Fundamentalism and the Scopes Trial

American Protestantism underwent severe trials in the half-century before 1920. The prestige of science had grown

steadily, challenging religion's cultural standing. Scholars had probed the Bible's historical origins, and

psychologists had explained religion in terms of human emotional needs. And all the while, Catholic and Jewish

immigrants had poured in.

Liberal Protestantism had responded by accepting the findings of science and emphasizing the Social Gospel. But a

reaction was building. This reaction came to be known as fundamentalism, after The Fundarmentals, a series of

tracts published in 1909-1914. Fundamentalists insisted on the inerrancy of every word in the Bible, a literalistic

reading of the Genesis version of Creation, and Jesus' virgin birth and resurrection. Religious liberals and

"modernists," they insisted, had abandoned these truths.

In the early 1920s, fundamentalists focused especially on the theory of evolution advanced in Charles Darwin's Origin

of Species (1859), which seemed to them a blatant rejection of biblical truth. Legislators in twenty states in 1921-

1922 introduced bills to prohibit the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and several southern states enacted

such legislation. Texas governor Miriam ("Ma") Ferguson personally censored textbooks that discussed evolution. "I

am a Christian mother," she declared, "and I am not going to let that kind of rot go into Texas textbooks."

Fundamentalism's best-known champion, William Jennings Bryan, endorsed the anti-evolution cause.

When the Tennessee legislature in 1925 outlawed the teaching of evolution in the public schools, the American Civil

Liberties Union (ACLU) offered to defend any teacher willing to challenge this law. A young high school biology

teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, John T. Scopes, accepted the offer. Scopes summarized Darwin's theory to his

class and was arrested. Famed criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow headed the defense team and Bryan assisted the

prosecution. Journalists poured into Dayton, Chicago radio station WGN broadcast the proceedings live, and the

Scopes "monkey trial" became a media sensation.

When cross-examined by Darrow, Bryan insisted on the literal accuracy of every story in the Bible and revealed his

ignorance of vast realms of scientific knowledge. Although the jury found Scopes guilty, the Dayton trial marked an

embarrassing setback for fundamentalism. When Bryan died of a heart attack a few days later, H. L. Mencken wrote

a harshly satirical column that mercilessly derided Bryan and the "gaping primates" who idolized him.

Fundamentalism diminished as a force in mainstream Protestantism, but many local congregations

and radio preachers still embraced the traditional faith. So, too, did the popular evange-list Billy Sunday, who used

publicity tech- Ho

niques and a flamboyant pulpit style to The

denounce the loose living and modernism of ily

the 1920s.

Zealous new denominations and inde

pendent "full gospel" churches promoted the

cause. Charismatic evangelist Aimee Semple

McPherson, who anticipated the TV evange

lists of a later day, regularly filled her cav

ernous Angelus Temple in Los Angeles and

reached thousands more by radio. Radiating

drama and beauty, the white-gowned

McPherson won a vast following through her

cheerful sermons and theatrical talent. On

one occasion she employed a gigantic electric scoreboard to illustrate the triumph of good over evil. Her followers,

mainly transplanted midwestern farmers, embraced her fundamentalist theology while reveling in her

mass enterainment techniques. When she died in 1944, her International Church of the Foursquare Gospel had over

six hundred branches in the United States and abroad. Embarrassed at Dayton, fundamentalism was far from dead

as the 1920s ended.

eral southern states enacted such legislation. Texas governor Miriam ("Ma") Ferguson personally censored

textbooks that discussed evolution. "I am a Christian mother," she declared, "and I am not going to let that kind of

rot go into Texas textbooks." Fundamentalism's best-known champion, William Jennings Bryan, endorsed the anti-

evolution cause.

When the Tennessee legislature in 1925 outlawed the teaching of evolution in the public schools, the American Civil

Liberties Union (ACLU) offered to defend any teacher willing to challenge this law. A young high school biology

teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, John T. Scopes, accepted the offer. Scopes summarized Darwin's theory to his class

and was arrested. Famed criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow headed the defense team and Bryan assisted the

prosecution. Journalists poured into Dayton, Chicago radio station WGN broadcast the proceedings live, and the

Scopes "monkey trial" became a media sensation.

When cross-examined by Darrow, Bryan insisted on the literal accuracy of every story in the Bible and revealed his

ignorance of vast realms of scientific knowledge. Although the jury found Scopes guilty, the Dayton trial marked an

embarrassing setback for fundamentalism. When Bryan died of a heart attack a few days later, H. L. Mencken wrote

a harshly satirical column that mercilessly derided Bryan and the "gaping primates" who idolized him.

Fundamentalism diminished as a force in mainstream Protestantism, but many local congregations

and radio preachers still embraced the traditional faith. So, too, did the popular evange-list Billy Sunday, who used

publicity tech- Ho

niques and a flamboyant pulpit style to The

denounce the loose living and modernism of ily

the 1920s.

Zealous new denominations and inde

pendent "full gospel" churches promoted the

cause. Charismatic evangelist Aimee Semple

McPherson, who anticipated the TV evange

lists of a later day, regularly filled her cav

ernous Angelus Temple in Los Angeles and

reached thousands more by radio. Radiating

drama and beauty, the white-gowned

McPherson won a vast following through her

cheerful sermons and theatrical talent. On

one occasion she employed a gigantic elec

tric scoreboard to illustrate the triumph of

good over evil. Her followers, mainly trans

planted midwestern farmers, embraced her 1Z

fundamentalist theology while reveling in her

mass enterainment techniques. When she died in 1944, her International Church of the Foursquare Gospel had over

six hundred branches in the United States and abroad. Embarrassed at Dayton, fundamentalism was far from dead

as the 1920s ended.