What the play did get right is that the Monkey Trial was actually a referendum on the creationism and the Bible. Technically John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution, but all of that was merely logistical. The reason why the Monkey Trial is important to evolution, and the enduring message from Dayton, was that the Bible and its creationism were found to be passe. In the minds of evolutionists this was established in the showdown at Dayton when the two famous lawyers squared off. Clarence Darrow called William Jennings Bryan to the stand as a Bible expert and grilled him on its foolishness.
The exchange was entirely religious. Can we really believe the story of Jonah? Surely god would never do such a thing. And doesn’t the Bible state that the Sun goes around the Earth and that the world is only a few thousand years old? What about the Flood and did Bryan really believe the story of the temptation of Eve by the serpent?
Darrow’s sophism was right out of evolutionary thought and Bryan would have none of it. He handled Darrow with ease but more importantly, Bryan understood the bigger picture. Bryan was a great man and he could see through the evolutionary shenanigans. Evolution was not about science, it was all about religion as Bryan reveals in this telling exchange:
Mr. Stewart again objected to the examination of Mr. Bryan. MR. DARROW--He is a hostile witness.
JUDGE RAULSTON--I am going to let Mr. Bryan control.
MR. BRYAN--I want him to have all the latitude that he wants, for I am going to have some latitude when he gets through.
MR. DARROW--You can have latitude and longitude. [Laughter]
MR. BRYAN--These gentlemen have not had much chance. They did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it, and they can ask me any questions they please.
JUDGE RAULSTON--All right. [ Applause ]
MR. DARROW--Great applause from the bleachers!
MR. BRYAN--From those whom you call "yokels."
MR. DARROW--I have never called them yokels.
MR. BRYAN--That is, the ignorance of Tennessee, the bigotry.
MR. DARROW--You mean who are applauding?
MR. BRYAN--Those are the people whom you insult.
MR. DARROW--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion.
Yes Lawrence and Lee altered this famous debate. As we saw the script would have the student believe Darrow destroyed Bryan and left him a pathetic figure, babbling incoherently to himself. And of course they omitted Bryan’s cogent observations, such as the one above.
But what Lawrence and Lee did accurately capture is the power behind evolution. As Bryan understood, it is a religious inquisition. Darrow’s cross examination was thoroughly drenched in Enlightenment theology. As Lutherans and Anglicans had been arguing for centuries, God would not use miracles. As with today’s atheists, Darrow’s attack was based on metaphysics which atheism cannot support.
And so we are left with the tremendous irony of Inherit the Wind. The script is for the most part a whitewashed version of history except for where it counts. The whitewashing falsely sanitizes evolution, but the real problem with evolution—that it is a religious theory—comes through loud and clear. Why? Because evolutionists are drunk with their religion. The religion is baked in and evolutionists are oblivious to it. They think their premises are obvious and unquestionable.
As Alfred North Whitehead once observed, we often take our most crucial assumptions to be obvious and in no need of justification. These underlying assumptions are unspoken and undefended because, as Whitehead put it, “Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.”
Religion drives science, and it matters.