Sunday, May 18, 2008

Scopes Trial

Berkeley's History 7b (US History : from civil war to present) deals somewhere halfway the lecture series with the Scopes Trial - a trial in Dayton Tennessee where it was attempted to keep a biology textbook out of the curriculum for it taught evolution. The trial took place in 1925, but has some significant differences and nuances from the discourse in the US today.

DIY scholar, a fellow blog containing many splendid podcast reviews comparable to Anne is a Man!, spent also a post on The Scopes Trial. It seems, for Americans the Scopes Trial is much more known than for a European such as myself. Consequently one very important nuance easily got lost and was dug up, not only in Berkeley's lecture, but also in a podcast by UCSD (the one DIY reviews). If one was intuitively tempted to side with the evolutionists in the trial and would condemn keeping the biology book from the curriculum, out of hand, you may be surprised.

One of the criticisms on the book is that it propagates eugenics. From the concepts of evolution, the leap is made to breeding and the suggestion inserted to apply to people as well. DIY gives a quote from the text book that is also read in Berkeley's lecture:
Parasitism and its Cost to Society. — Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country.


The jump from evolution to Eugenics (or Social Darwinism for that matter) is neither necessary nor self-evident, but historically has been easily made and it serves well to be aware of it. A very worthy podcast therefore.

More American History:
History Podcast month - wrap up,
American History before 1870,
The American Constitution's British roots - BTHP,
US History - from Civil War to Present.


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