Student Work

Scopes Trial: Paper B

The Scopes trial is most commonly remembered as a dramatic clash between those who believed in evolution and those who believed that God created the world in seven days. However, the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial was, in fact, more complicated. How was the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolutionists and creationists?

Student B

While a lot of people were happy about [the Butler Act] some were not. People that had high religious values were glad to see this act passed because they didnít want something that was not true being taught to their nieve children.[1] People that were upset with this act argued that these people were intolerant of other beliefs and not open to other ideas.[2]

People arguing over this issue could not change what had already happened. They could just argue until something could be done to change it. People that didnít realize this, just wanted to get their opinions out. They wanted to be heard even if nothing was done in their favor.[3]

  1. The student may be referencing the Sparks letter, but without a direct quote or cite she misses the opportunity to use evidence that supports her claim.
  2. The studentsí summary of the opposing sides does not go beyond an understanding that religious people supported creationism (and the Butler Act) and that others thought the Butler Act too restrictive. The summary does not demonstrate an awareness of a broader historical context. Additionally, the use of general terms like "beliefs," "ideas," leaves the reader speculating about what she is referring to.
  3. Again, using nonspecific language (e.g., "people," "it"), the student claims that people argued about the Butler Act, but didnít expect that their arguments would have an effect. There is no evidence in the documents to support this claim.


The Scopes inquiry asks: "How was the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolution and creation?" This inquiry is about the importance and relevance of historical context. We learn from the documents that there were tensions beyond allegiances to evolution or creationism that contributed to the attention that the trial received. Among these was the tension between inhabitants of big cities and small towns.

Student B does not successfully answer the inquiry question. Her first paragraph suggests that the Scopes trial was, in fact, a "simple debate between evolution and creation." In other words, this student fails to contextualize the trial in the bigger issues of the time. Furthermore, Student B fails to incorporate evidence from the documents. Whereas her first paragraph loosely refers to the Sparks letter and the Malone speech, the second paragraph makes claims that drastically depart from the documentary evidence.

See Paper A for an example of a more successful answer to the inquiry question.