New Mexicans for Science and Reason


What's up with the play "Monkey in the Middle" ?

 Updated September 13th, 2005

by Dave Thomas : (Help fight SPAM!  Please replace the AT with an @ )


On This Page...

Review of "Monkey in the Middle"

 Pre-show analysis of "Monkey in the Middle"

 Florence Wengerd, daughter of Scopes defense witness and geologist Prof. Kirtley Mather, on the Trial



A cast from Dayton, Tennessee was brought to New Mexico by the local Creation Science Fellowship to perform snippets of Gale Johnson's play about the 1925 Scopes trial, "Monkey in the Middle," on July 29th and 30th at the KiMo theatre. One purpose of the play was to correct "inaccuracies" in the fictional play based on the trial, "Inherit the Wind." Another was to establish that the citizens of Dayton were not yokels and rubes as they have sometimes been portrayed. And a third purpose was to make it clear that the God-fearing people of Dayton and the prosecution team were the "good guys." The audience was given a handout telling when to clap for certain phrases, which perhaps shed some light on the writer's intent.

Here is one:

BRYAN: I want him to have all the latitude he wants...
DARROW: You can have latitude and longitude. LAUGHTER.

Here is another:

BRYAN: I am simply trying to protect the Word of God against the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States. PROLONGED APPLAUSE.


Raymond Legg played William Jennings Bryan (left), and Tony McCuiston played Clarence Darrow (right).



Pre-Show Analysis

The local creationist group, Creation Science Fellowship of New Mexico (CSFNM), has transformed their website this summer to focus on the local performance of a play about the Scopes "Monkey" trial of 1925. CSFNM tells its readers to "Mark your calendars now for this once in a lifetime event. The play Monkey in the Middle is an exact reenactment of the 1925 Scopes Trial using the exact words from the trial transcript. The key events of the trial will be presented in this reenactment at the KiMo Theater on July 29 and 30, 2005. …"

Scopes Trial Attendee Joe Mendi

Attorneys Clarence Darrow (left), William Jennings Bryan (right). Darrow defended Scopes, who was accused of teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law. Bryan was the prosecuting lead attorney. The trial ended in conviction, but that was later overturned because of an improper assignment of the $100 fine.

2005 is the 80th anniversary of the Scopes Trial. NMSR member Florence Wengerd spoke to us about the trial in June of 1999. Her connection to Scopes was her father, the late geologist Kirtley Mather, who was one of the scientists prepared (but never called) to defend evolution at the trial.

According to CSFNM, they are presenting Monkey in the Middle because "It is entertaining, historical, relevant today, and especially, communicates truth. What's wrong with the movie Inherit the Wind? This courtroom performance is known chiefly for its famous characters, fabricated conflicts, and fiery climax rather than for its intrigue-filled prologue, essential issues, and influential epilogue. …" Creationists object to the fictional account of the trial, "Inherit the Wind," (a 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, with a 1960 movie version starring Spencer Tracy as Darrow), saying it casts all creationists as wild-eyed Biblical fundamentalists.

But, I think the real reason the creationists are staging this play is that they just love to put Darwin and evolution on trial. It's not as good as the trials of the Inquisition, but it's as good as it gets.

Spencer Tracy portrayed Darrow in the 1960 film version of "Inherit the Wind." Here, he weighs Darwin's "Origin of Species" against the Bible.


On his Web Log (Blog), ID Theorist William Dembski showed his desire to put Darwin on trial, even using a vise to get him to stay on the stand.

The creationists will be playing this production to the hilt. Flyers have been sent out to teachers and others, with the only hint of the production's creationist sponsorship being the initials "CSF" on the flyers. Radio station KFLQ 91.5 FM is a co-sponsor. Tickets range from $10 to $18. Interestingly , the local Intelligent Design group, IDnet-NM, is pitching the play on its web site,, even though its members deny being "creationists." And while the creationists at CSFNM are not entirely comfortable with ID, the tent is big enough for them to pitch IDnet's meetings and activities as well.

In this Scopes Anniversary month, it's beneficial to hear from the authors of "Inherit the Wind" on the fictional liberties they took: "Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely its own. Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the actual transcript of the famous Scopes Trial. Some of the characters of the play are related to the colorful figures in that battle of giants; but they have life and language of their own - and, therefore, names of their own. The greatest reporters and historians of the century have written millions of words about the "Monkey Trial." We are indebted to them for their brilliant reportage. And we are grateful to the late Arthur Garfield Hays, who recounted to is much of the unwritten vividness of the Dayton adventure from his own memory and experience. The collision of Bryan and Darrow at Dayton was dramatic, but it was not a drama. Moreover, the issues of their conflict have acquired new dimension and meaning in the thirty years since they clashed at the Rhea County Courthouse. So Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as "Not long ago." It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow. …"


Just as there were differences between the real trial and the play, there were also significant differences between the play and the Hollywood movie. In the play, as in the trial, Scopes played a minor role. But in the movie, Scopes was a major character, with a Hollywood-style love interest barely hinted at in the play.

Dick York, better known as Samantha the Witch's husband Darrin Stephens in the TV series "Bewitched," played Bertram Cates, the John Scopes character, in the 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind."


There are indeed inaccuracies in the stage and film versions of "Inherit the Wind." However, there was a strong, religion-based movement in the 1920's that had the goal of calling evolution science into question. That movement still exists today, but with multiple branches, including both young-earth creationist and "Intelligent Design" varieties.

Eighty years after Scopes, the science behind evolution has grown and improved by orders of magnitude.


June 1999 NMSR Meeting: Echoes of Scopes

by Dave Thomas

Our June 9th, 1999 speaker was Florence Wengerd, who spoke on "Echoes of the Scopes Trial." Florence's father, Professor Kirtley Mather, was one of several scientists prepared to testify at the 1925 Scopes evolution trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

Prof. Mather

Kirtley Fletcher Mather, 1888-1978, born in Chicago, taught geology at several schools, including 40 years as a professor at Harvard. He served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), as well as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Florence presented a fascinating account of the Scopes trial. It all started in March of 1925, when the Tennessee legislature passed a bill sponsored by J. W. Butler which read,

An Act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals, and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($500.00) Dollars for each offense.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), formed only a few years earlier, sought a teacher willing to test the law, and found one in John Scopes, a 25-year old Dayton High School teacher who taught biology as a substitute. A pro-ACLU mining engineer named George Rappleyea convinced Dayton officials, including a member of the school board, to bring the matter to a head by arresting Scopes. And so the Trial of the Century was on. The Scopes defense team included famed attorney Clarence Darrow, while the prosecution was led by former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. When Professor Mather read of the trial, he determined that the testimony of sincerely religious scientists, like himself, should be heard. Mather wrote "I knew that Darrow would easily demolish the case for literal infallibility of the Bible and the kind of religion that Bryan proclaimed, but who would be in Dayton to promote a religion that is respectable in light of modern science?" So he contacted Roger Baldwin at the ACLU, and joined the defense. Ultimately, eight scientists were prepared to testify. But Judge Raulston, who began each day's session with a prayer led by a local minister, only allowed one scientist, Dr. Maynard Metcalf, to speak, and only without the jury present. When the judge then decided that none of the scientists would be allowed to testify before the jury, Darrow was furious. Defense attorney Arthur Garfield Hays persuaded the judge to accept affidavits from the scientists, so that future appeals courts could decide if the exclusion of this testimony was warranted.

The scientists hurriedly prepared their affidavits. They had three goals: (1) to set the stage for later appeals, (2) to use the trial as a platform to inform the public of the scientific validity and importance of evolution, and (3) to argue that evolution is not incompatible with religious principles. Mather's statement included his assertion that "To say that one must choose between evolution and Christianity is exactly like telling the child as he starts for school that he must choose between spelling and arithmetic." Mather's statement also reflected the state-of-the-art of geology in 1925. With radiometric dating in its infancy, scientists thought the earth was only a few hundreds of millions of years old, 10 times younger than is accepted now (four billion, five hundred million years).

Mather observed some historic moments during the trial, such as Darrow getting Bryan to concede that snakes may have had legs and the ability to walk before the Fall from grace, after which Darrow noted "Oh! It had legs before, and didn't have them afterward? Sort of like evolution, wouldn't you say, Mr. Bryan?" Mather also overheard some local supporters of Bryan who were dismayed by Bryan's admission that the "Days" of Genesis may have been much longer than 24-hour days.

In his closing statement, Darrow practically urged the jury to convict Scopes, so that the anti-evolution statute itself could be overthrown in appeal. But the outcome of the trial actually hinged on what seemed a minor technicality in the proceedings. Judge Raulston told the jurors to let the court determine the amount of the fine ($100.00), rather than deciding it themselves. The state Attorney General briefly challenged this, but Judge Raulston was adamant that the court should set the fine, as it did in other such cases. But months later, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the judge had been wrong to impose a fine over $50.00 without having that amount determined by the jury, voiding the verdict, and remanding the case for re-trial, which never occurred. And the statute itself thus survived, until its repeal in 1967.

After the trial, Mather and Scopes struck up a friendship, and Mather helped organize a fund to help Scopes go to college and become a geologist. Florence showed slides of her visit to Dayton, and a short film about the theatrical and film versions of "Inherit the Wind" was shown. Many liberties were taken with the play: for example, Scopes was not "hated," Bryan was a kind-hearted populist, and Darrow wanted a conviction more than a 'not guilty' verdict.

NMSR thanks Florence Wengerd for an informative, thought-provoking discussion about her father's role in this important trial.

Florence Wengerd

Genie Scott (L) and Florence Wengerd (R) , daughter of Prof. Kirtley Mather, discussing evolution at Genie's Oct. 27, 2003 appearance in Albuquerque, NM.



The writings of Henry Louis Mencken (1880 - 1956):

NPR, "Timeline: Remembering the Scopes Monkey Trial" -

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial (discusses mistakes on ALL SIDES regarding "Inherit the Wind") -

On the Trial and "Inherit the Wind" -

Differences between the Trial and the Play -


New Scopes Pictures Found at Smithsonian -

The Monkey Trial; Pages and pages of fascinating FACTS about the Actual Scopes "Monkey Trial", PLUS A Closer Look at Hollywood's Inherit the Wind. Very creationism-sympathetic; lots of details on fictional vs. factual accounts; lots of VIDEO CLIPS from the 1960 "Inherit the Wind" Movie.

 Where are they Buried? Find out where participants in the trial are staying today.

On Evolution Science:

UNDERSTANDING EVOLUTION - a New Website for Teachers -

The National Academy of Science, "Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science" -

The Talk.Origins Archive -


NMSR Site Map