Science in Christian Perspective



The Tennessee Anti-Evolution Law

From: JASA 15 (September 1963):  77-78.

The Tennessee state law against evolution was passed in 1925. It is given in the Tennessee Code 49-1922 as follows:

Teaching of Evolution prohibited:-It shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, teachers' colleges, normal schools or 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 descended from a lower order of animals. Any teacher violating this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than five hundred ($500) dollars for each offense.

In regard to decisions that have been made, the annotated code also carries under the subheading "Construction" the following notation: "This section prohibits the teaching in the public schools of Tennessee the materialistic theory of organic evolution. (Scopes vs. State 1927)"

This bill was written and introduced to the Tennessee legislature by John Washington Butler, a member of the house of representatives. It was passed by the lower house on January 28, 1925, by a vote of 71 to 5. Ray Ginger has stated, "Butler was no vindictive, pleasure-hating, puritanical fanatic. In maturity he looked back with pride to his youthful skill at baseball. He loved music, and his three sons had a band. His religion looked toward love rather than toward retribution. Clerk of his own congregation and clerk of the district division of the Primitive Baptists, he had chosen this sect over the more popular Missionary Baptists because of a doctrinal issue." (Six Days or Forever?' Boston: Beacon Press, 1958, p. 4).

Recently a committee passed a resolution recommending that the anti-evolution law, often referred to as the Butler Act  be repealed. Nothing further than this has b--en done in recent years. Most state employees I have asked seem to feel that it would not be successful in getting a repeal even at this date. Testing of the Butler Act: A news article published in the Nashville Tennesseean for April 7, 1963, gave a resume of the only indictment brought under the Butler Act:

The famous "monkey trial" started when the American Civil Liberties Union placed a classified advertisement in a Chattanooga paper offering to finance the defense of a test case of the Tenn. anti-evolution law. (This was in 1925). George Rappelyea, an engineer who then worked at the Dayton Coal and Iron Co., saw the advertisement. Realizing a trial would bring great publicity to Dayton, Rappelyea set about to interest townsmen in staging a test case in Dayton. Rappelyea, John T. Scopes, a biology teacher, and others, met around an old fashioned ice cream table in Robinson's drugstore on Dayton's main street. It was at this meeting that the "monkey trial" was bom. Scopes told the group he was teaching the Darwin theory of evolution, contrary to the state law. . . . Scopes was tried and found guilty by the jury. His conviction was reversed by the state Supreme Court because of a technicality in the imposition of the $100.00 fine.

Since 1925 no indictment has been brought under the law.

Recent Events which have recalled the Scopes Trial: In the Nashville Tennesseean for April 14, 1963, the following account was given concerning an intended debate in a Memphis high school.

It looked innocent enough, the raised hand and then the question in a room of high school sophomore biology students. "Is this the monkey man came from? " asked the student, pointing to a picture in the biolog; text. Two student teachers, Martha Powell, and Dorrie Doss, nodded and began to answer the estion by mentioning the Darwin theory. Miss Doss regan to appoint students to debate the biological merits of the two theories the following Monday.

But before the meeting of the afternoon class where the debate was to occur, Messick High School principal Radford W. Rosenbrough, Jr., told the two teachers to

*Dr. Artist is Chairman, Dept. of Biology, David Lipscomb College, Nashville, Tennessee.

call off the debate. . . . it is the policy of the school to avoid controversy, he explained. When the story of the planned debate came out in the newspapers, E. C. Stimbert, superintendent of schools at Memphis, stood behind the two teachers. However, he said he did not approve of the planned debate. Darwin's theory, Stimbert pointed out, is in all the city school books--and in the standard text book prescribed and approved for high school biology across the state. The theory exists. Children ought to know about it. You can't shut your eyes. But at this level, biology should be taught, not debated.

Dr. C. C. Humphreys, president of the Memphis State University said he had never asked his biology professors whether they were teaching evolution. Biology is taught as it is in other state schools, Humphreys said.

The status of the attitude toward the law in Tennessee: I can speak with some certainty only in regard to the university and college group and the ministerial circle, since teaching and preaching are my chief pursuits. In the college field, there is very little said and very little discussion regarding the question of evolution, for nearly all with but few exceptions have accepted the doctrine in one form or another. Only in little "islands" of influence is any remonstration made concerning the theory. In none of these do I find a flat denial or an unreasonable avoiding of examination of the claims of evolution doctrine; rather, there is on the part of most of these a determination to see both sides of the issue expressed. This attitude was voiced by Mr. Stimbert, superintendent of schools, in the recent issue over the intended debate:

Stimbert says the matter is closed as far as the board of education is concerned, but adds: I think a teacher would be remiss in her duty if she did not point out that such a theory exists, but we do not encourage the students to believe it, just as we do not encourage them to believe in communism, even though we teach the principles of communism. ("Evolution Is Still Illegal," Nashville Tennesseean, April 14, 1963.)

I do not find this attitude very widely upheld among most evangelical preachers; far too many, it seems to me, are content simply to let the "scientists" have their say and go along with them; few have taken the trouble to examine the whole matter for themselves. By and large, the majority find that this theory fits in with their trend toward modernism and the abandonment of the Bible as the Word of God. A poll among the ministers of the churches of Nashville would reveal that the majority would not even raise any question about the validity of evolution, and many would hold to some theistic form of the doctrine. Only occasionally is there likely to be one who would come out publicly on the side of the creation of man as given in the Bible.

Most textbooks teach the subject without interference of any kind, some more boldly than others. Generally no challenge of any kind is made, even in institutions committed to "Christian" education. Most Seventh Day Adventists and members of the Church of Christ have opposed the bias and prejudice of eliminating all mention of creation from high school and college textbooks. At David Lipscomb College, we in biology openly discuss the doctrine and evaluate its claims before every class that comes under our influence. I find that Vanderbilt, one of the greatest universities of the central South, has in its libraries few really scholarly books on the side of the creationist. Unless they have been added very recently, Modern Science and Christian Faith, Evolution and Christian Thought Today, and Kerkut's The Implications of Evolution are all missing from the collection.

The film Inherit the Wind has done little to raise up an attitude of serious inquiry into the merits of either side ' but it has, in my opinion, done damage to both sides. Ray Ginger's book, Six Days or Forever, is prejudiced on the side of the evolutionist and seems to indicate that all fundamentalists are ignorant people. It seems to me that books like Dr. Bernard Ramm's Christian View of Science and Scripture are far better approaches to the problem of serious inquiry into the merits of each viewpoint than those books which are calculated to raise prejudices only.

Enforcement of the Tennessee anti-evolution law: Legislators with whom I have talked point out that no officer has been appointed to enforce the law. In incidents like the two student teachers in the Memphis high school, there can be a test case only if formal charges are brought by someone. This is rarely done, perhaps because of fear of intimidation, general apathy, or lack of conviction.