The True, Unmutated, Unrecombined Story

       The 1925 case of The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes pitted true believers in “old-time religion” and its fundamentalism against proponents of evolutionary theory and its scientific rationalism. The trial, the most famous in U.S. history, was the first ever to be broadcast nationally on what today we might call “reality radio,” an amalgam of the real, surreal and unreal masquerading as all real. Journalists from all over the world descended on Dayton, Tennessee, including the famed H.L. Mencken, covering it for the Baltimore Sun, who coined the name “Monkey Trial.”
Responding to the threat that children would be taught that humans were descendants of monkeys, in January 1925 the Tennessee state legislature passed the Butler Act, making it a crime 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." John Thomas S, copes, a substitute biology teacher, was approached by activists seeking to challenge the law. Scopes urged three students to testify against him before the grand jury, assuring that he would be charged with the crime.
                A noted Baptist pastor persuaded William Jennings Bryanthree-time Democratic Presidential nominee, former Secretary of  State, and devout Presbyterian who traveled the country preaching against “the menace of Darwinism”to step in as the prosecuting attorney. Thereupon Clarence Darrow, the country’s most famous criminal defense lawyer and a vocal agnostic, volunteered to defend Scopes.  
                Amidst sweltering summer heat that only increased in the days that followed, the trial commenced on July 10, 1925.  Judge John T. Raulston, hardly reserving judgment, started each day of trial with a prayer or a reading from the Bible. He prohibited any challenge to the law itself, excluding any evidence or expert scientific testimony offered by the defense that would challenge the the Butler Act on the grounds it violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution (separation of church and state).  Bryan rejected the scientific view that humans were but one of thousands of mammals, and he lamented the evolutionary notion that humans were descended “not even from American monkeys but old world monkeys.”
                On the seventh day, when the defense had no one else to call—and the trial had moved outdoors due to the insufferable heat—Darrow called Bryan, the prosecuting attorney, as a witness to testify as a “Bible expert.” Darrow put Bryan in the hot seat, grilling him on such scientific factual questions as where Cain’s wife came from, whether Jonah was actually swallowed by a big fish and spewed out three days later, and whether the seven days in which God created the world were of the “twenty-four hour” variety or something slightly more epochal.  Judge Raulston swiftly “expunged” the testimony from the record, and allowed no further witnesses on the subject. With no defense evidence allowed and Scopes having admitted to teaching evolution, on July 21, 1925 the jury took only nine minutes to render a guilty verdict. The judge imposed a fine of $100 (almost $1500 today adjusted for inflation).
The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected all the challenges to the law, but set aside the conviction on a purely technical ground.  Although the Butler Act specified a minimum fine of $100, governing Tennessee law did not allow judges to impose fines of more than $50.  The Supreme Court also made its views known about the prospect of Monkey Trial: The Sequel, declaring that it saw “nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case.” Tennessee’s attorney general promptly announced the State would not seek a retrial of Scopes.

                If John Scopes, only one of the millions either part of or following the story that took on a life of its own, could be likened to one gene of an entire multi-million-fold genomic sequence, he was a gene never activated, never allowed during the trial to testify on his own behalf.  But after the verdict was rendered and his guilt was established, he did briefly achieve gene “expression,” declaring before the fine imposed and to the world that it was his intent "to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom—that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom."

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