Scopes Trial

1925. So named after the defendant, John T. Scopes, a young Tennessee high school science teacher, who was charged with teaching biological evolution contrary to a recently enacted state law. The trial was, however, transformed into a sensationally publicized national contest pitting William Jennings Bryan*-a famous agrarian politician and champion of fundamentalism, literal interpretation of Scripture, and antievolution-against Clarence Darrow-a leading criminal lawyer, representing Scopes and modern skepticism. Although Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, the trial (reinforced by the death of Bryan a few days after its conclusion) helped to discredit fundamentalism in the public mind. Perhaps as a result, the strength of fundamentalism in major American churches declined very sharply after 1925.