Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson – Book Review

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson – Book Review

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson
Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson

Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate about Science and Religion by Edward Larson

The beginnings of the famous “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, could be traced back to page 5 of the

Chattanooga Times. There, on May 4, 1925, the ACLU issued a press release entitled “Plan Assault on State Law on

Evolution.” “We are looking for a teacher in Tennessee,” the article to was the Butler Act of 1925, which forbade

teachers in public schools in Tennessee to teach the theory of Darwinian evolution. A 31-year-old chemical engineer

with secular thoughts named George Rappleyea read the play and, according to the story, contacted the president of

the local school board, Fred Robinson, who. Seduced by the prospect of placing Dayton in national titles, Robinson

sought out the head of the local high school’s science department, John T. Scopes, 24. Scopes accepted the ACLU

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson – Book Review

challenge on the spot. As planned, Scopes was indicted by a grand jury for violating Tennessee’s anti-evolution law

three weeks later, and the media fiasco began. The ensuing court battle was later called the “Process of the Century.”

Since then, the public consensus on the Scopes trial has been largely shaped by a 1960 film called Inherit the Wind,

which is vaguely based on the event. However, author Edward Larson has since tried to fill in the gaps in the film, as

well as correct some of its inaccuracies. His book Summer for the Gods is probably the most detailed account of the

process, including the events that led to it, as well as its consequences. Consequently, it is divided into three main

sections: “Before”, “During”, “And after”. When he wrote the book, Larson had a vast amount of archival material at

his disposal that no researcher had had the privilege of examining before. This advantage is clear throughout the text

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson – Book Review

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson
Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson

– practically on every page – which is full of details that you would never find with a simple Google search. Larson

also takes on the dual position of historian and storyteller. In addition to providing abundant details on every aspect

of the process (from facial expressions to random comments from observers), Larson tries to narrate the Scopes

process in narrative form. Resuming the story of John Scopes being asked to stand trial, Larson adds, “A chain

smoker, Scopes probably lit a cigarette at this point, if he hadn’t already” (p. 89). Additions like these, though minor,

make the whole text sound like a story rather than a history textbook, making the book more readable to a wider audience.

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson – Book Review

As mentioned earlier, Larson is trying to reveal the common ideas that have made their way into the public

consensus through the play and the film, Inherit the Wind. For example, although the film portrays Clarence Darrow

as a cosmopolitan, free-thinking advocate of secularism and a champion of science and the human mind, he is more

accurately described as anti-Christian and anti-religious. Larson argued that he did not even fully understand the

basics of evolutionary theory: “Darrow often invoked the idea of organic evolution to support his arguments, but he

was never central to his thinking. He claimed to understand modern biology, but mixed Darwinian, Lamarckian, and

mutation theory concepts in his arguments, using the best that served his immediate rhetorical purposes. “(p. 72) In

short, Larson explains, Darrow was first a lawyer, not a man. of science.

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson – Book Review

Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson
Summer For The Gods by Edward Larson

In the same vein, William Jennings Bryan is seen today as a blind and uncompromising follower of biblical

literalism. Unlike the rational-minded Clarence Darrow, Bryan represented an almost absurd Christian

fundamentalism that refused to back down from indisputable evidence. According to Larson, The Legacy of the Wind

“turned Bryan into a mindless, reactionary creature of the mob.” Indeed, Bryan’s character in the film goes so far as

to say that the Earth was created in six 24-hour days and even gives the time of day at the point of Creation (9 A.M.,

by chance). The truth is, though, that Bryan’s personality is much deeper, and his intellect is much larger than the

Wind Legacy describes him as. It is possible, Larson suggests, that Bryan understood evolution as well or even better

than Darrow did, and that the rejection of the teaching of evolution was based more on democratic motives than on

biological ignorance. “Shame is not Tennessee law,” Bryan explained, “shame is that teachers … should betray trust and

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