As Alan Dershowitz and the New Film Alleged Remind Us, at the Heart of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial Was a Very Scary Book

Alan Dershowitz

In case you’re in any doubt that Inherit the Wind presents a wildly distorted (yet highly influential) fictional treatment of the Scopes Monkey Trial, check out this essay by Alan Dershowitz. It appears on the website of the new film Alleged that tells something far closer to the true story. Was the 1925 legal battle really a struggle between blinkered fundamentalist bigotry, in the form of William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution, against liberal enlightenment in the form of Clarence Darrow for the defense?
Dershowitz, who’s no Darwin critic, is particularly good on the racial and social subtext of the trial. The textbook from which John Scopes was accused of teaching, Hunter’s Civic Biology, is a scary book replete with ugly racism and eugenic advocacy. Dershowitz reminds us:

Indeed, the very book — Hunter’s Civic Biology — from which John T. Scopes taught Darwin’s theory of evolution to high school students in Dayton, Tennessee, contained dangerous misapplications of that theory. It explicitly accepted the naturalistic fallacy (that moral conclusions can be drawn from descriptions of nature) and repeatedly drew moral instruction from nature. Indeed, its very title, Civic Biology, made it clear that biology had direct political implications for civic society. In discussing the “five races” of man, the text assured the all-white, legally segregated high school students taught by Scopes that “the highest type of all, the Caucasians, [are] represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.” The book, the avowed goal of which was the improvement of the future human race, then proposed certain eugenic remedies. After a discussion of the inheritability of crime and immorality, the author proposed an analogy: “. . . Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of pubic money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.”
From the analogy flowed “the remedy”: “If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.” These “remedies” included involuntary sterilizations, and eventually laid the foundation for involuntary “euthanasia” of the kind practiced in Nazi Germany.

Next time you hear the legacy of the Scopes Trial invoked by Darwinists, remember it was Hunter’s biology text that was at the heart of the proceedings. That’s the book that Clarence Darrow was defending.

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Alan DershowitzDarwinistsevolutionFilms and VideoHistoryInherit the WindJerry CoyneNew AtheistsRichard DawkinsScopes Monkey Trial