Review of the book “The Scopes Trial”

Here is a review I did several years ago on a very good book.

THE SCOPES TRIAL by Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1997. 96 pages, bibliography, illustrations, index. Hardcover; $16.95.

Nardo has written over seventy books; his works include biographies of Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, and H. G. Wells. The Scopes Trial gives the reader a glance at the overall trial and it includes annotated bibliographies, a thorough list of works consulted, and a comprehensive index. Moreover, the purpose of this book is to give the big picture of the trial and to provide sources for further research.

Even though The Scopes Trial is only 96 pages in length, it gives many of the little known details of the trial. For instance, the prosecution team included a local attorney named Sue Hicks (the original Boy named Sue of the Johnny Cash hit song) who had been named for his mother (p. 29). The trial was the first to be broadcast on radio, and Judge Raulston declared, My gavel will be heard around the world (p. 43). Loudspeakers were set up on the courthouse lawn Afor the crowds who were unable to squeeze into the courtroom (p. 46). Ironically, when the jurors were asked to step out of the courthouse, they still heard the testimony (p. 46). Just before William Jennings Bryan took the stand, cracks appeared in the ceiling of the courthouse; as a result, court reconvened on the front lawn (pp. 66-7).

After reading The Scopes Trial, I felt like I had actually been there in Dayton in 1925. This was due in part to Nardo’s excellent choice of over 40 pictures and his discussion of the events of the trial. Nardo writes:

 

Under Darrow’s relentless and skillful stream of questions, Bryan had revealed his nearly complete ignorance of world history. After more than an hour on the stand, Bryan showed not only that he was ignorant of history, but that he knew practically nothing of the established and universally accepted facts of archaeology, geology, astronomy, and other scholarly disciplines. The man who had so vigorously advocated limiting the teaching of science in the schools had just demonstrated that he had not the foggiest notion of what science was all about (p. 74).

The Scopes Trial does have a weakness though. Nardo fails to mention that much of the evidence presented by the scientists at the trial was later proven faulty. Judge Raulston ruled that all testimony bearing on the meaning of evolution or its truth or falsity had nothing to do with whether John Scopes had broken the law and should therefore be excluded from the trial (p. 59). But the Judge did allow the defense to read some of the expert testimony into the record while the jury was excused (p. 66). Part of that testimony read into the record included the two popular biological arguments for evolution embryonic recapitulation and vestigial structures. Medical science has since disproved both of these views. Furthermore, the evolution of the horse was called conclusive and the Piltdown fossils were said to be supporting evidence for evolution. Needless to say, these two pieces of evolution are no longer presented by evolutionists. In fact, evidence surfaced recently that indicates who the Piltdown hoaxer was (Henry Gee, Box of Bones `Clinches’ Identity of Piltdown Paleontology Hoaxer, Nature, 381 [1996]: 261-2).

On the other hand, creationists too have been guilty Of mistakes. John George, the author of They Never Said It!, pointed out that many creationists have mistakenly attributed these words to Clarence Darrow: “For God’s sake, let the children have their minds kept open! Close no doors to their knowledge; shut no door to them. Let them have both evolution and creation! The truth will win out in the end.” Actually it was Darrow’s co-counsel, Dudley Field Malone, who was the speaker. And what Malone said was rather different: “Make the distinction between theology and science. Let them both be taught.” Nardo states, The speech was so eloquent and passionate that the audience, even including many of the fundamentalists who supported Bryan, gave Malone a long and respectful ovation (p. 63).

In sum, The Scopes Trial is well researched and well written. I highly recommend it to the readers of PSCF.

Reviewed by Everette Hatcher III, P.O. Box 23416, Little Rock, AR 72221.

From PSCF 49 (December 1997): 269.

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