Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Scopes Monkey Trial on Broadway

Transcript of today's show:

Now playing on Broadway: a revival of the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, which tackles the U.S. debate over Darwin's theory of evolution. It is the fictional account of the 1925 Scopes Trial, otherwise known as the "monkey trial," where science teacher John Scopes was tried and convicted for teaching evolution in his Tennessee school. Many are saying that the play is more topical now than when it was first staged more than 50 years ago. [source: Christine Kearny/Reuters]

Listen to the 1-minute broadcast of this story [mp3]

Sound Off: Science & Faith. Our point/counterpoint regulars Shelley (the voice of science) and Peter (the voice of faith), comment on the story.

The Voice of Science: Shelley Greene, Ph.D., comments:
Although I saw Inherit the Wind more than once as a child and teenager, I was a college student before I understood its underlying meaning. It was written not so much to chronicle the 1925 court case over evolution in Tennessee, but to highlight the bigotry and prejudice of the days of the McCarthy communist witch hunt some 25 years later.

Chiefly, the play is about beliefs and THINKING. From where do our beliefs arise and live? Are they handed to us by ready-made politics and religion? Do we accept them without question, not bothering with the troubling (and time-consuming) task of questioning them? How much do we really think for ourselves? And how easily do we jump on ideological bandwagons, because that's the new craze?… because that's what our family has always believed?… because it sounds pretty convincing?… because it's written in the Book, so it must be right?

The dark scar of McCarthy fundamentalism soon subsided and made room for the great space race with the Russians. Science was a prevalent component of education then, and, where there were scientific uncertainties, the debate was robust and rational. I had no doubt then that the rational debate would have flourished over time, become more refined, intelligent, and well-substantiated. But, how absolutely shocking that in 2007, not only has the debate devolved to levels of embarrassing irrationality, scientists are having to defend science itself! If someone had told my classmates and I that we would one day be defending the concept of evolution, they would have been laughed right out of our biology class.

Those of us in America who once called ourselves Progressives (and now Cultural Creatives) have naiively ignored a new disease spreading through America, affecting the most seemingly 'nice' and ordinary person. The disease is reactionary fundamentalism, marked by a grave deficiency of thinking for oneself. The afflicted experience an uncontrolled urge for cut and dry rules, distinct lines between right and wrong, and a ready-made religion that is served weekly in church or on the tele. What I fear most about this disease is how contagious it is among family members. Children are the most vulnerable. This disease is known to pass along family lines for generations and generations.

The revival of Inherit the Wind has been attracting a lot of media attention. I dearly hope this sparks an awareness and sense of urgency among the rationally thinking. I hope it helps our culture at large name the disease of fundamentalist thinking and question its impact. There are many unanswered questions about our world, ourselves, and our origin, and there will continue to be for a very long time. How we go about exploring those mysteries (from such a great diversity of viewpoints) says a lot about how we're doing as a civilization – how mature we are as human beings, how open-minded we are to truths yet uncovered, and how cooperatively we will shape and direct our future.

The Voice of Faith: Peter Williamson, M.Div., comments:
William Jennings Bryan’s impassioned defense of his faith as portrayed by Frederick March in Inherit the Wind has stirred generations of Christians. The title of the movie comes from Proverbs 11:29, which in the King James Bible reads:

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.

As a play, Inherit the Wind was rejected in New York despite its successful world premier in Dallas, TX. It opened at the National Theatre on Broadway in 1955 with Paul Muni, Ed Begley, and Tony Randall earning three Tony Awards.

A 1996 Broadway revival produced by Tony Randall’s National Actors Theatre starred George C. Scott as Clarence Darrow challenging the Bible and Charles Durning as William Jennings Bryan defending the Word.

Today’s story is about the 2007 Broadway production starring Christopher Plummer as Clarence Darrow and Brian Dennehy as William Jennings Bryan.

Why has this play been reprised so many times since 1955 and why is it more important now than “more than 50 years ago”? It’s really quite easy to tell you why: the issue of each human being’s faith is a deep one that penetrates to the heart of every single person on this planet regardless of sex, race or religious denomination.

When science asks us to deny our Belief, what freedom do we have left?