Discoveroids Promote “Alleged,” a Movie to Avoid

More than a year ago we wrote “Alleged” — a New Movie on the Scopes Trial. We had learned of the movie’s existence from an article the website of Answers in Genesis (AIG). Their article said:

At last: a Hollywood film on the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” that does not attack Christianity. Alleged, to be released in theaters soon, provides a counter to the anti-creationist play Inherit the Wind (1955) and its subsequent namesake films (1960 and after).

Because it was lauded by AIG, a flamingly young-earth creationist outfit, we naturally had doubts about the film. Near the end of our post we said:

The Scopes Trial was an important event, with fascinating real-life participants. Courtroom trials make great subjects for movies. If this one is an anti-science propaganda piece that celebrates Bryan’s creationism and demonizes Darwin — as this AIG article suggests — the usual creationist websites will be promoting it. If not, it may be worth a look.

It now appears that “the usual creationist websites” are indeed jumping on board — particularly the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

We already know that Discoveroid John West, who runs their creationist “think tank,” admires the main creationist character in the Scopes trial — the great populist blowhard, William Jennings Bryan (see John West & William Jennings Bryan), so it’s not surprising that they’re praising the movie. A few days ago they posted A New Film, Alleged, Tells the Real Story of the Scopes Trial, but we didn’t bother to blog about it.

Today they’re promoting the movie again. The latest Discoveroid blog article is titled: As Alan Dershowitz and the New Film Alleged Remind Us, at the Heart of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial Was a Very Scary Book. What “scary book” was at the heart of the Scopes trial? And what does Dershowitz have to do with any of this?

Stay with us and all will be revealed Here are some excerpts from the Discoveroids’ blog, with bold font added by us and their links omitted:

In case you’re in any doubt that Inherit the Wind presents a wildly distorted (yet highly influential) fictional treatment of the Scopes Monkey Trial, check out this essay by Alan Dershowitz. It appears on the website of the new film Alleged that tells something far closer to the true story. Was the 1925 legal battle really a struggle between blinkered fundamentalist bigotry, in the form of William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution, against liberal enlightenment in the form of Clarence Darrow for the defense?

Essentially, yes, that’s what it was. Here’s a link to Dershowitz’s article: The Scopes Trial. We don’t know how he wrote something that appeals to the Discoveroids — well, yes we do. Dershowitz is an advocate, and he likes Bryan’s populism. At one point in his essay he says: “He was a great populist who cared deeply about equality and about the downtrodden.”

Perhaps because of that bias, Dershowitz seriously misrepresents the examination of Bryan by Darrow. We’ve posted about it before, with direct quotes from the trial transcript (see Scopes Transcript: Darrow’s examination of Bryan). We also gave you some extended quotes from the transcript in John West & William Jennings Bryan.

Nevertheless, despite his sympathy for Bryan’s populism, Dershowitz manages to get a few things right. He says:

Darwin’s theories were being used – misused, it turns out – by racists, militarists, and nationalists to further some pretty horrible programs. The eugenics movement, which advocated sterilization of “unfit” and “inferior” stock, was at its zenith, and it took its impetus from Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Then he gets his next sentence all wrong:

German militarism, which had just led to the disastrous world war, drew inspiration from Darwin’s ideas on survival of the fittest.

We conveniently debunked that a month ago (see Darwin Also Caused World War One). But the rest of Dershowitz’s paragraph seems okay:

The anti-immigration movement, which had succeeded in closing American ports of entry to “inferior racial stock,” was grounded in a mistaken belief that certain ethnic groups had evolved more fully than others. The Jim Crow laws, which maintained racial segregation, were rationalized on grounds of the racial inferiority of blacks.

Okay, back to the Discoveroids. They say:

Dershowitz, who’s no Darwin critic, is particularly good on the racial and social subtext of the trial.

There was no such “subtext” to the trial. And although the Discoveroids don’t mention it, Dershowitz is rather specific in stating that “Darwin’s theories were being used – misused, it turns out – by racists, militarists, and nationalists to further some pretty horrible programs.” Let’s read on from the Discoveroids’ blog:

The textbook from which John Scopes was accused of teaching, Hunter’s Civic Biology, is a scary book replete with ugly racism and eugenic advocacy.

We’ve never seen the book, but from the excerpts we’re given, it was pretty bad. After another big quote from Dershowitz (the Discoveroids’ latest hero) they conclude their post with this:

Next time you hear the legacy of the Scopes Trial invoked by Darwinists, remember it was Hunter’s biology text that was at the heart of the proceedings. That’s the book that Clarence Darrow was defending.

That’s absolutely, totally, completely, and thoroughly false. On the fourth day of the trial, Hunter’s book is mentioned, but only in the context that it contained the theory of evolution and Scopes had used it for that purpose. Otherwise, Hunter’s book wasn’t a factor in the trial.

Scopes was being prosecuted for violating Tennessee’s Butler Act by teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. That law, duly enacted by the wise legislators of Tennessee, provided:

That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Darrow was defending Scopes for teaching Darwin’s theory, not for using Hunter’s book. As we’ve come to expect, the Discoveroids have it all scrambled up. But we’ve learned that they have a new left-wing hero, Alan Dershowitz, and they’re praising the new movie Alleged. As with anything recommended by the Discoveroids, that movie looks like something to avoid.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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14 responses to “Discoveroids Promote “Alleged,” a Movie to Avoid

  1. I’ve looked in the Tennessee book. It is true, it has racism and eugenics in it.

    Neither of these subjects bothered the good people of Tennessee a whit. The law that was the subject of the Scopes trial singled out ONLY evolution. The State of Tennessee fully approved the teaching of racism and eugenics to school children provided that Genesis 1 & 2 were respected.

  2. I am mildly curious as to how the discoveroids are going to deconflict their lie about it being about this textbook, with the fact that Scopes was found guilty. Is their movie going to claim he was found guilty of using a bad textbook?

  3. I’ve also looked at the revision of the book which came out after the trial. It downplays evolution, but pretty much keeps the eugenics. BTW, I have read that Clarence Darrow was an opponent of eugenics.

    Wikipedia has a description of the book:
    Civic Biology

  4. “At issue in the trial were certain chapters of the biology text mandated by the State of Tennessee (and many other states of the Union). For nearly a decade, George W. Hunter’s A Civic Biology (1914) was the most widely used high school science text in the nation, supported by distinguished professors at Pomona, Brown, and Columbia Universities. The State of Tennessee had no problem with the bulk of the text, concerning the evolution of the earth, its plants, and its animals. In 1919, the Tennessee Textbook Commission prescribed this text for use in all its public schools.”

    It would be good if some historian could look up the original documents mandating the use of the book.

    I can only presume that the book was in such common use at the time of the trial that it was not necessary to make much comment about it. It was John Scopes and John Scopes only that was on trial:

    “Your honor has already held that this act is constitutional, it being the law of the land, there is but one issue before this court and jury, and that is, did the defendant violate the statute.”

    The book is clearly obnoxious to modern ears but it would have been in tune with the thinking of the good Christian citizens of Tennessee some of whom would have previously been slave owners.

  5. At least the Discoveroids make it clear which side they are on. A law banning the teaching of evolution would be just fine. So much for “academic freedom”.

  6. Lynn Wilhelm

    I enjoyed a recent one-man play by an actor portraying Darrow.
    I learned quite a bit about the trial (and more about Darrow) but nothing about a textbook. What was noted was that teachers simply skipped over anything in their text referring to evolution (not much has changed, has it?). You can see more information on the actor’s website here: (Beware of eye-damaging colors there–this guy needs a redesign.)

    What interested me was how the trial was really a bit of a set-up to try to get the Butler Act to the Supreme Court — from those on both sides of the issue.
    The glitch came when the verdict was dismissed on a technicality and there was nothing to appeal.

  7. Ceteris Paribus

    It is important to read what the actual Butler Act says, and not what the full-blown creationist minds think it says. With bold added:

    …any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

    Historian of science Ron Numbers in his book The Creationists [Harvard University Press, 2006] argues that prior to the fundamentalist convergence in the 1960’s on “flood geology” as the focus point of what we now understand as full-blown creationism, there were various theological ideas about what was a product of evolution and what was a product of creation. Exactly how many acts of creation are found to be recorded in the scriptures or were popular topics of theological debate in what were then the main stream denominations .

    So the Butler Act of Tennessee was something that would be now a fairly liberal view of evolution: Only Man was required to be taught as a special act of creation, while all the lower animals could be accepted as products of evolution. For me the curiosity is the means by which the current generation of creationists has garnered so much political power in just a few generation. I suspect it is connected to the same gene for non-rationalism that has spawned the Tea Party.

  8. Eugenics during the Scopes era was accepted by many, including some religious groups and it persisted well into the 1960s (Eugenics in College Textbooks: (1904-1964): ; ). In college in the late 1940’s I remember the textbook we used in general biology discussing eugenics with the Jukes versus Kallikaks example.

    George W. Hunter wrote several textbooks over his career. Although the ‘Civics’ volume involved tangentially in the Scopes trial supported eugenics, his later volumes (see links above) did not stress eugenics and placed more emphasis on phylogenetics, but still without strong support for evolution. George Hunter also wrote Problems in Biology 1931, 1940), Biology in Our Lives, Essentials in Biology, Presented in Problems , Elements in Biology (19ll), The Story of Living Things with his son Francis R. Hunter (1953), the latter, I recall, was a college text, and others. George Hunter’s textbooks dominated much of the high school market for many years and the college text was widely adopted.

    An aside: Francis Hunter taught at several colleges, including the University of Oklahoma in the 1940’s. He became a friend of mine when he hosted me in his laboratory at Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia in 1964-65 when I was on sabbatical leave and his son, Bruce, was one my graduate students when I was at the University of Rhode Island. Francis and Bruce were both strong supporters of evolution. Bruce has a collection of all editions of all the Hunter texts.

  9. vhutchison says:

    Eugenics during the Scopes era was accepted by many, including some religious groups and it persisted well into the 1960s

    Right. The truly amazing thing here is that the Discoveroids are trying to re-write very recent and well-documented history to make that, and Hunter’s book, the central controversy of the Scopes trial, in order to demonize Scopes and lionize Bryan.

  10. Curmudgeon: “The truly amazing thing here is that the Discoveroids are trying to re-write very recent and well-documented history.”

    Anti-evolution activists may have been honest in Bryan’s time, but ever since “scientific” creattionism, and especially with the “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when” ID, they are the masters of “revisionist prehistory.” So it’s only natural that they are becoming the masters of “revisionist history.” Add that they want Johnny to get credit for wrong answers on the test, and be taught material that has not earned the right to be taught – at taxpayers’ expense no less – and it should not be suprising that liberals (not just populists) are becoming friendlier to “creationism” while conservatives – the science literate subset at least – have almost completely abandoned it.

  11. Lynne:

    What interested me was how the trial was really a bit of a set-up to try to get the Butler Act to the Supreme Court — from those on both sides of the issue.

    Yes. Scopes was approached by lawyers who opposed the Butler Act, not the other way around. From what I gather he didn’t really have strong feelings one way or the other and agreed more out of curiosity or amusement than any strong feelings about evolution/creation.

    And it never made it to SCOTUS because the appeals court found the sentencing irregular (or something like that) and threw out the judgement.

    All in all, a complete failure in terms of a legal test case. I think if Darrow and Bryan hadn’t been such compelling figures of the times, the case would have never made history.

  12. I was certainly enlightened during that performance, eric.

    The technicality that overturned the verdict was trivial and I wonder if that wasn’t manufactured by those that didn’t want this to get to SCOTUS.

    Apparently, too, Bryan and Darrow were friends with very different views on religion. It sounded as if Darrow lost some respect for Bryan during the trial.

  13. Ceteris Paribus: “…convergence in the 1960′s on “flood geology” as the focus point of what we now understand as full-blown creationism…”

    Interesting that you would phrase it that way. Note that, unlikle the “convergence, neither sought nor fabricated” that Pope John Paul II used to describe the evidence for evolution, the “convergence” that gave us “scientific” YEC, and it’s compromise position of heliocentric YEC, was sought and fabricated. As the first attempt to concoct a big tent of evolution-deniers, it made creationism a full-blown pseudoscience. But that big tent was never to be, because OECs rightly knew that most people, no matter how hell-bent on denying evolution, would not buy the YE arguments. (In fact, in a strongly worded recent poll question, less than half of evolution deniers were strict YECs. And most of those probably never gave 5 minutes’ thought to the “when” questions, or whether they formed their opinion on evidence or on faith).

    Thus the “don’t ask, don’t tell” scam began, and evolved into ID. When Curmudgeon refers to anti-evolution activists and their trained parrots as “full-blown creationists” he includes those IDers who (quietly) reject YEC, and in some cases even the “kinds” of OEC that deny common descent. The common thread these days is the promotion of unreasonable doubt of evolution by any means possible. Which itself is slowly evolving away from “evoution has gaps” and toward “acceptance of evolution leads to evil behavior.”

  14. The movie that is the topic of this thread is available at its official web site, Might be a good idea to view it. Thanks!