Did William Jennings Bryan kill fundamentalism when he took the stand?
The trial was basically over. The prosecution won. John Scopes was moments away from being convicted of teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. The ACLU and the prosecution had what they wanted. But Clarence Darrow did not. He wanted to make a monkey out of William Jennings Bryan, the famous “fundamentalist”. But how?
Clarence Darrow sets a trap for William Jennings Bryan
Darrow knew that if he turned down the chance to make a closing argument that Bryan would not be able to make one either. That meant that Bryan’s carefully crafted words would never get heard. But he had one more trick up his sleeve. He would call Bryan, the lawyer for the prosecution, to the stand. Imagine that! The case was no longer about the defendant. It was about the lawyers trying to flex.
Bryan took the bait. He got on the stand outdoors next to the Rhea County Courthouse in front of an audience of millions. Darrow, in a masterstroke, hit him over and over with the questions of any village atheist. Did Jonah really get swallowed by a large fish? Did the sun really stand still because Joshua prayed that it would? And Bryan… floundered on live radio.
Inherit the Wind gets the story of the Scopes trial all wrong
This event was made even more famous by the long-running play Inherit the Wind on broadway, which was followed up by a movie adaptation. But the play got it all wrong. Edward Larson, professor at Pepperdine University, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Summer for the Gods, joins Chris to uncover what really happened on that muggy summer day.
Laws block the teaching of evolution in public schools
Tennessee was the first state in the United States to crack down hard on the teaching of evolution in public schools. Others had dabbled, but Tennessee went all the way. The ACLU wanted to challenge the validity of the case in the courts. In order to do that they needed an educator to teach it, get busted, and be brought to trial.
Dayton, Tennessee’s plan to boost tourism
At the same time, the town of Dayton, TN needed a boost. After the biggest employer closed down it faced serious economic trouble. What if the men of Dayon could manufacture a court case to draw the attention of the nation? They found a young teacher named John Scopes and convinced him to participate in their scheme. They booked Scopes, even though he probably never taught evolution. The ACLU had its case.
William Jennings Bryan’s crusade against Darwin
Soon William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow hopped on board and it went from a publicity stunt to something for the history books. This is the event that some historians (wrongly) point to as the death of Christian fundamentalism in the United States until it was revived by the Moral Majority. One man fighting for the biblical idea of creation and another for godless atheism. But the real history is far more complex.
Edward Larson, professor at Pepperdine University, joins us to discuss the trial and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Summer for the Gods”.
Not all evangelicals or fundamentalists are against evolution
In the 1600s, an Irish Archbishop named James Ussher did a bunch of math. The Bible is full of numbers and genealogies. He sat down and calculated that, in his opinion, the Bible dated creation at 4004 BC. According to Ussher, that is when God created man. That number has really stuck around!
I gathered my small group together to explore the Adams Synchronological Chart. It is a 23-foot-long timeline of human history, beginning in 4004 BC and ending in 1900. There it was! The 4004 BC number! Which brings up an interesting question, right? What did Christians really believe about evolution just before it became a linchpin battle for fundamentalists?
Why did fundamentalists fight against evolution in the Scopes trial?
I turned to Edward Larson for answers. He’s a professor at Pepperdine University and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Summer for the Gods”. The book chronicles the Scopes “Monkey” trial that we’ll be covering in the next two episodes. But it also gives us a great introductory look at what Christians believed about evolution in the build-up to the trial.
It turns out that evangelical Christians and even fundamentalists were all over the place when it came to ideas of evolution. Many Christians, like William Jennings Bryan, believed in an old earth and even some forms of evolution. But they thought that it was God who caused that evolution. Charles Darwin, though, said that evolution was a matter of chance adaptations, thus cutting God out of the equation. Fundamentalists like Bryan were determined to stop the spread of Darwinian evolution for that very reason. They believed that if young people were taught that they were the result of grand mistakes then what reason did they have to treat each other with respect? To be good citizens?