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The Scopes Trial

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 3 months ago


The Scopes Trial and the Debate Over Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species


Anti-Evolution League Protestors at the Scopes Trial


Anti-Evolution League at the Scopes Trial

 Link to Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution

Documents and Teaching Materials on the Scopes Trial from the National History Education Clearinghouse.


  • See more documents from the Scope Trial at the Famous Trials in American History website.


  Play the game, Who Wants to Live a Million Years? that explores Darwin's theory of natural selection.

John R. Neal, Jr. & John T. Scopes, at Scopes Trial,1925
John R. Neal, Jr. & John T. Scopes, at Scopes Trial, 1925


Event Summary


During the 1920’s, White Protestant Fundamentalists spent much of their energy combating Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.


  • Darwin’s now famous book Origin of the Species argues that human beings evolved from a lower species. Darwin’s theory is called evolution.


  • Christian Fundamentalists disagree with the theory because it contradicts a literal interpretation of the Biblical story of Creationism.

In 1914, public high school textbooks stared to include the theory of evolution.


  • Christian fundamentalists were outraged at the teaching of evolution in public schools and started to push state legislatures to adopt anti-evolution legislation.


  • In 1923, the first laws that banned the teaching of evolution were passed.

In 1925, Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of evolution.


  • In 1925, the Scopes Trial took place in Dayton, TN. A teacher was prosecuted for violating the Butler Act and teaching about evolution in a public school.



  • The teacher was convicted of violating the Butler Act. The trial became more than just a criminal trial but rather a showcase for the evolution vs. creationism debate.


  • The Defense appealed to the Supreme Court and argued that the Butler Act violated free speech and separation of Church and State. The Court disagreed. Anti-evolution statutes were upheld and continued to exist until 1968.



William Jennings Bryan (seated at left) being interrogated by Clarence Darrow, July 20, 1925


Click here to read Clarence Darrow's Examination of William Jennings Bryan


  • For more information on Clarence Darrow, including his own personal account of the Trial, see his autobiography The Story of my Life available through Project Gutenberg.

For more on the Scopes Trial, including a video on the issues, go to the PBS Online Web site:

To read and hear a podcast of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species summarized and updated by geneticist Steve Jones in New Scientist Magazine.

Tennessee v. John Scopes (1925)


Spencer Tracy & Fredric March in the movie Inherit the Wind


Spencer Tracy &  Fredric March
The 1960s film, Inherit the Wind dramatized the central arguments at the center of the Scopes-Monkey Trial.


Click here for an overview and resources on the Scopes Trial

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