For: strong atheism/agnosticism, strong promotion of Darwinism, aggressive mockery of Christianity, vilification of Scripture and theistic creationism, and extreme falsification of historical events
Inherit the Wind is the despicable dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, the ACLU-funded first step toward the mandatory teaching of Darwinism in U.S. public schools. This notorious film is rife with deliberate historical inaccuracies, and consciously devotes every last scene to the mockery, defamation and attempted destruction of Christianity and theistic creationism.
It is stated clearly that “it’s God that’s on trial!” in Inherit the Wind. One of the main characters cynically declares “Darwin was wrong. Man’s still an ape. His creed’s a totem pole. When he first achieved the upright position, he looked at the stars and thought they were something to eat. He couldn’t reach them, and he decided they were groceries belonging to a bigger creature. That’s how Jehovah was born.”
The defense attorney, Henry Drummond [Clarence Darrow], the most prominent positively-portrayed character, emphatically denies right and wrong, and calls morality arbitrary and imbecile. He claims that the individual human mind is what is holy, that the power of a child’s mind is more sacred than praise to God, and that man’s advancing knowledge is a greater miracle than the signs and wonders recorded in Scripture.
Strong Promotion of Darwinism
The movie’s entire plot revolves around a teacher’s defiance of state laws prohibiting the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public schools.
Bert Cates [John Scopes] vehemently maintains that Darwinism is truth, and ridicules any alternative belief, especially the creation of man by God. Drummond [Darrow] claims that evolution is “as incontrovertible as geometry to any enlightened community of minds,” calling the law against its teaching in government-owned schools “wicked” multiple times, and calling for the townspeople’s “Read Your Bible” signs to be taken down and “Read Your Darwin” signs put up.
After the evolutionists’ victory, the line from the hymn, “his truth is marching on”, plays as Drummond [Darrow] walks out of the courtroom.
Aggressive Mockery of Christianity
Every one of the ignorant and negatively-portrayed characters are Christians, and every one of the Christian characters are ignorant and negatively portrayed. (See also, Extreme Falsification of Historical Events)
The Christian townspeople riot, burn Cates [Scopes] in effigy, and threaten to run him out of town. Later they form a lynching party outside the jail and sing “We’ll hang Bert Cates… Our God is marching on” to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The fictional pseudo-fundamentalist preacher Jeremiah Brown and his followers literally “call down hellfire” on Cates [Scopes] and pray that his soul will “for all eternity writhe in anguish and damnation!”, asking the same for anyone who asks for grace for him. Jeremiah Brown says that his hate for Cates [Scopes] proceeds from his love for God. Other “Christian” fanatics say they will send Drummond [Darrow] “back to hell!”, carry signs with sayings like “Keep Satan out of Hillsboro”, claim special revelation from heaven, and compare themselves to Christ in his sufferings. Meanwhile, Cates [Scopes] speaks out in court and condemns Brown’s declaration that a boy was in hell, on the grounds that religion is not supposed to scare people but comfort them.
The Christian prosecuting attorney, Matthew Harrison Brady [William Jennings Bryan], is portrayed as the epitome of ignorance, self-righteousness and incompetence. He continually makes puns and bad jokes while his opponent Drummond [Darrow] is a constant stream of witty retorts. Brady [Bryan] declares that “the way of science is the way of darkness,” deliberately pits religion against scientific education, and refuses to so much as read Darwin’s book. He states for the viewing audience that the biblical view is that sex is original sin. The best defense the movie allows anyone to make of even religion in general, is Brady’s [Bryan’s] over-eloquent line about the people being simple and poor, looking for something more beautiful than what they have, and wondering why Drummond [Darrow] wants to take that away from them. An alleged Bible expert, Brady [Bryan] can’t even recite the books of the Bible in order.
All of the Christian characters are portrayed as being tied to the unenlightened past and to blind allegiances to unworthy heroes. Their anthem is “Give me that old time religion”, with an additional verse that says, “If it’s good enough for Brady, it’s good enough for me.” Brady [Bryan] is more aghast at the idea of abandoning “the faith of our fathers” than at the raw idea of abandoning God. Brady [Bryan] himself is referred to by his followers as the Lord’s right hand, and as “our holy prophet,” and by his opponents as “their messiah.”
One Christian huckster shows up in town with a monkey in clothes, claiming that a literal devolution from human to ape is the wages of sin.
Vilification of Scripture and Theistic Creationism
The positively-portrayed characters all view the Bible as at best one book among many, and one with serious factual errors at that. Drummond [Darrow] states as much. One positively-portrayed character says, laughing, that in a way Cates [Scopes] is a murderer to the townspeople, because he “killed one of their fairy-tale notions,” referring to the biblical doctrine of the Divine creation of man. Positively-portrayed characters intimate that the Bible teaches geocentricity, and the negatively-portrayed Christian characters mix in unbiblical statements when they give the creation account from Genesis.
All creationists are depicted as, and called, backwards and narrow-minded, while the suave, educated, witty and genteel characters are Darwinists of the highest order. One positively-portrayed character says that “there’s only one man [Cates (Scopes)] in this town that thinks at all, and he’s in jail.” The creationists are said to be closing their eyes to all progress. Cates [Scopes] accuses the creationists of wanting to lock up his mind, and turns the court case into a battle over what people are allowed to think, rather than what they are allowed to teach in a government-owned school. He also tells his girlfriend in the most ardent tones that, if he gave in and agreed not to teach what the law forbade him to teach, there would be no more just watching the river, wondering what the stars are for, or wondering what’s on the other side of the moon—that that line of thinking would be “locked off”.
Brady [Bryan], testifying for the prosecution, refuses to answer legitimate questions about biblical history, implying directly that he is unwilling to see Scripture examined by a scientifically educated mind, and indirectly that Scripture would fall under such examination.
Extreme Falsification of Historical Events
Generally speaking, it is safer to assume that a statement, event or character portrayal in Inherit the Wind is inaccurate than that it is accurate. Much of the story is fabricated and has no basis in reality.
For example, Cates [Scopes]—described as a biology teacher—is shown giving a lesson on man’s evolution from apes, with an evolutionary chart behind him, and is said to have read to his students from The Descent of Man multiple times. In reality, Scopes never taught evolution (he and the other witnesses admitted to having lied under oath in testifying that he did), and he was a high-school football coach acting as a substitute teacher.
Cates [Scopes] is portrayed as a man acting solely out of conviction, acting alone, without prompt from any third party, and even declares “I’m not trying to prove anything!” The real Scopes was a reluctant participant, selected by the ACLU as the defendant of a test case trying to prove the unconstitutionality of the state law prohibiting evolutionary teaching in government schools.
For a more detailed critique of Inherit the Wind’s historical misrepresentations, see the Answers in Genesis presentation, Inherently Wind, here.