Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 149/365 Who's The Most Famous Agnostic?

Yep, Harry Potter.



He's actually John T. Scopes - ifyou were reading my blog in May, you'd recognize him as the famous defendant at the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.

Being that he was a substitute biology teacher, and wanted to teach evolution (silly boy), he became the devil incarnate to many uninformed Americans (meaning those who believed what they read in the paper).

Turns out he was actually an agnostic, meaning that he believed it was impossible to know if there is a god. Some would argue that's one step away from a Satanist, but I will grant Mr. Scopes the benefit of a doubt.

At any rate, today is John T. Scopes birthday - he was 25 at the time of the trial and enjoying his first teaching job out of college (and they wonder why so many new teachers leave the education field) - and in his honor (swimming against the current, fighting the good fight for knowledge, etc) here are some lesser known historical tidbits about the famous trial:

1)Most importantly, it was good business. Get the home folks all stirred up, attract national attention, grab as many newspaper headlines as possible, and you've got yourself an economic windfall for the little economically depressed town of Dayton, Tennessee. The hotel would be full, the diner would be standing room only, and papers would sell hand over fist!

The state of Tennessee had just passed a law making it a crime to teach evolution in public schools. A newly-formed organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, placed an ad looking for a teacher to help test the law in the courts. They did this with the full knowledge and encouragement of the pillars of the community of Dayton. Those pillars knew a money-maker when they saw one.

2) Our boy John Scopes had just wrapped up teaching his first year in Dayton. He was going to go home to Kentucky, but met "a beautiful blonde" and decided to stick around to see if he could get a date. While playing tennis one afternoon, one of the local businessmen invited him to a meeting at the drugstore with the other local movers and shakers. They asked him if he would agree to be indicted for teaching evolution.

3) Although he had just finished a full year of teaching, and teaching biology at that, Scopes didn't remember actually teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Nevertheless, being an intelligent man with a degree in science (geology to be specific), he did believe in evolution, and agreed to the plan.

***Note: Did you get that? This 25 year old man agreed to be indicted for teaching something he never actually taught, because the local townspeople thought it was a great opportunity to fill their coffers. ***

4) Scopes was to be "represented" by famous attorney Clarence Darrow (a criminal attorney),
and Mr. Darrow's worthy opponent was none other than famous politician Willian Jennings Bryan. Radio station WGN from Chicago would broadcast live -a first for the United States.

5) During most of the trial, everyone ignored Snopes as the two big-shot lawyers waxed poetically and reporters recorded every word for posterity. In fact, when one reporter was called out of town, Scopes filled in for him and reported on his own trial. Not like he was doing anything else at the time.

6) At the end of the trial, Scopes was convicted and fined $100. For the very first time, at his own trial, he spoke:

"Your honor," he said, "I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can."

7) After the trial, John T. Scopes gave up teaching, got his masters in geology and moved to Venezuela. Really.

8) He returned to the States in 1960 (35 years after the trial), and watched the premier of "Inherit the Wind" at the Dayton drive-in theater.

9)His final comment on the entire bizarre affair was summed up in his autobiography, Center of the Storm:

"A man's fate, shaped by heredity and environment and an occasional accident," he wrote, "is often stranger than anything the imagination may produce."

Stranger indeed.

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