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Eighty-five years ago today -- Tuesday, July 21, 1925 -- was the eighth and last day of the trial of State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes.  On trial: a man who had committed the crime of teaching evolution in the public schools, violating Tennessee's brand new Butler Act.  Also on trial: two different modes of thought -- one, the comfortable, appealing, small-town Christianity of rural America; the other a brash, modern way of testing and sometimes shattering old beliefs. On the one side, an appeal to God and the Bible; on the other, an appeal to evidence and science.

It was not just two ways of interpreting the natural world that were in conflict, either; it was also two interpretations of democracy and liberalism.  The one, represented by William Jennings Bryan, Democratic standardbearer in the Presidential elections of 1896, 1900, and 1908, said that the common man was always right, and the wisdom of a farmer who had never read any book but the Bible was as good as that of a college professor who had been studying his subject for fifty years, and that democracy meant that one man's view was as good as another's.  The other, represented by labor and criminal law attorney Clarence Darrow, said that the liberty to teach scientific truths, even when they conflicted with the beliefs of the vast majority, stood supreme.  These two views are still at war today.

(Due to space limitations, this diary includes the conclusion to yesterday's diary.)

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
  1. July 20, 1925

We return to the examination of William Jennings Bryan, posing as an expert on the Bible, by Clarence Darrow, on a platform on the lawn in front of the Rhea County Courthouse, in Dayton, Tennessee.  Darrow had been asking Bryan about the number of people who had lived in various countries in the past, and Bryan had admitted ignorance, and also affected a complete disinterest in the topic, and surprise that anyone should be interested in such questions.

Darrow: Where have you lived all your life?
Bryan: Not near you.
Darrow: Nor near anybody of learning?
Bryan: Oh, don't assume you know it all.
Darrow: Do you know that there are thousands of books in your libraries on all these subjects I have been asking you about?
Bryan: I couldn't say, but I will take your word for it.
Darrow: Did you ever read a book on primitive man? Like Tylor's "Primitive Culture" or Boas or any of the great authorities?
Bryan: I don't think I have ever read the ones you have mentioned.
Darrow: Have you read any?
Bryan: Well, I have read a little from time to time, but I didn't pursue it, because I didn't know I was to be called as a witness.
Darrow: You have never in all your life made any attempt to find out about the other peoples of the earth -- how old their civilizations are, how long they have existed on the earth, have you?
Bryan: No, sir, I have been so well satisfied with the Christian religion that I have spent no time trying to find arguments against it.
Darrow: Were you afraid you might find some?
Bryan: No, sir, I am not afraid now that you will show me any.
Darrow: You remember that man who said -- I am not quoting literally -- that one could not be content though he rose from the dead? You suppose you could be content?
Bryan: Well, will you give the rest of it, Mr. Darrow?
Darrow: No.
Bryan: Why not?
Darrow: I am not interested.
Bryan: Why scrap the Bible? "They have Moses and the Prophets."
Darrow: Who has?
Bryan: That is the rest of the quotation you didn't finish.
Darrow: And so you think if they have Moses and the Prophets, they don't need to find out anything else?
Bryan: That was the answer that was made there.
Darrow: And you followed the same vein?
Bryan: I have all the information I want to live by and to die by.
Darrow: And that's all you are interested in?
Bryan: I am not looking for any more on religion.
Darrow: You don't care how old the earth is, how old man is, or how long the animals have been here?
Bryan: I am not so much interested in that.
Darrow: You have never made any investigation to find out?
Bryan: No, sir, I have never.
Darrow:  All right.
Bryan:  Now, will you let me finish the question?
Darrow:  What question was that?  If there is anything more you want to say about Confucius, I don't object.
Bryan: Oh yes, I have got two more things.
Darrow:  If Your Honor please, I don't object, but his speeches are not germane to my question.
Bryan:  I mentioned the word "reciprocity" to show the difference between Christ's teaching in that respect and the teachings of Confucius.  I call your attention to another difference.  One of the followers of Confucius asked him, "What do you think of the doctrine that you should reward evil with good?"  And the answer of Confucius was, "Reward evil with justice and and reward good with good. Love your enemies. Overcome evil with good.  And there is a difference between the two teachings -- a difference incalculable in its effect and in -- the third difference -- people who scoff at religion and try to make it appear that Jesus brought nothing into the world, talk about the Golden Rule of Confucius.  Confucius said, "Do not unto others what you would not have others do unto you."  There is all the difference in the world between a negative harmlessness and a positive helpfulness, and the Christian religion is a religion of helpfulness, of service, embodied in the language of Jesus when he said, "Let him who would be chiefest among you be the servant of all."  Those are the three differences between the teachings of Jesus and the teaching of Confucius, and they are very strong differences on very important questions.  Now, Mr. Darrow, you asked me if I knew anything about Buddha.
Darrow: You want to make a speech on Buddha, too?
Bryan: No sir, I want to answer your question on Buddha.
Darrow: I asked you if you knew anything about him.
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: Well, that's answered, then.
Bryan: Buddha...
Darrow: Well, wait a minute.  You answered the question.
Judge Raulston:  I will let him tell what he knows.
Darrow: All he knows?
Judge Raulston:  Well, I don't know about that.
Bryan: I won't insist on telling all I know.  I will tell more than Mr. Darrow wants told.
Darrow: Well, all right, tell it.  I don't care.
Bryan: Buddhism is an agnostic religion.
Darrow:  To what?  What do you mean by "agnostic"?
Bryan:  "I don't know."
Darrow:  You don't know what you mean?
Bryan:  That is what "agnosticism" is -- "I don't know".  When I was in Rangoon, Burma, one of the Buddhists told me that they were going to send a delegation to an agnostic congress that was to be held soon at Rome and I read in an official document...
Darrow:  Do you remember his name?
Bryan:  No sir, I don't.
Darrow: What did he look like?  How tall was he?
Bryan: I think he was about as tall as you, but not so good-looking.
Darrow: Do you know about how old a man he was?  Do you know whether he was old enough to know what he was talking about?
Bryan: He seemed to be old enough to know what he was talking about.
Darrow:  If Your Honor please, instead of answering plain specific questions we are permitting the witness to regale the crowd with what some black man said to him when he was travelling in Rangoon, India.
Bryan: He was dark-colored, but not black. I wanted to say that I then read a paper that he gave me, and official paper of the Buddhist church, and it advocated the sending of delegates to that agnostic conference at Rome, arguing that it was an agnostic religion and I will give you another evidence of it.  I went to call on a Buddhist teacher.  I went to call on a Buddhist priest and found him at his noon meal, and there was an Englishman there who was also a Buddhist.  He went over as ship's carpenter and became a Buddhist and had been for about six years, and while I waited for the Buddhist priest I talked to the Englishman and he said the most important thing was you didn't have to believe to be a Buddhist.
Darrow:  You know the name of the Englishman?
Bryan: No sir, I don't know his name.
Darrow:  What did he look like?  What did he look like?
Bryan: He was what I would call an average looking man.
Darrow:  How could you tell he was an Englishman?
Bryan:  He told me so.
Darrow:  Do you know whether he was truthful or not?
Bryan:   No sir, but I took his word for it.

Darrow had got himself into a bit of a tangle. If he had started out trying to show that there were other religions, older than the Bible, that had their own beliefs on the history of the world, he had lost that plot; and the judge was letting Bryan filibuster on the subject of comparative religion.  The fact was that although Bryan knew little of the subject, Darrow hardly knew more, and the little that Bryan knew was accurate enough, as far as it went.  It wasn't germane to the trial, but then nothing that was being said here was.

Darrow returned to the Bible, then, as firmer ground for both of them.

Darrow: You have heard of the Tower of Babel, haven't you?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: That tower was built under the ambition that they could build a tower up to heaven, wasn't it? And God saw what they were at, and to prevent their getting into heaven He confused their tongues?
Bryan: Something like that. I wouldn't say to prevent their getting into heaven. I don't think it is necessary to believe that God was afraid they would get to heaven.
Darrow: I mean that way?
Bryan: I think it was a rebuke to them.
Darrow: A rebuke to them trying to go that way?
Bryan: To build the tower for that purpose.
Darrow: To take that short cut?
Bryan: That is your language, not mine.
Darrow: Now, when was that?
Bryan: Give us the Bible.
Darrow: Yes, we will have strict authority on it. Scientific authority?
Bryan: That was about 100 years before the flood, Mr. Darrow, according to this chronology. It was 2247 -- the date on one page is 2218 and on the other, 2247. And it is described in here --
Darrow: That is the year 2247?
Bryan: 2218 B.C. is at the top of one page and 2247 at the other, and there is nothing in here to indicate the change.
Darrow: Well, make it 2230 then?
Bryan: All right, about.
Darrow: Then you add 1500 to that.
Bryan: No, 1925.
Darrow: Add 1925 to that, that would be 4155 years ago. Up to 4155 years ago every human being on earth spoke the same language?
Bryan: Yes, sir, I think that is the inference that could be drawn from that.
Darrow: All the different languages of the earth, dating from the Tower of Babel, is that right? Do you know how many languages are spoken on the face of the earth?
Bryan: No. I know the Bible has been translated into 500 and no other book has been translated into anything like that many.
Darrow: That is interesting, if true. Do you know all the languages there are?
Bryan: No, sir, I can't tell you. There may be many dialects besides that in some languages, but those are all the principal languages.
Darrow: There are a great many that are not principal languages?
Bryan: Yes sir.
Darrow: You haven't any idea how many there are?
Bryan: No, sir.
Darrow: How many people have spoken those various languages?
Bryan: No, sir.
Darrow: And you say that all those languages of all the sons of men have come on the earth not over 4150 years ago?
Bryan: I have seen no evidence that would lead me to put it any farther back than that.
Darrow: That is your belief, anyway -- that was due to the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. Did you ever study philology at all?
Bryan: No, I have never made a study of it; not in the sense in which you speak of it.
Darrow: You have used language all your life?
Bryan: Well, hardly all my life -- ever since I was about a year old.
Darrow: And good language, too. And you never took any pains to find anything about the origin of languages?
Bryan: I never studied it as a science.
Darrow: Have you ever, by any chance, read Max Müller?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: The great German philologist.
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Or any book on that subject?
Bryan: I don't remember to have read a book on that subject, especially, but I have read abstracts, of course, and articles on philology.

Here, of course, Darrow's effort was to show that Bryan had set himself up against linguistics among other sciences.  This was a fair point, but Darrow really lacked the knowledge to argue it.  Also, deducing the age of languages, without direct historical evidence is a difficult problem; however it is  certain (based on the historical evidence) that there were many languages spoken on earth well before 2230 B.C.

Darrow: Mr. Bryan, could you tell me how old the earth is?
Bryan: No, sir, I couldn't.
Darrow: Could you come anywhere near it?
Bryan: I wouldn't attempt to. I could possibly come as near as scientists do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess.
Darrow: You don't think much of scientists, do you?
Bryan: Yes, I do, sir.
Darrow: Is there any scientist in the world you think much of?
Bryan: Yes.
Darrow: Who?
Bryan: Yes, the bulk of them.
Darrow: I don't want that kind of an answer, Mr. Bryan. Who are they?
Bryan: I will give you George M. Price, for instance.
Darrow: Who is he?
Bryan: Professor of geology in a college.
Darrow: Where?
Bryan: He was out near Lincoln, Nebraska.
Darrow: How close to Lincoln, Nebraska?
Bryan: About 3 or 4 miles. He is now in a college out in California.
Darrow: Where is the college?
Bryan: At Lodi.
Darrow: That is a small college?
Bryan: I didn't know you had to judge a man by the size of his college; I thought you judged him by the size of the man.
Darrow: I thought the size of the college made some difference.
Bryan: It might raise a presumption in the minds of some, but I think I would rather find out what he believed.
Darrow: You would rather find out whether his belief coincided with your views or prejudices or whatever they are, before you said how good he was?
Bryan: I don't think I am any more prejudiced for the Bible than you are against it.
Darrow: Well, I don't know.
Bryan: Well, I don't know either. It is my guess.
Darrow: You mentioned Price because he is the only human being in the world so far as you know that signs his name as a geologist, that believes like you do.
Bryan: No, there is a man named Wright who taught at Oberlin.
Darrow: I will get to Mr. Wright in a moment. I am asking you about Mr. Price. Who publishes his book?
Bryan: I can't tell you. I can get you the book.
Darrow: Don't you know? Don't you know it is Revell and Company in Chicago?
Bryan: I couldn't say.
Darrow: He publishes yours, doesn't he?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Stewart: Will you let me make an exception? I don't think it is pertinent about who publishes a book.
Darrow: He has quoted a man that every scientist in this country knows is a mountebank and a pretender, and not a geologist at all.
Judge Raulston: You can ask him about the man, but don't ask him about who publishes the book.
Darrow: Do you know anything about the college he is in?
Bryan: No, I can't tell you.
Darrow: Do you know how old his book is?
Bryan: No, sir; it is a recent book.
Darrow: Do you know anything about his training?
Bryan: No, I can't say on that.
Darrow: Do you know of any geologist on the face of the earth who ever recognized him?
Bryan: I couldn't say.
Darrow: But you think he is all right? How old does he say the earth is?
Bryan: I am not sure that I would insist on some particular geologist that you picked out recognizing him before I could consider him worthy if he agreed with your views.
Darrow: You would consider him worthy if he agreed with your views.
Bryan: Well, I think his argument is very good.
Darrow: How old does Mr. Price say the earth is?
Bryan: I haven't examined the book in order to answer questions on it.
Darrow: Then you don't know anything about how old he says it is?
Bryan: He speaks of the layers that are supposed to measure age, and points out that they are not uniform and not always the same, and that attempts to measure age by these layers where they are not in the order in which they are usually found, makes it difficult to tell the exact age.
Darrow: Does he say anything whatever about the age of the earth?
Bryan: I wouldn't be able to testify.
Darrow: You didn't get anything about the age from him?
Bryan: Well, I know he disputes what you say, and I say there is very good evidence to dispute it -- what some others say about the age.
Darrow: Where did you get your information about the age of the earth?
Bryan: I am not attempting to give you information about the age of the earth.
Darrow: Then you say there was Mr. Wright, of Oberlin?
Bryan: That was rather I think on the age of man rather than upon the age of the earth.
Darrow: There are two Mr. Wrights, of Oberlin?
Bryan: I couldn't say.
Darrow: Both of them are geologists. Do you know how long Mr. Wright says man has been on the earth?
Bryan: Well, he gives the estimates of different people.
Darrow: Does he give any opinion of his own?
Bryan: I think he does.
Darrow: What is it?
Bryan: I am not sure.
Darrow: What is it?
Bryan: It was based upon the last glacial age, that man has appeared since the last glacial age.
Darrow: Did he say there was no man on earth before the last glacial age?
Bryan: I think he disputes the finding of any proof, where the proof is authentic, but I had rather read him than quote him. I don't like to run the risk of quoting from memory.
Darrow: You couldn't say then how long Mr. Wright places it?
Bryan: I don't attempt to tell you.

Bryan was now being pinned to a slab. He had quoted unqualified individuals -- 'creation scientists' as they would later call themselves -- and proved to be entirely uninterested in their qualification to make statements on the age of the Earth or the age of Man, as long as they agreed with his previous opinion.

Darrow: When was the last glacial age?
Bryan: I wouldn't attempt to tell you that.
Darrow: Have you any idea?
Bryan: I wouldn't want to fix it without looking at some of the figures.
Darrow: That was since the Tower of Babel, wasn't it?
Bryan: Well, I wouldn't want to fix it. I think it was before the time given in here, and that was only given as the possible appearance of man and not the actual.
Darrow: Have you any idea how far back the last glacial age was?
Bryan: No, sir.
Darrow: Do you know whether it was more than 6,000 years ago?
Bryan: I think it was more than 6,000 years ago.
Darrow: Have you any idea how old the earth is?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: The book you have introduced in evidence tells you, doesn't it?
Bryan: I don't think it does, Mr. Darrow.
Darrow: Let's see whether it does. Is this the one?
Bryan: That is the one, I think.
Darrow: It says B.C. 4004.
Bryan: That is Bishop Ussher's calculation.
Darrow: That is printed in the Bible you introduced?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: And numerous other Bibles?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: Printed in the Bible in general use in Tennessee?
Bryan: I couldn't say.
Darrow: And Scofield's Bible?
Bryan: I couldn't say about that.
Darrow: You have seen it somewhere else?
Bryan: I think that is the chronology usually used.
Darrow: Does the Bible you have introduced for the jury's consideration say that?
Bryan: Well, you'll have to ask those who introduced that.
Darrow: You haven't practiced law for a long time, so I will ask you if that is the King James version that was introduced. That is your marking, and I assume it is.
Bryan: I think that is the same one.
Darrow: There is no doubt about it, is there, gentlemen.

Bryan was now being chased around and around the pillar.  He was, somewhat dimly, becoming aware that he was not quite the literalist he wanted to represent himself as.  He had taken his stand on the Bible; but perhaps not Bishop Ussher's Bible.  He would not stand on dates like 4004 B.C.  They were in common use, but he would not assert that that was the exact age of the Earth.  Maybe historians could show that there were older civilizations.  Maybe Ussher had made some errors.  As for the Ice Ages -- had he just opined that they were more than 6,000 years old?  Prior to the date of creation printed in most Bibles in Tennessee? Hmm...

Darrow:Would you say the earth was only 4,000 years old?
Bryan: Oh no, I think it is much older than that.
Darrow: How much?
Bryan: I couldn't say.
Darrow: Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?
Bryan: I don't think the Bible says itself whether it is older or not.
Darrow: Do you think the earth was made in six days?
Bryan: Not six days of twenty-four hours.
Darrow: Doesn't it say so?
Bryan: No, sir.

Not six days of twenty-four hours.  Something like this had come up earlier in the trial, but had been passed over.  Was Bryan now quibbling over whether a day was a day, or another period?

Stewart interrupted again.  He had apparently decided to do so every five minutes.  What was the point of the examination?

Bryan: The purpose is to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible, and I am perfectly willing that the world shall know that these gentlemen have no other purpose than ridiculing every Christian who believes in the Bible.
Darrow: We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States, and you know it, and that is all.
Bryan: I am glad to bring out that statement. I want the world to know that this evidence is not just for the view. Mr. Darrow and his associates have filed affidavits here stating, the purpose of which, as I understand it, is to show that the Bible story is not true.
Malone: Mr. Bryan seems anxious to get some evidence into the record that would tend to show that those affidavits are not true.
Bryan: I am not trying to get anything into the record. I am simply trying to protect the Word of God against the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States.  I want the papers to know I am not afraid to get on the stand in front of him and let him do his worst. I want the world to know....

Thunderous applause rang out from the crowd, drowning out the rest of Bryan's remarks. "I wish I could get a picture of these clackers!" Darrow laughed.

Stewart tried to stop the cross-examination again.  It was legally worthless, he said.  Hays replied that the point was to elucidate what the Bible said about evolution, using the testimony of Bryan as a Bible expert. "Mr. Bryan has already stated that the world is not merely 6,000 years old, and that is very helpful to us."

Mr. Sue Hicks, of the prosecution, said that the court could restrict the length of such testimony, and it had already gone on too long and was costing the Rhea County taxpayers too much.  Raulston (one eye most likely on Bryan) scoffed at Hicks' claim that it was taking too long; just fifteen or twenty minutes, he said.

Stewart asked for Bryan's testimony to be introduced in affidavit instead of on the stand. "God forbid!" said Bryan.  Darrow said he had just a few more questions about the creation, and Raulston said that he would let the testimony go on, and adjourn when it was over. He explained that legally he was doing this so that the defense could show the appeals court what testimony it would have produced.  But Bryan's purposes were different, as he explained:

The reason I am answering is not for the benefit of the superior court. It is to keep these gentlemen from saying I was afraid to meet them and let them question me. And I want the Christian world to know that any atheist, agnostic, unbeliever, can question me any time as to my belief in God, and I will answer him.

Bryan was on the battlefield. The law was no longer an object to him.  It was his own honor he was vindicating, as a champion of Christ.  If he backed down on a technicality, he would show he was vanquished, and as a true knight-errant, that he would never do.

The other attorneys ignored him. Hays reiterated the theory of the presentation: to get Bryan to admit that the Bible could be interpreted figuratively.  Stewart denied that there was any question about how to interpret the Bible; there was only one Bible, the King James Bible, and the court had already said that it was...

"No, sir; I did not do that," Raulston replied.  He was well aware that the Butler Act did not specify the version of the Bible, and if he were interpreted as putting such a construction on it, or ruling out other Bibles as relevant, he would be putting his own ruling in jeopardy - a thing no judge likes to do. "I happened to have the Bible in my hand, it happened to be a King James edition," he tried to clarify; but "I do not think it is proper for us to say to the jury what Bible."

Attorney-General McKenzie denied that the evidence was competent.  Raulston agreed that it was not competent before this jury, but McKenzie added, "Nor is it competent in the appellate courts, and these gentlemen would no more file the testimony of Col. Bryan as a part of the record in this case than they would file a rattlesnake and handle it themselves."

Hays, Malone, and Darrow chimed in together: "We will file it!"  Bryan had given them a treasure trove.  "We will file it!" they said again. "File every word of it! File it from Dan to Beersheba!"

Bryan, as usual, was on a different page, in a different zone, maybe a different world.

Your honor, they have not asked a question legally, and the only reason they have asked any question is for the purpose -- as the question about Jonah was asked -- for a chance to give this agnostic an opportunity to criticize a believer in the word of God; and I answered the question in order to shut his mouth, so that he cannot go out and tell his atheistic friends that I would not answer his questions. That is the only reason, no more reason in the world.

Malone rebutted.

I would have asked Mr. Bryan -- and I consider myself as good a Christian as he is -- every question that Mr. Darrow has asked him, for the purpose of bringing out whether or not there is to be taken in this court only a literal interpretation of the Bible; or whether, obviously as these questions indicate, if a general and literal construction cannot be put upon the parts of the Bible which have been covered by Mr. Darrow's questions. I hope, for the last time, no further attempt will be made by counsel on the other side of the case, or Mr. Bryan, to say the defense is concerned at all with Mr. Darrow's particular religious views or lack of religious views. We are here as lawyers with the same right to our views. I have the same right to mine as a Christian as Mr. Bryan has to his, and we do not intend to have this case changed by Mr. Darrow's agnosticism or Mr. Bryan's brand of Christianity.

Malone was popular with the crowd, and received loud applause.  Darrow was allowed to continue his questioning:

Darrow: Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Bryan: Yes.
Darrow: Do you believe that she was literally made out of Adam's rib?
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
Bryan: No sir, I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.
Darrow: You have never found out?
Bryan: I have never tried to find.
Darrow: You have never tried to find?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: The Bible says he got one, doesn't it? Were there other people on earth at that time?
Bryan: I cannot say.
Darrow: You cannot say? Did that never enter your consideration?
Bryan: Never bothered me.
Darrow: There were no others recorded, but Cain got a wife. That is what the Bible says. Where she came from, you don't know. All right. Does the statement "The morning and the evening were the first day" and "The morning and the evening were the second day" mean anything to you?
Bryan: I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four hour day.
Darrow: You do not?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: What do you consider it to be?
Bryan: I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter -- let me have the book. The fourth verse of the second chapter says, "Those are the generation of the heavens and of the earth, when they were erected in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." The word "day" there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is necessity for considering the words, "the evening and the morning" as meaning necessarily a twenty-four hour day in the day when the Lord made the heavens and the earth.
Darrow: Then when the Bible said, for instance, "And God called the firmament heaven, and the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?
Bryan: I do not think it necessarily does.
Darrow: Do you think it does or does not?
Bryan: I know a great many think so.
Darrow: What do you think?
Bryan: I do not think it does.
Darrow: You think these were not literal days?
Bryan: I do not think they were 24-hour days.
Darrow: What do you think about it?
Bryan: That is my opinion -- I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
Darrow: You do not think that?
Bryan: No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in six million years or in six hundred million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.
Darrow: Do you think those were literal days?
Bryan: My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.
Darrow: Have you any idea of the length of the periods?
Bryan: No I don't.

Bryan's observations may have seemed pretty obvious to him, and certainly were consistent with a close reading of the Bible; if days depend on the Sun, and the Sun was not created until the fourth day, then the days prior to its creation were not exactly days but "periods"; and in any case the word "day" is often used in a non-literal sense.  However, a close reading is often not a literal reading, and most people who open the Bible are under the clear impression that a 24-hour day is meant from the very start. Bryan was opening himself to charges of 'Modernism'; the heresy of interpreting the Bible in the light of textual criticism.

Darrow continued to question Bryan:

Darrow: Do you think the sun was made on the fourth day?
Bryan: Yes.
Darrow: And they had evening and morning without the sun?
Bryan: I am simply saying it is a period.
Darrow: They had evening and morning for four periods without the sun, do you think?
Bryan: I believe in creation as there told, and if I am not able to explain it, I will accept it.
Darrow: Then you can explain it to suit yourself. Mr. Bryan, what I want to know is, do you believe the sun was made on the fourth day?
Bryan: I believe just as it says there.
Darrow: Do you believe the sun was made on the fourth day?
Bryan: Read it.
Darrow: I am very sorry. You have read it so many times, you would know, but I will read it again. "And God said, let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years. "And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven, to give light upon the earth; and it was so. "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; He made the stars also. "And God set them in the firmament of the heaven, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day." Do you believe, whether it was a literal day or a period, the sun and moon were not made until the fourth day?
Bryan: I believe they were made in the order in which they were given there and I think in dispute with Gladstone and Huxley on that point --
Darrow: Cannot you answer my question?
Bryan: -- I prefer to agree with Gladstone.
Darrow: I do not care about Gladstone.
Bryan: Then prefer to agree with whoever you please.
Darrow: Cannot you answer my question?
Bryan: I have answered it. I believe that was made on the fourth day, in the fourth day.
Darrow: And they had the evening and the morning before that time for three days or three periods. All right, that settles it. Now, if you call those periods, they might have been a very long time.
Bryan: They might have been.
Darrow: The creation might have been going on for a very long time?
Bryan: It might have continued for millions of years.
Darrow: Yes, all right. Do you believe in the story of the temptation of Eve by the serpent?
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: Do you believe that after Eve ate the apple, or gave it to Adam, whichever way it was, that God cursed Eve, and at that time decreed that all womankind thenceforth and forever should suffer the pangs of childbirth in the reproduction of the earth?
Bryan: I believe what it says, and I believe the fact as fully--
Darrow: That is what it says, doesn't it?
Bryan: Yes.
Darrow: And for that reason, every woman born of woman, who has to carry on the race, the reason they have childbirth pains is because Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden?
Bryan: I will believe just what the Bible says. I ask to put that in the language of the Bible, for I prefer that to your language. Read the Bible, and I will answer.
Darrow: All right, I will do that: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman." That referring to the serpent?
Bryan: The serpent.
Darrow: "And between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." That is right, is it?
Bryan: I accept it as it is.
Darrow: Did that come about because Eve tempted Adam to eat the fruit?
Bryan: I believe it is just as the Bible says.
Darrow: And you believe that is the reason that God made the serpent to go on his belly after he tempted Eve?
Bryan: I believe the Bible as it is. And I do not permit you to put your language in the place of the language of the Almighty. You read that Bible and ask me questions and I will answer them. I will not answer your questions in your language.
Darrow: I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?
Bryan: I believe that.
Darrow: Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?
Bryan: No, sir.
Darrow: Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?
Bryan: No sir, I have no way to know.
Darrow: Now, you refer to the cloud that was put in the heavens after the flood, the rainbow. Do you believe in that?
Bryan: Read it.
Darrow: All right, Mr. Bryan, I will read it for you.
Bryan: Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his questions. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee...
Darrow: I object to that.
Bryan: slur at it, and, while it require time, I am willing to take it.
Darrow: I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes!

The crowd erupted with noise. That was enough for Raulston, who at once adjourned the court.  In any case, given the increasing bitterness between Darrow and Bryan, it was unlikely that the questioning would go much further.  So the world was denied the spectacle of Bryan asserting that rainbows were, in fact, the hunting weapon of the Lord placed in the sky, rather than the refracted reflection of sunlight from suspended droplets of water; or, more likely, the less edifying sight of Bryan wiggling his way out of the question.  Bryan was willing, at the end, to say in broad terms that he agreed with the Bible (King James Version);  but far less willing to agree to any particular part of the Bible, quoted in any words other than those directly quoted from the Bible.  For Bryan, the Bible had become a talisman; its words, magic charms, empty of meaning in themselves, and as incapable of being paraphrased or construed as the words of any spell or mantra.  It was not religion that Bryan was opposing to science, but sorcery.

To the reporters who had viewed the clash of these two twentieth-century titans, it seemed obvious that Darrow had crushed Bryan, demolished him, left him a pathetic, gasping wreck.  One wrote "Darrow's cross-examination of Bryan was a thing of immense cruelty..."; and another "Bryan was broken, if ever a man was broken. Darrow never spared him. It was masterly, but it was pitiful."

Bryan was moved to participate partly by fear of seeming 'yellow', but also because he had great confidence in the ability of his oratory, as usual, to get him out of difficulties.  Not having been cross-examined before, he was perhaps surprised to find how few opportunities for oratory, for amusing anecdotes, for stirring speeches he had.  He was having to have his belief system broken down and examined critically, and he did not like it.

Still, Bryan looked forward to cross-examining Darrow.  He was stunned to find that the prosecution team would not allow him to do so.  They wanted no more circuses; convict John Scopes, end the trial.  If the defense wanted more of a show, they would simply drop the prosecution, and kill the defense's chances of getting the case taken to a superior court where the Act could be declared unconstitutional.  This, they knew, would not happen.

The next day would see the end of the trial, as far as Dayton, Tennessee was concerned.  The rest of the world would keep talking about it for a long, long time.

The next day, Tuesday, July 21, Judge Raulston met with county officials prior to the opening of the court. They told him that passions had been aroused by the arguments, and violence was in the air.  He had better end the thing quickly.

Raulston therefore lost no time.  Just as soon as the court sat -- back in the courthouse, this time -- he admitted error in permitting Bryan to testify, and declared that his testimony (contrary to the position of the defense) was wholly irrelevant. He declared himself for the prosecution theory that the Bible was irrelevant and out of bounds; the only question is whether Scopes had taught that humans had descended from non-human ancestors.  Therefore Bryan's testimony should be stricken from the record in its entirety.

Darrow suggested that although he was "not at all sure that Mr. Bryan's testimony would aid the Supreme Court or any other human being", he would still like to continue examining Bryan. He objected to the elimination of the testimony, but there was nothing he could do.

Darrow then made a frank statement of the defense's circumstances.  All of the witnesses they had called had been disqualified by the judge. They were not being allowed to testify as to the factual basis of evolution.  They had no intention of denying that Scopes had actually taught evolution; the purpose of their case was not to get Scopes off, but to get the Butler Act thrown out.  Given that all avenues to doing that had been closed off by the judge, the defense simply had no case left. Therefore, said Darrow:

I think to save time we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty. We make no objection to that and it will save a lot of time; and I that that should be done.

Attorney-general Stewart said that the prosecution was "pleased to accept" Darrow's suggestion.

Arthur Garfield Hays, for the defense, went over some more procedural points involved in making formal exceptions to the judge's rulings on the evidence, so that it could be preserved for the appeals court.

Bryan, as usual speaking on a different track from the prosecution, began to object to his being unable to respond to his examination of the preceding day, since he was not permitted to "answer the charges made by the counsel for the defense as to my ignorance and my bigotry", or to question Darrow.  He would make a statement to the press, he said.

I think it is hardly fair for them to bring into the limelight my views on religion and stand behind a dark lantern that throws light on other people but conceals themselves. I think it is only fair that the country should know the religious attitude of the people who come down here to deprive the people of Tennessee of the right to run their own schools.

In other words, Bryan wanted to pursue an ad hominem argument; anything Darrow said could be discounted, because Darrow was an agnostic.

Dudley Field Malone, for the defense, answered that the defense attorneys would be happy to answer Bryan's questions any time, in any forum.

Both prosecution and defense attorneys then concurred that they were ready for the jury to return to the courtroom -- a jury which had been unable to hear any of the testimony of the last several days.

As a clarification for the record, Darrow explained that the defense were not pleading guilty, or admitting guilt on the part of Scopes, but simply reflecting that, given the way Raulston had run the trial, they had absolutely no chance, and they'd rather take their chances with a superior court than waste further time.

Attorney-General Stewart agreed that this was the proper course, but he considered that, instead of simply writing into the record that the jury had returned a guilty verdict, they go through the forms of charging the jury and having them deliberate.

After a recess, the jury was brought in and Raulston charged them, explaining that it was the view of the court that all the prosecution need do is prove that Scopes taught the evolution of man, and that if this were proved, then the jury must render a verdict of guilty. Most of the charge was boilerplate, but there was one place where Raulston made a serious legal error, that would have disastrous consequences for the progress of the case through the courts.

Raulston explained that the statute allowed a fine of anywhere between $100 and $500 as punishment. If the fine were greater than $100, then the jury should state the amount it desired to fine Scopes;

But if you are content with a $100 fine, then you may simply find the defendant guilty and leave the punishment to the court.

That was Raulston's understanding of the procedure under Tennessee law.  But Raulston was mistaken. Under Tennessee law at the time, any fine over $50 had to be fixed by the jury; the judge was not permitted to do so.

Darrow then made a brief speech to the jury, apologizing for being unable to present evidence, since the judge had ruled it inadmissible; they would be taking the case to a higher court; and that while the defense disagreed with the judge's ruling, he had a right to make it; and under the circumstances, the defense would not fault the jury for returning a guilty verdict.

We cannot argue to you gentlemen under the instructions given by the court; we cannot even explain to you that we think you should return a verdict of not guilty. We do not see how you could. We do not ask it.

Stewart then pointed out to Raulston that it was the jury's duty to fix the fine in any case, but Raulston persisted in his view that the court could impose a minimum fine without asking the jury.  The defense, at this point - doubtless through unfamiliarity with Tennessee law, and accepting Raulston's authority on the question -- made the fatal mistake of failing to insist on a jury decision on the fine.

Stewart then made a very brief statement to the jury, reiterating Darrow's points, and the jury was sent out to deliberate.  They returned only nine minutes later.

The jury was then polled by the clerk, and unanimously stated: "We have found for the state. Found the defendant guilty".  The jury had also decided not to fix the fine, but left the matter to the court.

Scopes then stood up before the judge, and Raulston read his verdict:

Mr. Scopes, the jury has found you guilty under this indictment, charging you with having taught in the schools of Rhea County, in violation of what is commonly known as the anti-evolution statute, which makes it unlawful for any teacher to teach in any of the public schools of the State, supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man, and teach instead thereof that man has descended from a lower order of animals. The jury have found you guilty. The statute makes this an offense punishable by fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500. The court now fixes your fine at $100, and imposes that fine upon you.

Have you anything to say, Mr. Scopes, as to why the court should not impose punishment upon you?

And that was it, legally. Scopes had been found guilty and assessed his punishment; the Butler Act had been upheld, and evolution banished from the schools of Tennessee.

Scopes had a few words in response.  This was the first and only time that Scopes spoke before the court.

Your honor - I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom -- that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our Constitution, of personal and religious freedom. I think the fine is unjust.

This statement had no legal weight, and was not even responded to by the court in any way. Raulston simply set Scopes' fine at $100 (plus legal costs, which were considerable, amounting to several hundred dollars).  Scopes also had to make bond of $500 for a future appearance before the court; this was generously paid for by the Baltimore Evening Sun, which had probably made a great deal more out of dispatches regarding the Scopes case. Thirty days were given to the defense to ready their case for appeal.  Hays, as ever punctilious about making sure every last objection was on the record, moved for a retrial and was promptly overruled, then moved for an appeal and it was granted.

That ended the legal machinations.  The press then came forward to thank the court for its courtesies, and others from the public also expressed gratitude for the hospitality of Dayton.  Attorney-General McKenzie made a little speech thanking them for coming, and rather backhandedly chastising them for criticizing Tennesseeans for narrow-mindedness.

Bryan then made a speech of his own, rather short for him. He said that the trial was not about Dayton, or Scopes, but about a cause:

Causes stir the world. It is because it goes deep. It is because it extends wide, and because it reaches into the future beyond the power of man to see. Here has been fought out a little case of little consequence as a case, but the world is interested because it raises an issue, and that issue will some day be settled right, whether it is settled on our side or the other side.

As a fairly gracious gesture, he avoided taking the opportunity to grandstand against evolution or against the defense (as for Scopes, Bryan had never taken any notice of him at all).

Darrow then said a few more words, thanking the citizens of Tennessee for their hospitality, and thanking the court for not tossing him in jail for contempt.  But, he continued, in response to Bryan:

Nature.... does not choose any special setting for mere events. I fancy that the place where the Magna Charta was wrested from the barons in England was a very small place, probably not as big as Dayton. But events come along as they come along. I think this case will be remembered because it is the first case of this sort since we stopped trying people in America for witchcraft; because here we have done our best to turn back the tide that has sought to force itself upon this modern world, of testing every fact in science by a religious dictum. That is all I care to say.

Judge Raulston then made a speech, saying that something big had happened there in Dayton, and that great cases often arise over trivial matters; he compared Tennessee v. Scopes with Dred Scott v. Sanford and Marbury v. Madison.  He added that there were two indestructible things in the world: the truth, and the "Word of God".

Hays offered, jokingly, to send the judge a copy of Darwin's The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, to which the judge assented; and the court was adjourned, sine die, with a Christian benediction from a clergyman.


That was the end of the Scopes trial, though not, of course, of the issues it raised.  

In the short run, it was, of course, a victory for the fundamentalist side.  They had passed an anti-evolution bill in Tennessee and successfully defended it in court.  But the pro-evolution defense might feel they had won a moral victory; they had severely embarrassed the prosecution in court; the case had only been won by the prosecution through a good deal of heavy-handed and hardly impartial rulings by a judge whose personal sympathies were undisguisedly with fundamentalism; and in the process, they had got a good deal of information and discussion about evolution out in the press.  Even the jury that had found Scopes guilty (but had otherwise had to sit around for over a week, knowing less about the trial than anyone else involved) expressed an interest in learning more about evolution.

It was also expected at the time that it would go to a State appeals court, and perhaps eventually to the Supreme Court, where the law might well be overturned.  So the defense had good reason to feel pretty good about things.

However, this outlook soon became quite cloudy, because of events happening after the trial.

The first was unexpected to everyone, not least to the person principally concerned.  William Jennings Bryan had remained in Dayton for several days after the trial, making speeches in which he denounced Darrow as an enemy of the Bible and of God, and tried via the press to put Darrow on the stand where he could denounce him.  

Bryan also published the response he'd wished he'd been able to make at the trial: a vast, windy oratory, full of flourishes, denying that evolution was anything other than guesswork, saying that evolution had made Darwin into an atheist (a little bit hard to reconcile with the idea that evolution was nothing more than an excuse to advance atheism) and eventually led to Nietzsche, barbarism, murder, and war. "A bloody, brutal doctrine -- Evolution -- demands, as the rabble did 1900 years ago, that He be crucified."  "If the law is nullified, there will be rejoicing everywhere God is repudiated, the Savior scoffed at, and the Bible ridiculed. Every unbeliever of every kind and degree will be happy."

Oratorically, it had all the power and passion Bryan could put into it.  Legally, it was entirely irrelevant; factually, it was nothing, a mere mass of air, seeking no intellectual movement from its hearers, or anything beyond a response with sentiments they already had.  If you did not already agree with Bryan before reading his statement, nothing he said would convince you to change your mind.

Bryan, however, was satisfied with it. And within a few days of the trial, the wounds left by Darrow had healed, and he was quite happy with himself and looking forward to the next stage of the contest.  He was even arranging for a fundamentalist school to be built under his own name. And then, five days after the end of the trial, on Sunday, July 26, after church and a huge dinner, Bryan went to take a nap in the afternoon; and as he was sleeping, he died.

Bryan was now, temporarily, a martyr to his cause.  The undisguised glee offered by some urban newspapers at Bryan's death only gave him greater respectability among his followers.  In time, that would pass -- modern fundamentalists no longer refer to Bryan or follow his line of thought -- but at the time he was the dominant figure of the fundamentalism of that epoch, bar none.  From Tennessee his body was taken to Washington, D.C. by train, and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Though temporarily leaderless, the anti-evolution forces compensated by becoming even more active, as different would-be leaders jockeyed for position. There were plans for a 'Butler Act' to be passed in every one of the 48 states.  Bryan himself was lauded in song and story, and portrayed as the great victor over the infidel horde.

If his death effaced, for the moment, some of the harsher judgments made on Bryan's intelligence and character, and spurred the anti-evolution forces to greater action, the course of legal events proved even more catastrophic for the pro-evolution forces.

Due to a foul-up by John Randolph Neal, the defense's record of exceptions and its expert testimony -- so carefully and dutifully insisted on by Hays, Malone, and Darrow -- was not filed on time, and was tossed out.  The appeal could go on, but solely on the grounds of unconstitutionality.

In 1926, the case was heard by the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee in Nashville. Much the same arguments were heard as at Dayton, but with far less drama.  In January 1927, they delivered their verdict.  According to them, the Butler Act was consistent with the Constitution of Tennessee; it only affected schoolteachers, and (they claimed) could not be considered an unconstitutional preference for religion.

But at the same time they overturned Scopes' conviction -- on the highly technical grounds that Raulston, not the jury, had set the fine!

The case then went, theoretically, back to Rhea County, where the prosecutors could, if they liked, revive and re-try it.  Of course they had no intention of doing so; Dayton had already milked the case for as much publicity as it was worth and probably more.  The Scopes case died an ignominious death.

In the medium-term, then, we can say that the Scopes case was a success for the anti-evolutionists.  The state law was upheld and would remain on the books for 42 years; and though no one was ever again prosecuted under it, it had a chilling effect on the way science was taught in Tennessee.  Biology textbooks were revised to omit the word "evolution", and a host of scientific advances over the next 40 years simply could not be discussed in the public schools.

The case that really overturned Tennessee v. Scopes did not come until 1967.  In Epperson v. Arkansas in 1967, an Arkansas statute, similar to the Butler Act, was overturned by the Supreme Court.  States like Tennessee modified their laws to avoid suits on the basis of constitutionality.  In the years that followed, other cases established not just that evolution could be taught, but that one could not teach Biblical creation as if it were science, or give it "equal time".  Attempts to repackage creationism under the title of "Intelligent Design", without explicit reference to the Bible, failed as well. The most recent such case was less than five years ago.

The result has been a drastic change in, not just the way science is taught, but also the whole social structure of the United States.  To avoid exposing their children to evolution, creationist parents have taken their children out of the public schools and put them into religious schools or homeschools.  The result is that there are fewer fundamentalist children in public schools; there is greater antipathy among fundamentalists to funding public education, and to government generally; and fundamentalist children grow up with a very poor or very distorted understanding of biology and many other sciences.  There is now a fundamentalist bubble, an entire parallel intellectual world in which, of necessity, free investigation is discouraged and conclusions are accepted insofar as they agree with presuppositions.

This is the world we live in today.  And it is hardly surprising that in such a world, fantastic theories and undocumented connections should flourish.  The fundamentalist bubble includes Fox News, which follows the same basic pattern of, not following a story to its logical conclusion, whatever that is, but of looking for evidence -- even tendentious, distorted evidence, even outright lies -- to fit a preconceived narrative.  For this reason alone, the Scopes is relevant today. It shows us a picture of where we came from, as a nation -- and where we may yet go.  

Originally posted to WIds on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 01:43 PM PDT.


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