ARTICLE: The Scopes Trial Revisited: Social Darwinism versus Social Gospel

Not new, but I just came across this from the June 2008 issue of Science as Culture:

The Scopes Trial Revisited: Social Darwinism versus Social Gospel

Matthew J. Tontonoz

Abstract To many observers, the recent evolution wars in the US seem a revival of the historic 1925 Scopes trial, with William Jennings Bryan cast as the intellectual forbearer of today’s creationists and proponents of intelligent design. This paper argues against drawing too close a parallel between these two episodes. Using Bryan’s unread closing remarks as a key to his views, this revisionist historical work argues that Bryan opposed evolution primarily for political and ethical reasons—reasons that have been lost to historical memory. Bryan’s overarching concern was the threat to society posed by extrapolations of evolutionary doctrine—namely, Social Darwinism and eugenics. His commitment to the Social Gospel put him at odds with the concept of natural selection being applied to humans. This view of Bryan differs from the one with which we are most familiar. Our faulty historical memory largely reflects the caricatured view of Scopes spawned by the movie Inherit the Wind, a view that, furthermore, reinforces an unhelpful positivistic view of science.

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