November 22, 2016

A passage in my casebook that I've read many times struck me as funny this year — after the presidential election.

I'm preparing my class using my all-time favorite casebook —  "Religion and the Constitution" — and I got to this passage in the section about teaching evolution. I'll boldface the thing that hit me in a new way:

[Tennessee's]1925 Anti-Evolution Act made it unlawful for a public school teacher “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.” The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the law in Scopes v. State, 289 S.W. 363 (1927), against the charge that it violated the state’s constitutional prohibition against giving preference to any religious establishment:
[The Act] requires the teaching of nothing. It only forbids the teaching of the evolution of man from a lower order of animals…. As the law thus stands, while the theory of evolution of man may not be taught in the schools of the state, nothing contrary to that theory is required to be taught….
Much has been said in argument about the motives of the Legislature in passing this act. But the validity of a statute must be determined by its natural and legal effect, rather than proclaimed motives.

Though Scopes was convicted in court of teaching evolution, he got a more approving judgment from the press. Popular accounts of the trial, especially those of H.L. Mencken, made Clarence Darrow (Scopes’s lawyer) the winner and William Jennings Bryan (appearing as a special prosecutor) the loser. Inherit the Wind, a popular movie from 1960, takes the same point of view.

In fact, however, the characters and the sequel were more complicated. Bryan was not the bigoted ignoramus the movie portrayed. He had run three times as the Democratic candidate for president on a progressive platform; he had served as Wilson’s Secretary of State, resigning in protest over Wilson’s drift toward war. The same year he began his campaign against evolution, he proposed creating a federal Department of Education. Bryan certainly believed that Darwinism was wrong for theological reasons, but he was just as concerned about its social implications: A belief in the survival of the fittest, he feared, could cause exploitation of labor, military aggression, and racial injustice (he pointed out the “scientific racism” in many pro-evolution texts). See Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (2006).
That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus. The evidence doesn't work so well now. 

52 comments:

Brando said...

Never really saw any incongruence between Bryan's populist leftism and his opposition to teaching evolution. In those days such sentiments went hand in hand.

mockturtle said...

I read a good biography of Bryan last year. An admirable man in many ways aside from being arguably one of the best orators in our history.

Birkel said...

I thought the connection was "Of course he is not a bigot. He is a Democrat!

Running for President is not the point.

Chuck said...

I knew William Jennings Bryan. I served with William Jennings Bryan. Donald Trump is no William Jennings Bryan.

Birkel said...

Chuck defends a Democrat. News at 11.

DanTheMan said...

Democrat candidates for president can still be an ignoramus. You just can't be a bigoted one.

Todd said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus. The evidence doesn't work so well now.

Based on the dictionary; "bigoted" as in a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions. "ignoramus" as in an ignorant or stupid person.

Which candidate would better fit that definition? The one that did not "know" that she was mistreating classified information as well as considers half the country "a basket of deplorable" or the guy that won? Taken literally, your statement is "unlikely that he could be". That still appears to be true so don't be so hard on yourself.

Mr Wibble said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus.

I guess I read it differently. It seems to be saying that it was highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus since he had been a candidate for President on the progressive platform.

It wasn't just running as a major-party candidate, it was the ideology that he ran under.

Of course, the irony is that eugenics has always been a progressive dream, not a conservative one.

Unknown said...

I assume you are referring to the last 8 years and barack Obama, who is quite literally a bigoted ignoramous.

protestmanager said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus.

Oh, come on, Ann! We don't need to talk about Obama that way.

I mean, the guy's a lame-duck now, let him go his ignorant and bigoted way in peace. (Reverend Wright? "Bitter clingers"?)

BDNYC said...

I never understood how Bryan could be both prosecutor and witness.

Hunter said...

So the evidence against his bigotry is his being allied with progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the most racist president of the 20th century?

David Begley said...

I wonder what Tom Wolfe thinks about the man from Nebraska today.

Bryan was portrayed as a rube, in part, because he was from Nebraska.

Chuck said...

BDNYC said...
I never understood how Bryan could be both prosecutor and witness.


It is a ridiculous notion; you are right about that. The judge allowed it only because Bryan never objected, and Bryan didn't object because Darrow and he agreed that Darrow would take the stand under cross-examination by Bryan at a later time in the trial.

And afterward, the judge just struck all of the Bryan testimony anyway and then didn't let Darrow take the stand.




The Godfather said...

@Althouse, I don't know how you teach this case, but one thing about the passage you quote that's particularly apt right now is that it illustrates that positions are not always all-black or all-white. If you think that being progressive and anti-war is good and supporting Biblical literalism regarding evolution is bad, how do you deal with someone who embraces all of these positions? People who think -- or thought -- that Trump's supporters were deplorable and irredeemable might find it easier to deal with his presidency if they were willing to consider the possibility that some of his proposed programs might be good for the country right now.

Paddy O said...
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Paddy O said...
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Paddy O said...

Only because it is loosely related to the post (science and theology) and because I posted it for reference in one of my online courses: here's an interesting article on the current discussion in science/theology.

LYNNDH said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus. The evidence doesn't work so well now. 

Is that a swipe at the President-Elect? I find that Trump is neither bigoted nor an ignoramus. And that is after a very long campaign by the Dems, Hillary and the Press to convert me.

mikee said...

So what you are telling us, Althouse, is that you did not realize that politicized movies were a thing even back in 1960. Good lord, woman, have you never seen any movies made during WWII, or for that matter a 1940's Bugs Bunny cartoon? Reagan came of age fighting actual communist subversives in the film industry trying to propagandized the Soviets into something not quite so horrible as their truth.

OF COURSE films are politicized, now and even more back then. What does your casebook say about The Birth of a Nation?

If you use a film as the basis of your historical understanding, at least try Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove so everyone knows you're jesting.

mccullough said...

Wasn't the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz based on Bryan?

Hagar said...

"Survival of the fittest" is Longfellow, not Darwin.

Terry said...

What Bryan objected to was teaching that man was just another kind of animal, and that he occupied no special place in the universe. If man is only an animal, nothing is forbidden him or required of him more that is not forbidden or required of any other animal.

traditionalguy said...

I go with Camille Paglia on sexual selection. To the victor go the offspring.

Quaestor said...

But the validity of a statute must be determined by its natural and legal effect, rather than proclaimed motives.

The resolution of a related case, Epperson vs. Arkansas, written by Justice Abe Fortis: "The overriding fact is that Arkansas’ law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group... the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them."

The Arkansas statue read in part: "[It is] unlawful for any teacher or other instructor in any university, college, normal, public school or other institution of the state which is supported in whole or in part from public funds derived by state or local taxation to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals."

Notice that the prohibition is very broad, any school receiving taxpayer funds in any amount was forbidden to transgress the protection of Biblical teachings regarding human origins. It seems to me that many public funded universities are protecting Islam in a manner contrary to the ruling given in Epperson vs. Arkansas, in that speech codes, safe spaces, banned speakers, etc. have the effect of protecting a specific religious belief.

mockturtle said...

Woodrow Wilson was easily the most racist President ever to occupy the White House. A Democrat, of course.

PS: I see commenter 'Hunter' beat me to it.

Quaestor said...

Hmmm... So WJB was ok with WW's racial views but not ok with his change of policy after the Zimmermann telegram was exposed?

That pesky consistency hobgoblin is dancing a jig on my cerebral cortex again.

Big Mike said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus. The evidence doesn't work so well now.

@Althouse, you mean because of Barack Obama, right?

clint said...

"Hunter said...
So the evidence against his bigotry is his being allied with progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the most racist president of the 20th century?

11/22/16, 2:37 PM"

^^ This.

The author's assumption seems to be that of course a Democrat would never be a racist -- just like we were always at war with Eastasia.

Sebastian said...

"But the validity of a statute must be determined by its natural and legal effect, rather than proclaimed motives." Nonsense. As Quaestor quotes Fortis: "Arkansas’ law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine." He attacked the reason, not the effect. As have many judges in many other cases. You wanna outlaw sodomy? Bad motive. Down you go. And so on.

David Begley said...

Charles Darwin and Tom Wolfe from a review of Wolfe's "The Kingdom of Speech."

"Wolfe demolishes Darwin's and Chomsky's theories of Everything... don't expect Wolfe to tie the demolition up nicely with a theory of Everything ending or even middle. Darwin, in to addition having his Theory of Everything (Evolution) run aground on the problem of Speech, is exposed as an almost plagiarist who uses his upper-class British connections to take credit for the theory of evolution when a "commoner" beat him into print."

Bryan had a point. Maybe.

Quaestor said...

You wanna outlaw sodomy?

This reminds me of And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts.

Shilts documents that when someone on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors suggested closing the bath houses on the grounds that rampant anonymous anal copulation was a clear and present danger to public health he got pummeled in the local gay press as a "homophobe" and the most egregious human rights violator since Heinrich Himmler. The proposed ordinance didn't outlaw sodomy, but it had that effect. The intent was protection of public health, a recognized function of civil authority since Bronze Age at least. The protesters wanted to attack the effect, "how dare you try to curb our appetites!" but instead they promised nothing but political grief to anyone who considered the measure on its merits. Thus the baths remained open and the band played on.

mockturtle said...

Quaestor, And the Band Played On was one of the best-written chronologies I've ever read. When the gay bath-house regulars spoke of protecting the 'gay lifestyle', that behavior, not civil rights, was their focus. It was bold of Shilts to tell what really went down in SF during the early AIDS epidemic of which he, himself, was a victim. It was bold, too, of 60 Minutes to interview him about his book, especially as he said that some with AIDS intentionally donated blood in order to infect 'regular people', believing that more attention would be paid to the epidemic that way.

The political wranglings between the NIH and the CDC were eye-opening, too.

Fernandinande said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus.

His superstition and silly concerns about evolution say otherwise.

Lucien said...

It's never been really clear to me why people want to have a dispute over the theory of evolution for religious reasons -- unless they have similar problems with geology and astronomy. When astronomers look at the light from a distant star and say it is a billion light years away (for example), they are saying that the star existed at least a billion years ago. And the current estimates put the age of the universe at around 13.2 billion years. Meanwhile, geologists estimate the Earth's age at around 4.54 billion years. Humans, on the other hand have been around for on the order of 100,000 years or less. Major religions seem happy to envision a deity who exists outside of human scales and experiences of time.

So if you believe that an eternal God waited for 4.5399 billion years before bringing humans into existence, what theological difference doe sit make if God did it by the elegant means of natural selection, operating over tens of millions of years, or by slapping some dust or cosmic fluff, or whatever in His hands? For that matter, what if (to take a somewhat more poetic approach) God created Man by giving him a soul (instantaneously) rather than by manipulating his anatomy?

gadfly said...

That a man had been a major-party candidate for President seemed to make it highly unlikely that he could be a bigoted ignoramus. The evidence doesn't work so well now.

My sentiments exactly. I could not have said it better, except to name names. "Stupid" also works.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~Maya Angelou

Quaestor said...
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Ann Althouse said...

"So what you are telling us, Althouse, is that you did not realize that politicized movies were a thing even back in 1960..."

I have no idea how you could read this post to mean that.

Read the last sentence and think until you see what I found funny.

n.n said...

An evolutionary process and evolutionary creationism are separable concepts. The former is a chaotic process observable and reproducible in the scientific domain, while the latter is either a fantasy (i.e. unlikely or never to be explained) or an article of faith (i.e. explained by external testimony or evidence) based on liberal assumptions/assertions (e.g. uniformity, linearity, directional) about the nature of time and space. The conflict arises between two interest groups, theists and atheists, around creation, not evolution. The latter establishes a logical domain, and forces the limited frame of reference in time and space that defines the scientific domain.

Real American said...

Obama is a bigoted ignoramus and he was elected twice.

D. B. Light said...

Ed Larson, "The Summer of the Gods" is an excellent treatment of the Scopes controversy that recognizes WJ Bryan's considerable talents. Much of the controversy was stirred up by the media to sell papers.

mockturtle said...

I don't think it was in the movie but apparently, after the trial, Mencken made a derogatory remark to Darrow about Bryan. Darrow replied, "What would a man like you know about a man like that?".

Bad Lieutenant said...
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Bad Lieutenant said...

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~Maya Angelou
11/22/16, 5:56 PM

And who or what do you think you've shown yourself to be?

Jim S. said...

What's usually lost in this story is that it was more about social Darwinism than Darwinism per se. The textbook that was supposedly used by Scopes (A Civic Biology by George Hunter) explicity taught social Darwinism and white supremacy. More specifically, it taught these things as scientific discoveries. They were presented as elements of evolution -- not as implications of evolution, but as a part of theory itself. The people who were opposed to evolution were actually taking a stand against racism and white supremacy, and having these things taught to their children as established scientific facts.

Now, in retrospect, we realize that they should have made a distinction between evolution and social Darwinism, so that accepting the former does not require (or even imply) accepting the latter. But that's a mistake that both sides made. Many of the most prominent evolutionists, including Darwin himself, understood it to entail the superiority of certain ethnicities over others. It wasn't until the horrors of eugenics became known that people began looking for reasons to distinguish social Darwinism from Darwinism simpliciter.

BudBrown said...

Hillary is not the bigoted ignoramus portrayed by some blogs.
She has run two times as the Democratic candidate for
president...

Eleanor said...

The whole story as we know it falls apart a bit when you find out Scopes was recruited and agreed to be arrested and tried. The whole trial was a staged event. It's studied in education classes, too, but probably from a different perspective. Today most disagreements about teaching evolution come from two places- a misunderstanding of what the word "theory" means in science, and people believing evolution says "man evolved from the apes". I've had a few run-ins with parents, which ended amicably when we listened to each other. I'd love to sit in your class, Ann, and learn more about the case from the legal perspective, but I don't live close enough to ask.

Robert Cook said...

"What Bryan objected to was teaching that man was just another kind of animal, and that he occupied no special place in the universe. If man is only an animal, nothing is forbidden him or required of him more that is not forbidden or required of any other animal."

But Man is just another kind of animal.

Everything that is forbidden us is forbidden by us, not by any external force. Much that we forbid ourselves derives from ignorance, but much derives from our nature as pack animals: to survive the forces of nature we must exist in social groups, each individual augmenting the other in tasks to be done. A social group devises rules to moderate friction between individuals and make social relations more functional...for the greater good of the group's survival.

Robert Cook said...

"What's usually lost in this story is that it was more about social Darwinism than Darwinism per se. The textbook that was supposedly used by Scopes (A Civic Biology by George Hunter) explicity taught social Darwinism and white supremacy. More specifically, it taught these things as scientific discoveries. They were presented as elements of evolution -- not as implications of evolution, but as a part of theory itself. The people who were opposed to evolution were actually taking a stand against racism and white supremacy, and having these things taught to their children as established scientific facts."

If this is true--that the fight was of progressives against the teaching of theories of racial superiority--they should have fought to suppress that particular book, then, rather than try to prohibit the teaching of Darwin's theory. In fact, they should have used Darwin's On Origin of Species.

Do we know this is actually the basis of Scopes' arrest and trial? I'd be surprised if it were so, but then, life is often surprising. (Perhaps this was Bryan's objection in this case, but the people of Tennessee? I'm doubtful.)

Daniel Jackson said...

The play, Inherit the Wind, was produced on Broadway during the McCarthy trials. Aside from its pointed bigotry of the southern mentality, its portrayal of the Southern Evangelical Minister best documents the origins of the anti-religious dry rot of the New York intellectual elite well punctuated by the completely racist commentary of H.L. Mencken.

This is not to defend the racist Dixiecrat South. It does well to note that the image of southerners as racist and backwards originates in the byways of an equally bigoted north.

Other significant fact the play ignored was that Scopes volunteered to challenge the law. It was the northern press that jumped on the chance. It was a press spectacle before the trial started.

mikee said...

So what you are telling us, Althouse, is that you DID realize that politicized movies were a thing even back in 1960...

And thank you for suggesting I reread your post and see exactly who it was pointing out the politicized movie. My first pass read YOUR note on the movie incorrectly.

aritai said...

Trump is not WJ Bryan, he is clearly Andrew Jackson, as I've said many times before. A traitor to his class, who ran as the "representative of the common man" because no one else was, JQ Adams his opponent who knew he was cheated of the election cried in public every day up to and including the inauguration. Then Old Hickory burned down both parties and their establishments. Good fun. Got the evangelical vote too.