The play is also an examination of moral teachings, justice, and the relationship of each to truth. Cates teaches human evolution in class because this is the best scientific theory humans have to explain the existence of humans on earth. Members of the local school board, however, consider that Cates has done something irreligious—that his teaching of Darwin goes against Christian moral precepts. The state law banning teaching of evolution regards the Bible as the sole vehicle of incontrovertible truth. But the America of the early to middle 20th century was not stuck in what some characters call a “medieval” view of learning—this America did not regard the Bible as the ultimate authority in all matters. Cates and Drummond merely wish, ultimately, to restore the Bible to its place as a religious document offering religious teachings and religious precepts.
Brady, for his part, believes that Christian teaching simply is truth, and that to argue otherwise is blasphemy. But he takes a more tolerant view than Reverend Brown, who argues that those who disregard Christian teachings are not just wrong—they are “heathens,” or willful violators of God’s principles. Hornbeck is diametrically opposed to Reverend Brown: a progressive, agnostic reporter, Hornbeck believes that anyone who ascribes to religious teachings is an imbecile, one not accord with modern views. Drummond and Cates, however, fall between Hornbeck and Brown. They understand that some questions of moral truth might be best handled by religion, and that other questions of scientific truth ought to be handled by science.
Justice in the play takes two forms. The “justice” served by the court is, technically, an injustice; Cates is tried and convicted based on a state law that is, as Drummond argues, silly and outmoded. The Judge seems to recognize this, and therefore only fines Cates $100. This smaller injustice is framed by the larger “justice” reached in the end of the play: that Cates is not imprisoned but allowed to go free, and that, as Drummond indicates, Cates will be an example to others who dare to speak their mind, to follow their own conscience as regards truth, and to push back against authorities who would force one unified religious theory on all inhabitants of a varied, complex country. The playwrights seem to recognize that, although the progress of justice is sometimes slow, halting, and imperfect, humans nevertheless tend to recognize that believers can be allowed to believe, and practitioners of science can be allowed to do their work, without either camp silencing or excommunicating the other.
Morality, Justice, and Truth ThemeTracker
Morality, Justice, and Truth Quotes in Inherit the Wind
Bert, it’s still not too late. Why can’t you admit you’re wrong? If the biggest man in the country . . . –if Matthew Harrison Brady comes here to tell the whole world how wrong you are . . . .
You still think I did wrong?
I understand your loyalty, my child. This man, the man in your jailhouse, is a fellow schoolteacher. Likeable, no doubt. And you are loath to speak out against him before all these people. Think of me as a friend, Rachel. And tell me what troubles you.
You make it sound as if Bert is a hero. I’d like to think that, but I can’t. A schoolteacher is a public servant: I think he should do what the law and the school-board want him to.
Does Mr. Drummond refuse this man [Dunlap] a place on the jury simply because he believes in the Bible?
If you find an Evolutionist in this town, you can refuse him.
I’ve seen what you can do to a jury. Twist and tangle them. Nobody’s forgotten the Endicott Publishing case—where you made the jury believe the obscenity was in their own minds, not on the printed page.
Mr. Drummond. You’ve got to call the whole thing off. It’s not too late. Bert knows he did wrong. He didn’t mean to. And he’s sorry. Now why can’t he just stand up and say to everybody: “I did wrong. I broke a law. I admit it. I won’t do it again.”
If you’ll stick by me, Rache—well, we can fight it out.
Can they make me testify?
I’m afraid so. It would be nice if nobody ever had to make anybody do anything. But—Don’t let Brady scare you. He only seems to be bigger than the law.
Do we call down hellfire on the man who has sinned against the Word? . . . Strike down this sinner, as Thou didst Thine enemies of old, in the days of the Pharaohs!
No! No, Father. Don’t pray to destroy Bert!
All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away—by standing still.
Did you hear that, my friends? “Old World Monkeys”! According to Mr. Cates, you and I aren’t even descended from good American monkeys!
Let’s put it this way, Howard. All this fuss and feathers about Evolution, do you think it hurt you any?
Did it do you any harm? You still feel reasonably fit? Did it hurt your baseball game any? Affect your pitching arm?
No, sir. I’m a leftie.
One of the peculiar imbecilities of our time is the grid of morality we have placed on human behavior: so that every act of man must be measured against an arbitrary latitude of right and longitude of wrong . . . .
Tommy Stebbins used to come over to the boarding house and look through Bert’s microscope. Bert said the boy had a quick mind, and he might even be a scientist when he grew up. At the funeral, Pa preached that Tommy didn’t die in a state of grace, because his folks had never had him baptized . . . .
Tell ‘em what your father really said! That Tommy’s soul was damned, writhing in hellfire!
“God created Man in His own image—and Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.”
In this community, Colonel Drummond . . . the language of the law is clear; we do not need experts to question the validity of a law that is already on the books.
In other words, the court rules out any expert testimony on Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species or Descent of Man?
The court so rules.
Now tell me. Do you feel that every word that’s written in this book should be taken literally?
Everything in the Bible should be accepted, exactly as it is given there.
Is that the way of things? God tells Brady what is good? To be against Brady is to be against God!
Bert, whenever you see something bright, shining, perfect-seeming—all gold, with purple spots—look behind the paint! And if it’s a lie—show it up for what it really is!
The jury’s decision is unanimous. Bertram Cates is found guilty as charged!
I feel I am . . . I have been convicted of violating an unjust law. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can.
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart.
We’re growing an odd crop of agnostics this year!
I’ll tell you Brady had the same right as Cates: the right to be wrong!
You see, I haven’t really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think—so it seemed safer not to think at all. But now I know. A thought is like a child inside our body. It has to be born. If it dies inside you, part of you dies, too!