Prov 11:29 He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind….

Scopes Trial
Darrow (left) and Bryan (right)
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“Inherit the Wind” is a 1960 Stanley Kramer movie based on the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” in which Dayton, Tennessee biology teacher, John T. Scopes, was successfully prosecuted for teaching his students the theory of evolution instead of creation. It’s based on a 1951 stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. The movie and the play are parodies of traditional Christian beliefs. The movie is particularly significant because of its role in the kind of liberal stereotyping that continues to shape the mind of many people against Christianity. The major action is between Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. Tracy (as Henry Drummond– real-life Clarence Darrow) is the clear winner in the courtroom despite the producer’s opening observation that, “I’ve refereed a fight… you decide.” March plays the Bible-thumping prosecuting attorney, Matthew Harrison Brady– real-life William Jennings Bryan.

Some significant scenes and dialog from “Inherit the Wind” along with some commentary are as follows:

  • Scene of preacher leading the police to arrest Cates. (Reminiscent of Judas leading the arrest of Jesus. Truth is Scopes never actually taught evolution in a classroom. A handful of students were coached by him and Darrow before the trial so they could testify that they had learned Darwinism from him. Scopes was not arrested at school– Weekly Wire )
  • Scene of Hillsboro [Dayton, Tenn.] residents upset about the coming trial. (Dayton competed for a staged media event from the beginning)
  • Scene of Cates in jail. (Again, Scopes never went to jail)
  • Hornbeck to Cates’s girlfriend, “I’m on your side….” (A true reflection of media bias)
  • Scene of Rachel pleading with her preacher father. (The father appears fanatically insane)
  • Drummond to Hornbeck, “The only thinking man in town [Cates] is in jail.” (The point– thinking people think evolution)
  • Various scenes of the younger generation rebelling against the older generation. (The principle– education should function as a change agent to set the younger generation against their elders.)
  • Various scenes of threats against Cates. (Images of intolerance bred by Christian beliefs)
  • Drummond to Cates, “You really are a murderer– you’re killing their myths.” (The point– Christians, in contrast to Darwinians, believe in myths)
  • Brown in prayer, “Send this sinner [Cates] to hell.” (An example of fanatical religious cruelty)
  • Drummond to Brady, “The prerequisite to your dream [heaven] is ignorance.” (The point– Christian beliefs are necessarily ignorant)
  • Drummond to Brady, “Truth has meaning– as a direction.” (The point– absolute truth does not exist)
  • Cates to the courtroom, “Religion’s supposed to comfort people, not scare them to death.” (The point– the function of religion is to make people feel better.)
  • Drummond, “Evolution is incontrovertible to all enlightened minds…. This community is an insult to the whole world.” (Examples of a false generalization and browbeating)
  • Scene of Cates being hanged in effigy. (The point– Christian beliefs stimulate hate crimes)
  • Drummond to Brady, “We must abandon the pleasant poetry of Genesis.” (An interesting allusion to the tactic used by “mainstream churches” to harmonize Darwin and the bible)
  • Brady to Drummond, “Bishop Usher has determined the exact time of Creation.” (A legitimate example of how faulty Christian apologetics backfires on the public perception of Christians)
  • Drummond to Brady, “What if there were a law demanding that only evolution be taught in the schools.” (Not covered in the video excerpts, but a prophetic statement– that’s exactly the state we’re in today!)
  • Rachel Brown to Brady, “I’m not your child any longer– not yours or anyone else’s.” (A hint of how evolution and associated disenchantment with Christianity would promote feminist rejection of Christianity)
  • Hornbeck to Drummond after the trial is over, “What happened here today has no meaning.” (A hint of how the success of evolution would lead to nihilism– loss of meaning. The ACLU didn’t really care about winning the case at the local level; the goal was to get the law against evolution ruled unconstitutional by a higher court. Darrow actually asked the judge to instruct the jury to find Scopes guilty, which it did after nine minutes of deliberation– Weekly Wire)

Although Scopes and the ACLU lost the court battle, they won the cultural war as symbolized in the last courtroom scene where Brady scrambles for a microphone while the media technician disconnects him in mid-sentence. In an analogous way, the Scopes Trial and “Inherit the Wind” have been instrumental in disconnecting fundamentalist Christianity from mainstream American society for several generations. Even so, Christian symbols are so strongly woven into the American mind that the makers of “Inherit the Wind” found it necessary to use them to attack Christianity. (Note how Cates takes on the sinless, suffering character of Christ while Dayton residents take on the role of the crucifixion mob)

All communities are shaped and sustained by narratives. Christians have their stories of Jesus, while secularists have movies like “Inherit the Wind.” Although these different stories reach different conclusions, they serve the same purpose– to recruit “believers” and sustain them against the forces of “unbelief.” If we are to be successful in persuading people about the truth of Christ, we must be familiar with the stories that have shaped the public’s disbelief in him. Movies like “Inherit the Wind” give us a chance to see ourselves as unbelievers see us.

For an accurate history of the Scopes Trial, see Summer of the God by Ed Larson


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The 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” put Darwin’s theory of evolution on trial before the nation. “Inherit the Wind” paints a romantic picture of Scopes as a principled biology teacher driven to present scientific theory to his students, even in the teeth of a Tennessee state law prohibiting the teaching of anything other than creationism. The truth, it turns out, was something quite different. In his fascinating history of the Scopes trial, Summer for the Gods, Edward J. Larson makes it abundantly clear that truth and the purity of science had very little to do with the Scopes case. Tennessee had passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, and the American Civil Liberties Union responded by advertising statewide for a high-school teacher willing to defy the law. Communities all across Tennessee saw an opportunity to put themselves on the map by hosting such a controversial trial, but it was the town of Dayton that came up with a sacrificial victim: John Scopes, a man who knew little about evolution and wasn’t even the class’s regular teacher. Chosen by the city fathers, Scopes obligingly broke the law and was carted off to jail to await trial. What happened next was a bizarre mix of theatrics and law, enacted by William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Though Darrow lost the trial, he made his point– and his career– by calling Bryan, a noted Bible expert, as a witness for the defense. Summer for the Gods is a remarkable retelling of the trial and the events leading up to it, proof positive that truth is stranger than science–

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