Bertram Cates has taught evolution in the high school of a small town (Hillsboro, state unnamed), in violation of a state law banning exactly this. The state instead requires that teachers teach creationism—the theory that God created the earth and humankind in keeping with the Biblical Book of Genesis. The play is inspired by real-life events in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925: the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” wherein a teacher, John Scopes, also taught evolution to his students. Cates lectures on evolution because, as a teacher, he feels he must teach what is actually and provably true. Rachel Brown, daughter of the town’s minister Reverend Brown, seems to have a romantic relationship with Cates, and is torn between her father’s viewpoint—that religious law is inviolable—and Cates’, that religion and science occupy two separate domains. The “Monkey Trial” is, in essence, a drama over the educational validity of teaching science as science, and of teaching religious belief as a form of verifiable knowledge.
The prosecution brings in Matthew Harrison Brady (based on the historical figure William Jennings Bryant, from the Scopes Trial) to aid in prosecuting the case. Brady believes that religious values, including those taught in Genesis, are literally true. Brady also believes that these Christian religious teachings are part of an “American” mode of religious belief. Good Christian Americans believe in Christian creationism. Bad Americans “believe,” instead, in evolution.
Henry Drummond, famous progressive lawyer (based on the historical figure of Clarence Darrow), aids in Cates’ case. Drummond seeks to bring in authorities to attest to the scientific validity of the theory of evolution, but the Judge does not allow these scientists to testify (believing, paradoxically, that state law also bans explaining evolution in courtrooms). Drummond, who probably believes that biblical creationism is bunk, takes an interesting tack in the play’s climax, as he interrogates Brady on the stand. In his interrogation Drummond forces Brady into revealing that a belief in the story of Genesis as being literally true can’t pass basic logic, and holds instead that the Bible should be read as an allegorical religious document. This means that the Bible and science are not incompatible at all—rather, the Bible seems to leave space for evolutionary theory, which in itself can be proved true through experimentation and observation. This climactic scene represents the “synthesis” of these two, apparently competing views.
Science therefore does not destroy religion any more than religion can “disprove” science. Rather, religion and science, as Cates seemed to imply from the beginning, occupy two separate realms, and neither overwhelms or invalidates the other.
Science vs. Religion ThemeTracker
Science vs. Religion 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?
The Good Lord guv us the heat, and the Good Lord guv us the glands to sweat with.
The unplumbed and plumbing-less depths! Ah, Hillsboro—Heavenly Hillsboro. The buckle on the Bible Belt.
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.
Well, I’m pretty busy down at the feed store. My wife tends to the religion for both of us.
In other words, you take care of this life, and your wife takes care of the next one?
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!
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.
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!