(I recently wrote a review for the movie "Inherit the Wind," and got a little carried away. I've included it here, and hope that it will spawn some discussion).
As I see it, both Darrow and Bryan were mistaken. Both thought that the best way to preserve their beliefs in future generations was to limit the information that was presented to children. Did either trust the vehicle of critical thinking?
If you want to see an incredible work of American propaganda, see this film. This movie sets up a false dichotomy in a heavy-handed manner, with two figureheads representing the two most commonly-portrayed responses to evolution.
There are many bizarre aspects to this story which are never addressed in this film. For example, Scopes never did teach evolution in the classroom. Also, this film does not explain that this was a "show trial" designed to attract attention to a little-known town.
I am interested in evolution and its alternatives, but I do not agree with either Darrow or Bryan. Still, I am struck by the overtly anti-Christian sentiment that is expressed in this movie, and the more or less subtle moves (such as casting a more handsome and charismatic actor in the part of Darrow). Even though I cannot identify with Bryan's stance, I wonder how this film makes a positive statement about tolerance when it casts one man as an utter fool, and the other as an informed, suave thinker.
In the actual case, Bryan gave an incredibly weak defense of a literal interpretation of Scripture as it relates to evolution. If he had been better grounded in the Bible, he might have done much to convince an American public at a crucial time.
Given the limitations of this film, I am surprised that it enjoys such popular acclaim. If you are looking for a sensitive (or even accurate) rendition of a major trial in US history, look elsewhere.
If you do watch it, I recommend that you inform yourself of the actual events, the backgrounds of Darrow and Bryan, and the views on evolution which are not even addressed here. For example, why not present both evolution and special creation in classrooms, and let the students decide which to believe?
Darwin's book had been published in 1859. By the 1920's, shouldn't students have been at least learning the basic framework of Darwin's thought so that they could critically evaluate it? Couldn't they also have been taught the basic ideas of special creation, as well?
Here it is 2007. Even today we do not have a "freemarketplace of ideas" in school classrooms. In our educational system Darwinistic evolution is now the rule rather than the exception, an exact reversal from Darrow and Bryan's day. The recent trial in Kansas shows the current state in our public school system: Darwinistic evolution is taught, while alternative views are suppressed. With the emphasis on diversity and tolerance in our country today, why is it that these competing ideas (evolution and special creation) cannot both be presented to students?
Is this truly a "tolerant" situation? Do we trust the vehicle of critical thinking?
I am not trying to say that evolution and creation should merge. These ideas are mutually exclusive. No, what I strongly believe is that on a question such as this one, students should be presented with the various viewpoints and allowed to decide which they will follow.
For a fuller understanding of this story, see Inherently Wind.