Many people remain under the misconception that Clarence Darrow originally wound up on the winning side of one of his most famous trials. That may need some narrowing down to specifics since Clarence Darrow made a career of being the attorney for the defense in a number of trials of the century that may not actually have clearly deserving of such a lofty designation.
The Scopes Monkey Trial is the court case under the microscope here and though you might well be justified in suspecting that such a trial would end with the jury finding in favor of the defendant, you would be factually wrong. Of course, within the world of America’s judicial system, being factually wrong is not necessarily akin to losing the case any more than being factually right is akin to winning the case. In point of fact, the Scopes Monkey Trial ended with a jury of Scopes’ peers actually finding him guilty of violating a Tennessee statute against teaching evolution in a public school. On that point, one must say that factually speaking, Clarence Darrow originally lost his case. Once you penetrate beneath the shallow layer of fact, however, the question of winning and losing becomes considerably murky.
Consider Darrow’s actual loss in this particular trial of the century : declared guilty by a jury of his peers, the punishment handed out to Scopes was a fine of $100. What you may not know is that the guilty verdict and soft punishment is exactly what Clarence Darrow was seeking right from the start . Why? Because the Scopes Monkey Trial was never just about one teacher in one classroom in one school in one town in Tennessee teaching kids about Charles Darwin and the theory of the evolution of the species. Clarence Darrow was the most famous lawyer in America at the time–possibly the most famous American lawyer since Abraham Lincoln–and such a minor bit of malfeasance on the part of one man would hardly justify his time and effort.
Even those who do not labor under the misconception that Clarence Darrow initially won an acquittal for Mr. Scopes might still be under the misconception that Darrow’s ultimate victory was the result of those sitting on the benches inside the Tennessee Supreme Court throwing out the original guilty verdict because they desperately supported the action of Mr. Scopes and truly believed in his First Amendment rights to teach evolution inside the schools of their state. Sadly, such is not the case.
” If the Legislature thinks that, by reason of popular prejudice, the cause of education and the study of Science generally will be promoted by forbidding the teaching of evolution in the schools of the State, we can conceive of no ground to justify the court’s interference .”
The above is an excerpt from the Tennessee Supreme Court decision overturning the original verdict. You can find much more discussion of the topic of teaching evolution in the schools of Tennessee, but like the above, none of it has bearing whatsoever on the decision by the state Supreme Court justices to overturn the original verdict of guilty. The excerpt which follows takes care of that quite tidily.
“This record disclosed that the jury found the defendant below guilty, but did not assess the fine. The trial judge himself undertook to impose the minimum fine of $100 authorized by the Statute. This was error. Under section 14 of article 6 of the Constitution of Tennessee, a fine in excess of $50 must be assessed by a jury. The Statute before us does not permit the imposition of a smaller fine than $100. Since a jury alone can impose the penalty this Act requires, and as a matter of course no different penalty can be inflicted, the trial judge exceeded his jurisdiction in levying this fine, and we are without power to correct his error. The judgement must accordingly be reversed.”
The Scopes verdict was reversed, you see, because the judge and not the jury levied the fine. As for the actual meat of the case? On that score, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected no less than four different appeals that were based solely on the issue of whether or not it should be a criminal offense to teach Tennes see’s schoolchildren about the theory of evolution.
Here’s another common misconception related to the theory of evolution. Charles Darwin did not originate the term “survival of the fittest” to describe the process of natural selection that is at the heart of his evolutionary theory. Philosopher, anthropologist, sociologist and pioneer in the study of evolutionary theory Herbert Spencer is actually the person who deserves the credit or blame for utilizing the term “survival of the fittest.” In fact, Herbert Spencer was writing about evolution before Charles Darwin, although he did not use “survival of the fittest” to describe evolutionary processes attributed to Darwin until after publication of “On the Origin of Species.” Darwin himself never put the phrase into print until publication of the Fifth Edition of his groundbreaking book. And ever since, critics of Darwinian evolution have been misusing, misunderstanding or misapprehending the term “survival of the fittest” as a thoroughly contemptible way to utterly mislead those not fit to survive in the world of enlightened thought that comes with actually forming opinions based on reading primary sources.
“In 2002, biology textbooks in Cobb County, Ga., were labeled with a disclaimer stating that evolution is “a theory, not a fact.” The label also said “this material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” A federal judge declared the sticker unconstitutional in January 2005, but the county school board appealed the decision. The 11th District Court of Appeals review of the case reveals that in the years since the Tennessee Supreme Court reviewed the Scopes case…very little evolution of intellect among southern legal minds has taken place.
What is perhaps most interesting about the Cobb County textbook stick case and others like it is the hypocrisy involved. Those opposed to evolution are ready to spend millions on legal fees to deny American children the same exposure to the education that have placed them well behind the children of other countries by challenging the concept that teaching a scientific theory is somehow not the same as teaching science. But how many churches have you ever been to that have a stick placed on the cover of the Holy Bible reading “this material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” None, probably, despite the fact that the evidence supporting the basic of tenets of evolution are a mountain compared to the anthill of evidence supporting the idea that even one single page of the Bible is factual.
Of course, the hypocrisy at the center of the challenge to evolution by creationists is even more stunning. Consider the story of a man named Jonah surviving inside the belly of a whale. Even most Biblical scholars are quick to admit that this parable is certainly fiction, yet millions of true believers accept that it must be factual solely on the basis of believing that everything described in the Bible actually happened unless otherwise indicated. Admittedly, surviving inside the belly of a whale would be miraculous and seemingly the handiwork of a supreme being would likely be involved. But you know what would be even more miraculous?
That human beings could have evolved from amoeba after just a few million years.