You are getting a free preview of a TIME Magazine article from our archive. Many of our articles are reserved for subscribers only. Want access to more subscriber-only content, click here to subscribe.
The verdict had been already delivered, but the trial of Teacher Scopes at Dayton, Tenn., did not close until last week, when Mr. Bryan’s last speech—which he had intended to deliver in summing up, but which the defense had at the last moment canceled—was given to the public.
Mr. Bryan had told friends it was to be his greatest speech. It was his last great argument in defense of Modernism which meets halfway with Evolution.
No summary can do justice to Mr. Bryan’s purple passages, such as: “Christ has made of death a narrow starlit strip between the companionship of yesterday and the reunion of tomorrow; Evolution strikes out the stars and deepens the gloom that enshrouds the tomb.”
The following summary is designed to give the substance of his argument:
The Preamble. “Let me, in the first place, congratulate our cause that circumstances have committed the trial to a community like this and intrusted the decision to a jury made up largely of the yeomanry of the state.”
The Law. The Tennessee anti-Evolution law does not forbid a teacher from worshipping as he prefers, nor from saying what he believes as an individual. It restricts him only as an employe paid by the staae and under instructions from the state.
“It need hardly be added that this law did not have its origin in bigotry. The majority is not trying to establish a religion or to teach it—it is trying to protect itself from the effort of an insolent minority to force irreligion upon the children under the guise of teaching Science.”
The Facts. (Mr. Bryan rehearsed briefly the evidence presented to the jury, and the admission of the defense that Mr. Scopes had taught Evolution.) “These are the facts. . . . A verdict of guilty must follow.”
Evolution and Christianity. “Christianity welcomes truth from whatever source it comes and is not afraid that any real truth from any source can interfere with the divine truth that comes by inspiration from God Himself. It is not scientific truth to which Christians object, for true Science is classified knowledge and nothing, therefore, can be scientific unless it is true.
“Evolution is not truth, it is merely an hypothesis—it is millions of guesses strung together.”
“Darwin suggested two laws, sexual selection and natural selection. Sexual selection has been laughed out of the class room, and natural selection is being abandoned, and no new explanation is satisfactory even to scientists. Some of the more rash advocates of Evolution are wont to say that Evolution is as firmly established as the law of gravitation or the Copernician theory.
“The absurdity of such a claim is apparent when we remember that any one can prove the law of gravitation by throwing a weight into the air and that any one can prove the roundness of the earth by going around it, while no one can prove Evolution to be true in any way whatever.”*
“Our first indictment against Evolution is that it disputes the truth of the Bible account of man’s creation and shakes faith in the Bible as the word of God. This indictment we prove by comparing the processes described as evolutionary with the text of Genesis…
“Our second indictment is that the evolutionary hypothesis carried to its logical conclusion disputes every vital truth of the Bible. Its tendency, natural if not inevitable, is to lead those who really accept it, first to agnosticism and then to atheism. Evolutionists attack the truth of the Bible, not openly at first, but by using weasel words like ‘poetical,’ ‘symbolical,’ and ‘allegorical’ to suck the meaning out of the inspired record of man’s creation.”
(As evidence of this Mr. Bryan called attention to the fact that 1) Charles Darwin, who studied three years for the ministry, became an agnostic after taking up his studies of Biology; 2) that a Bryn Mawr professor who sent a questionnaire to 1,000 leading scientists found that more than half did not believe in a personal God or a personal immortality, and that the proportion of unbelief was greatest among the most prominent; 3) that Murderer Leopold, whom Mr. Darrow defended last year, was familiar with Evolution and the teaching of Nietzsche.)
“Our third indictment against Evolution is that it diverts attention from pressing problems of great importance to trifling speculations. While one Evolutionist is trying to imagine what happened in the dim past another is trying to pry open the door of the distant future…
“Our fourth indictment against the evolutionary hypothesis is that, by paralyzing the hope of reform, it discourages those who labor for the improvement of man’s condition. Every upward-looking man or woman seeks to lift the level upon which mankind stands, and they trust that they will see beneficent changes during the brief span of their own lives.
“Its only program for man is scientific breeding,** a system under which a few supposedly superior intellects, self-appointed, would direct the mating and the movements of the mass of mankind—an impossible system. Evolution, disputing the miracle, and ignoring the spiritual in life, has no place for the regeneration of the individual. It recognizes no cry of repentance and scoffs at the doctrine that one can be born again.
“Our fifth indictment of the evolutionary hypothesis is that if taken seriously and made the basis of a philosophy of life, it would eliminate love and carry man back to a struggle of tooth and claw.”
(In this “indictment” Mr. Bryan identified Evolution with natural selection, which he argued was heartless and bloody.)
“And what else but the spirit of Evolution can account for the popularity of the selfish doctrine, each one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost,’ that threatens the very existence of the doctrine of brotherhood.”
Peroration. “Let us, then, hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessels. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo.
“It is again a choice between God and Baal; it is also a renewal of the issue in Pilate’s court. In that historic trial—the greatest in history—force, impersonated by Pilate, occupied the throne.”
Scientists and teachers shook their heads. Mr. Bryan was dead and at least for the time they as a body declined to enter upon animadversion, but some of them privately compared the Scopes trial, not with the trial in Pilate’s court, but with a trial in the court of Athens, where a teacher, accused (like Mr. Scopes) of corrupting the youth by teaching things contrary to law and disrespectful to the gods, had (like Mr Scopes) refused to deny his action, but defended it only by saying that he had taught the truth, which was, in his eyes, the highest form of reverence; and was (like Mr. Scopes) convicted. The parallel, they said, fell down in only one important point: Mr. Scopes was given a fine of $100; Socrates was given a cup of hemlock.
*It is but fair to the Evolutionists whom Mr. Bryan attacked to mention that they do not define or describe Evolution as Mr. Bryan did. They regard it as an historical truth, no more and no less demonstrable by experiment than any other historical fact—such as, for example, that Washington crossed the Delaware. Mr. Bryan persisted in identifying Evolution with the theories (such as natural selection) which are advanced to account for it. Looking on the geological record, Evolutionists feel as an historian might who looked upon a series of photographs taken at every city and town between Manhattan and San Francisco; if each of the photographs showed a given automobile, with the pennant bearing the name of each town added as the automobile passed through, the historian would say with assurance that the automobile passed across the continent, although he might have to guess as to why the trip was made and who financed it. Similarly, Evolutionists look upon Evolution as an established fact and advance various guesses (theories) as to why life has made this extraordinary journey. Mr. Darwin saw perhaps a dozen photographs, guessed that the trip had been made, and advanced a number of guesses as to why it had been made. Some of Darwin’s guesses at causes have been discredited, and other guesses made, but the collection of photographs has grown year by year, so that Evolutionists can no longer regard the trip itself as a guess. Mr. Darwin, who Mr. Bryan regarded as a leading authority on Evolution, is looked upon by scientists as only a brilliant pioneer—no more of an authority on Evolution than Benjamin Franklin (pioneer in knowledge of electricity) is today an authority on electricity.
**A program, which as applied to the human race, is looked upon as impossible if not positively dangerous, by many men of science.