published Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Barrett: What evolutionists called ‘science’ at Scopes Monkey Trial

Everybody knows what the Scopes Monkey Trial was all about, right? The forces of impartial science stooping nobly to enlighten brutes and ignoramuses who doubted evolutionary theory.

But as modern Tennesseans are being portrayed afresh as simpletons for thinking schools shouldn’t censor discussions of evolution, global warming and so forth, it behooves us to consider a forgotten bit of the history of that 1925 trial in Dayton, Tenn. Namely, the alleged “science” textbook involved: “A Civic Biology,” by one George William Hunter.

Inconveniently for those who like to depict the proceedings as a battle between hillbilly inquisitors and martyrs for truth and light, the good folks at Bryan College in Dayton maintained extensive historical records related to the trial — including a handy copy of Hunter’s book.

That’s a relief, because otherwise we might not know that the text defended by evolutionists was an abominable exercise in racial bigotry and an endorsement of extreme measures, if not outright violence, against groups deemed by the author to be unfit for society — often because of handicaps or other characteristics over which the groups in question had no control.

Dr. Todd Wood, an associate professor of biology and director of Bryan’s Center for Origins Research, helpfully ascertained for me that the eye-popping passages below are contained in “A Civic Biology.” So without further ado, let’s see what the self-anointed defenders of “science” were promoting as fact nearly nine decades ago just up the road in Dayton:

--From Page 196: “The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”

You read that correctly: The book that evolutionists insisted was appropriate for children in public schools taught overt racial supremacy. I suppose Klan rallies would have kept the tykes up past their bedtimes.

But on we go.

--From Page 261: “Eugenics. — When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.” (From the Latin for “Nazi scum.”)

The author describes families in which “mental and moral defects were present in one or both of the original parents” — and the effects on society of the “parasites” who sprang from such “criminal” unions.

Then, inevitably, he lowers the boom:

--From Page 263: “The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.”

O what a model of tolerance the gentle author and biologist was for not recommending slaughterhouses for epileptics and those whose IQs fell short of his incomparable genius. But I trust I needn’t spell out what those remedies — or “solutions” — unleashed on “civilized” Europe a few short years after the Scopes Monkey Trial. (I believe one author termed it simply “Night.”)

At the time of the trial, not only liberals and evolutionists but many conservatives, too, held the repulsive views promoted in Hunter’s book. A pox on all their houses.

But it was conservatives — not liberals and evolutionists — who tried to keep this piece of trash out of the classroom. That was an intrinsically good act, even if opposing white supremacy and barbarity toward the disabled wasn’t their motive.

To reach Steve Barrett, call 423-757-6329 or email

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ToHoldNothing said...

No one said evolution was perfect, and media portrayals always tend to be a bit on the simplistic side as to what each side is like. And yes, the conflation of Social Darwinism with genuine evolutionary biology was only exacerbated by the text, no doubt removed and replaced with time. Evolutionary theory today isn't what it was back in the early 20th century. I don't claim to be an expert, but I hope you wouldn't find biologists today in reputable universities that made any sort of connection of findings in evolutionary theory to advocating eugenics or the like.

May 15, 2011 at 4 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

In that era evolution (as it was understood at the time) was used as an excuse to divide and rank races. Evolutionary theory has come a long way since then, with knowledge from many areas of science all pointing to the same thing. At the time of the Scopes trial we knew nothing of DNA and genetics, atomic theory was mostly an abstraction, plate tectonics was unknown, biogeography wasn't a discipline at all, and embryology was in its infancy (no pun intended).

That people in the 21st century deny evolution is astounding, and reflects a basic ignorance in many areas of science. That people in the time of the Scopes trial rejected it makes sense, as the disparate pieces of the science and its misuse in the form of social darwinism was appalling and immoral. Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, supported by independent lines of evidence from all the sciences. There is no evidence that conflicts with the theory. None. The attempt to block the teaching of evolution does not reflect sound science, but is a political effort by religious fundamentalists to evade an area of reality that does not square with their narrow beliefs.

If Tennessee persists in this vein, the state will deserve its "hick" label.

May 15, 2011 at 7:22 a.m.
NatanElias said...

While real science has come a long way, evolution as a theory of origins is more stupid today than it was then. Back then there was ignorance of the intricacies of the cell; now we know that a single cell is more complex than anything man has ever created. Now we know there are NO transitional species -- ALL links are missing. No excuses to believe anything just happened!

May 15, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Your ignorance is on full display, NatanElias. Go learn something about evolution before posting here so you won't embarrass yourself.

May 15, 2011 at 11:38 a.m.
una61 said...

The ignoramus and simpleton in this article is Barrett. He's another anti-science bigot of the right side of the TFP masquerading as a writer. As to Wood, he's a creationist who, typical of creationists, take every opportunity to discredit Science. They keep trying to corrupt Science with the myths of Genesis and hopefully they will continue to fail. The purpose of the Sciences is to provide rational and secular explanations of the processes of Nature. Public school Science textbooks should reflect this and should also pass peer review by mainstream scientists. This eliminates "Creationism", "Intelligent Design", "Creation Science", Astrology, Alchemy, the Genesis myths, a 6000 year old Earth, a flat Earth, an Earth centered (Ptolemaic) universe, and ESP from the public classroom discussion. For a good overview of the Scopes' trial, I recommend Edward Larson's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion". Amazon sells it for about $6 with a two day ship. Since the creationists got hammered at the 2005 Dover trial, they have changed their language to "discuss the controversy" and other misleading statements. Unfortunately, we have idiot politicians such as Bo Watson who have introduced legislation with this kind of language. When politicians and school boards dictate classroom curricula, education suffers.

May 15, 2011 at 5:54 p.m.
Stewwie said...

[When politicians and school boards dictate classroom curricula, education suffers.]

Una61, that sounds to me like what's already taking place since evolution is basically mandatory in science classes. As a result, you're right, education is suffering in the science classroom and we're doing our kids a disservice. I'm a creationist but I would be in favor of teaching creationism and evolution in the public classroom. That's what the bill from Mr. Watson is supposed to allow. The only people against this bill are the narrow-minded evolutionists who want to continue to indoctrinate our kids with evolutionary babble and hinder good discussion and critical thinking.

As evidenced from the article and comments above, the evolutionary theory has been changed/altered/updated (take your pick) over the years to try to match whatever "evidence" has been discovered. That said, there is nothing "factual" about evolution since, as a theory, it is only an attempt to explain the reasons for its "evidence." There are no final answers yet to this theory, and yes, the missing links are still missing.

May 15, 2011 at 6:27 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

"As evidenced from the article and comments above, the evolutionary theory has been changed/altered/updated (take your pick) over the years to try to match whatever "evidence" has been discovered."

Like any scientific theory, evolution has grown to incorporate all the new evidence, and it does so very very well. Unlike creationism, which has no evidence to support it and is refuted by most physical features of the natural world.

"That said, there is nothing "factual" about evolution since, as a theory, it is only an attempt to explain the reasons for its "evidence."

Evolution is fact, actually. It did happen, and the age of the earth (4.6 billion years) gives ample time. The theory explains what happened, in beautiful and extensive detail.

"There are no final answers yet to this theory, and yes, the missing links are still missing".

Evolution is not "looking for final answers". And there is no such thing as a "missing link" in the sense that you mean it. However, there are wonderful lines of transitional fossils in many organisms, Given how rare fossilization is, it's truly amazing that there is anything at all. Yet there is, wonderfully documented by countless scientists over decades.

It would behoove you to learn something about the theory before thinking you can pass judgement on it.

May 15, 2011 at 7:51 p.m.
una61 said...

Good points IK. Creationists don't seem to understand that Science is SECULAR! My concern is that Evolution Science isn't given enough attention in the classroom. I think it should begin when a student is first exposed to Science (in elementary school).

May 15, 2011 at 10:56 p.m.
rolando said...

Ah. Fact is, the entire evolutionary "theory" is only an unproven hypothesis. or something accepted on faith. To quote Wikipedia in part [not my favorite source]:

In Understanding Physics, [Isaac] Asimov spoke of theories as "arguments" where one deduces a "scheme" or model. Arguments or theories always begin with some premises—"arbitrary elements" as Hawking calls them--which are here described as "assumptions". An assumption according to Asimov is...

" '...something accepted without proof, and it is incorrect to speak of an assumption as either true or false, since there is no way of proving it to be either (If there were, it would no longer be an assumption). It is better to consider assumptions as either useful or useless, depending on whether deductions made from them corresponded to reality. ... On the other hand, it seems obvious that assumptions are the weak points in any argument, as they have to be accepted on faith in a philosophy of science that prides itself on its rationalism. Since we must start somewhere, we must have assumptions, but at least let us have as few assumptions as possible.'"

Hm-m-m. Even though Dr. Asimov was speaking of evolution, it also sounds a lot like creationism...curious, that.

May 15, 2011 at 11:41 p.m.
Stewwie said...

[Evolution is fact, actually. It did happen...]

It can't be a "fact" and a "theory" at the same time.

[Evolution is not "looking for final answers".]

Until it becomes a fact (which it never officially will be), it will always be looking for final answers. You even indicated so yourself when you noted that evolution "grows" (changes) to incorporate new evidence.

The problem with evolution is not so much how it ends but rather how it begins. It is first and foremost an attempt to explain the existence of the universe without a Creator. With no Creator in the mix, there must be some other explanation as to why there became life from non-life (impossible!!). And why Earth "just happened" to "randomly" form at the perfect distance from the sun to support life here. If these questions about the very beginning can't be logically answered via scientific evolution, then the rest of the theory is a waste of time.

May 15, 2011 at 11:51 p.m.
ToHoldNothing said...

Another person who neglects to do even a smidgen of research about the difference between evolutionary theory and the accompanying, but separate theories of abiogenesis and Big Bang in regressive order. Creationists' real beef is with those two theories, not evolutionary theory.

May 16, 2011 at 2:07 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Stewwie, you are mixing your sciences. The formation of the earth lies in Cosmology, the beginning of life on earth is called Biogenesis, These are not evolution.

That the earth is "perfect" for us is the same that a hole in pavement is "perfectly designed" to hold a particular puddle of water.

Rolando, you know as little about evolution and the other sciences as Stewwie, and your post reveals that. Learn some before making such statements. Science is never about "proving" things, but about forming explanations for the evidence. The evidence supporting evolution is vast and encompasses many sciences. Your wikiquote does nothing to diminish the strength of evolution as a theory. You seem to misunderstand what a scientific theory is. Theory is not "guess" or "conjecture" as in the everyday usage, but explanation that ties together evidence.

If you want to learn what evolution is about, it takes a lot of time. It cannot be described in a few minutes because of the massive amount of evidence that makes it up. The reason why many people don't accept it is because they know little about it. There are really great authors out there that do a good job of explaining the evidence and the theory to laypeople. Try Kenneth Miller, Carl Zimmer, Richard Dawkins, Chris Mooney, and Steven J. Gould. Avoid the crap coming from the likes of Phillip Johnson, William Dembski and anyone associated with the Discovery Institute in Seattle as well as Kent Hovind and Ken Ham. These folks' work has been discredited point by point over and over. Their ideas don't square with the evidence.

If you want to debate the finer points of the theory, that's fine-it's being done by scientists as we speak. But you need to spend adequate time learning the basics before you can hope to follow along. I am a scientist and educator and it has taken me six years of reading dozens and dozens of books to understand this issue. Your points are old canards that have long been discarded by evolution's opponents decades ago.

May 16, 2011 at 6:45 a.m.
rolando said...


It is well established that you live in your own little world, intolerant of anyone shaking that little world, and are trapped inside that box in which you do all your thinking.

You are hidebound; an elitist in your attitude and speak down to any who dare to challenge your faulty logic, calling them unlettered, ignorant, and worse. You cannot abide having your words challenged.

Your inability to cope with alternate viewpoints in an open-minded way -- without spittle figuratively flying -- is also well established and is your watchword.

Your intolerance of tolerance is it is with many avowed atheists who consider themselves some kind of "Final Word".

You remind me of all those "scientists" who conjured up the global warming BS, concealing or distorting any conflicting evidence, and patting each other on the back while smugly holding their hands out for public monies.

May 16, 2011 at 7:49 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

In other words, you have nothing whatever to offer that challenges evolution. Sorry, rolando, but your calling me names does nothing to make evolution any less real.

Or make you any less wrong on the topic.

May 16, 2011 at 7:51 a.m.
rolando said...

And you, my dear, have contributed your opinion, biased as it may be, yet refuse to allow others to make their own contribution contradictory to your "Ruling".

Those were not names I was calling you...they were accurate descriptions. Do you deny that or even recognize the difference?

You are like the clergy of old, discarding alternate views simply because they challenged "established thought"...Galileo comes to mind. The clergy had generations of scientific thought and complicated evidence on their side, too. But Galileo had something relatively new. [Comparing you to the equally hidebound old-time clergy is a bit of irony.]

May 16, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Do you have anything at all to offer on the topic? All your accusations against me, while false, add nothing to this discussion.

May 16, 2011 at 8:15 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

I accept anyone's "opinion" on the matter if it is based on evidence, as is the rules of science. But so far, no one has offered any, not have they showed any sign that they know anything whatsoever about this topic, other than old, discredited canards that even creationists have abandoned.

I will be offline for a while-take your time and find something specific that challenges evolution as a solid, well-grounded scientific theory that is backed by tons of evidence and contradicted by none. I'll be interested in what you find.

May 16, 2011 at 8:18 a.m.
joepulitzer said...

lkeithlu said... Do you have anything at all to offer on the topic? All your accusations against me, while false, add nothing to this discussion. ALL RIGHT, THEN, IKE, DO YOU BELIEVE IN A SUPREME BEING (GOD) WHO CREATED ALL THINGS AND STARTED THE EVOLUTIONARY BALL ROLLING? IF SO OR IF NOT, PLEASE EXPLAIN.

May 16, 2011 at 9:35 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

A belief in a supreme being is not a part of science. Many evolutionary biologists are also theists, including Christians. Evolution has nothing whatever to say about a god, gods, angels, demons, heaven or hell.

Science is not a "belief" system at all. Supernatural things are not considered in science because they leave no physical evidence. Nothing to weigh, measure or put under a microscope, nothing that leaves a peak on a mass spectrometer, nothing that results in bands on an electrophoresis plate. No fossils, no strata, no footprints. So, a scientist's belief system (ie religion) is not under the auspices of science.

Does that help?

In order for anything to be considered science (and eventually taught as science), it must adhere to the rules of science. That's it. Opinions, beliefs, etc don't matter. Only evidence. There are other human activities that deal with these things such as philosophy, that are no less valid and no less important.

May 16, 2011 at 9:42 a.m.
joepulitzer said...

Ike, stop dancing around evolutionary maypole and answer the question: Do YOU believe in God? Then explain your answer.

May 16, 2011 at 10:41 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

What does MY belief system have to do with evolution? What does MY belief system have do with anything in Barrett's original article?

What I believe or not believe is not the issue here, nor is it anyone's business. I am not asking anyone else about their beliefs. I am stating that evolution, as a scientific theory, is the ONLY scientific theory that explains the diversity of life on this planet and does so very well, using all the evidence available (which, by the way, grows daily due to the work of countless scientists). I care not what people "believe", unless what they believe is contradicted by reality. Most people's belief systems do not. Those that subscribe to an 8000 year old earth and a real physical "garden of eden" and "adam and eve" are denying reality. You can be a good Christian/Jew/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu without denying that a large part of the physical world exists.

May 16, 2011 at 11:08 a.m.
dao1980 said...

joepulitzer, you sound like an overzealous idiot and a religious fool.

Attitudes like yours are the reason intellectuals and those interested in the world around them are feared and shunned in church.

Your emotionally vain, self serving, and petty attempts at bullying someone who seems informed and well read are a direct reflection of man's natural and unjust desire to control his fellow man/woman with the misuse of religion.

May 16, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Hmmmmm... interesting that rolando came here this morning, accused me of all kinds of stuff, and then when asked about the topic of the thread, left. This from someone who in the past has accused me of "bolting" from threads when challenged. Pot, meet kettle.

Mr Pulitzer, I am still curious why you must know my religious beliefs when discussing a science topic.

May 16, 2011 at 6:27 p.m.
una61 said...

What do my religious beliefs have to do with my study of Biology? or Physics? or Chemistry? or Paleontology? or Astronomy? or Plate Tectonics? ........ Maybe if impressionable children weren't indoctrinated to believe that the myths of Genesis had a historical basis then there wouldn't be a problem. By the way, when Noah's Ark landed on Mt. Ararat in Turkey, how did all the kangaroos end up in Australia?

May 16, 2011 at 8:15 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

"Saying we come from monkeys? Science."

Science doesn't say this. Although, in your case I'll make an exception.

May 17, 2011 at 3:23 p.m.
LibDem said...

Mr. Barrett doesn't mention that textbooks were chosen by the State. It was relatively rare for evil evolutionists to sweep into Dayton with a bag full of school books.

May 17, 2011 at 5:52 p.m.
charivara said...

As LibDem writes, a Civic Biology, which supported the theory of evolution, was the text mandated by the Tennessee Textbook Commission in 1919 as the biology textbook to be taught in all Tennessee public schools. Challenging the Butler Act of 1925, which made it illegal to teach evolution, in Dayton, was a scheme of some Dayton businessmen to bring publicity and tourist dollars to their town. The trial was about the Butler Act, which enforced a specific religious point of view and therefore was unconstitutional, not about the textbook.

This piece, from its title to its last paragraph, is typical Bartlett nonsense, just an another attempt by using innuendo and invention to make conservatives the heroes, this time of the Scopes Trial. Conservatives did not want to keep that “piece of trash” out of the classroom, they wanted, as they still do, to force everyone to goose step to their drummer. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

May 17, 2011 at 8:29 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Nope-it says we evolved from a common ancestor with all other primates. The most recent common ancestor we shared with great apes. Surely you understand the difference...

May 19, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.
una61 said...

Heads up Barrett and Wood. Biology 101. All protists, fungi, plants, and animals are multicellular eukaryotic organisms with nuclei containing DNA and what distinguishes us all from each other is the configuration of the DNA. So that, in a sense, we're related to the grass we mow.

May 19, 2011 at 5:07 p.m.
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