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Inherit the Wind at Christianity Today


UPDATE (1:41 PM, 6/6/11): Earlier today, an editor at Christianity Today International informed me that CT would correct its error and remove the inaccurate material inspired by Inherit the Wind. This has now been done. Kudos to the folks at CT for fixing the error when it was brought to their attention. If only more media outlets were like that!

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Like the Energizer Bunny, the old play/film Inherit the Wind keeps on going, wreaking havoc with people's understanding of the history of the debate over evolution in America. The latest appearance of this hackneyed piece of propaganda is in a Bible study just unveiled by Christianity Today magazine as part of its recent cover story on debates over Adam and Eve. The ill-informed author of the Bible study unfortunately tries to use Inherit the Wind to provide historical background (!):

The 1960 film Inherit the Wind was a fictionalized portrayal of the so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial." In the story, two eminent attorneys--the Christian William Jennings Bryan and the skeptic Clarence Darrow--argue over evolution and the age of the earth. Bryan held to a literalistic reading of Scripture that said the world was created only thousands, not billions, of years ago. It's no surprise that the Christian (Bryan) came out looking like a monkey in accounts of the debate. The case, both the actual one and the virtual one as portrayed in the culture, gave Christians an undeserved black eye as anti-science bumpkins. It is a reputation that has stuck, despite our best efforts in the classroom, the lab, and the media. (emphasis added)

Completely contrary to the above description, William Jennings Bryan was not a Biblical literalist when it came to Genesis 1, and he most definitely did not believe that "the world was created only thousands, not billions, of years ago." Consider the following excerpts from the trial transcript:

DARROW: Would you say the earth was only 4,000 years old?

BRYAN: Oh no, I think it is much older than that.
DARROW: Do you think the earth was made in six days?

BRYAN: Not six days of twenty-four hours.

DARROW: Doesn't it say so?

BRYAN: No, sir.

DARROW: ... Does the statement "The morning and the evening were the first day" and "The morning and the evening were the second day" mean anything to you?

BRYAN: I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four hour day.

DARROW: You do not?


DARROW: What do you consider it to be?

BRYAN: I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter -- let me have the book. The fourth verse of the second chapter says, "Those are the generation of the heavens and of the earth, when they were erected in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." The word "day" there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is necessity for considering the words, "the evening and the morning" as meaning necessarily a twenty-four hour day in the day when the Lord made the heavens and the earth.

DARROW: Then when the Bible said, for instance, "And God called the firmament heaven, and the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?

BRYAN: I do not think it necessarily does.

DARROW: You think these were not literal days?

BRYAN: I do not think they were 24-hour days.
DARROW: The creation might have been going on for a very long time?

BRYAN: It might have continued for millions of years.

William Jennings Bryan, American lawyer, state...

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I should add that Bryan was far from the stick-figure buffoon portrayed in the film. Indeed, he was pretty thoughtful and well-read about contemporary scientific debates over Darwinian theory, which is more than can be said about some of his critics of the time. A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bryan seems to have kept up with articles in the journal Science on the matter, and during the Scopes trial he even brought a copy of Science and made effective use of an article by leading geneticist William Bateson to show just how shaky the foundations of contemporary evolutionary theory were at the time. Bateson proclaimed his unshakeable faith in evolution even while cataloguing the failed attempts to explain how evolution actually occurs. According to Bateson, all of the efforts by scientists to identify the mechanism of evolution had failed. As a result, "we have no acceptable account of the origin of 'species'"; indeed, "that particular and essential bit of the theory of evolution which is concerned with the origin and nature of species remains utterly mysterious." In his essays and speeches from the period, Bryan showed that he could hold his own when debating the leading evolutionary dogmatists of his day.

Nebraska Man illustration of two humanlike cre...

Image via Wikipedia

Take his public exchanges with Columbia University paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn on the subject of so-called "Nebraska Man," a presumed human ancestor whose identity was established based largely on a single fossilized tooth. Osborn, one of America's most eminent evolutionary scientists, championed the tooth as "irrefutable evidence that... man-apes wandered over from Asia into North America." Bryan was much more skeptical, ridiculing Osborn's credulousness in making such assertions based on a single tooth. Bryan turned out to be right. Three years after the Scopes trial, Obsorn's supposed proof of man-apes in North America was revealed to be the tooth from an extinct pig. In retrospect, it is Osborn's dogmatic claims about Nebraska Man that look utterly foolish, not Bryan's healthy skepticism.

For all of this, Inherit the Wind remains one of the most effective examples of historical propaganda in modern history. Although skewered by scholars for its egregiously inaccurate portrayal of the Scopes trial (see here and here), Inherit the Wind keeps fueling stereotypes of the evolution debate that continue to taint current discussions. Judge Jones of the Kitzmilller v. Dover intelligent design case, for example, told a reporter before trial that he planned to watch the old film for "historical context." In some science classrooms, meanwhile, the film is shown to students to supposedly acquaint them with the history of the evolution debate in America. And now Christianity Today inadvertently is promoting Inherit the Wind's mythical version of history.

Fortunately, there is a new feature film on the horizon titled Alleged that seeks to provide a more accurate portrayal of the Scopes trial and its surrounding cultural context, including the eugenics movement.alleged(2).jpg

Currently being screened at film festivals, Alleged stars Fred Thompson as William Jennings Bryan and Brian Dennehy as Clarence Darrow. I hope that Alleged eventually gets a wide release. It's certainly needed.
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alleged.jpgInherit the Wind's mythical treatment of the Scopes trial gets a boost from Christianity Today, while the new feature film Alleged tries to set the record straight.


Bryan died less than a week after the trial. Had he lived the myth surrounding the trial may not have taken a life of its own.

Myth travels at the speed of sound, while truth rides in a horse and buggy. The horse and buggy have finally arrived.

Incidentally, even Stephen Jay Gould admitted that John West's point about William Jennings Bryan is correct:

the most celebrated moment--when Darrow supposedly forced Bryan to admit that the days of creation might have spanned more than twenty-four hours--represented Bryan's free-will statement about his own and well known personal beliefs (he had never been a strict biblical literalist), not a fatal inconsistency, exposed by Darrow's relentless questioning.

(Stephen Jay Gould, Rock of Ages, p. 136 (Ballantine Books 1999).)

Another "cheap shot" at the Catholic Church as being "unscientific." Clearly David has not critically examined all of the facts surrounding the Galileo episode and the centuries of scientific discoveries that preceeded it and were made after it because of the Catholic Church. If David wants to see some proof, it is suggested he read Fr. Sptizer's books on modern astronomy and physics.

Most would agree that the university system was requried for the development of modern science. The university system did not develop in the ancient world. Few recognize that the Catholic Church developed the university system during the middle ages.

Astronomers like Copernicus and Kepler preceeded Galileo. Copernicus and Kepler published works on heliocentrism before Galileo and did not suffer mistreatment from the Catholic Church.

If someone is honest, he/she is often the best judge if they have been mistreated. If Galileo felt so mistreated by the Catholic Church, why did he die a Catholic? Further, why is there no quote attributed to him condemning the Catholic Church.

After Galileo, some of the world's greatest astronomers were Jesuit priest. Yes, Catholic priests. One small example: Some 35 of the moon's craters are named after the Jesuit priests who first mapped them. Another: The Big Bang Theory was developed by a Belgian Catholic priest about 90 years ago. The Jesuits also developed the science of geology. If the Catholic Church was so against science, how could any of this have happened?

Popular culture has not bothered to investigate the facts surrounding the "Galileo episode." Why bother with facts? The fact is that Galileo was not an easy man to get along with. He was somewhat of an egotist who was prone to what we now call "foot-in-mouth disease." He would "fly-off the handle" and insult his friends and benfactors in public. His friends also happened to be some of the most prominent people in Rome. He was not very prudent in dealing with people.

Galileo was so sure he was correct about the universe that he insisted that the Catholic Church declare his theory of heliocentricity as being true; not just scientifically but also theologically. The Catholic Church would do neither for Galileo or any other scientist. Science has since determined that Galileo theory of heliocentricity, while moving in the right direction, was wrong.

Like other heliocentrist, Galileo believed that the sun was the center of the universe. Aspects of this theory were not new. The theroy was expressed as early as the 3rd century BC by the Greek Aristarchos. The theory was impossible to prove or disprove until well after Galileo because there were no scientific instruments capable of making certain measurements critical to the proof; they needed to measure the parallax shift in the stars positions as the earth moved in orbit around the sun.

Galileo was not jailed. He was put under house arrest. He was permitted vistors and was provided servants and a fairly high standard of living. Most of us would have it so good.


Thanks for that excellent site themonkeytrial.com

I read through that and actually got angry at how biased and dishonest Darwinists are willing to be as long as it supports their views and makes the enemy look bad. Accuracy? Who cares? It's all about the impression you want to create and unfortunately, they were relatively successful in spite of their deceit.


�Christianity Today inadvertently is promoting Inherit the Wind's mythical version of history.�

With friends like this, who needs enemies? I�ve obviously watched Expelled several times; and enjoy the part where Paul Nelson mentions something about ID not having a prior commitment to a deity. I sincerely hope this holds true as ID progresses. I know one must make �friends� but you know what, I�d rather be in bed with the New-Atheist (it�s very improbable I know) than go hold hands with the same people who jailed Galileo. Lets be clear about it; ID presents a golden opportunity to break from the moribund intellectual stagnation of both Darwinian Evolution and organized Religion. I hope the Discovery fellows � keep their head level and see the clear path ahead.

It's about time we've seen something to correct the misrepresentations in Inherit the Wind. If
there happens to be any screenings of Alleged in my area I will be one of the first to register.

In the meantime, perhaps someone should send the folks at Christianity Today a copy of "Summer
for the Gods" so they can more accurately report what they're trying to cover.

For pages and pages of comparisons between Inherit the Wind and the facts of the Scopes Trial see www.themonkeytrial.com. Thanks for the info on "alleged"!

"Judge Jones of the Kitzmilller v. Dover intelligent design case, for example, told a reporter before trial that he planned to watch the old film for "historical context." In some science classrooms, meanwhile, the film is shown to students to supposedly acquaint them with the history of the evolution debate in America"............ So old films, that misrepresent facts are being used for "historical" use, by Judges and science students?
Since the Genesis account records the sun, moon, and stars to be created on the 4th day, it presupposes a different timing, than one regulated by movement, of things being created.

Many people believe in evolution, but not that evolution is driven by "natural selection doing something (???) to random mutations". My own personal belief is that the laws of nature are entrenched habits. In fact, the laws governing the inanimate universe have become so entrenched that they appear fixed to us. Life, on the other hand, is still evolving, and free-will has evolved in humans to the point where most of us take it for granted. (Or at least most of us take it for granted.) The universe created itself, purposefully and intelligently. Thus, with a will of my own I feel like a participant in that creative process, rather than an impotent observer. I might not have much power over most of the universe, but I do feel some responsibility for my own growth and development. I contribute to those entrenched habits.

A Few Impertinent Questions about Autism, Freudianism and Materialism.