Wednesday, April 25, 2012


John T. Scopes
Are We Still Arguing This?

Some Facts About the Famous Confrontation Between 
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan
Evolution versus the Bible....not on the same playing field. Or, how to follow a truckload of red herring.

The Scopes trial indeed was different from what was portrayed in the movie, Inherit The Wind, which did not use the real names of the participants.
Scopes agreed to be prosecuted as a test of the law. 
Scopes was hired primarily as a football coach and math teacher and was substituting in the biology class. 
Scopes was under no personal threat of fine or imprisonment at any time. 
Scopes left the Presbyterian Church in Paducah, Kentucky when church members drove prostitutes out of town instead of helping them find honest livings. 
Scopes doubted the gospels and the beauties of religion ever after but it wasn't that big a deal to him. 
Bryan spoke at Scopes' High School graduation in 1919 and took a moment to stare down Scopes and his friends for giggling during the speech. 


 Darrow made a first amendment argument that the Bible is not a book of science and should not be so taught against their better judgements by those who know better and Bryan stood for the right of the taxpayers to determine what will be taught in school.
As so often happens in difficult questions, each side was arguing different points, either one or both of which could be "right," depending on context. 
 Bryan's initial argument rested on the people's right to determine what is taught as science in the schools, presumably even if they know nothing about science or are wrong. (He never addressed what happens if the people decide they want Hindu or Muslim or Satanist scripture taught as science in the schools.) 
Then he argued (contradicting, or at least turning,  his main argument) that evolution was only a hypothesis and there was no evidence for it, which forever after became the template and article of faith for the religious argument against evolution. 
Bryan mocked the text used by Scopes, George William Hunter's (a teacher at De Witt Clinton High School, located in Hell's Kitchen at the time), "A Civic Biology" for its diminishing of man by lumping him in with animals, but he never addressed Hunter's long discussion and glowing endorsement of eugenics in the text and its implied social Darwinist love of capitalism and rather conservative social sentiments. 
Hunter describes two mentally deficient families as "immoral" and "feeble minded." He says people like these are "true parasites...if such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading."  

And this  disgusting passage follows:

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. — Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites. 
The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country. 
 Blood Tells. — Eugenics show us, on the other hand, in a study of the families in which are brilliant men and women, the fact that the descendants have received the good inheritance from their ancestors. The following, taken from Davenport's Heredity in Relation to Eugenics^ illustrates how one family has been famous in American Historv. 

We can observe that if believers' critical senses were dulled by Faith in relation to the Bible, this champion of Darwin had dirty genocidal hands on full display in A Civic Biology.


You can read or download this book in various formats here:
 http://archive.org/details/acivicbiologypr01huntgoog 



An exhausted Bryan at the Scopes Trial
Bryan ignored these passages that some thought would have been the best way to discredit the text and further his point that evolution is an atheistic evil dogma.

Dudley F. Malone
Some say the best speech in the trial did not come from Darrow or Bryan but from Dudley Field Malone, a former assistant secretary of state under Bryan, but now an attorney for the defense on Scopes' team paid for by the four year old ACLU..

 There is never a duel with the truth. The truth always wins and we are not afraid of it. The truth is no coward. The truth does not need the law. The truth does not need the force of government. The truth does not need Mr. Bryan. The truth is imperishable, eternal and immortal and needs no human agency to support it. We are ready to tell the truth as we understand it and we do not fear all the truth that they can present as facts. We are ready. We are ready. We feel we stand with progress. We feel we stand with science. We feel we stand with intelligence. We feel we stand with fundamental freedom in America. We are not afraid. Where is the fear? We meet it, where is the fear? We defy it, we ask your honor to admit the evidence as a matter of correct law, as a matter of sound procedure and as a matter of justice to the defense in this case. (Profound and continued applause).

 He imitated the style used in Bryan's famous "Cross of Gold" speech which can be heard here:


After the applause in the courtroom died down Bryan told Malone, "Although we differ, I have never heard a better speech."  

The judge threw out Darrow's main argument, that religion is not science. 
Bryan failed to convince a Jew, Samuel Untermeyer, and a Catholic, Senator Thomas Walsch, to join the prosecution. 
Bryan did not seek the presence of any of the many black preachers who rallied in support of his cause.

Fearing for his health, Bryan's wife did not want him to participate in this trial. She was very critical of the bumpkins cheering for him...and just about everyone else. Of the defense team, she wrote this about Arthur Hays: he "is as forward and self-asserting as the New York Jews can be." and "his eyes are full of shrewdness."
The last two days of the trial were moved outside so all could hear the closing arguments. 
On the seventh day of the trial Darrow put Bryan on the stand. Bryan eagerly accepted the challenge. Darrow's goal was to make Bryan defend scripture as science. He got him to testify after some evasion that he interpreted some of the Bible other than literally. (such as the length of a day in Genesis) And got the famous response to Darrow's question about the date of the flood: "I do not think about things I don't think about." 
The weather was brutally hot and Bryan was old and sick. 
The Scopes Trial Moves Outdoors
Bryan believed, despite evidence to the contrary, that Scripture could transform man into a just and peaceful race. 
This trial may have disproved that thesis.

Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Trial
Darrow then asked the jury to find the defendant guilty, reading the writing on the wall and probably to prevent Bryan from delivering what was expected to be a strong closing argument. 
The judge the next day ordered Bryan's unfortunate testimony removed from the record.
July 21, 1925 Scopes was found guilty and trial correspondant H.L. Mencken's paper, The Baltimore Sun, offered to pay his $100 fine, something that Bryan had done at the beginning of the trial.
Less than a week later, Sunday July 26, 1925 Bryan died. 

This post was mostly based on material in Michael Kazin's excellent biography of Bryan,   "A Godly Hero"  Get it from Amazon here.
William Jennings Bryan, was a Christian liberal (for his day), and a hero to me, yet he was doomed by his naïveté his whole career. He thought that it was obvious to the people that the gold standard was the source of depression and poverty, neglecting to understand the power of wealth to influence elections.  He thought Prohibition was a good idea which would elevate the morals and behavior of the people. He thought he had some influence with President Wilson as Secretary of State but his opposition to World War I lost him his job.

A link on Clarence Darrow:   http://darrow.law.umn.edu/index.php
John Thomas Scopes on the trial, written in 1965.  http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/scopesreflections.html

Young William Jennings Bryan

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