Skip to main content

Eighty-five years ago today -- July 20, 1925 -- was the seventh day of the trial of State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes.

This is the seventh in an ongoing series of diaries chronicling, day by day, the events of the Scopes trial 85 years ago.  At issue: whether schoolteacher Scopes had violated the Butler Act, banning the teaching of evolution in Tennessee state-funded schools; but on a greater scale, the trial matched proponents of a Bible-based curriculum, claiming the literal truth of the Genesis stories of creation, against proponents of a science-based curriculum, including evolution.  On the side of the prosecution, standing for the literal truth of the Bible, stood former Democratic Presidential candidate and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan; on the side of the defense, standing for science and evolution, stood former Democratic activist, agnostic, and renowned attorney in the fields of labor and criminal law, Clarence Darrow.

This diary is incomplete owing to space limitations on its extreme length.  In attempting to provide a complete record of the most vivid parts of the trial, it is difficult to justify leaving very much out.  The remainder will be posted tomorrow, together with an account of the eighth day.

The preceding diaries in this series were:

  1. July 10, 1925
  1. July 13, 1925
  1. July 14, 1925
  1. July 15, 1925
  1. July 16, 1925
  1. July 17, 1925

Monday, July 20, 1925, was to be the most eventful day of the eight-day trial.  Of all the participants, however, only the defense team had any idea how eventful it might be.  The prosecution assumed that it was a matter of a speedy summing up and proceeding to the victor, and maybe occasionally pushing aside the defense's vain attempts to obstruct procedure.  Judge Raulston had something on his mind for the beginning of the day, but he had no idea what the rest of the day would bring.  As for the jury, which had been excluded from almost the entire trial, they simply had no idea what was going on.

The day started with a fundamentalist prayer from Rev. Standefer.  It was, even compared to the previous fundamentalist prayers, unusually pointed, saying that "Thou hast been constantly seeking to invite us to contemplate higher and better and richer creations of Thine, and sometimes we have been stupid enough to match our human minds with revelations of the Infinite and Eternal."  Take that, scientists!

The judge got to the problem that had been vexing him all weekend. Immediately dismissing the jury, he read from the transcript of Friday's discussion, which included the words:

Clarence Darrow: I do not understand why every request of the State and every suggestion of the prosecution would meet with an endless loss of time; and a bare suggestion of anything that is perfectly competent, on our part, should be immediately overruled.

Judge Raulston: I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the Court?

Darrow: Well -- Your honor has the right to hope.

Although Raulston had taken no action at the time, it had apparently been burning his brain, and he now took the occasion to cite Darrow for contempt of court. It wasn't that he took personal umbrage, he said, but he wanted to preserve the "good name of my state" and the "dignity of the court" from disrespect.  Darrow was therefore put under bond for $5,000 to appear in court the next day.

One may well consider that Raulston, by the way he had conducted himself both in person and as a judge, had done more to disgrace the dignity of his court and the good name of Tennessee than anything Darrow had said; nonetheless, it was absolutely true that Darrow had delivered a pretty studied, if oblique, insult, and that was sufficient to be considered contempt.

The trial then proceeded, still regarding the matter of the excluded defense testimony.  Raulston had regarded it as irrelevant and incompetent to the matter of the case; however, it needed to be preserved in the record if a higher court were to consider the defense's case to include the testimony on appeal.

Arthur Garfield Hays, speaking for the defense, first attempted to insert into the record a signing statement made by Tennessee Governor Austin Peay to the effect that the Butler Act should allow "the widest latitude of interpretation... as to the time and manner of God's processes in His creation of man."  Peay had also said that he did not think that any book then in use in the Tennessee public schools violated the Act. "Therefore, it will not put our teachers in any jeopardy. Probably the law will never be applied."

If Peay's statement was to be read as an authoritative interpretation of the Act, then Scopes stood a good chance of getting off free; for the book he had taught was the authorized biology text issued by the Tennessee schools.  The prosecution, therefore, naturally enough claimed that the signing statement had no authority and could not be used to interpret the Act in the courts.

With this Judge Raulston concurred.  "Gov. Peay does not belong to the interpreting branch of the government." It was the job of the court to decide what the statute meant, and therefore the statement was excluded from evidence.

Hays also filed as an exhibit the current biology textbook used in Tennessee, Biology and Human Welfare by Peabody and Hunt.  This was, of course, objected to by the prosecution; Judge Raulston allowed it to be filed, subject to his later determination on whether to exclude it.

A lengthy disagreement now erupted between Hays and lead prosecutor Tom Stewart.  Hays wished to read a good deal of the excluded evidence into the record before the judge; Stewart insisted that it simply be given to the stenographer for copying.  Hays pointed out that the decision about the form in which to present the evidence was up to the defense, while Stewart complained that it would waste a good deal of time.  Eventually the defense were allowed an hour to read its statements and summaries of what the defense expected to prove through witness testimony.

These testimonies were rather voluminous, and put together form a small book in themselves.  They included:
*Walter C. Whitaker, an Episcopalian clergyman, arguing for the compatibility of evolution with a non-literal interpretation of Genesis.
*Shaller Matthews, of the University of Chicago Divinity School, speaking of the different stories of Genesis and saying that evolution did not deny the Biblical story.
*Fay-Cooper Cole, a University of Chicago anthropologist, speaking of the characteristics of human anatomy that are best explained by evolution, and the finds of hominid fossils that had been made up to 1925.
*Kirtley F. Mather, a Harvard geologist, speaking of the record of geological time preserved in the rocks of the Earth, and the evidences of past life found therein; how these support evolution; and why they do not contradict the teachings of Christianity, and how the inquiry of science differs from the inquiry of theology.
*Winterton C. Curtis, a University of Missouri zoölogist, speaking of the vast spans of time involved in the development of the cosmos and earth, and evidence for evolution from anatomy, embryology, and fossils, and the development of animals through domestication and breeding; and that the Genesis stories, though traditional and important, cannot be taken as a serious account of prehistory.

Reading of this evidence into the record continued until 11:40 p.m., at which point the court adjourned to the afternoon.

When the court reconvened at 1:30, Clarence Darrow approached Judge Raulston and made a statement in which he apologized for his remarks relating to the court on the previous Friday.  He said that they were not premeditated but were inadvertently blurted out in the course of heated discussion; that he had not intended to insult the court (this, at least, is implausible!) or the State of Tennessee, which he had found courteous and hospitable; but that on rereading the transcript, he was sorry for his remarks and apologized without reservation.

Raulston accepted Darrow's apology, again reiterating that his response was not personal but official.  He then launched into a little sermon on the Christian virtues of forgiveness:

The Man that died on the cross that man might be redeemed taught that it was godly to forgive, and were it not for the forgiving nature of Himself I would fear for man.... we forgive him [Darrow] and we forget it and we commend him to go back home and learn in his heart the words of the Man who said, 'If you thirst, come unto me and I will give thee life.'

These remarks, were, at least, insensitive when addressing a confessed agnostic, inappropriate when coming from the judicial bench, and calculated to play on the prejudices of the crowd -- and accordingly received great applause. They were also rather smarmily condescending.  However, they were entirely consistent with the rôle that Raulston had chosen to play during the trial.

Raulston then adjourned the court to the yard outside the courthouse, on the somewhat spurious grounds (which he had alluded to on previous days) that the floor might collapse due to the applause, and perhaps on the better grounds that it might be cooler outside. The rest of the day's trial would take place in open air, on a platform in front of the courthouse.

Mr. Hays then proceeded with the summary of the excluded testimony.  This included the statements of the following witnesses:
*Rabbi Herman Rosenwasser, asserting that the King James version incorrectly translated the original Hebrew in several points, e.g. the translation of the words "create" and "man".  If properly understood, he claimed, the Hebrew Bible was entirely in accord with evolution.
*Herbert Murkett, a Methodist clergyman, said that the Bible stories did not say how man was made, and the question as to the process of creation should be sought in science, while moral and spiritual questions should be left to the Bible.
*Maynard Metcalf, who had taken the stand previously, saying that a study of evolution was essential to teaching biology; and that claiming a conflict between evolution and the Bible was an insult to God. He further listed various evidences for evolution, including comparative anatomy, embryology, the geological record, and the distribution of lifeforms.
*Wilbur Nelson, State geologist of Tennessee, speaking of the record of the rocks of Tennessee itself, and how they demonstrate the gradual change of the landscape and eventually show the emergence and development of plant and animal life; "it would be impossible to study or teach geology in Tennessee or elsewhere, without using the theory of evolution."
*Jacob Lipman, Dean of the College of Agriculture in the State University of New Jersey, speaking of the evidence of evolution found in different soils, and how they have been affected by the changing forms of plants and animals over time.
*A letter from Luther Burbank, a veteran botanist who had bred many new varieties of plants.  The prosecution, somewhat confused as to whether he was actually present, offered to cross-examine him.  Hays, doubtless smiling a bit, said: "I would like to hear you cross-examine Mr. Burbank," implying a certain inequality of intellect between Burbank and the prosecution.  To what extent the prosecution comprehended the jab is unclear; but in any case, Burbank was never to be questioned.
*Charles Hubbard Judd, Director of the School of Education at the University of Chicago, saying that failing to teach evolution would handicap teaching and could create a "national disaster".
*Horatio Hackett Newman, zoölogist at the University of Chicago, who produced a small textbook on proofs for evolution including various sorts of evidence from anatomy, taxonomic classification, similarities in blood type, embryology, paleontology and fossil evidence, geographic distribution of animals, and genetics.

This voluminous evidence, if presented to the jury, might have sufficed at the very least to convince some members of the jury that "there might be something in it".  But the jury were never to see or hear any of it while the trial went on.  The prosecution was dead set against anybody knowing anything about evolutionary science beyond the mere claim that it conflicted with the Bible -- which, they asserted, being a matter of state law, was therefore indisputable; and Judge Raulston chose to uphold them.  Nobody in the jury was to be any the wiser as the result of the trial.

The defense's argument, intended to appeal to the Bible-believing citizens of Tennessee insofar as it was possible, was that the Bible dealt with matters of the soul and spirit, with ethics and spirituality, and not with physical matters; that natural science was both concerned with and competent to analyze questions of the physical history of man.  In other words, religion had one sphere, science another, and the two did not overlap.  For many there at the trial, this philosophy was a little unfamiliar; to the prosecution, both from legal convenience and personal conviction, it was wholly unacceptable. To the prosecution, science and religion covered the same ground; the law said so; and if science lost by the competition, so much the worse for science.

The excluded evidence having been dealt with, Judge Raulston called for the jury to return to the court, where they could hear the dénouement of the case with ears untainted and uncontaminated by facts.

Prior to the return of the jury, Darrow interjected.  There was a large sign erected on the courthouse wall, clearly visible where the jury was to sit, stating in big letters READ YOUR BIBLE.  Darrow wanted it removed; the prosecution, of course, objected. Dudley Field Malone, for the defense, said that "everything which might possibly prejudice the jury along religious lines, for or against the defense, should be removed from in front of the jury."

J.G. McKenzie, Attorney-General Ben McKenzie's son, speaking for the prosecution, replied:

I have never seen the time in the history of this country when any man should be afraid to be reminded of the fact that he should read his Bible. And if they should represent a force that is aligned with the Devil and his satellites, finally, I say when that time comes, that then is the time for us to tear up all of the Bibles, throw them in the fire, and let the country go to Hell!

The defense of course objected, and asked for that statement to be expunged from the record; and were upheld by Judge Raulston.

William Jennings Bryan now arose to suggest that, if the defense believed that there was no contradiction between the Bible and evolution, they could have no objection to the sign; it was impartial. "I am going to quote the Bible in defense of our position, and I am going to hold the Bible as safe, though they try to discard it from our wall."  Nonetheless, if the sign was a stumbling-block to the defense, he would consent to have it removed.

Darrow then suggested that as a compromise, a sign might be put up of equal size, also within view of the jury, reading READ YOUR EVOLUTION.

This case has been made a case where it is to be the Bible or evolution, and we have been informed by Mr. Bryan, who, himself, a profound Bible student, and has an essay every Sunday as to what it means. We have been informed that a Tennessee jury who are not especially educated are better judges of the Bible than all of the scholars in the world, and when they see that sign, it means to them their construction of the Bible. It is pretty obvious, it is not fair, your honor, and we object to it.

Raulston, desiring to put this fairly irrelevant argument behind him, said that he did not think the Bible was involved in the case; he was on the side of the Bible himself anyway; but if anyone thought the sign was an unfair influence on the jury, he would have the sign come down.  It was therefore removed.

As if to counterpoint that exchange about Bibles, Hays then asked to have other Bibles than the King James Version put in evidence: the Catholic (Douay-Rheims) version in English; and the Hebrew Bible, with the translation of Rabbi Rosenwasser. The prosecution objected to using Rosenwasser's translation as potentially partial, and more generally on the basis that the indictment had been based on the King James Version.

The question had now arisen as to the nature of the Biblical evidence, and the judge had shown some uncertainty over the admissibility of the Biblical evidence -- for the prosecution itself was split. Part of the prosecution team, led by Attorneys-General Stewart and McKenzie argued that the reference to the Bible in the Butler Act was basically meaningless, and the only question was whether Scopes had taught evolution.  But that was not at all satisfactory to Bryan.  Bryan had joined the prosecution to vindicate the honor of God and the Bible in the face of the infidel hordes, not to convict Scopes; and any opportunity he could get to uphold the Bible, he would.  And with that firmly in mind, the defense sprang its trap.

Arthur Garfield Hays said, "The defense desires to call Mr. Bryan as a witness..."

The prosecution was thrown into consternation.  Obviously something was wrong. "I don't think it is necessary to call him -- calling a lawyer who represents a client," Ben McKenzie said.  And indeed, calling a hostile lawyer as an expert witness was practically unprecedented.

Raulston was perplexed.  What was going on?  He reminded the defense that they could not ask him about any confidential matter relating to his side.  But Darrow assured him that there was no such intent.

Bryan himself was uncertain what was happening.  On the one hand, he had no objection to public speaking, any time of the day or night, and certainly not on the topic of the Bible.  On the other hand, the defense were a nefarious lot, and they might be up to something.  Bryan demanded the right to question Darrow, Malone, and Hays by way of fair play -- and by doing so, he made their motion to examine him seem credible.

Raulston threw up his hands.  When big men like Bryan got moving, he had no intention of getting in the way. "Call anybody you desire," he said. "Ask them any questions you wish."

Darrow declined to swear Bryan as a witness: "I take it you will tell the truth, Mr. Bryan".  It was not Darrow's purpose to extract a true confession from Mr. Bryan.  It was not, indeed, Bryan himself whom Darrow was putting on the stand; it was Bryan's entire system of belief.  It was that he was to interrogate.

But Bryan put himself on the stand entirely willingly.  He had an easy excuse for stepping back; he could simply have said, that as an attorney in the case, his participation would be improper. Nobody could have faulted him for that.

But Bryan could not resist the limelight. And he seemed to feel that it would have been cowardice to back down before this enemy, as he thought, of the Bible and of Christ.  He was a Christian soldier, challenged to single combat. He was, truly, sure of himself. He had the Bible on his side, and on that subject, surely there was nothing Darrow could ask that would embarrass him.  Maybe he would embarrass the defense.

The exchange that followed, between Clarence Darrow, acting for the defense but prosecuting fundamentalism, and William Jennings Bryan, lawyer for the prosecution but forced - perhaps for the first time in his life - to critically examine issues he took for granted and had hitherto defended solely by force of oratory, is the single most fascinating part of the trial.  It deserves to be read in its entirety.  It is reproduced below, with occasional asides, and the omission of some less-relevant material.  It is, by the way, worth remembering that for its entire length, the jury was still absent, as the judge had not yet ruled the testimony to be competent.

Darrow: You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven't you, Mr. Bryan?
Bryan: Yes, sir, I have tried to.
Darrow: Well, we all know you have; we are not going to dispute that at all. But you have written and published articles almost weekly, and sometimes have made interpretations of various things?
Bryan: I would not say interpretations, Mr. Darrow, but comments on the lesson.
Darrow: If you comment to any extent, those comments have been interpretations?
Bryan: I presume that my discussion might be to some extent interpretations, but they have not been primarily intended as interpretations.
Darrow: But you have studied that question, of course?
Bryan: Of what?
Darrow: Interpretation of the Bible.
Bryan: On this particular question?
Darrow: Yes, sir.
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: Then you have made a general study of it?
Bryan: Yes, I have. I have studied the Bible for about fifty years, or some time more than that. But, of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was but a boy.
Darrow: Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
Bryan: I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there. Some of the Bible is given illustratively; for instance, "Ye are the salt of the earth." I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people.
Darrow: But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale -- or that the whale swallowed Jonah, excuse me, please -- how do you literally interpret that?
Bryan: When I read that a big fish swallowed Jonah -- it does not say whale.
Darrow: Doesn't it? Are you sure?
Bryan: That is my recollection of it, a big fish. And I believe it, and I believe in a God who can make a whale and can make a man, and can make both do what He pleases.
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, doesn't the New Testament say whale?
Bryan: I am not sure. My impression is that it says fish, but it does not make so much difference. I merely called your attention to where it says fish, it does not say whale.
Darrow: But in the New Testament it says whale, doesn't it?
Bryan: That may be true. I cannot remember in my own mind what I read about it.
Darrow: Now, you say the big fish swallowed Jonah, and he remained how long -- three days -- and then he spewed him up on the land. You believe that the big fish was made to swallow Jonah?
Bryan: I am not prepared to say that; the Bible merely says it was done.
Darrow: You don't know whether it was the ordinary run of fish or made for that purpose?
Bryan: You may guess; you evolutionists guess.
Darrow: But when we do guess, we have the sense to guess right.
Bryan: But do not do it often.
Darrow: You are not prepared to say whether that fish was made especially to swallow a man or not?
Bryan: The Bible doesn't say, so I am not prepared to say.
Darrow: You don't know whether that was fixed up specially for the purpose?
Bryan: No, the Bible doesn't say.
Darrow: But do you believe He made them -- that He made such a fish, and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?
Bryan: Yes, sir. And let me add, one miracle is just as easy to believe as another.
Darrow: It is for me.
Bryan: It is for me.
Darrow: Just as hard?
Bryan: It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform. When you get beyond what man can do, you get within the realms of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.
Darrow: Perfectly easy to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale?
Bryan: If the Bible said so. The Bible doesn't make as extreme statements as evolutionists do.
Darrow: That may be a question, Mr. Bryan, about some of those you have known?
Bryan: The only thing is, you have a definition of fact that includes imagination.
Darrow: And you have a definition that excludes everything but imagination, everything but imagination?

Here Attorney-General Stewart objected that Darrow was not questioning Bryan, but arguing with him.  Darrow was trying, not so much (as Bryan assumed) to deny the miracles of the Bible, or to make fun of Bryan for believing in them, but rather to make Bryan specify just what parts of the Bible he believed to be the literal truth, and which ones were interpretational or figurative.  Various Bible scholars would have rejected the literal interpretation of Jonah being swallowed by a whale, and indeed it had often been treated as a figurative or allegorical characterization, representing for instance man swallowed up by sin or the devil.  But Bryan was sure it was a story about a real man who had been swallowed by a real whale -- or a big fish, as the case might be.

Darrow: Do you consider the story of Jonah and the whale a miracle?
Bryan: I think it is.
Darrow: Do you believe Joshua made the sun stand still?
Bryan: I believe what the Bible says. I suppose you mean that the earth stood still?
Darrow: I don't know. I'm talking about the Bible now.
Bryan: I accept the Bible absolutely.
Darrow: The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it?
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
Bryan: No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.
Darrow: Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?
Bryan: I don't know what they thought.
Darrow: You don't know?
Bryan: I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.
Darrow: Have you an opinion as to whether or not the men who wrote that thought---

Stewart objected again at this point.  He could not see any good this was doing the case; Bryan was running an increasing risk of damaging the prosecution; Darrow was clearly steering the discussion where he wanted it to go, wherever that was, and that couldn't be good.  He demanded that Raulston stop the charade.

Raulston looked at Bryan.  He was not taking orders from Stewart, after all. It was Bryan's decision whether to go on.  Bryan nodded. "Mr. Bryan is willing to be examined. Go ahead," the judge said.

Darrow: Have you an opinion as to whether -- whoever wrote the book, I believe it was Joshua -- the Book of Joshua -- thought the sun went around the earth or not?
Bryan: I believe that he was inspired.
Darrow: Can you answer my question?
Bryan: When you let me finish the statement.
Darrow: It is a simple question, but finish it.
Bryan: You cannot measure the length of my answer by the length of your question.
Darrow: No, except that the answer will be longer.

Both parties were now playing to the crowd, and were rewarded with appreciative laughter.

Bryan: I believe that the Bible is inspired -- an inspired author, whether one who wrote as he was directed to write, understood the things he was writing about, I don't know.
Darrow: Whoever inspired it? Do you think whoever inspired it believed that the sun went around the earth?
Bryan: I believe it was inspired by the Almighty, and he may have used language that could be understood at that time, instead of using language that could not be understood until Darrow was born.
Darrow: So it might not -- it might be subject to construction, might it not?
Bryan: It might have been used in language that could be understood then.
Darrow: That means it is subject to construction?
Bryan: That is your construction. I am answering your question.
Darrow: Is that correct?
Bryan: That is my answer to it.
Darrow: Can you answer?
Bryan: I might say Isaiah spoke of God sitting upon the circle of the earth.
Darrow: I am not talking about Isaiah.

Darrow was now getting Bryan into a corner.  He was getting Bryan to make a distinction between the language used in the Bible, and the meaning of that language; and if that distinction could be made, if the language required construal to elucidate its meaning -- possibly by reference to scientific facts -- then why not attempt to construe Genesis in the same manner?

Bryan now became aware of the thrust of Darrow's questions. He was not a stupid man, nor even particularly slow, and both as a student of the Bible and as an orator, and as a politician, he had to be sensitive to different levels of meaning in the same text.  But he was not really in a position to discuss that sort of thing when his brief was to justify the literal reading of the Bible at all costs. He wriggled like a fish.

Darrow: It is your opinion that the passage was subject to construction?
Bryan: Well, I think anybody can put his own construction upon it, but I do not mean that necessarily it is a correct construction. I have answered the question.
Darrow: Don't you believe that in order to lengthen the day, it would have been construed that the earth stood still?
Bryan: I would not attempt to say what would have been necessary, but I know this: that I can take a glass of water that would fall to the ground without the strength of my hand, and to the extent of the glass of water I can overcome the law of gravitation and lift it up, whereas without my hand, it would fall to the ground. If my puny hand can overcome the law of gravitation, the most universally understood, to that extent, I would not set power to the hand of the Almighty God, that made the universe.
Darrow: I read that years ago.

Indeed he had; Bryan was recycling an illustration from his own published lectures. It was also fatally flawed as an illustration, since, as any physicist can demonstrate, muscles may counteract gravity, but they by no means "overcome the law of gravitation."  However, Darrow preferred not to argue that point.

Darrow: Can you answer my question directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?
Bryan: Well, I should say so. Yes, but it was language that was understood at that time, and we now know that the sun stood still, as it was, with the earth.
Darrow: We know also the sun does not stand still.
Bryan: Well, it is relatively so, as Mr. Einstein would say.
Darrow: I ask you if it does stand still?
Bryan: You know as well as I know.
Darrow: Better. You have no doubt about it?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: And the earth moves around it?
Bryan: Yes. But I think there is nothing improper if you will protect the Lord against against your criticism.
Darrow: I suppose He needs it?
Bryan: He was using language at that time that the people understood.
Darrow: And that you call "interpretation?"
Bryan: No, sir, I would not call it interpretation.
Darrow: I say, you would call it interpretation at this time, to say it meant something then?
Bryan: You may use your own language to describe what I have to say, and I will use mine in answering.

Bryan was admitting that "the sun stood still" needed to be interpreted in order to avoid the implication of a geocentric universe; he said, reasonably enough, that it could mean "the Earth stood still", but was expressed in language intelligible to people using a geocentric model.

This was dangerous ground for Bryan, to be found admitting that some Bible verses did not mean exactly what they seemed to mean on the surface.  It could go all sorts of ways from there, many of which he did not like.  He thought, however, he could avoid most of those problems if he avoided terms like "construction" and "interpretation" -- even if that was exactly what he was doing.

Darrow: Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: You have not?
Bryan: No, sir; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.
Darrow: I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Don't you know it would have been converted into a molten mass of matter?
Bryan: You testify to that when you get on the stand; I will give you a chance.
Darrow: Don't you believe it?
Bryan: I would want to hear expert testimony on that.
Darrow: You have never investigated that subject?
Bryan: I don't think I have ever had the question asked.
Darrow: Or ever thought of it?
Bryan: I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance than that.
Darrow: You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: When was that flood?
Bryan: I wouldn't attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.
Darrow: About 4004 B.C.?
Bryan: That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. I would not say it is accurate.
Darrow: That estimate is printed in the Bible?
Bryan: Everybody knows, at least, I think most of the people know that was the estimate given.
Darrow: But what do you think that the Bible itself says? Do you know how that estimate was arrived at?
Bryan: I never made a calculation.
Darrow: A calculation from what?
Bryan: I could not say.
Darrow: From the generations of man?
Bryan: I would not want to say that.
Darrow: What do you think?
Bryan: I do not think about things I don't think about.
Darrow: Do you think about things you do think about?
Bryan: Well, sometimes.

There was more laughter.  But it was no longer quite so obvious that the crowd out on the courthouse lawn were laughing with Bryan.  "I do not think about things I don't think about" was a memorable, but not a very flattering line.

Darrow: Mr. Bryan, you have read these dates over and over again?
Bryan: Not very accurately. I turn back sometimes to see what the time was.
Darrow: You want to say now, you have no idea how these dates were computed?
Bryan: No, I don't say. But I have told you what my idea was. I say I don't know how accurate it was.
Darrow: You say from the generation of man...

Stewart made another effort to get Bryan off the stand.  He, too, could see where things were going, and it was no place good, in his estimation. But Bryan was not to be displaced from his seat in the center of things; and Judge Raulston was perfectly content to leave Bryan in charge. "I want to give him all the latitude that he wants, for I am going to have some latitude when he gets through," Bryan said, and Darrow responded "You can have latitude and longitude!"

Stewart protested some more.  "This is not competent evidence!" he said -- fairly enough -- but Bryan saw it differently:

These gentlemen have not had much chance. They did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it, and they can ask me any questions they please.

Applause came from the crowd. That was exactly what they wanted to hear from Bryan, and the prosecution was helpless to stop it, and the judge was swept along.

"Great applause from the bleachers," Darrow noted, parenthetically.  Bryan could not resist a dig: "From those whom you call "yokels"!"

Bryan had perhaps confused Darrow with some of the acerbic press commentators, like H.L. Mencken, who had been having fun mocking what they pretended to see as backwoods hillbillies.

"I have never called them yokels," Darrow retorted. But Bryan was in his vein: "That is the 'ignorance' of Tennessee -- the 'bigotry'!

Bryan saw himself as the representative of the common man against the élites, and that was how he wanted to see the case.  Even if Darrow had never mocked Tennesseeans personally, still he represented what Bryan saw as a malign conspiracy against grassroots democracy.

"You mean who are applauding you?" Darrow asked, trying to turn Bryan's own words against him. "Those are the people whom you insult," Bryan answered.

Darrow lost temper. "You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion," he erupted -- not meaning Christianity, but the kind of fundamentalist teaching which privileged the letter of ancient books over the discoveries of modern science.

Raulston, of course, interpreted it a different way. "I will not stand for that!" he snapped. "For what he is doing?" Darrow asked, disingenuously.  Raulston remembered that he was supposed to be fair, and that he had been letting things get out of control on the assumption that Bryan would be running things.  Evidently that was not the case. "I am talking to both of you," he answered, a bit lamely.

Stewart took the lull in the examination as yet another chance to try to stop it:

This has gone beyond the pale of a lawsuit, your Honor. I have a public duty to perform under my oath, and I ask the court to stop it. Mr. Darrow is making an effort to insult the gentleman on the witness stand, and I ask that this be stopped, for it has gone beyond the pale of a lawsuit.

But Raulston still had his eye on Bryan, and evidently Bryan wanted to go on.  "To stop it now would not be just to Mr. Bryan," he started.  "I do not want to be strictly technical."

Darrow returned to the deluge.

Darrow: How long ago was the flood, Mr. Bryan?
Bryan: Let me see Ussher's calculation about it.
Darrow: Surely.

Darrow handed Bryan a Bible.

Bryan: I think this does not give it.
Darrow: It gives an account of Noah. Where is the one in evidence? I am quite certain it is there.
Bryan: Oh, I would put the estimate where it is, because I have no reason to vary it. But I would have to look at it to give you the exact date.
Darrow: I would, too. Do you remember what book the account is in?
Bryan: Genesis.

The Bible placed in evidence as Exhibit B was handed to Bryan.

Bryan: It is given here as 2348 years B.C.
Darrow: Well, 2348 years B. C. You believe that all the living things that were not contained in the ark were destroyed?
Bryan: I think the fish may have lived.
Darrow: Outside of the fish.
Bryan: I cannot say.
Darrow: You cannot say?
Bryan: No, except that just as it is, I have no proof to the contrary.
Darrow: I am asking you whether you believe it.
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: That all living things outside of the fish were destroyed.
Bryan: What I say about the fish is merely a matter of humor...
Darrow:  I understand.
Bryan: ..due to the fact that a man wrote up here the other day to ask whether all the fish were destroyed, and the gentleman who received the letter told him the fish may have lived.
Darrow: I am referring to the fish, too.
Bryan: I accept that as the Bible gives gives it, and I have never found any reason for denying, disputing, or rejecting it.
Darrow: Let us make it definite. 2,348 years?
Bryan: I didn't say that. That is the time given, but I don't pretend to say that is exact.
Darrow: You never figured it out, those generations, by yourself?
Bryan: No, sir, not myself.
Darrow: But the Bible you have offered in evidence says 2340-something, so that 4200 years ago there was not a living thing on earth, excepting the people on the ark and the animals on the ark, and the fishes.
Bryan: There had been living things before that.
Darrow: I mean at that time.
Bryan: After that.
Darrow: Don't you know there are any number of civilizations that are traced back to more than 5,000 years?
Bryan: I know we have people who trace things back according to the number of ciphers they have. But I am not satisfied they are accurate.
Darrow: You are not satisfied that there is any civilization that can be traced back 5,000 years?
Bryan: I would not want to say there is, because I have no evidence of it that is satisfactory.
Darrow: Would you say there is not?
Bryan: Well, so far as I know, but when the scientists differ from twenty-four million to three hundred million in their opinions as to how long ago life came here, I want them to be nearer, to come nearer together, before they demand of me to give up my belief in the Bible.
Darrow: Do you say that you do not believe that there were any civilizations on this earth that reach back beyond five thousand years?
Bryan: I am not satisfied by any evidence that I have seen.
Darrow: I didn't ask you what you are satisfied with -- I asked you if you believed it.
Bryan: I am satisfied by no evidence that I have found that would justify me in accepting the opinions of these men against what I believe to be the inspired word of God.
Darrow: And you believe every nation, every organization of men, every animal in the world outside of the fishes --
Bryan: The fish, I want you to understand, is merely a matter of humor.
Darrow: I believe the Bible says so. Take the fishes in?
Bryan: Let us get together and look over this.
Darrow: Probably we would better. We will after we get through. You believe that all the various human races on the earth have come into being in the last four thousand years or four thousand two hundred years, whatever it is?
Bryan: No; it would be more than that. Sometime after the creation, before the flood. The flood is 2300 and something; and creation, according to the estimate there, is further back than that.
Darrow: Then you don't understand me. If we don't get together on it, look at the book. This is the year of grace 1925, isn't it? Let us put down 1925.
Bryan: Add that to 4,004?
Darrow: Yes.
Bryan: That is the date given here on the first page, according to Bishop Ussher, which I say I accept only because I have no reason to doubt it.
Darrow: 1925 plus 4004 is 5,929 years. Now then, what do you subtract from that?
Bryan: That is the beginning.
Darrow: I was talking about the flood.
Bryan: 2348 on that, we said.
Darrow: Less that?
Bryan: No, subtract that from 4000. It would be about 1700 years.
Darrow: That is the same thing.
Bryan: No. Subtracted, it is 2300 and something before the beginning of the Christian era, about 1700 years after the Creation.
Darrow: If I add 2300 years, that is the beginning of the Christian era?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: If I add 1925 to that I will get it, won't I?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: That makes 4,262 years? If it is not correct, we can correct it.
Bryan: According to the Bible there was a civilization before that, destroyed by the flood.
Darrow: Let me make this definite. You believe that every civilization on the earth and every living thing, except possibly the fishes, that came out of the ark, were wiped out by the flood?
Bryan: At that time.
Darrow: At that time; and then whatever human beings, including all the tribes that inhabited the world, and have inhabited the world, and who run their pedigree straight back, and all the animals, have come on to the earth since the flood?
Bryan: Yes.
Darrow: Within 4200 years. Do you know a scientific man on the earth that believes any such thing?
Bryan: I cannot say. But I know some scientific men who dispute entirely the antiquity of man as testified to by other scientific men.
Darrow: Only that does not answer the question. Do you know of a single scientific man on the face of the earth that believes any such thing as you stated, about the antiquity of man?
Bryan: I don't think I have ever asked one the direct question.
Darrow: Quite important, isn't it?
Bryan: Well, I don't know as it is.
Darrow: It might not be?
Bryan: If I had nothing else to do except speculate on what our remote ancestors were and what our remote descendants have been, but I have been more interested in Christians going on right now, to make it much more important than speculations on either the past or the future.
Darrow: You have never had any interest in the age of the various races and people and civilizations and animals that exist upon the earth today. Is that right?
Bryan: I have never felt a great deal of interest in the effort that has been made to dispute the Bible by the speculations of men, or the investigations of men.
Darrow: Are you the only human being on earth who knows what the Bible means?

Stewart objected to that question and was sustained.  The point of the discussion had simply been that there was a discrepancy between a literal reading of the Bible and, not just evolution, but human history.  The Ussherian dating of the Bible, starting from 4004 B.C., placed the Flood of Noah at 2348 B.C.; but Egyptian and Sumerian history can be traced back hundreds of years prior to that date, with absolutely no indication of an intervening flood.  Darrow was putting Bryan in the position of questioning every branch of science through his Biblical literalism; he was also, incidentally, illustrating the narrowness of Bryan's interests and his laziness when it came to anything that questioned his set views.

Darrow: You do know that there are thousands of people who profess to be Christians who believe the earth is much more ancient and that the human race is much more ancient?
Bryan: I think there may be.
Darrow: And you never have investigated to find out how long man has been on the earth?
Bryan: I have never found it necessary...
Darrow: For any reason, whatever it is?
Bryan: examine every speculation; but if I had done it I never would have done anything else.
Darrow:  I ask for a direct answer.
Bryan: I do not expect to find out all those things.  I do not expect to find out about races.
Darrow: I didn't ask you that. Now, I ask you if you know, if it was interesting enough, or important enough for you to try to find out how old these ancient civilizations are?
Bryan: No, I have not made a study of it.
Darrow: Don't you know that the ancient civilizations of China are six or seven thousand years old at the very least?
Bryan: No; but they would not run back beyond the creation, according to the Bible six thousand years.
Darrow: You don't know how old they are, is that right?
Bryan: I don't know how old they are, but probably you do. I think you would give the preference to anybody who opposed the Bible, and I give the preference to the Bible.
Darrow: I see. Well, you are welcome to your opinion. Have you any idea how old the Egyptian civilization is?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Do you know of any record in the world, outside of the story of the Bible, which conforms to any statement that it is 4,200 years ago or thereabouts, that all life was wiped off the face of the earth?
Bryan: I think they have found records.
Darrow: Do you know of any?
Bryan: Records reciting the flood, but I am not an authority on the subject.
Darrow:  Now, Mr. Bryan: will you say if you know of any record, or have ever heard of any records that describe that a flood existed 4,200 years ago, or about that time, which wiped all life off the earth?
Bryan:  The recollection of what I have read on the subject is not distinct enough to say whether the records attempted to fix a time, but I have seen in the discoveries of archaeologists where they have found records that described the flood.
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, don't you know that there are many old religions that describe the flood?
Bryan: No, I don't know.
Darrow: You know there are others besides the Jewish?
Bryan: I don't know whether those are the record of any other religion, or refer to this flood.
Darrow: Don't you ever examine religion so far to know that?
Bryan: Outside of the Bible?
Darrow: Yes.
Bryan: No, I have not examined to know that, generally.

Bryan had now admitted to gross ignorance on the topic of human history; he had vague notions that some records somewhere had mentioned the flood, but had no idea that they were references to flood myths, of the Sumerian and Akkadian peoples, that resembled, but were not identical to, the Biblical flood story (indeed, they are thought to be antecedent to the Biblical story).

Darrow:  You have never examined any other religions?
Bryan:  Yes, sir.
Darrow: Have you ever read anything about the origins of religions?
Bryan: Not a great deal.
Darrow:  You have never examined any other religion?
Bryan:  Yes, sir.
Darrow: And you don't know whether any other religion gave a similar account of the destruction of the earth by the flood?
Bryan: The Christian religion has satisfied me and I have never felt it necessary to look up some competing religions.
Darrow: Do you consider that every religion on earth competes with the Christian religion?
Bryan: I think everybody who believes in the Christian religion believes so...
Darrow: I am asking what you think.
Bryan: I do not regard them as competitive because I do not think they have the same source as we have.
Darrow: You are wrong in saying "competitive"?
Bryan: I would not say competitive, but the religious unbelievers.
Darrow: Unbelievers of what?
Bryan: In the Christian religion.
Darrow: What about the religion of Buddha?
Bryan: Well, I can tell you something about that, if you would like to know.
Darrow:  What about the religion of Confucius or Buddha?
Bryan: Well, I can tell you something about them, if you would like to know.
Darrow: Did you ever investigate them?
Bryan: Somewhat.
Darrow: Do you regard them as competitive?
Bryan: No, I think they are very inferior. Would you like for me to tell you what I know about it?
Darrow: No.
Bryan: Well, I shall insist on giving it to you.
Darrow: You won't talk about free silver, will you?
Bryan: Not at all.

"Free silver" had been the watchword of Bryan's 1896 campaign for President, and the subject of various barnstorming speeches of his thereafter.

Stewart now objected once again to Darrow cross-examining Bryan.  Bryan however still insisted on telling his story about Confucius.

Bryan: I had occasion to study Confucianism when I went to China. I got all I could find about what Confucius said, and I found that there were several direct and strong contrasts between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Confucius. In the first place, one of his followers asked if there was any word that would express all that was necessary to know in the relations of life, and he said, "Isn't reciprocity such a word?" I know of no better illustration of the difference between Christianity and Confucianism than the contrast that is brought out there. Reciprocity is a calculating selfishness. If a person does something for you, you do something for him and keep it even. That is the basis for the philosophy of Confucius. Christ's doctrine was not of reciprocity. We were told to help people not in proportion as they had helped us -- not in proportion as they might have helped us, but in proportion to their needs, and there is all the difference in the world between a religion that teaches you just to keep even with other people and the religion that teaches you to spend yourself for other people and to help them as they need help.
Darrow: There is no doubt about that. I haven't asked you that.
Bryan: That is one of the differences between the two.
Darrow: Do you know how old the Confucian religion is?
Bryan: I can't give you the exact date of it.
Darrow: Did you ever investigate to find out?
Bryan: Not to be able to speak definitely as to date, but I can tell you something I read, and will tell you.
Darrow: Wouldn't you just as soon answer my questions, and get along?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: Of course, if I take any advantage of misquoting you, I don't object to being stopped. Do you know how old the religion of Zoroaster is?
Bryan: No, sir.
Darrow: Do you know they are both more ancient than the Christian religion?
Bryan: I am not willing to take the opinion of people who are trying to find excuses for rejecting the Christian religion, when they attempt to give dates and hours and minutes. And they will have to get together and be more exact than they have yet been able, to compel me to accept just what they say as if it were absolutely true.
Darrow: Are you familiar with James Clark's book on the ten great religions?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: He was a Unitarian minister, wasn't he? You don't think he was trying to find fault, do you?
Bryan: I am not speaking of the motives of men.
Darrow: You don't know how old they are, all these other religions?
Bryan: I wouldn't attempt to speak correctly, but I think it is much more important to know the difference between them than to know the age.
Darrow: Not for the purpose of this inquiry, Mr. Bryan. Do you know about how many people there were on this earth at the beginning of the Christian era?
Bryan: No, I don't think I ever saw a census on that subject.
Darrow: Do you know how many people there were on this earth 3,000 years ago?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Did you ever try to find out?
Bryan: When you display my ignorance, could you not give me the facts so I would not be ignorant any longer? Can you tell me how many people there were when Christ was born?
Darrow: You know, some of us might get the facts and still be ignorant.
Bryan: Will you please give me that? You ought not to ask me a question that you don't know the answer to.
Darrow: I can make an estimate.
Bryan: What is your estimate?
Darrow: Wait until you get to me. Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5000 years ago?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Have you ever tried to find out?
Bryan: No, sir, you are the first man I ever heard of who was interested in it.
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?
Bryan: You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at these different periods.
Darrow: Where have you lived all your life?
Bryan: Not near you.

That got a round of applause; though Darrow himself might have made the same observation.  Bryan thought that the study of population history was unbelievably esoteric, and expected that everybody else did, too.

Originally posted to WIds on Tue Jul 20, 2010 at 07:01 PM PDT.


Do you believe in the literal truth of the Bible?

0%0 votes
31%6 votes
5%1 votes
42%8 votes
0%0 votes
5%1 votes
5%1 votes
10%2 votes

| 19 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site