Max Boot in The Washington Post Reflects on the Scopes Monkey Trial and how the United States is Suffering From Evangelicals Who Reject Science in the COVID-19 Pandemic

In The Washington Post on July 8, 2020 conservative columnist Max Boot reflected on the legacy of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. In that same piece amidst the COVID-19 pandemic Boot reflects on how the United States is suffering because of evangelicals continued rejection of science.

“I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. … I feel that restrictive legislation on academic freedom is forever a thing of the past, that religion and science may now address one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and of a common quest for truth. I like to think that the Dayton trial had some part in bringing to birth this new era.”

John T Scopes

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

Joshua 10:12-14 NIV

From the new dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural American History in Washington, D.C. 

Max Boot is a well known conservative writer, academic, editorialist, consultant, lecturer and military historian.  He is best known for his books on American foreign policy. He attended the University of California Berkeley and earned a M.A. from Yale University. He was written multiple books and one that I have read which I deeply appreciated is about small wars or low intensity conflict and is called, “The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.” Other books he wrote include, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present “, “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right” , “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam” and “ War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World.” 

Max Boot writes a regular column for The Washignton Post, and the other day on July 8, 2020  he wrote about the legacy of the Scopes-Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.  His column is about how evangelicals rejected science in 1925, and 95 years later the United States is suffering from evangelicals continued rejection of science in the COVID-19 pandemic. While I eagerly consume Boot’s work, I was taken back to see this stinging piece about evangelicals. I am going to have the column below, but you can read it at The Washington Post in, “Foes of science faced ridicule at the Scopes trial. We’re paying the price 95 years later.” Evangelical witness has taken a massive hit in many ways. One of them is how evangelicals rejection of science is noticed and criticized by outsiders. And in this blog’s view that is rightfully deserved. This blog is grateful for the atheists and secular humanists who value science. 

Why is the United States the only wealthy country where novel coronavirus cases are hitting new highs while elsewhere the virus is being contained? A lot of it has to do with the rejection of science by many on the right. A Gallup survey reports that while 98 percent of Democrats reported wearing a mask outside the home, only 66 percent of Republicans did. The same denialism extends to other important issues: A Pew survey reports that 75 percent of Democrats regard climate change as a top policy priority, compared with only 25 percent of Republicans.

President Trump — who rejects his own government’s warnings about global warming and keeps insisting that the coronavirus will “miraculouslydisappear on its own — is more a symptom than the cause of the problem. The right’s reign of unreason long predates his presidency.

This week marks the 95th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial — the most famous battle of the early 20th century between science and religious fundamentalism. The story is well told in Edward J. Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account,Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion,” which is even more timely now than when it was published in 1997.

On July 10, 1925, high school science teacher John T. Scopes went on trial in Dayton, Tenn., for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. While “Modernist” (liberal) Protestants and most Catholics and Jews had accepted evolution as a manifestation of God’s design, conservative evangelicals known as “fundamentalists” insisted that God had created the earth in six days and denied that mankind is related to monkeys. At the urging of the fundamentalists, Tennessee passed a law forbidding the teaching of evolution. The prosecution of Scopes was a test case contrived by the town fathers of Dayton to put their sleepy burg on the map.

They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Two of the most famous orators in America volunteered to try the case — William Jennings Bryan, a former secretary of state and three-time presidential candidate for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow, “attorney for the damned,” for the defense. About two hundred reporters flocked to Dayton to cover the carnival-like proceedings, which were broadcast on radio and filmed for newsreels, and later inspired the play and film “Inherit the Wind.”

The culmination of the trial was Darrow’s July 20 cross-examination of Bryan — a populist on economic issues but a conservative on social ones — about whether he took the Bible literally.

“Do you believe Joshua made the sun stand still?” Darrow asked about a biblical passage that speaks of a miraculously lengthened day.

“I believe what the Bible says. I suppose you mean that the earth stood still?” Bryan replied.

Darrow first feigned innocence (“I don’t know”) and then sprang his trap: “Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?”

“No,” Bryan replied. “The God I believe in could have taken care of that.”

Darrow: “Don’t you know it would have been converted into a molten mass of matter?”

The jury found Scopes guilty, and the judge fined him $100. The Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the fine on a technicality but upheld the anti-evolution law, which remained on the books until 1967. But the popular verdict was that the anti-evolution side had been defeated by being made to look ridiculous. As Harper’s Magazine editor Frederick Lewis Allen wrote: “Theoretically, Fundamentalism had won, for the law stood. Yet really Fundamentalism had lost … and the slow drift from Fundamentalist certainty continued.”

It’s true that fundamentalism became less assertive after the Scopes trial, but it hardly went away. By the 1980s, it had migrated to the Republican Party (Bryan was a Democrat) and had become a political force to be reckoned with. Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority, actually thought that Bryan was a sellout for admitting, under Darrow’s cross-examination, that the world was not created in six 24-hour days. Falwell said that Bryan “lost the respect of Fundamentalists” for conceding that the Book of Genesis was referring to longer periods of time.

Today, the theory of evolution is accepted by most Americans — including most religious believers — but still resisted by a significant minority. According to a Pew poll in 2018, 18 percent of American adults deny the theory of evolution. Among white evangelical Protestants (a core part of the Trump base), 38 percent say that humans have always existed in their present form. Having 18 percent of the adult population in the anti-evolution camp might not seem like a lot, but it translates to roughly 37.6 million people — the population of Canada — who reject a core tenet of modern science.

I suspect there is a lot of overlap between anti-evolutionists, anti-maskers and climate deniers. That hostility to science, found far more on the right than the left, makes it much harder to deal with major crises such as global warming or the coronavirus. Ninety-five years after the Scopes trial, the foes of science are more potent politically than ever — and we are all paying the price.


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