Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | February 28, 2018

22. Famous Thinkers – Statesman Is a Creationist 2

(5 Minute Read)

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was a two-term Congressman from Nebraska, a three-time American presidential candidate, and a United States Secretary of State.

But Bryan is even more well known for his involvement in one of history’s most famous courtroom trials. Most high-profile trials involve murder. But this 1925 trial was only a misdemeanor case.

Why was a misdemeanor case, nicknamed “The Trial of the Century,” so significant? Because it was a battle over important ideas: free speech, Bible vs. Evolution, taxpayer control of school curricula. The nation’s most renowned lawyers argued the issues.

Provocation – The Butler Act

Corn and tobacco farmer John Butler wrote the law that provoked the controversial trial. Butler deplored county schools teaching his five children evolution. Learning of someone who returned from college believing in evolution but not God, Butler ran for the state legislature in 1922. His winning platform opposed teaching evolution in government-funded schools.

Butler’s 1925 bill read: “It shall be unlawful (in any state-funded school) to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

Butler’s common-sense rationale was that teaching evolution contradicts the Bible and thus undermines government, because government receives its authority from God in the Bible. Therefore he believed it was quite reasonable for government to forbid teaching evolution. He believed schools should teach citizenship grounded on Biblical morality; evolution “demoralized” morality by removing its foundation in God’s law.

Tiny Dayton, population 1800, in southeastern Tennessee was in severe economic decline. City leaders hatched a plan to revitalize and promote Dayton. They recruited high school math and physics teacher John Scopes to accept an ACLU offer to defend a test case against Tennessee’s new anti-evolution law, the Butler Act. Their motivation was financial, not philosophical.

Scopes had substituted for a sick biology teacher and later insisted he had never taught evolution. Scopes said he agreed to test the law in court during “a drugstore discussion that got past control.” The defense never claimed he had not broken the law, and he never testified — because the trial was about Tennessee’s anti-evolution law, not Scopes. Scopes later admitted his lawyers coached students to perjure themselves by testifying he taught evolution.

Clarence Darrow & William Jennings Bryan At the 1925 Scopes Trial

Clarence Darrow & William Jennings Bryan
At the 1925 Scopes Trial

Trial Protagonists

Devout Christian William Jennings Bryan, 65, was a national figure, averaging 200 speeches yearly as the nation’s premier anti-evolution crusader in the 1920s. Despite a 30-year absence from the courtroom, Bryan volunteered to defend a principle he had championed for years by volunteering to help prosecute John Scopes.

Bryan’s courtroom opponent was evolutionist defense counsel Clarence Darrow, a militant atheist. Darrow, 68, was America’s most celebrated lawyer, famous for cross-examination skill and courtroom eloquence.

In demand nationwide at $200,000 per case, Darrow volunteered to defend Scopes — his only pro-bono work ever. He relished the trial as an opportunity to attack the Bible and ridicule Christianity in a national spotlight. Darrow determined to “prevent bigots and ignoramuses from controlling education.”

At the trial: Darrow grilling Bryan on the Bible before 5,000 spectators

Scopes Trial
5,000 watched Darrow grill Bryan on the Bible

Darrow-Bryan Duel

Worldviews clashed throughout the eight-day trial. It climaxed when defense counsel Clarence Darrow put prosecutor William Jennings Bryan on the stand, grilling him about the Bible before 5,000 spectators outdoors. Untold numbers listened by radio. The New York Times called the Darrow-Bryan duel the greatest court scene in Anglo-Saxon history.

Bryan said Darwin’s theory was merely a hypothesis, lacking definitive evidence and lacking documented examples of one species changing into another. He insisted such speculation should never be taught in schools. Bryan considered belief in evolution the root cause of moral and social problems. He thought evolution so greatly undermined religion and morality that the legislature should ban it from government schools.

Bryan argued scientific testimony from the defense was irrelevant because the legislative will of the people to control curricula in tax-supported schools superseded experts. Prevented from using scientists, Darrow called Bryan to testify as a “Bible expert.” With 1,000 people crammed into the second-floor courtroom, cracks developed in the floor and the judge moved the proceeding outside.

Darrow strove to undermine the Bible as he cross-examined Bryan for two grueling hours:
“Was Eve made from Adam’s rib?
Did Joshua make the sun stand still?
Did a whale swallow Jonah?”

Darrow questioned Bryan about Creation, Noah’s Flood, Tower of Babel, and Age of the Earth. Bryan wimped out over the length of Creation Days. He stunned the crowd by agreeing they might have lasted millions of years, thereby accepting a key evolutionary tenet that denies clear Biblical teaching.

Bryan charged Darrow with “slurring the Bible.” Darrow retorted, “I’m examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.”

Press coverage was unprecedented, even exceeding that of national political conventions. The Chicago Tribune broadcast the entire trial live using telephone lines costing $1,000/day. Newspapers printed courtroom transcripts. Two hundred reporters spewed 2 million words. Sixty-five telegraph operators keyed a record 200,000 words overseas.

The Bible-Science Guy in the judge's chair in the Scopes Courtroom

The Bible-Science Guy in the judge’s chair
in the Scopes Courtroom in Dayton, TN

Trial of the Century

The “Trial of the Century” gasolined a Creation-Evolution conflagration still raging today. Scopes was a financially-motivated hoax based on lies and perjury. Legal implications were negligible, but it had enormous symbolic significance.

In the popular view, Biblical credibility was damaged and Christianity was impugned when evolutionist Darrow confounded Bible-champion Bryan. This flagship event has been a rallying cry for nearly a century whenever Evolution is challenged. Ironically, today it is the evolutionists who use courts to enforce their dogma.

Despite many effective years upholding Scripture and attacking evolution, Scopes was not Bryan’s best hour. Darrow made him look foolish — primarily because Bryan could not answer questions on Genesis like, “Where did Cain get his wife?” Bryan was not prepared to defend the foundation of his faith (1 Peter 3:15). Repercussions from his strikeout have dogged Christianity ever since. Bryan won the court case, but Darrow won the battle over the nation’s worldview.

Answers to Questions Bryan Fumbled

Striving to discredit Genesis, skeptics frequently ask: “Where did Cain get his wife?” This question has perplexed believers since William Jennings Bryan fumbled it at the Scopes Trial. The question seems difficult to some because of an evolutionary mindset. Actually, from a Biblical worldview, it’s easy to answer. Jesus’ reply to Sadducees fits this situation perfectly: “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)
Click Where Did Cain Get His Wife? for the answer to Darrow’s question.

Was Eve made from Adam’s rib?
Click Adam’s Dream Girl for the answer.

Did Joshua make the sun stand still?
Click When the Sun Stood Still for the answer.

Did a whale swallow Jonah?
Click Jonah and the Resurrection for the answer.
By God’s sovereign appointment, a rebellious prophet, a raging storm, and a ravenous fish came together to illustrate the death and resurrection of Christ and to bring revival to a sin-soaked city. Jonah’s preaching spurred Nineveh to believe in “the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)

How long were the days of creation?
Click Are the Six Days of Creation Regular Days or Long Ages? for the answer.
The historical record in Genesis supplies compelling reasons proving the Creation Days were regular days. Six Days is the key distinguishing characteristic of the Biblical explanation of origins.

How old is the earth?
Click How Old Is the Earth? for the first of a series of blog posts answering the question.

Click The Scoop on Scopes for more on the Scopes Trial.

Read the next article in this Famous Thinkers series for examples of Bryan’s incisive thinking and powerful arguments defending Christianity and Creation.

Questions to Ponder

1. Why is it important to be able to answer questions like those Darrow asked Bryan?
2. Are you prepared to answer questions like those Darrow asked Bryan?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Soli Deo Gloria.

This is the 22nd installment in the Famous Thinkers series highlighting great men who believed in the Creator.
Read the prequels:
1. Famous Thinkers – Former U.S. President Supports Intelligent Design
2. Famous Thinkers – Scientist Supports Intelligent Design
3. Famous Thinkers – Mathematician Supports Intelligent Design
4. Famous Thinkers – Theologian Testifies for Creation
5. Famous Thinkers – Rocket Scientist Supports Intelligent Design
6. Famous Thinkers – Botanist Supports Creation
7. Famous Thinkers – Botanist Supports Creation 2
8. Famous Thinkers – Astronomer Is a Creationist
9. Famous Thinkers – Mathematician Is a Creationist
10. Famous Thinkers – Mathematician Is a Creationist 2
11. Famous Thinkers – Chemist Is a Creationist 1
12. Famous Thinkers – Chemist Is a Creationist 2
13. Famous Thinkers – Chemist Is a Creationist 3
14. Famous Thinkers – Chemist Is a Creationist 4
15. Famous Thinkers – Physician Is a Creationist
16. Famous Thinkers – President Is a Creationist
17. Famous Thinkers – Evangelist Is a Creationist 1
18. Famous Thinkers – Evangelist Is a Creationist 2
19. Famous Thinkers – Evangelist Is a Creationist 3
20. Famous Thinkers – Evangelist Is a Creationist 4
21. Famous Thinkers – Statesman Is a Creationist 1

Read the sequel:
23. Famous Thinkers – Statesman Is a Creationist 3

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday February 28, 2018 A.D.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:18-23)


  1. Yeah, it always bugged me that Bryan couldn’t provide Biblical answers at the trial.


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