How the Scopes trial created the “Bible Belt”

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Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. From Literary Digest, July 25, 1925. From Mike Licht via Flickr creative commons. https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/9650462984/

Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. From Literary Digest, July 25, 1925. From Mike Licht via Flickr creative commons. https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/9650462984/

Ninety years ago today, the Scopes trial came to an end with the conviction of John Scopes for teaching human evolution in the public schools. The Scopes trial is a watershed moment in the history of American religion—critics of evolution won the trial but lost credibility among the public (or so the story goes).

The trial was also the beginning of a new concept: The Bible Belt.

The region now known as the Bible Belt had its start with the missionary movements by Baptists and Methodists in the 1800s. As many Protestant denominations moved in a modernist direction in the late 1800s, churches in the southern states and parts of the midwest remained skeptical of scientific advances, liberal theology, and church hierarchies.

Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. From Literary Digest, July 25, 1925. From Mike Licht via Flickr creative commons. https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/9650462984/

Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. From Literary Digest, July 25, 1925. From Mike Licht via Flickr creative commons. https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/9650462984/

The Scopes trial brought this conflict into high relief. And there to chronicle the trial was H. L. Mencken from Baltimore. Mencken was a quick-witted critic who wrote stories about the trial that were more satire than journalism.

Mencken is the one who dubbed the trial the “Monkey Trial.” He is also the one who coined the moniker “Bible Belt.” Mencken first wrote about the Bible Belt in 1924, but the popularity of the term took off with the Scopes trial and its aftermath.

Mencken was no fan of religion, and his creation of the “Bible Belt” was meant as a term of derision.  Those living in the Bible Belt, however, found the term complimentary—theirs was the land of the Bible. For both those within and outside the Belt, the term accurately captured the essence of the region.

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  • Origins

    Intelligent design gurus with advanced science degrees have been and are good at challenging the “theory” of evolution.

  • Denis

    I find the statement linking ID gurus with advanced science degrees to be incongruous

  • Neon Genesis

    That surely must explain why creationism is taught everywhere in public schools nowadays (this is sarcasm).

  • MarkE

    Ben Carson – reknowned pediatric neurosurgeon and Seventh Day Adventist adherent is an example of one with scientific training and credentials who denies theory of evolution and holds to six-day creationism. Our education system is out of whack – how can these two extremes be true in the same man?

  • Mark

    What is the graph actually showing? There is no descriptor for the y-axis, so it’s very hard to know what the graph represents.

  • BeamMeUp

    All scientific evidence supports the theory of evolution that is the foundation of modern biology. Creationism and its watered-down cousin “intelligent design” have been rightfully rejected by the scientific community as nonsense. The creationists first resorted to laws first banning the teaching of evolution. When those failed, they tried to mandate equal time for creationism. They didn’t like the competition.

    According to the Genesis creationist myth, the world was created 5700 years ago by a supernatural male deity. No evidence has been found to support the existence of this deity. This deity, however, not satisfied with his handiwork, committed mass genocide by drowning everyone in flood that last 40 days and 40 nights. The only survivors were a 600-year-old man name Noah and his family on an ark. Noah saved 2 of every animal but forget about dinosaurs.

    I grew up in South Carolina in the 1970s. Creationism was not taught in the public schools.

  • BeamMeUp

    A doctor who rejects evolution? Glad I’m not sick.

  • Larry

    Having advanced degrees does not mean having them in relevant fields capable of professionally knowledgeable discussion biological theories. Nor is education insulation from belief in stupid things.

    Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe in Weird Things” devotes an entire chapter to the phenomena. (Short version: Advanced degrees mean one is trained well to defend their views in public, no matter how silly they may be)

    “Intelligent design gurus with advanced degrees” usually means divinity degrees, medical doctors, engineers and mathematics types. People unaccustomed to dealing with the messy squishyness of analyzing living things and do not apply evolution in their work like biologists.

  • Larry

    Education does not cure stupidity nor fanaticism. The scientific/biological training of medical doctors is minimal at best. They don’t need to know how the brain evolved over millions of years to know how to operate on it with sensitive equipment.

  • Agent Mike

    Also curious what the graph is showing. Something like a media word count??

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