Scopes Monkey – Rare Footage of the "Trial of the Century"

The 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial was one of the most important legal battles of its time. Two of the era’s great speakers, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, faced off in a debate encompassing science, religion, and Constitutional rights


Have you seen Civic Biology? The textbook in question?

See it’s table of contents:

Evolution of Man. – Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even to-day the earth is not entirely civilized.

The Races of Man. – At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America. …

Improvement of Man. – If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.

Eugenics. – When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics. …

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. – Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. 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 public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

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 some success in this country.

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As horrible as that textbook was, that wasn’t what the Scopes trial was about. A myth has been created about that. Tennessee did not have a eugenics law, both Bryan and Darrow opposed eugenics, and eugenics was mentioned only once in the trial. The actual issue was whether it was OK to teach that humans had arisen by evolution.


Wasn’t this intertwined though? Evolution was linked to eugenics at the time. Anti evolutionists thought they were attacking the root cause.

I should belabor that this was a historically contingent connection, not a logically necessary (or even sound) connection.

Perhaps @TedDavis can add some info.

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By the 1920s many biologists had stopped being active in eugenics causes. Calculations of the rate of change of gene frequencies were made (starting in 1903) and showed that if one could prevent homozygotes at a locus from reproducing, the gene frequency for a rare trait would fall rather slowly. For example a trait that was recessive and occurred in 1 out of 1000 individuals would fall in frequency by half, so slowly that this would take 1,000 generations, or about 25,000 years.

I don’t think that anti-evolutionists were primarily motivated by opposition to eugenics. Religious doctrines were more important.


Of course support for eugenics was widespread at the start of the 20th century, among both conservative and liberal intellectuals, among secular thinkers and among prominent figures in the major religions. Early geneticists went along with this and participated in eugenics organizations. I think two developments changed this. One was technical: the population genetics calculations tended to undermine the idea that preventing affected individuals in recessive conditions would work fast enough to be effective. The other was the increasing use of pseudo-genetic arguments by xenophobic political forces. (A major restrictive immigration bill was passed in 1924). I suspect that many geneticists and evolutionary biologists quietly stopped supporting eugenics in the 1920s. Their quietness does them no credit, but I suspect that they were worried. A historian of that period could tell us more, but I do think it is naïve to see opposition to evolution as primarily motivated by opposition to eugenics.


I don’t think it was primary, but it does seem to be contributing. I stand to be corrected by some good historical work.

What’s the bibliography/history on this?

I’m too busy today to dig this up, but start with William Ernest Castle’s paper of 1903, which is the first major population genetics paper after the rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900, and even predates Hardy and Weinberg. He had to use tortuous methods instead of using gene frequencies, but he got the right answer.


From the quote in the OP:

There are couples who have chosen not to have children after finding out they carry genetic markers/family history for certain genetic diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis). I have even heard of women choosing not to have children when they discover they carry BRCA4 alleles associated with breast cancer.

Is it a “good” thing that genetics has given people the information they need as part of family planning?


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