One of the most effective such slanders was the 1960 Stanley Kramer film, Inherit the Wind, which was loosely based on the Scopes evolution trial. It fixed in the public's mind the picture of Clarence Darrow as a crusader for scientific truth standing up to fundamentalist Christian bigots represented by William Jennings Bryan. If you are one of those who still believes that the Scopes trial was a victory for scientific rationalism, check out Edward Larson's Pulitzer Prize wining book, Summer of the Gods. It will set you straight.
Perhaps the most important distortions embodied in the liberal vision is the portrayal of science as objective truth and those who question scientific authority on moral grounds as ignorant bigots. Actually there were many valid reasons to object to the teaching that Bryan opposed and in many ways the religious fundamentalist were far less bigoted than the defenders of "objective scientific truth" who assailed him.
Here [from Jonah Goldberg] is an excerpt from one of the scientific texts being challenged in the Scopes case.
Evolution of Man. – Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even to-day the earth is not entirely civilized.
The Races of Man. – At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest race type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.
Charles Darwin and Natural Selection. – The great Englishman Charles Darwin was one of the first scientists to realize how this great force of heredity applied to the development or evolution of plants and animals. He knew that although animals and plants were like their ancestors, they also tended to vary. In nature, the variations which best fitted a plant or animal for life in its own environment were the ones which were handed down because those having variations which were not fitted for life in that particular environment would die. Thus nature seized upon favorable variations and after a time, as the descendants of each of these individuals also tended to vary, a new species of plant or animal, fitted for the place it had to live in, would be gradually evolved.
Artificial Selection. – Darwin reasoned that if nature seized upon favorable variants, then man by selecting the variants he wanted could form new varieties of plants or animals much more quickly than nature. And so to-day plant or animal breeders select the forms having the characters they wish to perpetuate and breed them together. This method used by plant and animal breeders is known as selection.
Improvement of Man. – If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.
Eugenics. – When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.
The Jukes. – Studies have been made on a number of different families in this country, in which mental and moral defects were present in one or both of the original parents. The “Jukes” family is a notorious example. The first mother is known as “Margaret, the mother of criminals.” In seventy-five years the progeny of the original generation has cost the state of New York over a million and a quarter dollars, besides giving over to the care of prisons and asylums considerably over a hundred feeble-minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons. Another case recently studied is the “Kallikak” family. This family has been traced back to the War of the Revolution, when a young soldier named Martin Kallikak seduced a feeble-minded girl. She had a feeble-minded son from whom there have been to the present time 480 descendants. Of these 33 were sexually immoral, 24 confirmed drunkards, 3 epileptics, and 143 feeble-minded. The man who started this terrible line of immorality and feeble-mindedness later married a normal Quaker girl. From this couple a line of 496 descendants have come, with no cases of feeble-mindedness. The evidence and the moral speak for themselves!
Parasitism and its Cost to Society. – Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.
The Remedy. – If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.
Strong stuff, that. Such was the state of scientific authority at the time of the Scopes trial. It's not surprising that many people, then and now, would find such drivel morally objectionable. From the perspective of several decades later we can see just how dangerous and reprehensible, not to say biased, settled scientific opinion was then. And is it any less now? Will scientists a century from now look back upon our current opinions aghast. The Stanley Kramer version of the Scopes trial should not stand. The whole shameful episode should not be considered a great triumph for scientific liberalism. Instead it should be remembered as a caution against placing too much faith in the pronouncements of scientific authority. In the case of movies, it is important not to believe your eyes, and in the case of science it is good to consider the moral implications of what you are being told.