Fundamentalism On Trial

Noting this week’s anniversy of the Scopes trial – often portrayed as a seminal contest between religion and science – Yair Rosenberg points out that key religious authorities supported the pro-evolution side and served as experts for the defense:

[Louis] Ginzberg [who helped Scopes’ defender Clarence Darrow brush up on scripture]  was not the only rabbi to make his mark at the Scopes trial. Herman Rosenwasser, a Hungarian-born Reform rabbi, actually traveled to Dayton for the proceedings. Though uninvited, he so impressed the defense team that the ACLU’s lawyer Arthur Hays delivered the rabbi’s argument–that the Hebrew text of Genesis, properly translated, in fact supported the evolutionary narrative–in court. (You can see Rosenwasser giving Hebrew instruction to the defense attorneys in this photo.)

In fact, Ginzberg and Rosenwasser were only a subset of the religious figures who supported the pro-evolution side of the Scopes case–a group which included liberal theologian Charles Francis Potter, and many of the scientists who submitted written testimony on Scopes’s behalf, like Harvard’s Kirtley Mather. These individuals were systematically scrubbed from depictions like “Inherit the Wind” to give the impression that the trial was a simple showdown between science and faith. But as Louis Ginzberg and his comrades remind us, many religious people have never perceived the two realms to be in conflict.