The Scopes Trial

Donn R. Day

William Edelen is a frequent contributor to the Feature section of The Secular Web and he is one of the more acerbic commentators on the religious scene today. In his article, The Circus of Creationism, Edelen comments;

When I was reading the hysterical testimony of the Christian fundamentalist ministers before the Kansas Board of Education, my mind/brain went into rewind back to 1925. The Scopes trial in the fundamentalist town of Dayton, Tennessee was held that year over the same issue. Militant biblical and religious ignorance demanded to be heard.

Perhaps if Mr. Edelen actually read the transcripts of the Scopes Trial, instead of relying on his own "mind/brain", he wouldn't make so many inaccurate statements in his articles. The following [italicized] are the quotes from Edelen, followed by the actual words of Darrow and Bryan from court transcripts provided by Jonathan Marks, Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley.

CLARENCE DARROW QUESTIONS WILLIAM DARROW: "Mr. Bryan, do you believe that everything in the bible should be literally interpreted?"

BRYAN: "Yes..absolutely."

DARROW: Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?

BRYAN: I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there. Some of the Bible is given illustratively; for instance, "Ye are the salt of the earth." I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people.

DARROW: " When do you think the flood was, according to the bible?"

BRYAN: "Two thousand three hundred and forty eight years, B.C. and everything was destroyed but the fish, because they could swim."

DARROW: When was that flood?

BRYAN: I wouldn't attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.

DARROW: About 2400 B.C.?

BRYAN: That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. I would not say it is accurate.

DARROW: "Don't you know that there are ancient civilizations thousands of years older than that date?"

BRYAN: "That is not so, or the bible would have told us."

DARROW: Do you say that you do not believe that there were any civilizations on this earth that reach back beyond five thousand years?

BRYAN: I am not satisfied by any evidence that I have seen.

DARROW: You do know that there are thousands of people who profess to be Christians who believe the earth is much more ancient and that the human race is much more ancient?

BRYAN: I think there may be.

DARROW: "Do you believe that the sun was literally made on the fourth day?"

BRYAN: "Of course, yes."

DARROW: "Well then, according to the bible story they had an evening and a morning the first three days without the sun."

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.

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 necessarily means a twenty-four hour day.

DARROW: You do not?


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.

DARROW: Do you think the sun was made on the fourth day?


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.

While TDC would disagree with much of what William Jennings Bryan said, people like Bill Edelen, (and plays/movies such as Inherit the Wind) frequently present a "cartoon" characterization of the trial, and in so doing, make themselves appear more foolish than the man/views they are mocking. In the case of Edelen, even more telling than his misrepresentation of Bryan's words, is the way he twists things to try to make a point such as the following.

Do not overlook a very revealing fact: the recent school shootings were not done in the centers of liberalism, humanism and education, Berkeley CA; Harvard and Cambridge, Palo Alto, etc. The rampage and brutal killings were carried out in 'Christian' Norman Rockwell towns, with churches on every corner filled on Sundays, and prayer meetings daily, Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Edinboro, Pennsylvania; Springfield Oregon; and Littleton, Colorado all saturated with evangelical churches and the ten commandments everywhere.

I have never visited a "Christian" town, and I wonder how many citizens of the aforementioned cities knew they were living in one? William Edelen is blinded by his own hatred and bigotry.

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