Scopes Trial: Interpretation 2

Ann Douglas

Terrible Honesty

Other historians tie the conflict between evolution and creationism to questions of race and racial superiority. Indeed, Ann Douglas notes that Scopes came to trial just as Freud was comparing neurosis to savagery, and that within America there were two “primitive” or “savage” groups who many considered perhaps closer to animal than human—American Indians and Africans. Americans thus had a difficult time reconciling the idea that American was no longer, if it had ever been, a “white” country. Therefore, evolutionary theory suggested two things to Americans: first, biologically speaking they were not substantially different from animals.

The Scopes trial highlighted a second concern: If humankind had descended from savages, then it could revert or regress back to savagery. Man’s position atop the great chain of being was subject to the influence of nature and biology.

Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (New York: Noonday Press, 1995).