At the time of the trial, the nascent progressive movement drew much of its strength from the perfectionist impulses of evangelical Protestantism. That alliance began to dissolve at the trial, when two lions of the American left turned on one another.
Leading Scopes's defense was Clarence Darrow, a champion of progressive causes and an outspoken agnostic. Among the prosecutors was William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a stalwart defender of traditional Christianity. The two had long worked together for social reform, but in Dayton Darrow treated Bryan with contempt. In the trial's climactic scene, Darrow called Bryan to the stand, where he sneered at the witness for "insult[ing] every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion."
And so the culture war came. For the first time, coastal elites descended on small-town America, calling its citizens stupid and their beliefs backward. And though fundamentalism may have looked worse at the time, the longer-term damage was to progressivism; it was at Dayton that the movement began to lose its popular appeal.
Bryan, after all, was to the left of most Democrats today, but his followers found that they could not keep company with those who so disdained their faith. Nowadays, when liberalism's leading strategists wonder what's the matter with Kansas, they could do worse than to look back to Tennessee--and to their own caustic dismissive of serious Christians.