Books attacking religion, particularly Christianity, have earned quite a bit of money recently for publishers and their authors. Pundits are now having a field day attacking Mike Huckabee’s stance on evolution. Democratic strategist Paul Begala reportedly remarked on CNN on Super Tuesday, “Nobody is more conservative than Huckabee. He doesn’t believe in evolution or gravity or photosynthesis.”
Those who love to lob such oversimplified charges imply that those who do not accept the doctrinaire theories of evolution as set forth by one explorer named Charles Darwin, a century-and-a-half ago, are relics of the Dark Ages.
The latest Smart Set, however, echo the sentiments and tone of one of their more famous and notorious predecessors, Clarence Darrow. The schoolteacher John T. Scopes was among Darrow’s defendants. Unlike Darrow’s other, murderous, clients, Scopes in 1925 was persuaded by the American Civil Liberties Union to simply defy Tennessee state law against the teaching of evolution as it applies to man. He willingly complied, though his case never reached the outsiders’ goal of making the case a Constitutional test.
The public at large has inherited the terms of the evolution debate as handed down in the play about the Scopes trial, Inherit the Wind. That was the experience of one of my freshmen, who from his high school English class saw the conflict according to the play’s simplistic and polemical outline: a brave, young open-minded biology teacher fights like David against the mob of small-town, ignorant fundamentalists. Certainly, the play’s stage directions and the movie version show a town as if in the grips of fundamentalist hysteria: The film opens with a veritable mob of Fundamentalist zombies, singing hymns and waving Bibles. The town’s minister hypocritically promotes Biblical lessons while treating his own daughter, the fiancée of Scopes, with very un-Christian harshness and coldness. Clarence Darrow (named Henry Drummond in the play) provides a marked contrast to all this hysteria, by his courtroom demeanor, reasoned arguments, and sardonic revelations of how little the townspeople know.
But what about the real Clarence Darrow? Is he the spokesman for reason and light against the onslaught of ignorance and fanaticism?