Exposing the Lie Inherit the Wind

by Rober Harsh
Harmony, PA

Last spring one of my biology class students showed me a copy of Inherit the Wind that was being presented as a topic of discussion in her English class. She asked if I had any opinions on the "monkey trial." I told her my objections and gave her a copy of "A Historical Analysis of Inherit the Wind" by Dr. David Menton that I got at our third I.C.C. An extra copy was also given to her to give to her English teacher. A couple of weeks later I asked the English teacher what she thought about the critique of Inherit the Wind... she had not read it yet.

Preserving the Lie

This is exactly how the lie about the validity of evolution has been perpetuated. This teacher, I am sure, did not intend to indoctrinate her students into evolutionary thinking. She did, however, in ignorance, help in promoting a lie. Biology teachers and English teachers, for the most part, teach from two sources. First, they teach what they were taught as truth in college, and second, they teach from whichever textbook their students are using. At our universities only evolution is taught (and in many cases, taught with purpose). All textbooks used in public schools treat evolution as fact.

I have heard the unfair complaint from several in the creationist camp that we need to stop harping about the faults of evolution and instead offer something "scientifically" better. I wish it were that easy. It seems that requirement is a little like demanding Ben Franklin, who knew about electricity, to hurry up and invent the light bulb. Real science works a little at a time and the number of scientists on our side is few.

On the other hand, we can without a lot of extra research point out the difficulties and indeed outright lies that modern evolutionary theory is getting away with. Evolutionary naturalism and biblical naturalism are both basic philosophies which look at the same natural phenomena and arrive at different conclusions. It is perfectly legitimate for one scientist to take the data generated by other scientists and draw different conclusions. That is the way science is supposed to work.

Inherit the Wind--Good History?

I believe the average person who sees the play or movie or reads the book Inherit the Wind believes that it represents an accurate historical account of how evolutionists in the 1920s overthrew the prevailing philosophy, biblical naturalism. However, the average person does not realize that Inherit the Wind is a bold face lie.

The body of this report is based on Dr. Donald Menton's analysis of the play. Allow me to make a case that Inherit the Wind is indeed a lie.

The Play. In the play, John Scopes is portrayed as a much-persecuted but competent high school biology teacher. The State of Tennessee had recently established a new law that imposed a heavy fine and/or jail term if anyone taught evolution in any of Tennessee's public schools.

The Truth. The truth is. John Scopes was a substitute teacher who was recruited by the American Civil Liberties Union to say that he had taught evolution. Scopes who didn't even have a college degree in any science was filling in as a substitute biology teacher for Mr. Ferguson. A local businessman, George Rappleya read the ad placed by the ACLU in a newspaper and promptly pressured Scopes to testify that he had taught evolution. In his memoirs, Center of the Storm on page 60, John Scopes wrote, "To tell the truth, I wasn't sure I had taught evolution." It should also be noted that the Butler Act had a maximum fine of $500.00 and no jail term.

The Play. Anyone who has seen the movie or the play will remember William Jennings Bryan as both ignorant in behavior and in his knowledge of science. He was both closed-minded and pompous. In answering questioning by Clarence Darrow, Bryan said that he had never read Darwin's Origin of Species and never would.

The Truth. The truth is Williams Jennings Bryan was one of America's most respected intellectuals and speakers of his time. He was well educated in science and had read The Origin of Species in 1905, 20 years before the trial. He had even corresponded with the famous evolutionist, Henry Fairfield Osborn over the years. He had tried to influence the Florida legislature to not ban the teaching of evolution but to just prohibit teaching evolution as fact.

The Play. The play portrays the "Christian" people of Dayton as ignorant and rude to the evolutionists who came to town to defend Scopes. Examine Clarence Darrow's own words as recorded in the trial transcript pages 225-226.

The Truth. "I don't know as I was ever in a community in my life where my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have found them since I have been in Tennessee. Yet I came here a perfect stranger and I can say what I have said before that I have not found upon anybody's part--any citizen here in this town or outside--the slightest discourtesy. I have been treated better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north."

The Play. Those who have seen the play probably remember the prayer meeting scene where Reverend Jeremiah Brown is portrayed as a mean-spirited simple-minded, religious leader who calls down hellfire on anyone who would support Scopes even his own daughter, Rachel (Scopes' fiancee).

The Truth. The truth? Reverend Brown and his daughter are completely fictitious. Scopes did not even have a steady girlfriend. The introduction of this flavor of religious leader reveals the purpose of the authors, Lawrence and Lee.

The Play. In the play, Bryan stated in response to Darrow's question that creation began on October 23, 4004 BC at 9 A.M.

The Truth. The trial transcript reads as follows:

Darrow: "Mr. Bryan, could you tell me how old the earth is?"

Bryan: "No sir, I couldn't."

Darrow: "Could you come anywhere near it?"

Bryan: "I wouldn't attempt to. I could possibly come as near as the scientists do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess."

Later, Darrow questions him again on the age of the earth:

Darrow: "Have you any idea how old the earth is?"

Bryan: "No." [continued on page 13]

The Play's Purpose

The scene where Bryan is portrayed as a raving religious lunatic, slipping into a frenzy ending with reciting the books of the Old Testament never happened. This pure fiction in a play that is perceived by modern audiences as a historical docudrama further reveals the author's intent to strike a blow at Bible-believing Christians. Menton writes on this: "Some may argue that criticisms of the type presented in this study are inappropriate for a documentary-drama because historical accuracy is only the inadvertent victim of attempts to Ôliven up' the plot. It is typical, for example, to introduce a fictional love story in 'Hollywood history.' The evidence suggests, however, that the inaccuracies encouraged in the play Inherit the Wind are substantive, intentional, and systematic. It is actually quite easy to see a pattern in the inaccuracies, and from this one can make a reasonable guess as to the motive. Christians, particularly William Jennings Bryan, are consistently lampooned throughout the play, while skeptics and agnostics are consistently portrayed as intelligent, kindly, and even heroic. I simply cannot escape the conclusion that the writers of the screen play Inherit the Wind never intended to write a historically accurate account of the Scopes trial, nor did they seriously attempt to portray the principal characters and their beliefs in an unbiased and accurate way.

It should be noted that beyond the lack of truthfulness of the play, the real life trial was a travesty for accurate science. Evidence for human evolution was presented by Mr. Darrow. Two pillars of evidence taken for granted as truth were Piltdown man and Nebraskan man. It is interesting that the play failed to point out that Piltdown man was a deliberate hoax and Nebraskan man was the result of an over-zealous evolutionist because it was based on one tooth from an extinct pig.

The Challenge

Let us be attentive to opportunities to discourage the use of Inherit the Wind, at least without a very clear disclaimer that clearly discloses the parts of the play that wrongfully slander the intellectual capacity and integrity of biblical naturalists.

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Sep/Oct 1996