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While the Scopes Trial is often presented as a simple battle between the enlightenment of evolutionary theory vs. antediluvian creationism—an interpretation propagated by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s 1955 play Inherit the Wind, further popularized by Stanley Kramer’s 1960 star-studded film—the science and politics of the day complicated the issues somewhat. While Scopes taught evolution, he also taught eugenics, linking Darwin’s theory to notions of inherent racial inequality.Simultaneously, the theory of evolution disturbed William Jennings Bryan, “The Great Commoner” who was the Democratic candidate for President in 1896. While Bryan is depicted in “Inherit the Wind” as a Bible-thumping know-nothing, his opposition to evolution was propelled by its link to an active eugenics movement. […]

To bolster his case against the teaching of evolution, Bryan quoted at length from Darwin’s Descent of Man to demonstrate the extent to which evolutionary theory gave support to the idea of eliminating “the weak” from the human stock.

Ewen & Ewen, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality, 318-19.

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