographical and historical accounts of the trial and its participants. A
commercial video tape version of the entire film "Inherit The Wind" (CBS Fox
Video, Copyright 1960; United Artists) was used to allow repeated examination
of the entire film, or portions thereof; these were then compared for
literal, contextual and historical accuracy with the trial transcript and
other historical records as indicated. The transcript of the Scopes trial is
generally available on microfilm in most University law libraries, but for
convenience in study, I chose to use a reprint of the original transcript
published in its entirety at the time of the trial in the book, 'The Worlds
Most Famous Court Trial' (see bibliography). All page references to the
"transcript" in this study refer to this book. Curiously, the film "Inherit
The Wind", unlike other documentary-dramas such as "Gandhi" and "Patton",
does not use the actual names of either the participants or places it
portrays. I have chosen to use the proper names to avoid confusion since
there has never been any doubt about who the chief characters in the film are
intended to represent.
I believe that the following observations will show that there are
profound discrepancies between the film and the relevant historical evidence.
With the exception, perhaps, of the degree to which this is true, these
differences were not unexpected. What is more significant, however, is that
there is considerable evidence to suggest that the film is not simply
inaccurate, in the way of "Hollywood history," but that it is actually
perverse in its' intent. The historical inaccuracies appear to be systematic
and of a kind that presents a consistent bias of slanderous proportions
against a particular class of people and their beliefs. Specifically, people
who believe in a literal interpretation of the miracles of the Bible, and
especially the Biblical account of creation, are portrayed in an outrageously
uncomplimentary way. On the other hand, those who are critical or virtually
unbelieving, with regard to the miracles of the Bible, are portrayed as
eminently reasonable men who must suffer the abuse, threats and ignorance of
the Fundamentalist Christians around them.
In the observations that follow, segments of the general story line of
the film are presented in roughly chronological order under the heading
"MOVIE"; immediately following, under the heading "FACT", is a discussion of
each film segment in the light of the Scopes trial transcript as well as
other historical sources.
MOVIE: Begins with an off key vocal dirge on the song "Old Time Religion"
repeated for numerous choruses. Drums pound ominously in the background as
sinister men (clergymen and businessmen) gather to do foul deeds in the name
of God. They intrude into the biology classroom where John Scopes is caught
teaching evolution with enthusiasm and conviction, and there indict Scopes
for breaking the law against teaching evolution. Scopes is immediately
jailed and remains in jail throughout the trial. Out of fear, Scopes sends a
letter to a newspaper requesting help assuming, it would appear, that the
news media can always be counted on to defend the good name of evolution.
The notorious H.L. Menken comes to the rescue and enlists the aid of the
famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow. And none to soon, for the Fundamentalist
Christians of Dayton hate John Scopes and gather outside his jail cell window
to throw things at him and chant that they are going to lynch him.
FACT: No one visited John Scopes' classroom. Scopes was not a biology
teacher. Scopes only filled in for TWO WEEKS near the end of the school year
for the biology teacher, Mr. Ferguson, who was ill. Scopes didn't even have
a college degree in science (he had an undergraduate major in law at the
University of Kentucky) but, none the less, he was hired to teach general
science and coach the football team. The team improved during the year under
Scopes and he was generally well liked by the people of Rhea County. It does
not appear that anyone outside his school knew or cared what Scopes taught in
school. Scopes has always maintained that he NEVER taught evolution during
the two weeks he substituted for the biology teacher but rather simply
reviewed the students for their final exam. In Sprague de Camp's book, 'The
Great Monkey Trial,' there is recorded a remarkable conversation between
Scopes and reporter William K. Hutchinson of the International News Service
which occurred during the last days of the trial; Scopes said:
"There's something I must tell you. It's worried me. I didn't violate
the law ...I never taught that evolution lesson. I skipped it. I was
doing something else the day I should have taught it, and I missed the
whole lesson about Darwin and never did teach it. Those kids they put
on the stand couldn't remember what I taught them three months ago.
They were coached by the lawyers." "Honest, I've been scared all
through the trial that the kids might remember I missed the lesson. I
was afraid they'd get on the stand and say I hadn't taught it and then
the whole trial would go blooey. If that happened they would run me
out of town on a rail." When Hutchinson replied that that would make a
great story, Scopes said "My god no! Not a word of it until the Supreme
Court passes my appeal. My lawyers would kill me." (de Camp, page 432)
Hutchinson did claim he overheard Clarence Darrow coaching the students on
what to say, but even with coaching, only one of the students clearly implied
that Scopes taught evolution. To this day, the press is keeping their little
secret; Clarence Darrow, who was presumably supposed to defend his client
from a law that forbid the teaching of evolution, apparently coached his
client's students to perjure themselves by claiming that John Scopes taught
evolution when in fact he hadn't!
Given that John Scopes was a popular football coach in Dayton who never
taught evolution and didn't feel strongly about the subject - how then did he
get indicted for violating a Tennessee law which forbid teaching the
evolution of man?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York City and George
Rappleyea, a local mine operator in Dayton Tennessee, were responsible for
indicting John Scopes for teaching evolution. The ACLU was anxious to get a
test case in Tennessee which they might be able to use to repeal or nullify
the Butler act. This act forbid public school teachers in the state of
Tennessee to deny the literal Biblical account of man's origin and to teach
in its place the evolution of man from lower animals. The law, incidentally,
didn't forbid teaching the evolution of any other species of plant or animal.
George Rappleyea read a press release from the ACLU in a Chattanooga
paper,"The Daily Times," which said in part:
"We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our
services in testing this law in the courts."
The release promised legal services without cost and implied that the Ku-Klux
Klan and "professional patriotic societies" were the "inspiration" for the
law. Rappleyea apparently had reasons of his own for trying to embarrass the
Fundamentalist Christians of Tennessee by challenging and perhaps
overthrowing a law which favored teaching the Biblical account of man's
creation. During the Scopes trial George Rappleyea told the press about his
reason for setting the Scopes trial in motion. Rappleyea was apparently
upset with a Fundamentalist preacher who he claimed declared that a dead boy
would be cast into the "flames of hell" because he had neither "confessed
Christ" nor was baptized. This apparently did not agree with Rappleyea's
religious views and he vowed that he would "get even" with the
"Fundamentalists" who he believed were responsible for the antievolution law
(de Camp, pages 6-7). Rappleyea said "I made up my mind I'd show the world."
Rappleyea, who de Camp describes as an "intense, argumentative,
garrulous man," lost no time in seeking out John Scopes and in pressuring him
to accept the ACLU offer. Scopes was reluctant to get involved and told
Rappleyea that he had not actually taught evolution. Rappleyea insisted that
since the biology text book taught evolution, that was close enough and with
Scopes' reluctant permission he wrote out a telegram on the spot to the ACLU
"Professor J.T. Scopes, teacher of science Rhea County high School,
Dayton, Tenn, will be arrested and charged with teaching evolution.
Consent of superintendent of education for test case to be defended by
you. Wire me collect if you wish to cooperate and arrest will follow."
Apparently Rappleyea didn't even wait for the ACLU response as he went right
out to a justice of the peace to get a warrant for Scopes' arrest. Sue
Hicks, a local lawyer who went along with the plan, filled out a makeshift
arrest warrant while Rappleyea swore to the truth of the statement and signed
the warrant. He then found a sheriff and demanded the arrest of John Scopes.
Scopes was arrested and released on a bond of $1,000. It should be
emphasized that, contrary to the film, Scopes was never jailed for teaching
evolution. In portraying Scopes as a "prisoner", the film obviously tried to
invoke sympathy for Scopes as a man who was persecuted for his beliefs by
prying Fundamentalists. In his book, Sprague de Camp dispelled what he
called "the widespread myth" of the dedicated school teacher who was
persecuted for his courageous stand on behalf of evolution by "witch-burning"
"The trial wasn't a 'witch hunt' as it has been called, because the
accusedand his defenders - the 'witches' - were actually the hunters,
stalking thelaw with the intent of overturning it or at least making it
unenforceable." (de Camp, page 490)
MOVIE: Throughout the film William Jennings Bryan is portrayed as pompous,
stupid, intolerant, hypocritical, insincere and a glutton. As the trial
progresses, Bryan becomes virtually obsessed with his mission of prosecuting
John Scopes and keeping evolution out of the schools. Even Bryan's wife
gradually comes to realize that her husband is a zealot and seems to regret
that she didn't get to know Clarence Darrow a little better in their younger
years. Even Bryan's reputation as an orator is called into question in the
film which portrays him as a strutting and arrogant sounding "flim-flam man"
whose style and tedious sense of humor appeals only to ignorant folks (ie.
Christian Fundamentalists). It is hardly possible to watch the film without
developing a sense of contempt for William Jennings Bryan and the Christian
Fundamentalists who somehow find something to admire in the man.
FACT: In his book 'The Great Monkey Trial,' Sprague de Camp repudiates
Bryan's conservative Christianity and misses no opportunity to be critical of
his scientific views and yet, honesty compelled him to give Bryan credit for
at least some of his undeniable virtues:
"As a speaker, Bryan radiated good humored sincerity. Few who heard him
could help liking him. In personality he was forceful, energetic, and
opinionated but genial, kindly, generous, likable and charming. He
showed a praise worthy tolerance towards those who disagreed with him.
Bryan was the greatest American orator of his time and perhaps any
time." (deCamp, page 37)
This is obviously not the man portrayed in the film, but de Camp's
description of Bryan's character is entirely consistent with the major
biographies of Bryan's life (see Levine, 1965 and Coletta, 1969). None the
less, many of Bryan's enemies insisted that, regardless of his many virtues,
he was ignorant and even dangerous when it came to scientific or factual
matters. The historical record does not support this accusation. Bryan was
not just a "commoner", as even he liked to portray himself, but was also an
immensely productive and progressive politician who was the recognized leader
of the Democratic party for 30 years and was three times nominated by his
Party as their candidate for President of the United States. Although Bryan
was never elected president, he did serve as Secretary of State under Woodrow
Wilson during which time he devoted most of his attention to negotiating
treaties with foreign nations in an effort to prevent the outbreak of World
War I. During his political career, Bryan strenuously fought for some of the
most progressive legislation of his time, including the popular election of
senators, an income tax, the free and unlimited coinage of silver,
requirements for the publication of the circulation and ownership of
newspapers, the creation of the department of labor, and women suffrage.
Bryan appealed to a broad cross section of people including those whose
political views were decidedly liberal. Clarence Darrow himself twice
campaigned for Bryan when he ran for President of the United States. Many of
the "progressives" who supported Bryan, however, came to despise him for his
outspoken Christian convictions, particularly when he dared to speak out
MOVIE: The conservative Christian people of Dayton Tennessee are portrayed
as ignorant, closed minded, discourteous and even threatening towards the
lawyers for the defense, the news media and outsiders in general.
FACT: The transcript of the Scopes trial shows this to be precisely the
opposite of the truth:
Darrow: "I don't know as I was ever in a community in my life where
my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have
found them since I have been in Tennessee. Yet I came here a perfect
stranger and I can say what I have said before that I have not found
upon anybody's part - any citizen here in this town or outside the
slightest discourtesy. I have been treated better, kindlier and more
hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north."
(transcript, pages 225-226).
Newspaper man from Toronto: I would like to "express my great
appreciation of the extreme courtesy which has been accorded me and my
brethren of the press by the court and the citizens of Dayton. I
shall take back with me a deeper appreciation of the great republic for
which we have felt so kindly, and whose institutions we so magnify and
admire." (transcript, page 315)
MOVIE: Bryan, but not Darrow, is referred to as "Colonel" in the court room
because only Bryan had been made an honorary Colonel in the state militia of
Tennessee. Darrow understandably resents this gross display of bias and the
State reluctantly makes Darrow a "temporary honorary Colonel" in a bungling
effort to hide their obvious partiality to Bryan.
FACT: "Colonel" was a customary honorary title used in the courtroom and was
extended to all of the legal counsel in the Scopes case. It had nothing
whatever to do with the military or favoritism. Both Darrow and Bryan,
indeed all of the lawyers in the case, were frequently referred to as
"Colonel" during the trial. Incidentally, unlike Darrow, Bryan really was a
Colonel in the U.S. Army.
MOVIE: Darrow objects to the announcement of an evening prayer meeting at
the end of the first day of the trial.
FACT: No such announcement was ever made during the trial but Darrow and the
other defense lawyers repeatedly objected to the opening of each session of
the court with prayer as was customary in Tennessee and still is in our own
U.S. Supreme Court.
MOVIE: Darrow gets Bryan to admit that he is totally opposed to the use of
Darwin's book 'The Descent of Man' in the Rhea County High School Biology
classroom despite the fact that he has never read Darwin's book nor does he
ever intend to read it.
FACT: It was Hunter's 'Civic Biology' that was used in the classroom, not
Darwin's book. It was Bryan, not Darrow, who introduced Darwin's 'The
Descent of Man' as evidence in the trial and who quoted from it (transcript,
page 176). Bryan proved, for example, that Darwin did in fact claim that man
descended from a monkey, a point the defense had tried to deny. Bryan is
reported by one of his biographers, Lawrence W. Levine, to have read Darwin's
'The Origin of Species' already in 1905 - 20 years before the Scopes trial!
Although Bryan's reservations about the theory of evolution were certainly
influenced by his religious beliefs, he had written many well argued articles
which were critical of the scientific evidence used in his day to defend the
theory of evolution. Bryan had also carried on a long correspondence on the
subject of evolution with the famous evolutionist, Henery Fairfield Osborn.
Certainly for a layman, Bryan's knowledge of the scientific evidence both for
and against evolution was unusually great. By comparison, the trial
transcript shows that Darrow gave the impression of having a very poor grasp
of both the meaning and putative mechanism of evolution. Darrow appeared to
rest his belief in evolution on scientific "authority," which he accepted
without question, and on his total rejection of all the miracles of the Bible
including, of course, the Genesis account of Creation.
MOVIE: Scopes' fiance "Rachel Brown" is called as a witness and is badly
mistreated by Bryan who forces her to testify against her own fiance. Bryan,
always the fanatic, loses his self control and becomes cruel and merciless in
his questioning of the young lady.
FACT: No women participated in the trial. Scopes did not have a special
girl friend or fiance at this time though he dated several Dayton girls.
Bryan was courteous at all times in his handling of witnesses as an
examination of the trial transcript will reveal. Darrow, on the other hand,
was at times condescending and contemptuous in his treatment of witnesses,
jurists, opposing lawyers and even the judge. Darrow was, in fact, cited for
contempt of court for repeatedly interrupting and insulting judge Raulston.
Darrow persecuted Bryan so relentlessly for his religious beliefs, when he
called him on the stand, that some have suggested that Darrow actually
hastened Bryan's death. This possibility was undoubtedly on H.L. Menkens'
mind who when on learning of Bryan's death shortly after the trial said,
"Well, we killed the son of a bitch." Darrow's treatment of Bryan was so
deplorable that even many supporters of the ACLU successfully exerted
pressure to prevent him from representing Scopes when the case was later
appealed to the State Supreme Court. Liberal clergymen who supported the
ACLU maintained that Darrow had succeeded in turning many "moderate"
theologians against evolution and the ACLU by his obviously hostile attitude
toward Christianity and Bryan. In the movie we see another striking
inversion of fact when Darrow threatens to quit the case in frustration, when
in fact he fought being thrown out of the case by the ACLU.
MOVIE: The defense is unable to get permission to use their several expert
witnesses because Bryan is afraid of their testimony and considers it
irrelevant. One by one, Darrow calls his distinguished scientists to the
stand but each time, thanks to an ignorant and biased judge, Bryan needs only
to say, "objection - irrelevant," and that is the end of it.
FACT: Technically, the only point at issue in the trial was whether or not
John Scopes actually taught the evolution of man from lower orders of
animals, so naturally the lawyers for the prosecution did question the
relevance of the testimony of expert witnesses. The testimony of the
evolutionists assembled by the defense was prevented, however, because Darrow
adamantly refused to let his scientific witnesses be cross-examined by the
prosecution (transcript, pages 206-208). Bryan had asked for, and received,
the right to cross-examine the expert witnesses, but Darrow was so opposed to
allowing his experts to be questioned that he never called them to the
witness stand! Bryan pointed out that under the conditions demanded by
Darrow, the evolutionists could take the witness stand and merely express
their speculations and opinions on evolution without fear of either perjury
or being contradicted. The wisdom of this position was amply demonstrated by
the confused and convoluted opinions of the one scientist who had been
permitted to testify earlier for the defense. Throughout the trial the
definition of the term evolution was so hopelessly muddled by the defense and
its' witnesses that it seems unlikely that any of the jurors could have known
exactly what evolution is and is not. Evolution, for example, was repeatedly
confused with embryology and even aging! The defense lawyer, Dudley Field
Malone, is a case in point:
"The embryo becomes a human being when it is born. Evolution never
stops from the beginning of the one cell until the human being returns
in death to lifeless dust. We wish to set before you EVIDENCE OF THIS
CHARACTER in order to stress the importance of the theory of
evolution." (transcript, page 116)
Another lawyer for the defense, Arthur Garfield Hays, added chaos to
confusion when he said:
"I know that in the womb of the mother the very first thing is a cell
and that cell grows and it subdivides and it grows into a human being
and a human being is born. Does that statement, as the boy stated on
the stand, that he was taught that man comes from a cell - is that a
theory that man descended from a lower order of animals? I don't know
and I dare say your honor has some doubt about it. Are we entitled
to find out whether it is or not in presenting this case to the jury?"
(transcript, page 156)
Darrow himself gave the impression that he had almost no understanding of the
meaning of the term evolution. When judge Raulston, who became
understandably confused by all of the double talk on the subject of
evolution, asked Darrow if he believed that all life came from one cell,
"Well I am not quite so clear, but I think it did." "-- All human life
comes from one cell. You came from one and I came from one - nothing
else a single cell." (transcript, page 189)
Even Dr. Maynard M. Metcalf, a zoologist from Johns Hopkins University, made
this same mistake in his "expert" testimony and then went on to obfuscate the
definition of evolution beyond recognition. First Dr. Metcalf assured the
Court of his qualifications as an evolutionist by stating:
"I have always been particularly interested in the evolution of the
individual organism from the EGG, and also the evolution of the organism
as a whole from the beginning of life, that has been a sort of peculiar
interest of mine, always." (transcript, page 136)
When asked by Darrow to tell what is meant by "the FACT of evolution," Dr.
Metcalf responded with this:
"Evolution I think means the change; in the final analysis I think it
means the change of an organism from one character into a different
character, andby character I mean its structure, or its behavior, or
its functions or its method of development from the egg or anything
else - the change of an organism from one set characteristic which
characterizes it into a different condition, characterized by a
different set of characteristics either structural or functional could
be properly called, I think, evolution - to be the evolution of that
organism; but the term in general means the whole series of such
changes which have taken place during hundreds of millions of years
which have produced from lowly beginnings the nature of which is not by
any means fully understood to organism of much more complex character,
whose structure and function we are still studying, because we haven't
begun to learn what we need to know about them." (transcript, pages 139-
So much for the FACT of evolution. One can only imagine what questions Bryan
might have asked Dr. Metcalf if Darrow would have allowed his expert witness
to be questioned. Bryan was clearly aware of the confusion that was being
introduced by the defense on the definition of evolution and pointed out that
even one of the school children who had testified seemed to have a better
grasp of evolution than the lawyers for the defense:
"The little boy understood what he was talking about and to my surprise
the attorneys didn't seem to catch the significance of the theory of
evolution - he thought that little boy was talking about individuals
coming up from one cell." Bryan emphasized that evolution was "Not the
growth of an individual from one cell, but the growth of all life from
one cell." (transcript, page 173)
Bryan pointed out that even the National Education Association was confused
on the subject and as a result, their attempt to make an official statement
condemning Tennessee for "ignorance and bigotry" was frustrated by their
inability to agree on a definition for evolution (transcript, page 173).
Perhaps the most significant fact is that the movie "Inherit The Wind" chose
to ignore virtually all of the scientific commentary and testimony that was
presented during the trial including that of Dr. Maynard Metcalf. While this
may have been just as well for reasons I have described, the movie certainly
does not depict a "triumph of science over religious dogma." As for dogma,
the trial transcript reveals that there was plenty of that on both sides of
MOVIE: Bryan admits that he takes every word of the Bible literally.
FACT: From the transcript (page 285) we read:
Darrow: "Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally
Bryan: "I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is
given there; some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance:
'Ye are the salt of the earth.' I would not insist that man was
actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense
of salt as saving God's people."
MOVIE: Darrow asks about sex in the Bible and Bryan replies that all sex is
FACT: Nothing was discussed about sex in the trial. Apparently Hollywood
just couldn't resist introducing a little sex in the film and implying that
Bryan was a prude.
MOVIE: Bryan claims that he knows that the age of the earth is the exact
date calculated by Bishop Usher which placed the date of creation at 9
o'clock in the morning on the 23rd of October in 4004 BC.
FACT: Bryan didn't claim to know how old the earth was. From the trial
transcript (page 296) we read:
Darrow: "Mr. Bryan could you tell me how old the earth is?"
Bryan: "No sir, I couldn't."
Darrow: "Could you come anywhere near it?"
Bryan: "I wouldn't attempt to. I could possibly come as near as the
scientists do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess."
MOVIE: As the trial grinds to an end, Darrow fights valiantly, though alas
unsuccessfully, to establish the innocence of his client John Scopes.
FACT: After spending much of the seventh day of the trial systematically
grilling and ridiculing Bryan for his belief in numerous miracles of the
Bible, Darrow abruptly ended the trial by asking the Court to instruct the
jury to FIND HIS CLIENT GUILTY (abstract page 306)! This incredible
concession, together with the judges decision to strike Bryan's testimony
from the record, was very much to Darrow's personal benefit because it
prevented him from being subjected to the same kind of inquisition he had
just put Bryan through. Bryan had agreed to take the witness stand to answer
questions on his Christian beliefs with the understanding that Darrow would
then also be required to take the stand to answer questions about his own
agnostic and evolutionary beliefs (transcript page 284). Both judge Raulston
and Darrow had agreed to this condition. When Bryan asked if Darrow,
himself, knew the answer to some of his more ludicrous questions (ie. "Do you
know how many people there were on this earth 3000 years ago?"), Darrow
responded with "wait until you get to me." Despite the increasing hostility
of Darrow's questioning, Bryan thwarted repeated attempts by his colleagues
to stop it.
Bryan: "I want him to have all the latitude he wants. For I am
going to have some latitude when he gets through."
Darrow: "You can have latitude and longitude." (transcript page 288)
It is most unlikely that Darrow had any intention of giving Bryan "latitude
and longitude". He had, after all, been completely unwilling to let Bryan
question even his expert witnesses on their religious and evolutionary
assumptions, how much less likely would he be willing to subject himself to
such questioning after what he had put Bryan through? As it turned out, of
course, Bryan was given no opportunity to ask Darrow his questions at all.
In the movie, Darrow is portrayed using these very words, "latitude and
longitude", but in a totally different context (philosophical lecture to the
jury) that did not begin to suggest the deceitful maneuver in which they were
MOVIE: The "prisoner", John Scopes, is found guilty and Darrow is visibly
shaken by this great injustice against his client. Bryan, on the other hand,
is vindictive and complains bitterly about the paltry $100 fine leveled
against John Scopes for a crime of such great magnitude.
FACT: Bryan was not the least bit concerned about the fine nor was anyone
else. Indeed, Bryan himslef publicly offered to pay John Scopes fine! John
Scopes' guilt or innocence was not even a primary concern of any of the
participants in the trial. It was understood that all of Scopes' expenses
relating to the trial were being covered by various vested interests. The
whole purpose for bringing this case to trial was to: 1) declare the Butler
act unconstitutional, 2)
expose "fundamentalist" Christian views on the subject of origins to public
ridicule in the press, and 3) focus the attention of the world on evolution
(de Camp, page 492). In his autobiography, 'The Story of My Life,' Clarence
Darrow explained his strategy this way:
"My object, and my only object, was to focus the attention of the
country on the programme of Mr. Bryan and the other Fundamentalists in
MOVIE: The movie builds to a noisy and chaotic climax as Bryan loses all
sense of dignity and reason and goes into an incoherent tirade in an attempt
to read his very lengthy concluding statement. The crowd is bored and walks
out while Bryan's wife looks on in horror at what had become of her once sane
and caring husband. Apparently overcome by his own insane zeal Bryan keels
over and dies on the the courtroom floor.
FACT: Neither Bryan nor Darrow ever attempted to give the customary closing
argument to the jury. Once Darrow accomplished his purpose of ridiculing
Bryan's beliefs in Biblical miracles he conceded Scopes' guilt and in so
doing, obviated any closing arguments. Bryan had put a great deal of effort
into his lengthy closing statement and this maneuver by Darrow eliminated his
opportunity to give what was a rather well supported scientific and religious
argument against the theory of evolution. Bryan was quite anxious that the
text of his speech be made available to the public and he made provision for
its publication only one hour before his death. This speech was appended to
the transcript used in this study and thus is available to any one who is
inquisitive about Bryan's views on education, evolution and the implications
of the Scopes trial. The speech is cogently argued and hardly the raving of
a mad man unless, of course, all Bible believing Christians are to be
dismissed as "mad men."
Finally, Bryan did not die in the court room in a raving frenzy. Bryan
died in his sleep of unknown causes five days after the trial. It is
believed that his death might have been at least indirectly related to his
diabetic condition which, incidentally, was also probably responsible for his
large appetite. On being informed of his death by a reporter who suggested
that Bryan might have died of a broken heart, Darrow responded "Broken heart
nothing; he died of a busted belly." A little later Darrow commented to
friends: "Now wasn't that man a God-damned fool?" Even Bryan's untimely
death could not assuage the contempt of many of his detractors who had come
to despise him for his stand on creation. In his obituary to William
Jennings Bryan, H.L. Menken said Bryan "was deluded by a childish theology
full of almost a pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all
beauty, all fine and noble things. Imagine a gentleman, and you have
imagined everything that he was not."
One simply cannot escape the conclusion that the writers of the screen
play, "Inherit The Wind", never intended to write a historically accurate
account of the Scopes trial, nor did they seriously attempt to portray the
principle characters and their beliefs in an unbiased and accurate way. But
some may argue that criticisms of the type presented in this study are
inappropriate for a "documentary-drama" because historical accuracy is only
the inadvertent victim of attempts to "liven up" the plot. It is typical,
for example, to introduce a fictional love story in "Hollywood history". The
evidence suggests, however, that the inaccuracies encountered in the film
"Inherit The Wind" are substantive, intentional and systematic. It is
actually quite easy to see a pattern in the inaccuracies and from this one
can make reasonable guesses as to the motive. The Christian Fundamentalists
and particularly William Jennings Bryan are consistently lampooned throughout
the film, while skeptics, and agnostics are consistently portrayed as
intelligent, kindly and even heroic.
Who, we might ask, are these maligned Fundamentalists, and why should we
be so concerned about offending them? Today we hear the news media apply the
term "fundamentalist" not only to Christians but to certain muslim sects as
well. The term, "fundamentalist," now appears to used by the media only in a
pejorative sense to label those who are considered to be highly zealous,
inflexible and intolerant in their religious or philosophical beliefs. But
such an unrestricted definition of "fundamentalism" might even apply to some
evolutionists. Historically the term Fundamentalism applied to a loose
association of Christians who were influenced by a series of 12 booklets
called 'The Fundamentals' which were published beginning in 1909.
Fundamentalism was an attempt to get back to the fundamental teachings of the
Christian faith which had begun to be eroded in some churches by the growing
"modernist" trend around the turn of the century. The "fundamentals"
included five basic doctrines; the inerrancy of scripture, the deity of
Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of
Christ and Christ's return in Glory. It should be noted that these beliefs
are not simply the creed of a fanatic and insignificant minority in
Christendom, as some suggest, but are shared by most Bible believing
Christians in the world. Although a miraculous divine creation was not one
of the "Fundamentals," it too is clearly taught in the Bible and is believed
by most Christians. A recent Gallup Poll (1982) showed that 44% of all
Americans believe that "God created man pretty much in his present form at
one time within the last 10,000 years." Another 38% believe God guided the
process of evolution and only 9% believe that God had no active part in the
process. In short, the beliefs of the much maligned Fundamentalists of
Dayton Tennessee in 1925 are not greatly different from that of nearly half
of the students in the average public school classroom today, and it is these
who are offended and demeaned by the film "Inherit The Wind!"
What then is the purpose of showing the film "Inherit The Wind" in the
history, social studies or science classroom? As history it is not only
inaccurate but highly misleading. As a social study it is highly biased
against a particular class of people and their religious beliefs. As science
it has nothing to offer at all. In the entire film, the only scene that even
remotely suggests scientific evidence is the one where Darrow holds out a
fossil and asks about its' age. If teachers feel compelled to get involved
in the evolution- creation controversy in their classroom, they have much
more current material at their disposal. There have recently been many
exciting debates on this issue, for example, between qualified scientists who
are quite sophisticated in their knowledge of the scientific evidence; one
needn't turn to lawyers and a 60 year old trial unless one is primarily
interested in law or history. Creationist scientists have held their own
quite well in these debates, indeed, some evolutionists have conceded that
creationists usually win these debates! After a recent nationally televised
debate between creationist, Dr. Duane Gish, and evolutionist, Dr. Russel
Doolittle, an editor for 'Science' magazine conceded that Dr. Gish "routed"
Dr. Doolittle. Both audio and video cassettes of debates and lectures, as
well as numerous books and pamphlets on the scientific evidence relative to
the creation-evolution controversy, are available from several sources (see
Finally I should add that my own highly critical observations on the
film, "Inherit The Wind" are consistent with those of others who have
compared the film with the historical evidence. In his definitive three
volume biography of the life and work of William Jennings Bryan, Paolo
"Bryan's Image was badly hurt not so much by the Jerome Lawrence and
Robert E. Lee play 'Inherit The Wind' as by the moving picture of the
same title. In the film , Frederick March portrayed Bryan as a low-
comedy stooge, Gene Kelly represented an unrecognizable Mencken, and
Spencer Tracy, as Darrow, emerged as the hero. The film also
assails the Fundamentalist position without satisfactorily substituting
science for religious faith and experience."
'The World's Most Famous Court Trial,' Cincinnati, Ohio.: National Book
Darrow, Clarence: 'The Story of My Life,' New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
de Camp, Sprague L.: 'The Great Monkey Trial,' Garden City, New York:
Doubleday & Company Inc., 1968.
Coletta, Paolo E.: 'William Jennings Bryan III. Political Puritan 1915-1925,'
Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.
Levine, Lawrence W.: 'Defender of the Faith William Jennings Bryan: The Last
Decade 1915-1925,' New York: Oxford University Press., 1965.
Morris, Henry M.: 'History of Modern Creationism,' San Diego, Ca.: Master
Book Publishers., 1984.
This occult propaganda and lies is from:
Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.
405 North Sappington Road
Saint Louis, Missouri 63122-4729