On Tuesday, Chuck Colson (founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries) offered some excellent analysis on his nationwide “BreakPoint” radio program about the federal court case in Pennsylvania USA concerning a school board directive that some science classes in the Dover school district hear a statement about evolution and intelligent design. (To read the entire text of this statement, see the footnote 1 .)

In his commentary, Mr. Colson made particular reference to the federal judge in the case and the judge’s statement indicating that he was going to watch the 1960 movie Inherit The Wind, in order to understand the background of the famous 1925 Scopes creation/evolution trial in Tennessee.

We have reprinted the entire “BreakPoint” commentary below, and have made annotated comments on some of the more important points Mr. Colson has raised.


Mr. Colson [C]: The historical parallels between Kitzmiller v. Dover, the intelligent design case now being tried in Pennsylvania, and the “Scopes Monkey Trial” aren’t lost on the judge hearing the case: John Jones. Jones told the Philadelphia Inquirer last weekend that he “became a judge with the hope of having an opportunity to rule in matters of great importance.” That’s why he looked forward to hearing this case.

People who have tried cases before Jones characterized him as being “meticulously prepared,” and given the attention surrounding the case, Kitzmiller is no exception. But there’s one bit of preparation from which Jones should have abstained. He told the Inquirer that, as part of his preparation, he planned on re-watching the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind, a fictionalized account of the Scopes trial.

Ham/AiG [H]: Colson is certainly correct! Inherit The Wind is very much a fictionalized account of the Scopes trial—there is very little that resembles what actually occurred in the Tennessee courtroom. You can read a critique of this movie, which we would describe as another Hollywood effort to denigrate Christianity: Inherit the Wind: an historical analysis. Also see Get Answers: Scopes Trial.

Dr. David Menton, AiG speaker and author, also has an excellent, eye-opening DVD that gives a detailed critique of Inherit The Wind. It includes video excerpts from the movie so that viewers can see for themselves the gross distortions of fact. To obtain this DVD, visit its product page in our bookstore.

[C]: While Jones admitted that he didn’t know, as he put it, if seeing the film “would be helpful to the decision I have to make,” he thought it “would help put things in historical context.” Well, I have written the judge, telling him that just is not so.

When I say that Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account, I’m not just referring to a few name changes and a bit of dramatic license. I mean the kind of changes that stand the original story on its head and leave viewers with a completely erroneous sense of what happened in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925.

[H]: It is almost unbelievable that a judge would even consider watching this fictional, fact-distorting movie as he deals with a real court case—one which has potentially huge federal implications for the teaching of origins in America’s public school science classes. However, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, many public schools show this film to students (and sometimes have students act out the play) to teach them about the Scopes trial. Since 1960, many students (and probably this Pennsylvania judge) over three generations have been indoctrinated against Christianity because of the brainwashing by a Hollywood concoction. It’s no wonder a judge, who is undoubtedly already aware of the film’s negative portrayal of things Christian, thinks he can gain insights from such a fictional anti-Christian production.

[C]: In the film, John Scopes is a principled and heroic biology teacher doing battle against the forces of ignorance and intolerance. The locals are depicted as little short of peasants with torches and pitchforks who yell, “Devil!” when Scopes’s defense attorney, based on the famous Clarence Darrow, arrives in town. Led by a minister (of course), they drag Scopes out of the classroom and put him on trial.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor, based on William Jennings Bryan, is a dour fanatic whose religious beliefs do not withstand scrutiny. The problem is that none of this is true.

[H]: Exactly. Dr. Menton’s DVD (as mentioned above) shows particular video clips from the movie in relation to how the Christians were depicted, and then gives actual quotes from the trial to show how clearly fictional this movie really is.

[C]: The Tennessee law, while on the books, had never been enforced. John Scopes never taught biology; he was the football coach recruited by the ACLU as a “test case.” And far from being dragged out of the classroom, after his conviction, which was overturned, he paid a $100 fine and went to play tennis.

[H]: Actually, Bryan even offered to pay the fine; however, on a technicality, it was overturned anyway. Also, many people don’t realize that the Butler Act passed by the Tennessee legislature (and which was being challenged by the ACLU in the Scopes case) only had to do with the teaching of the evolution of man—it still allowed for the teaching of the evolution of animals, the concept of millions of years, etc. The actual text of the Butler Act states:

AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.

[C]: The real William Jennings Bryan, a former presidential candidate, was once called “the closest thing to socialism the American mind could tolerate.” Bryan’s main concerns about Darwinism had to do with its social, not its theological, implications. And unlike the movie, where he collapses under cross-examination, in real life Bryan gave as good as he got.

[H]: Bryan, despite the sad fact that he couldn’t answer some questions and thus effectively uphold the truth of Scripture (e.g., who was Cain’s wife?) and even compromised with the idea of an earth millions of years old (when asked about the days of creation), was a great man of God and an excellent orator.

[C]: Now, these distortions wouldn’t matter except that the average American’s views of the Scopes trial are almost entirely the product of Inherit the Wind. That’s why I wrote Judge Jones, informing him about the film’s inaccuracies.

[H]: As stated above, when public schools across the nation show this movie to students to “educate” them on the Scopes trial, is it any wonder that the average American has a totally distorted and incorrect understanding of what really happened at this “trial of the century”?

[C]: If he or you want to “put things in historical context,” a much better place to look is the excellent new book by Marvin Olasky and John Perry titled Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial. The book debunks the Scopes myth created by H.L. Mencken and other reporters and replaces it with the hard facts of the case.

[H]: In addition to the book Mr. Colson mentioned, we would recommend that you obtain a copy of the actual transcript of the trial. It is highly revealing. For instance, in the official court transcript, you will read page after page of the supposed scientific evidences for evolution presented by the leading scientists of the day—but most of what they presented as fact back then has now been rejected, and by evolutionists themselves. What a lesson here: man’s ideas have changed, but the Bible’s account of origins hasn’t changed one bit!

Also, you will read in the transcript testimony that a number of religious leaders supported the statements made by the evolutionists. Another lesson to learn: the religious leaders who made these pro-evolution comments are dead; the scientists who offered the so-called evidence for evolution that was printed in the transcript are dead; and most of the ideas presented by these scientists are no longer accepted as true. God, however, is not dead; and His Word has not changed. Furthermore, nothing in observational science has ever contradicted the Bible’s account of history.

[C]: And this is something that I recommend you do to educate your neighbors. After all, the issues in the Pennsylvania case are difficult enough without confusing movies for real life.

[H]: We certainly stand with Chuck Colson on this particular issue!

I’m reminded of that verse in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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Footnotes

  1. Here is the full statement read to the students in some of the science classes in Dover that is being challenged in federal court:

    Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

    Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families.

    As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

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