The Monkey Trial and the Rise of Fundamentalism: Recommended Resources

Generally speaking

The nearly undisputed authority on American fundamentalism is George Marsden at the University of Notre Dame. See especially his Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (Oxford, 1980) for a balanced and engaging analysis by an evangelical scholar.

To get the views of fundamentalist historians—and some details and “attitude” you won’t find in Marsden—see George W. Dollar’s A History of Fundamentalism in America (Bob Jones, 1973) and David O. Beale’s In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Unusual, 1986).

Biographies tell the story

Early fundamentalism was defined by vigorous leaders who were vigorous individualists, and good biographies are available on many of them. Two you might begin with: D. G. Hart’s Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Johns Hopkins, 1994) and C. Allyn Russell’s Voices of American Fundamentalism: Seven Biographical Studies (Westminster, 1976).

To better understand the modernist point of view, see William R. Hutchison’s The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism Harvard, 1976), and read a biography of a moderate modernist like Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (Oxford, 1985) by Robert M. Miller.

The trial of the century

The Scopes trial continues to fascinate, but nearly all accounts are biased in favor of Darrow, as is Irving Stone’s Clarence Darrow for the Defense(Doubleday, 1941)—though Stone can write.

You’ll do better to check out a copy of Sheldon N. Grebstein, The Monkey Trial: The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes(Houghton Mifflin, 1960), which contains edited transcripts from the trial, as well as key portions of Darwin’s The Origin of Species the textbook Scopes taught from, and editorials from leading newspapers of the day. This is the best book on the trial, in my view, because it lets readers draw their own conclusions.

If you’re interested in the current state of the creation/evolution debate, there are web sites galore to view. The .Origins Archive (www.talkorigins.org/origins/other—links.html) has one page that lists dozens of web sites devoted to each side of the issue.

Two thumbs down

You’ll be wasting your time with the movie version of the trial, Inherit the Wind (1960), with Spencer Tracy in the role of Darrow. In this telling, liberals are untarnished heroes and fundamentalists, buffoons.

On the other hand, you can read Carol Iannone’s "The Truth About Inherit the Wind,” a pointed critique of the movie, in First Things, February 1997 (also on the web at www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9702/iannone.html). Then watch the movie: you’ll learn how Hollywood distorted history and thus a great deal about our culture

Back Issues

Two issues of Christian History discuss people and events out of which fundamentalism eventually grew: Camp Meetings and Circuit Riders, and D. L. Moody. Both can be ordered by calling 1-800-806-7798.

By Mark Galli

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #55 in 1997]

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