In David Brooks' latest editorial in the New York Times, he rightly dismisses the conventional wisdom about the election, noting that evangelical turnout this time was about the same percentage of the vote as last time (tip Instapundit). He also notes:
It's ridiculous to say, as some liberals have this week, that we are perpetually refighting the Scopes trial, with the metro forces of enlightenment and reason arrayed against the retro forces of dogma and reaction.
This jumped out at me, both because of my recent posts on William Jennings Bryan and because most people understand very little about what was really going on at the Scopes trial. The book that Scopes was teaching was a popular biology book of the day--George Hunter's Civic Biology (1914). Bryan was not just disturbed by the teaching of evolution but more broadly by the whole social Darwinist agenda, including both capitalism and genetic superiority. Civic Biology was a vicious social Darwinist tract. Here are some excerpts from the book, courtesy of Eugenics Watch:
Hunter's Civic Biology, p. 195-196
The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.
Hunter's Civic Biology, p. 261-265
Improvement of Man. — If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.
Eugenics. — When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.
The Jukes. — Studies have been made on a number of different families in this country, in which mental and moral defects were present in one or both of the original parents. The "Jukes" family is a notorious example. The first mother is known as "Margaret, the mother of criminals." In seventy-five years the progeny of the original generation has cost the state of New York over a million and a quarter dollars, besides giving over to the care of prisons and asylums considerably over a hundred feeble-minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons. Another case recently studied is the "Kallikak" family. (Footnote: The name Kallikak is fictitious.) This family has been traced back to the War of the Revolution, when a young soldier named Martin Kallikak seduced a feeble-minded girl. She had a feeble-minded son from whom there have been to the present time 480 descendants. Of these 33 were sexually immoral, 24 confirmed drunkards, 3 epileptics, and 143 feeble-minded. The man who started this terrible line of immorality and feeble-mindedness later married a normal Quaker girl. From this couple a line of 496 descendants have come, with no cases of feeble-mindedness. The evidence and the moral speak for themselves!
Parasitism and its Cost to Society. — Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.
The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country.
Blood Tells. — Eugenics shows us, on the other hand, in a study of the families in which are brilliant men and women, the fact that the descendants have received the good inheritance from their ancestors. The following, taken from Davenport's Heredity in Relationship to Eugenics, illustrates how one family has been famous in American History. ...
For me, this irony cuts many different ways. The ACLU and Darrow were right in principle that the legislature shouldn't be determining what is or is not good science, but the version of evolution (white genetic superiority) that was being taught in Scopes would be viewed as very bad science today. This also illustrates that the spirit of free inquiry works, not because it is always right, but because people are free to put ideas out and have them refined and corrected. [UPDATE: Here 1920s science was right about the basics of evolution, but was wrong about social Darwinism and white genetic supremacy and was immoral to advocate eugenics.] It also reminds us that eugenics was a "progressive" idea in the 1920s. Last, of course, it suggests that the enlightened are often much less enlightened than they think they are. Sometimes neither the enlightened nor the supposed unenlightened are right.
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan (from Jeff Epstein):
John Scopes (from Jeff Epstein):