The scene opens in the courtroom, two days later; Brady is examining Howard, a student of Cates’, at the witness stand. Howard testifies that Cates taught, in class, that: millions of years ago, the earth was very warm and populated only by “cells”; that man is a mammal; and that man “evolved from Old World monkeys,” which themselves evolved from lower forms of animal life. Brady laughs at this response, and says that Cates was not even patriotic enough to have humans descended from “New World” monkeys. Brady asks if Howard was taught, by Cates, any Creation stories from Genesis, and Howard says he was not.
Brady delivers one of the more famous lines of the play—and a line not dissimilar from one uttered by Bryant in the Scopes Monkey Trial. Brady wonders why these “monkeys” can’t at least be American monkeys—conflating not just religion and science, but religion, science, and patriotism. For Brady, after all, there is no distinction between being a good Christian, a good American, and someone who does not believe in evolution—all these are part of the same general “goodness” of character.
Brady makes a speech to the courtroom crowd, not just to the jurors, saying that Howard, if allowed to continue to be taught evolution, will one day become a Godless young man, with all his faith torn from him. The crowd reacts warmly to Brady’s impromptu remarks as Drummond takes his turn to cross-examine Howard.
Brady’s argument is one of the “slippery slope”—if children can be taught that they descended from monkeys, what’s to stop them from being taught that they don’t have to listen to their parents, or that God doesn’t exist at all?
Drummond asks Howard whether it’s wrong that Darwin thought up his theory of evolution—the Judge temporarily stops Drummond, saying that one’s right to think is not on trial in the courtroom, but Drummond counters that Cates’ right to think is in fact on trial. Drummond then rephrases, and asks Howard if Howard believes that his learning about evolution has hurt his pitching arm, or caused him no longer to obey his parents. Howard seems confused, but admits that Cates’ teaching had no impact on these things.
Drummond makes an important point here, about the apparent logical contradiction of the case. The Judge argues that the trial is not about a man’s right to think, but Drummond counters that the no-evolution law is precisely a law keeping a thinking man and schoolteacher from encouraging his own students for thinking for themselves.
Drummond then asks Howard, whose father is a farmer, if his father’s tractor was mentioned in the Bible, or their family’s telephone—implying that some scientific items simply exceed the scope of religion. But Brady objects here, saying that Drummond is confusing Howard on purpose, but Drummond counters that Brady is the one influencing the jury with his own personal, Christian conception of what is true and right. Drummond states that Hillsboro in general wishes to impose one theory of truth on a man, Cates, who chooses to think otherwise about the nature of the earth’s creation.
Brady can always fall back on this argument—that Drummond wishes only to confuse juries with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo in order to distract them from the moral truth of the case—that Cates broke the law. But, of course, Brady’s notion of “confusion” is self-serving—Brady argues that anything which is not in accord with Christian teachings is self-serving and therefore not admissible to jury-members in court.
Howard is excused by the Judge, and Rachel is brought to testify. Brady begins questioning her, asking if she and Cates attend the same church. Rachel responds that Cates has not gone to church for two years, ever since a boy named Tommy Stebbins accidentally drowned. Cates had been tutoring Stebbins in science and believed that Stebbins had an aptitude for scientific inquiry. Cates was also angered that, because Tommy was not baptized, Rachel’s father refused to comfort Tommy’s family after his death, saying he did not die in a “state of grace.”
An important piece of backstory, not yet referenced in the play or in the trial. Apparently Cates not only is motivated by a desire to teach science—he also believes that the kind of religion taught by Reverend Brown in Hillsboro is a religion that does not comfort its adherents. And, further, Cates appears motivated by the idea that his students can one day become good scientists, if only they are taught scientific principles at a young age.
Cates, impassioned in the courtroom, yells out that religion is supposed to provide comfort—he is still angry for the discomfort and sadness that Brown’s judgment of Tommy, after Tommy’s death, caused Tommy’s family and others in Hillsboro. Brady asks that Cates’ interruption be stricken from the record.
Few would argue that Reverend Brown’s reaction to Stebbins’ death was not extremely harsh—but Brady chooses to interpret Cates’ outburst as another example of his anti-religious bias.
Brady then questions Rachel about some of the things Cates said to her, in private, regarding the nature of God and religion. Drummond objects that these discussions are hearsay and therefore not admissible as evidence, but the Judge permits Brady to continue questioning.
Hearsay refers to any speech which cannot be verified by another party in a courtroom—typically this isn’t allowed in court, but the Judge here seems willing to make an exception on Brady’s behalf (perhaps due to Brady's prominence and belovedness).
Rachel admits that Cates said to her, once, that “God created man in his image—and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.” Brady implies that Cates also made comments, to Rachel, about marriage between humans being no different from the sexual unions between other animals. These comments bring Rachel to tears and shock the courtroom, who believe that Cates’ words, though sensible from an agnostic standpoint, are vulgar and irreligious.
These comments are interpreted by the jury as implying that Cates is anti-religious, and that Cates hates the idea of Christianity and of God in general. But of course Cates has not done anything of the sort in the classroom, in his capacity as teacher—he has instead merely argued that science should be taught in a science class. Brady brings up Cates’ views in the hopes of convincing the jury Cates is an immoral man.
Although Drummond wishes to cross-examine Rachel, Rachel is so upset that Cates asks Drummond simply to let her leave the box, which Drummond does. Davenport and the prosecution rest—meaning they have no further witnesses to call against Cates. It is now the defense’s turn to call their witnesses for Cates.
Drummond might have been able to show that Rachel’s conservations with Cates were more subtle and wide-ranging than Brady shows, but Rachel is too emotionally exhausted to remain on the stand—and this probably hurts Cates’ case. Of course, it shows Cate's goodness and caring nature that he asks Drummond not to cross-examine Rachel, and highlights how insane it is that Brown would want Cates to burn in Hell.
Drummond proceeds to call a professor of zoology from the University of Chicago to the stand, to explain the theory of evolution to the courtroom. But Brady objects, and the Judge admits he can see no reason to allow such an expert to speak—Brady claims that the Hillsboro anti-evolution law forbids even the explanation of evolution in a courtroom—just like in a classroom.
Another important paradox and bias of the Hillsboro trial. The Judge seems to think that evolution cannot be explained in any public forum—and, of course, by not explaining evolution, the Judge ensures that the town will not have a clear idea of what the theory even entails.
The Judge seems to agree with Brady, saying that the experts’ testimony—and Drummond has brought along fifteen experts to testify to the various biological, archeological, and geological facets of evolution—has no bearing on Drummond’s case.
Another absurd statement, as it would be normal in any trial, first, to establish exactly what the defendant had been doing. And, in this case, Cates had been trying to teach evolution. But the judge won't allow any discussion of evolution.
Drummond has “hit a roadblock,” and though he believes that Cates’ right to teach evolution would be bolstered by a testimony of the scientific basis for this theory, the Judge counters that, because Hillsboro already has a law banning the teaching of evolution, the case can only try the question of whether or not Cates in fact taught evolution—which of course he did.
Drummond appears unaccustomed to encountering this sort of difficulty in his trials, where he has always managed, for the sake of his client’s, to persuade juries that the law is more complex, more subtle, than the jurors might have initially imagined. This seems more challenging in Hillsboro.
Drummond is flummoxed, but he asks if he could call to the stand an expert witness with knowledge of the Holy Bible—Brady, his opponent. Drummond is pursuing a stratagem that he is inventing on the fly—the Judge, though he considers Drummond’s question unorthodox, believes it is allowable for Brady, the prosecutor, to testify as a witness, and Brady takes the stand.
Drummond believes that he might have a chance, however, of exposing Brady as something of an exaggerator, as religious values are concerned. Drummond has not had time to formulate this plan beforehand, and so it is unclear if the strategy will succeed.
Drummond gets Brady to admit that, although he is an expert on the Bible, with many passages “committed to memory,” he has never read Darwin. Drummond begins making a reference to Darwin, but Davenport again objects, saying only Bible questions may be asked—Drummond says he “gets the scent in the wind” and vows to stick to a biblical line of inquiry.
The Judge appears to have amended his previous ruling, arguing that, not only can Drummond not explain to the jurors what evolution is—Drummond cannot even mention Darwin’s name, despite the fact that Cates has been accused of teaching Darwin’s own observations in his classroom.
Drummond asks Brady if Brady believes in the Bible as the literal truth, always—Brady answers that he does. Drummond asks Brady whether Brady believes literally in the truth of the story of Jonah and the whale, wherein Jonah is swallowed by a whale—Brady says that he does.
Drummond has begun to back Brady into a corner. Brady starts with a somewhat tall tale—that the story of Jonah is literally true, in his mind. Drummond recognizes that he is on a course that will make Brady seem ridiculous.
Drummond asks Brady, then, about Joshua, who in the Bible is claimed to have made the sun stand still. Brady argues that this, too, literally happened, and when Drummond answers that this is opposed to every known natural scientific law, Brady counters that natural law was created in the mind of God, therefore God can do with it as he pleases.
Brady makes an important philosophical point here—that, to him, “natural law” does not exist, but rather is merely an expression of divine law, of God’s law. This enables Brady to ignore a great deal of scientific literature, thinking that one needs only to know God to know science.
Drummond then asks Brady whether the sex that ancient Bible fathers engaged in with their wives, which Brady considers an Original Sin (for Brady, all sex is Original Sin)—means that these Bible fathers themselves were both holy men and sinners. At this, Brady appears frustrated, believing that Drummond is trying to twist his words to suit Drummond’s own ends.
Although Brady had been good-natured up till this point, he now seems to recognize the possibility that Drummond might be able to make him seem like an imbecile on the stand. In reality, Drummond knows that Brady is an intelligent thinker, but Drummond also sees the logical impossibilities of some parts of Brady’s worldview.
But Drummond counters that Brady is not willing to concede to men the things that makes them human at all—the privilege to think. Drummond states that advances in science and technology are products of men’s thought, which, if God created man in whatever form, God surely intended that man have—in other words, a Christian God created a thinking man in order that man might think. This speech of Drummond’s garners increased applause from the audience, and Brady appears somewhat defensive and flummoxed by Drummond’s offensive.
Drummond more thoroughly elaborates his personal philosophy, which is that man’s most important ability is his ability to think for himself, and to figure out solutions to problems without resorting to empty truisms about God’s will or God’s plan. Drummond also makes his case for a synthetic religion and scientific worldview here—that God might have made man to think, and that this thinking in turn leads man to scientific developments.
Drummond shows Brady a rock, with a fossilized marine creature inside, saying that the rock and creature both lived millions of years ago. But Brady claims that a Christian bishop determined that the earth was created in 4004 BC, meaning that no rock can be older than about 6000 years old.
Brady parrots a long-held but clearly false religious belief, that the world cannot be older than the first events recorded in the Bible. Drummond knows that he is very close to poking a large hole in Brady’s supposed scientific-religious arguments.
Drummond continues in this line—he asks whether, in the first days of creation, these days lasted 24 hours or some longer amount of time. Brady admits that he does not know how long these first seven days actually lasted, and Drummond seizes upon this lack of knowledge, stating that these “days” of creation each could have lasted as long as ten million years—meaning that both the “Creation” story and science could be compatible, if the Creation story were not taken literally.
Drummond argues here for an allegorical interpretation of the book of Genesis, meaning that the events described in the Bible might not have happened literally, but that Genesis can remain a religious document of religious value to believing Christians. What Drummond objects to is the idea that Genesis might be used to explain scientific phenomena that have better explanations in the field of science itself.
Brady has no quick answer for Drummond, but Davenport yells, objecting to the Judge, that Drummond is trying to ruin this Christian audience and convince them not to believe in God. Drummond counters, however, that he merely wishes to keep the schools from teaching their students incorrect factual information about the beginning of the world.
Davenport can make only the most basic counter-argument to Drummond’s argument—that Drummond is once again trying to pervert and confuse the members of the community, that Drummond is going against public morals in his arguments.
Brady says Drummond is attacking the Bible, but Drummond answers that the Bible is a good book—and not the only good book. He says that Darwin’s writing are also good, but Brady says Darwin is evil, and implies that he, Brady, is informed by God what to read and what not to read. This exposes Brady’s vanity—Drummond draws out and highlights the idea, espoused by Brady himself, that Brady has a special connection with God—and the crowd begins to laugh at Brady’s pomposity.
Again, Drummond seems to be taking a middle way—arguing that the Bible should be used for religious purposes, and that Darwin should be used for science purposes—and it is this middle way to which Brady strenuously objects. Brady’s Christianity, at this point, seems to allow for no gray area—if he believes in the literal truth of the Bible, then he cannot admit to the power of science at all, even despite major evidence refuting Brady’s pseudoscientific arguments.
Brady becomes extremely upset, as Drummond states that only Brady is allowed to determine what is right and wrong, not just for himself, based on his religious beliefs, but for others—excluding Cates from making the same choices about what is right and wrong for him. Drummond stops his questioning and says Brady can be dismissed; Brady gasps as the Judge excuses him from the stand, and Brady begins, nearly overcome with rage and embarrassment, naming the books of the Bible in succession.
Brady has been shown not just to be overly religious but to believe that he has a special connection to divine principles—and it is this that serves to make the audience in the courtroom believe that Brady is too vain for his own good, and too vain to be trusted as a religious leader. At this point the trial has become something of a circus, and all the Judge can do is order Brady dismissed from the stand.
Davenport attempts to have this whole testimony stricken from the record, while Brady is led by a consoling Mrs. Brady away from the court—Brady tells his wife that he cannot stand it when the crowd laughs at him, as it has just done. The Judge adjourns the court until the next day at ten in the morning.
Brady appears most surprised that anyone could possibly laugh at him—he seems unaccustomed to the idea that his speeches would be received with anything but reverence and rapt attention.