I just finished watching the classic 1960 movie Inherit the Wind starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly. It is a play/movie based on the John Scope’s Monkey Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, in which a teacher is charged with teaching evolution in a high school biology class. The title of the play/movie comes from Proverbs 11:29 (KJV), “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”
There are many different levels of meaning within the struggles and conflicts presented within the play/movie. The obvious one is the conflict between creationism and evolution. (Others might argue on the level of the Bible versus Science, but I wouldn’t go that far because of the last scene in the movie.) A little bit deeper symbolism can be found in the struggle between intellectual freedom and closed-minded bigotry. (See notes on the movie.) Another level of symbolism could be found in the struggle between progress and the old-world way of doing things. I am sure there are other levels of symbolism, but that is not the point of this journal entry.
After a quick search on the internet to learn more about the movie, I found an interesting article by Carol Iannone, “The Truth About Inherit the Wind”. The author does a nice job comparing the real events of the trial against the play/movie. For example, the people of Dayton planned the whole controversy just to drum up publicity for the town; John Scopes was not a biology teacher, but rather a math teacher that had substituted for awhile as a science teacher (and he wasn’t even sure if he had really taught the concept of evolution in class); and there was not the animosity as portrayed in the movie between the two lawyers and Scopes and the towns people. It was the last paragraph of the article, especially the last line, that slapped me in the face, “…the real tragedy lies in the losing fight that he [William Jennings Bryan] and others like him waged against a modernity increasingly deprived of spiritual foundations.”
You see, I had always felt that I was firmly set in the camp of the progressive, modern, scientific view of the world. I had found comfort in the scientific method during high school and college. To me, Science explained the physical world much better than the stories in the Bible. I ignored religion while I searched for the answers to my questions. Then, I reached a point in my life where something was missing. Science did not have all the answers. I wanted somthing more. It took me nearly forty years to discover this. During all that time, I was really in search of my faith. With a lot of help from a Friend, I had to find a way to step outside of my doubt, and let myself be found. (You can read about my faith journey.)
The Achilles’ heel of the modern, scientific view of the world is that it does not embrace the spiritual side of things. (It’s not politically correct is the term used now days.) This view of the world becomes lopsided, too slanted to the materialistic side of life. There must be a balance.
Now I can say that I have a foot in both camps. No, I am not in favor of teaching creationism in a science class. Creationism does not follow the scientific method, no matter how you try to present it. Evolution belongs in a science class because it has been developed through the scientific method. But evolution is a theory, just a theory. (And many will argue that it has overwhelming supporting evidence, even though there are a few missing pieces.)
I have a foot in both camps because of what is illustrated in the last scene of the movie. Spencer Tracy’s character holds up a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species in his left hand, and a Bible in the right. He weighs them carefully, balancing them against each other, then finally clasped them together under one arm and walks out of the court room. Hopefully the symbolism is clear—both the Bible and Science can co-exist together. In fact, I have found that they complement each other quite nicely.
I believe that William Jenning Bryan and the other anti-evolutionists were not so much opposed to the idea of teaching evolution in a science class, but rather that God had been taken out of the picture. To quote Carol Iannone, they did not want to live in a world “deprived of spiritual foundations.” I had been living in a world “deprived of spiritual foundations,” and after a time, I found that I didn’t like it.
Those individuals devoted only to the modern, scientific view of the world will indeed inherit the wind.