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The Scopes Trial:
A Look Back
Jordan P. Niednagel
©TrueAuthority.com - 9/05


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Bryan: I want him to have all the latitude that he wants, for I am going to have some latitude when he gets through.
Darrow: You can have latitude and longitude.
Bryan: (pointing to the defense attorneys) These gentlemen . . . 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.
Darrow: How long ago was the flood, Mr. Bryan?
Bryan: Let me see Ussher's calculation about it.

Darrow: (handing the witness a Bible) Do you remember what book the account is in?


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We continue to see Clarence Darrow trying his best to reveal Bryan's ignorance of the Bible. Keep in mind throughout this discussion the whole point of the trial in the first place . . . that John Scopes had broken the written law of Tennessee.

Bryan: Genesis. It is given here as 2348 years B.C.
Darrow: You believe that all the living things that were not contained in the ark were destroyed?
Bryan: I do. I accept that as the Bible gives it, and I have never found any reason for denying, disputing, or rejecting it.
Darrow: Let me make it definite - 2348 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 - yourself?
Bryan: No, sir, not myself.
Darrow: But the Bible you have offered in evidence says 2340 something, so that 4,200 years ago there was not a living thing on earth, excepting the people on the ark and the animals on the ark. . . .
Bryan: There had been living things before that.
Darrow: Don't you know there are any number of civilizations that are traced back to more than five thousands 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: Do you say that you do not believe that there were any civilizations on this 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 if you believed it.
Bryan: Will you let me answer it?
Judge Raulston: Go right on.
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.

Though Bryan's replies are admittedly general in nature, so are Darrow's statements. He doesn't state what civilizations, what artifacts and dating methods prove such, etc. The topic is indeed a debatable one.

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 4,300 years ago or thereabouts that all life was wiped off the face of the earth?
Bryan: I think they have found records . . . reciting the Flood, but I am not an authority on the subject.
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, don't you know that there are many old religions that describe the Flood?
Bryan: No, I don't know. The Christian religion has satisfied me, and I have never felt it necessary to look up some competing religion.
Darrow: Do you know . . . (Confucianism and Zoroastrianism) are both more ancient that 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.
Darrow: You don't know how old they are, all these other religions?
Bryan: I would attempt to speak correctly, but I think it is much more important to know the differences between them than to know the age.
Darrow: Not for the purpose of this inquiry.

Darrow continued questioning Bryan regarding the population of the world in ancient times, the Tower of Babel, etc, with the purpose of, again, revealing to the audience Bryan's overall ignorance of the issues. What's sad is Bryan refusal to put down his foot about the earth's age. He was too afraid, which would reveal itself again and again. Also ironic were Darrow's comments about various religions and their flood stories. Cultures all around the world have global flood legends, often times with striking similarities (though being separated by vast oceans or thousands of miles). If Bryan had studied the subject more thoroughly, he would have been able to jump on this.

Darrow: Would you say the earth is only four thousand 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.

Again we see Darrow getting his facts wrong, asking Bryan whether the earth is four thousand years old (when he meant six thousand). Next followed the clincher for Darrow, where he caught Bryan off-guard and in the heat of the moment.

Darrow: Do you think the earth was made in six days?
Bryan: Not in six days of twenty-four hours.
Darrow: Doesn't it say so?
Bryan: No, sir.

Bryan's supporters were appalled, as he was seemingly allowing ample room for the day-age theory, where "day" can be translated to mean an indefinite period of time. By giving ample time, Bryan was also seemingly giving ample room for the idea that God might have used evolutionary processes to create the universe. Sadly, this was coming from the same man who wrote in 1923 that theistic evolution "deadens the pain while the Christian religion is being removed." Clearly, then, it seemed that Bryan had succumbed to the pressure and had not sufficiently thought through the implications of his statements. Tom Stewart had, however, who was the head of the prosecution, and he immediately stood up and shouted at the judge.

Stewart: What is the purpose of this?
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.
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.
Byran: 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 that I am not afraid to get on the stand in front of him and let him do his worst.


What followed were some arguments about the admissibility of Bryan's testimony. Things were heated. Interestingly, some sources describe the above photograph of Clarence Darrow and William Bryan as "friendly." The truth was far different. When asked to pose together, they reluctantly agreed, and only after a good amount of coaxing would they even look at each other. This was during the early stages of the trial, and had they been asked to do so later would likely have been an exercise in futility.

In any case, the cross-examination continued.

Darrow: 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 means necessarily a twenty-four-hour day.
Darrow: What do you consider it to be?
Bryan: I have not attempted to explain it. The word "day" there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is necessity for construing the words "the evening and the morning" as meaning necessarily a twenty-four hour day.
Darrow: You think these were not literal days?
Bryan: I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days . . . 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 is important whether we believe one or the other.
Darrow: Do you think those were literal days?
Bryan: My impression is that they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.

It's clear to see Bryan's true heart. He did in fact believe in 6 literal days, but didn't want to be pinned down, and so acted as if he wasn't sure. Deep down he knew that God, in creating the earth in 6 days and resting the 7th, was setting forth a pattern for man to follow that has lasted to this very day.

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 . . . If you call those periods, they may have been a very long time?
Bryan: They might have been.
Darrow: Then Creation might have been going on for a very long time?
Bryan: It might have continued for millions of years.

After a series of other questions from Darrow, Bryan finally addressed the court.

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: ...to slur at it, and, while it will 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.

What a profound statement from Clarence Darrow. He saw how absolutely ridiculous it was for a Christian to reinterpret Genesis in light of evolutionary theory, something that so many Christians today still cannot see themselves. In any case, both men were on their feet shouting and shaking their fists as the judge slammed his gavel to maintain order and called for the court to adjourn till the next morning. Scores of people flocked around Darrow with congratulations and praise, while Bryan sat fanning himself with only a few of his supporters standing by. It was clear to see who had won the day.


Thoughts & Conclusions

William Jennings Bryan was was out of his league, plain and simple. He humiliated himself by his own pride, and paid the consequences dearly. Although John Scopes was still found guilty the following day, the conviction was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court on technicality, and the charges were dropped entirely.

Bryan was left a broken and defeated old man, and the ridicule of the nation's newspapers only accentuated those feelings. The trial was a victory for evolutionists, even though, ironically, they lost. With the help of the media, Christianity looked like a fool's belief in the eyes of the nation. That is, not true Christianity, but Christianity as William Jennings Bryan sadly portrayed it.

Granted, Bryan didn't have all the materials available to creationists today, and yet he didn't need them. By just sticking to the plain teaching of Genesis and the Bible as a whole, he could have withstood Darrow's attacks with confidence and courage. Adam and Eve's children did marry each other (little to no defective genes), a global flood did occur roughly 4,000 years ago, and the sun really was created on the 4th day (there was light at the very beginning, just not the sun).

If the tables had been turned for Darrow to answer questions regarding his religion of evolution, he likely would have faired no better than Bryan. Such was Bryan's intention, in fact, as he had made preparations to put Darrow on the stand the following morning. It wasn't allowed, however, to Byran's utmost dismay, and this deep dismay eventually lead to his death in just less than a week. While Bryan was a diabetic and overweight, the stress of the trial clearly played a contributing factor. When Clarence Darrow heard of Bryan's passing, and that he was likely the cause of it due to a broken heart, he replied cynically, "Broken heart, nothing! He died of a busted belly."

It was a trial of tragedy, and something for all Christians to learn from. Know your Bible, and believe your Bible. Man's fallible ideas and interpretations will only lead you to sandy ground, and when the storm comes and the winds blow, you surely will fall as Bryan did, and fall hard.



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References:

1. The information for this article comes from Wisdom Book 46, Law Resource, How Did A Famous Christian Suffer Destruction When He Cast Pearls To "Legal Dogs"? p. 2484-2500. Institute For Basic Life Principles.





 

 


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