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?
Harry Emerson Fosdick was the “bad boy” of modernist preaching
Harry Emerson Fosdick had a certain reputation. He was the theological “bad boy” of modernist theology when he stood at a lectern in the 1920s and delivered his famous sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”. He was in New York City. One preacher, preaching one sermon. But this one talk spread all over the country and created real upset. Could modernist theology win in the Northern Presbyterian denomination?
J. Grescham Machen didn’t think it should. He was a fundamentalist and wrote in response to Fosdick’s sermon. But how does one keep out heresy?
The fundamentalists decided to call in a big-name Christian celebrity — William Jennings Bryan. He was on a cross-country crusade to stop the teaching of evolution in public schools. Not because he didn’t believe in science. He did. The problem that Bryan saw with teaching evolution in school was the cruelty that humanity would express if they believed they were nothing more than animals.
The battle between liberal and conservative Christians was a public one. William Jennings Bryan and Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote competing articles in The New York Times. Would it cause a split in the Northern Presbyterian denomination?
Sources for this episode:
“Fundamentalism and American Culture” by George Marsden
The Great War Helped Create the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy
The modernish/ fundamentalist controversy was heating up in the early 1900s. Conservatives saw this coming a long way off but could not stop modernism from taking control of seminaries and popular pulpits. It was everywhere. It all came to a head with WWI.
Theological conservatives saw WWI as evidence that the world was getting worse. To them, it was a chance to fight for patriotic reasons. Modernists were also pro-war because they thought this was the “war to end all wars”. There would be no more war after this and democracy would take over the world. The liberals fired the first shots in this theological battle because they thought that premillennialism encouraged people to root for the end of the world. That is how the Great War helped Create the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy.
William Jennings Bryan was Secretary of State in the US during this time and did his best to keep us out of the war.
This episode features the voices of George Marsden (author of “Fundamentalism and American Culture”) and Michael Kazin, professor at Georgetown University and author of “What it Took to Win”.
Special thanks to the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming for letting me record with permission.
If we know him at all it is from the Scopes Monkey Trial at the end of his life. Or maybe we know of his 3 failed campaigns for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket. But many of us are unaware of his efforts to establish world peace. William Jennings Bryan hated war. He wasn’t a pacifist – he enlisted for the Spanish-American War after all. But he saw the meaningless carnage of war and vowed to do his best to reduce the amount of bloodshed.
So “The Commoner” used his position as Secretary of State under President Wilson to establish 30 peace treaties. In this mini-episode, we revisit his career and talk about the impact this man might have had if WWI hadn’t slowed his progress.
God-willing I’ll be back soon with a full episode! Thanks for your patience!
“A Godly Hero” book by Michael Kazin
“A Righteous Cause” book by Robert Cherny
“The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitgerald
“Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing” by Jacob Goldstein
“What’s Your Problem?” podcast from Pushkin Industries, hosted by Jacob Goldstein
William Jennings Bryan was the head of the party of Jim Crow. Do his actions to stop imperialism or war shape how you feel about him?
Would a conciliation treaty policy work today?
Is world peace a worthy goal today? What role do weapons play in that?
The 1800s were an era of big questions, many of which we answered in cruel and selfish ways.
Is one race better than another?
Is one religion? If so, which one? In what ways?
Is one economic system better than another?
Is one system of governance like a democratic republic like the US, or socialism, monarchy, theocracy, communism, best?
Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Social Darwinism
Some people answered these questions with a resounding “yes”. But if we think our people and ways are better than anyone else’s, what responsibility do we have to spread those things? Men like Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt were firm believers in social Darwinism, though their vision of it meant teaching those less “civilized” people our ways. And they were okay with the United States taking power over them.
Meanwhile, there were men like William Jennings Bryan who refused to think of others in social Darwinism terms. He spent years fighting that dark philosophy, ultimately prosecuting the Scopes Monkey trial to stop the spread of social Darwinism. But the seeds of eugenics were planted.
Cubans held in concentration camps by Spain
Caught in the middle were the people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Phillippines, and other colonies of the Spanish empire. Spain was busy imprisoning Cubans in concentration camps. Their ruthless behavior toward America’s neighbors caught the attention of the US Senate, which was already champing at the bit for a fight. Men in the United States were worried about their waning influence on society. Groups bellyached about how men were not men anymore thanks to cities and offices. In the minds of some, war was the answer to weak-willed men. And Spain provided that war.
Our guest today is Paul T. McCartney author of “Power and Progress: American National Identity, the War of 1898, and the Rise of American Imperialism”. He teaches at Towson University.
**CORRECTION – In the original version of this story I referred to the USS Maine as the HMS Maine. That was incorrect. HMS stands for “Her Majesty’s Ship”, which makes no sense for American ships. The current version was changed for accuracy.**
Do you believe your people are somehow superior to another people group? Why?
Does that sound like an attitude Jesus would have?
If you are somehow superior, what is your responsibility to other people?
Should the US help people who are being oppressed around the world? When should we intervene?
Do you think that men are in decline? If so, what is the answer to that?
Do you better relate to Teddy Roosevelt or William Jennings Bryan when it comes to war? Or are you a pacifist?
How would Jesus have responded to the cruelty of Spain?