Author James Perloff’s latest book,
“Tornado in a Junkyard,” argues that no solid evidence exists for macroevolution — the conversion of one animal type into another. The book examines the growing body of scientific evidence that validates the beliefs of the majority of Americans who, polls claim, do not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In this exclusive WorldNetDaily interview, Perloff discusses the landmark Scopes “monkey” trial on its 75th anniversary. Ironically, actor Jack Lemmon, who played the legendary pro-evolution attorney Clarence Darrow in the 1999 TV-movie “Inherit the Wind,” later praised “Tornado in a Junkyard” as “an outstanding piece of work.”
QUESTION: Today, July 10, 2000, marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Scopes trial. What was the significance of that trial?
ANSWER: With the possible exception of the O.J. Simpson case, I doubt that any trial in the 20th century received more notice. Even in China, 27 newspapers were publishing telegraphed reports of each day’s proceedings.
Q: Why did this event capture the world’s attention?
A: For two reasons. First, it dealt with a question that concerns everyone: Are we here by chance, or are we created by God? The second factor was that this trial pitted two great orators against each other. Clarence Darrow, the most famous trial attorney of that time, was defending John Scopes and taking the evolutionary position. William Jennings Bryan, who was three times the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, was assisting the prosecution and standing for the biblical position. Everyone likes a good fight, and this was a chance to see two heavyweights go at it.
Q: How about some background?
A: In 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed a law called the Butler Act, which forbade teaching that man came from lower life forms. It didn’t prohibit teaching other aspects of evolution. The Butler Act wasn’t very controversial in the legislature; it passed 71-5 in the House and 24-6 in the Senate. John Scopes was a schoolteacher from Dayton, Tenn., charged with violating the Butler Act.
Q: In your book, you compare the Scopes trial to the movie “Inherit the Wind.”
A: “Inherit the Wind” was a popular play that depicted the trial; it’s also been made into a movie three times. It’s a grotesque distortion of what really occurred. It perverted reality. And unfortunately, many people base their understanding of the Scopes trial on “Inherit the Wind.” In my book, I compare the actual court transcript to the film script. I use the Spencer Tracy movie because that’s probably the most famous version.
Q: Didn’t the writers of the original play acknowledge that their work was not history?
A: Absolutely, and I’d like to underscore that. However, most people who saw the movie wouldn’t know that.
Q: What’s an example of distortion in the film?
A: Let’s take it from the top. The movie begins with the town preacher and these grim town officials gathering. They march to the high school where we see the Scopes character forthrightly teaching evolution. They have him arrested and thrown in jail. Later on, a mob of Christian fundamentalists gathers outside the jail, burning him in effigy. They chuck a rock through the jail window, which injures him. He’s portrayed as a persecuted martyr.
The truth is, John Scopes never spent one second in jail. Violating the Butler Act was not a jailable offense. It was punishable only by fine, which Scopes never had to pay. In fact, John Scopes apparently never even taught evolution. Let me quote his autobiography, “Center of the Storm”: “To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I had taught evolution. … Darrow had been afraid for me to go on the stand. Darrow realized that I was not a science teacher and he was afraid that if I were put on the stand I would be asked if I actually taught biology. … If the boys had got their review of evolution from me, I was unaware of it. I didn’t remember teaching it.”
Q: So how did Scopes wind up on trial?
A: This trial was not instigated by Christian fundamentalists. It was instigated by the ACLU, which was trying to recruit a Tennessee teacher to challenge the Butler Act. Scopes agreed to say he taught evolution and be served with a warrant. Everything was done with his consent.
Q: What about the film’s depiction of Clarence Darrow?
A: You see him being treated very gruffly by the locals. The fundamentalists boo him when he approaches the courthouse. At night, they march on his hotel, singing that they’ll hang him from a tree. It’s a lynch-mob atmosphere.
Q: Did anything like that actually happen?
A: No. The people of Dayton gave Darrow a banquet. Here’s how he himself summarized his experiences there: “Yet I came here a perfect stranger, and I can say what I have said before that I have not found upon anybody’s part — any citizen here in this town or outside, the slightest discourtesy. I have been better treated, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north, and that is due largely to the ideas that southern people have and they are, perhaps, more hospitable than we are up north.”
Q: What about the movie’s treatment of William Jennings Bryan?
A: He’s portrayed as an ignorant bigot opposed to all science. He says, “The people of this state have made it very clear that they do not want this zoological hogwash slobbered around the schoolrooms!” And he says, “The way of scientism is the way of darkness.”
Q: And the reality?
A: He said nothing remotely resembling that. Bryan was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Here is what he really said about science during the trial: “Give science a fact and it is not only invincible, but of incalculable service to man.” Bryan opposed Darwinism, not because he was against science, but because he recognized that the fish-to-man theory lacked scientific support.
Q: What about the movie’s presentation of the trial itself?
A: It’s a litany of falsehoods. For example, the defense tries to introduce Darwin’s works as evidence. The prosecution objects, and the judge, who’s also portrayed as a bigot, agrees and excludes the books as irrelevant. Bryan is depicted as never having read Darwin’s works. So the Darrow character — Spencer Tracy — says: “How in perdition have you got the gall to whoop up this holy war about something that you don’t know anything about?” But in real life, not only did the judge allow Darwin’s books as evidence, but it was Bryan himself who introduced them. He was quite familiar with Darwin’s works and frequently quoted Darwin, both in the courtroom and in his writings.
Q: Wasn’t the most famous part of the trial Darrow’s interrogation of Bryan on the Bible?
A: Yes, and a general impression has been created that Darrow whipped Bryan and thus scored a powerful blow for evolution over biblical Christianity. In the movie, he reduces Bryan to rubble, and in the end, Bryan cracks up — all he can do is pathetically shout the names of the books of the Bible.
Q: How did it really come off?
A: Bryan held his own, and of course, he never went berserk. If you read the transcript, it’s fair to say that Darrow won by a small margin, but that’s because the deck was stacked in his favor.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: You have to understand that this was not a debate — it was an interrogation. When you’re called as a trial witness, you can’t ask questions, you can only answer them. Darrow got to choose all the questions, so he totally controlled the exchange. Also, Darrow knew exactly what subjects were going to be covered. He had long yearned to debate Bryan, and, as an agnostic, he had been developing these questions for years. The night before the grilling, he rehearsed it with a dummy witness. Bryan, on the other hand, didn’t know what question was coming next. He had to be totally off the cuff. With all these advantages, it’s not surprising that Darrow came out a little on top. In fact, let me put it this way. Suppose you were running for office, and the League of Women Voters invites you to a debate. But they say to you, “At tonight’s debate, we will only discuss issues that your opponent wants to discuss. Furthermore, although your opponent will be allowed to ask you questions, you won’t be allowed to ask your opponent questions.” Those were the circumstances Bryan was up against.
Q: Wasn’t Bryan foolish to accept these conditions?
A: There are two reasons why Bryan went on the stand. First, Darrow had baited him by publicly labeling him a coward.
Over the weekend, he told the press: “Bryan is willing to express his opinions on science and religion where his statements will not be questioned, but Bryan has not dared to test his views in open court under oath.” When Darrow called Bryan as a witness that Monday, Tom Stewart, the chief prosecutor, tried to keep him off the stand, but Bryan went on and said: “I am simply trying to defend the Word of God against the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States. I want the papers to know I am not afraid to get on the stand and let him do his worst.” The Christian spectators applauded.
Q: What was the other reason?
A: Bryan fully expected that after Darrow grilled him on the Bible, he was going to grill Darrow on evolution. Darrow let him have that understanding. For example, at one point, when Darrow was getting rough with Bryan, the prosecution objected, but Bryan said: “I want him to have all the latitude he wants. For I am going to have some latitude when he gets through.” Darrow assured him: “You can have latitude and longitude.” Bryan was very interested in putting Darrow on the stand, so he could ask him questions like, “Where are all the missing links?”
Q: But history doesn’t record any interrogation of Darrow by Bryan.
A: That’s right. Because the next day, Darrow changed Scopes’s plea from “not guilty” to “guilty,” which ended the trial. He thus kept himself off the witness stand and prevented Bryan from reciprocating.
Q: Darrow declared Scopes guilty? But that’s not what happens in the movie.
A: No, in the movie, Darrow valiantly fights to the end for Scopes, but he’s found guilty by a jury of religious bigots.
The trial had never been about Scopes’ guilt or innocence. Remember, he never even taught evolution. The purpose of the trial, from Darrow’s viewpoint, was to create a media event that would promote evolution and assault biblical Christianity. Scopes was essentially there as a token defendant.
I suppose we could credit Darrow with being a great tactician. I liken it to a football game. In essence, he told Bryan, “Let me go on offense first.” So he goes on offense, pushes Bryan downfield in a bitter struggle and, finally, kicks a field goal. Then Bryan is standing on his own goal line, waiting for a return kickoff. But Darrow simply declares that the game is over, which makes him the winner.
Q: You said Darrow was using the trial to promote evolution. Did he succeed in doing that?
A: Yes, but it’s interesting that many of the evidences his expert witnesses presented now sit in the trash heap of discredited ideas. They discussed the Piltdown Man, but that’s long since been exposed as a fraud. They discussed comparative embryology, but Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of embryos, which that was largely based on, are now known to be fakes. They discussed “vestigial” organs, but organs once considered “useless” are now known to have functions.
Q: Is Darwinism faring any better today?
A: It’s on the retreat. Books by scientists have been coming out in recent years. The molecular biologist Michael Denton has demonstrated that there is no evidence of an evolutionary sequence — fish to man — on a cellular level. Biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University has shown that there are biochemical systems too complex to have evolved step-by-step. Lee Spetner, who taught information theory at John Hopkins University, has demonstrated that mutations cause losses of genetic information, not gains.
Q: Thank you.
James Perloff’s book, “Tornado in a Junkyard,” is available at
WorldNetDaily’s online store.