Dayton, July 12
Those who say that nothing of importance can be decided at Dayton have, at first glance, reason on their side. Even in Rhea County tadpoles will still lose their tails whatever may happen to Mr. Scopes, and, it is to be hoped, the human organism will continue in a similarly unperturbed fashion its evolution toward whatever state Nature has in mind for it. It is now perfectly evident that the question of the constitutionality of the Tennessee law, the only tangible legal issue involved, will not be the chief one discussed, and it might thus appear that the whole discussion threatens to become diffusely inconclusive.
No sooner had Clarence Darrow begun his cross-examination of prospective jurors than it became clear that he proposed to prove that the teaching of the defendant was not irreconcilable with a sufficiently liberal interpretation of the Bible, and hence was not a violation of the law, which specifically forbids only those theories which deny the account in Genesis. The theoretical position of the Bible as final authority upon scientific questions will thus not be questioned, and the right of the State legislature to control the teaching of professors will be left similarly unchallenged.
But the real problem raised is not legal but sociological. No verdict of the jury and no injunction of the Supreme Court can change the fact that the trial is a symptom of the vast gulf which lies between two halves of our population, and that the real question to be settled is the question of how this gulf may be bridged. In the centers of population men have gone on assuming certain bodies of knowledge and certain points of view without realizing that they were living in a different world from that inhabited by a considerable portion of their fellow-citizens, and they have been unconscious of the danger which threatened them at the inevitable moment when the two worlds should come in conflict. In Tennessee the moment has arrived and a single battle will no more settle it than the World War settled the questions from which it arose.
Of the reality of the danger there can be no question. The zeal of the fundamentalists has been enormously quickened by an anticipatory taste of triumph, and they will push any victory they may gain to the fullest possible extent. Already one State legislator has announced his intention of “putting teeth” in the present law by making the penalty for its violation a prison sentence instead of a fine, and various extensions of the principle of State interference with teaching may be confidently predicted. Members of the D. A. R. will, sooner or later, seek to forbid in the schools any historical facts which tend to reflect upon the character or motives of Revolutionary heroes; conservative economists and sociologists will certainly follow their lead; and, unless the movement is definitely checked, the next twenty-five years will see the State schools and universities so shackled with legislation as to make them utterly worthless as institutions for education. The control of learning will pass into the hands of the uneducated, and youth will leave the schools more ignorant than when it entered them.