Today, Stephen Jay Gould sips Coca-Cola in
Robinson's Drug Store. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about
the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
The year was 1925 -- the
town, Dayton, Tennessee. The State Legislature had
just passed a bill making it illegal to teach any
theory of creation that denied the Genesis account.
The ACLU badly wanted a test case they could lose
in Tennessee, then take to a higher court. So a few
Dayton boosters asked the new PE instructor, John
Scopes, to meet with them in Robinson's drugstore.
Would he consent to be arrested? Then they could
have the big trial in Dayton. It'd put them on the
Scopes had been only a substitute biology teacher.
He'd never actively taught evolution. But he had
asked his students to read a textbook that
mentioned evolution. That was enough.
So Scopes said, "Okay." They arrested him. Then
Clarence Darrow squared off against William
Jennings Bryan for the media event of the age.
Oddly enough, the actual trial was pretty dull.
The best oratory came, not from Darrow or Bryan,
but from Darrow's associate, Dudley Malone. When
Malone sat down, even the fundamentalists of Dayton
cheered him; and H.L. Mencken wrote:
... these rustics delight in speechifying, and
know when it is good. The Devil's logic cannot
fetch them, but they are not above taking a
voluptuous pleasure in his lascivious phrases.
So the trial ground on. When Darrow put
Bryan on the stand, he did less damage to Bryan than
Bryan had already done to himself. Despite all that,
Scopes lost -- just as he was supposed to. Everything
was on right schedule for the ACLU.
Then things went wrong. First, the judge fined
Scopes $100. But that was illegal. Any fine greater
than $50 had to be levied by a jury. The conviction
was automatically overturned. There was no longer
any case to appeal.
Bryan's posturing was exposed, but Bryan eluded
that by dying a week later. Darrow made some
memorable speeches in favor of freedom of speech,
but he didn't change anyone's mind. Scopes went on
to study geology and to live as anonymously as he
Now Stephen Jay Gould goes back to Robinson's
drugstore to drink Coca-Cola and see where it all
happened. Dayton's a lovely town, he finds. A
fundamentalist college in Dayton is named after
Williams Jennings Bryan, despite his sorry
Gould weighs it all and reaches a poignant
conclusion. The fundamentalists of Dayton aren't
the enemy. Creationism and evolution may be
antagonists, but neither is our enemy. The only
real enemy is intolerance. Gould sees little of
that in Dayton.
Yet he knows that menace still rides behind all
this serene comic opera. For witch-burning
intolerance is an evil that always waits beneath
the gentle surface -- and not just here in Dayton,
but in you and me, as well.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds