In the centuries prior to World War 1, most western nations like America, Canada and England considered themselves to be Christian. Most of the people believed in God, Jesus and the Bible. In America, most of the laws made to govern the land were based upon biblical principles. Then things started to change.
World War 1 ushered in a new era in world history. It was the first time that so many nations were at war with one another and across oceans from each other. One of the nations that was at war with America and other Christian nations was Germany, lead by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
A leading American politician at the time of World War 1 was a man named William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was a devout Christian committed to promoting Christianity in public life and the government. When he learned that evolutionary thinking had played a major role in leading Germany into war, Bryan turned his efforts to oppose the teaching of evolution, especially ape-to-man evolution, in America’s schools.
Bryan travelled across the United States speaking to crowds, warning them about the dangers of evolution and teaching that man evolved from monkeys. He explained to them how the theory of evolution was contrary to what the Bible taught. He urged people to rely on God’s Word and not man’s ideas of evolution.
In response to Bryan’s speeches, Tennessee passed a law making it illegal to teach that man had descended from a lower order of animals. A newly formed group of lawyers known as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was ready for the Tennessee bill to be signed into law. It offered to defend any teacher willing to test the new law.
Many people believe that a Dayton, Tennessee teacher by the name of John T. Scopes readily accepted the ACLU offer. In reality, Scopes was coerced by members of the ACLU into using a biology textbook that taught that man was descended from apes. Scopes was subsequently arrested and charged with violating the newly established law.
The residents of Dayton requested William Jennings Bryan to come to their small town and defend the new state law. Bryan readily accepted the offer from the town and made his way Dayton. Upon hearing of Bryan’s involvement in the case, another famous lawyer and member of the ACLU by the name of Clarence Darrow offered to defend John Scopes for free.
The summer of 1925 was an unusually hot summer and the packed Dayton courthouse had no air conditioning. Yet the summer heat did not compare to the media heat brought down on this small rural town. Reporters from all over world came to Dayton to cover this highly controversial trial. It was then billed as the Monkey Trial or the Scopes Monkey Trial. It seemed the whole world had its attention focused on the Dayton courthouse as the
y eagerly wanted to know how the battle between Bryan, the defender of Christianity and Darrow, a well known agnostic would turn out..
From the onset of the trial, Darrow attacked Bryan’s views of the Bible. Like so many today, Darrow attacked the Bible’s account of Creation as he asked Bryan a number of questions. Here are some Darrow’s questions and Bryan’s responses taken directly from the trial transcripts:
(Q) Darrow: “Mr. Bryan, could you tell me how old the earth is?”
(A) Bryan: “No, Sir, I couldn’t.”
(Q) Darrow: “Could you come anywhere near it?”
(A) Bryan: “I wouldn’t attempt to. I could possibly come as near as the scientist do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess.”
(Q) Darrow: Do you think those were literal days?
(A) Bryan: My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.
(Q) Darrow: “…All right. 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?”
(A) Bryan: “I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four-hour day.” (Q) Darrow: “You do not?”
(A) Bryan: “No…”
(Q) Darrow: “You do not think that?”
(A) 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 6,000,000 years or in 600,000,000 years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.”
(Q) Darrow: “Do you think the sun was made on the fourth day?”
(A) Bryan: “Yes”
(Q) Darrow: “And they had evening and morning without the sun?”
(A) Bryan: “I am simply saying it is a period.”
(Q) Darrow: “They had evening and morning for four periods without the sun, do you think?”
(A) Bryan: “I believe in creation as there told, and if I am not able to explain it I will accept it. Then you can explain it to suit yourself.”
(Q) 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?”
(A) Bryan: “I do not think it necessarily does.”
(Q) Darrow: “And they had the evening and the morning before that time for three days or three periods. All right, that settles it. Now, if you call those periods, they may have been a very long time.”
(A) Bryan: “They might have been.”
(Q) Darrow: “The creation might have been going on for a very long time?”
(A) Bryan: “It might have continued for millions of years.”
By the end of the trial, the ACLU had failed to overturn the Tennessee law and John Scopes pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a fine which was paid by ACLU.
Even though the Tennessee law had been upheld, Darrow and the ACLU had succeeded in their main objective which was to ridicule the Bible and show that even the most ardent Christians could not defend it against evolutionary science. Bryan had not been prepared to answer the attacking questions about Genesis and Creation. He could not defend the Bible’s teaching of a young earth, the sun being created on Day 4, the length of a day or where Cain got his wife from. Bryan had not been prepared to give a defense as we are instructed in 1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
The questions Darrow asked Bryan over 80 years ago are still being asked by evolutionists and atheists of today’s Christians. If you are not prepared to give a defense of your Christian faith as Bryan wasn’t, you will suffer the same spiritual defeat that Bryan and the Christian community suffered that hot summer so long ago.
A few decades later, Hollywood produced the movie Inherit the Wind. The movie deliberately twisted the real events at the Scopes Trial as they portrayed Christians as closed-minded, ignorant bigots who were suppressing the truth from children. The movie made Clarence Darrow and his agnostic beliefs out as the hero. As the movie played at theaters across the land, public opinion started to turn away from Christianity and towards evolution.
At the same time Inherit the Wind hit the silver screen, the ACLU had been growing in members and money. They were now ready to start their legal attack on America’s Christian foundation in earnest and they have been very successful in their efforts. Since this time prayer, Bible reading, teaching creationism, Ten Commandments, Christmas song and decoration showing Jesus’ birth have all been banned from public schools.
In their place, the schools now teach godless molecules-to-man evolution, there is no absolute truth, homosexual orientation is okay, pre-marital sex is okay, survival of the fittest and you are a product of your environment. It isn’t a surprise that kids today have no respect for authority, each other or themselves.
The Scopes Trial has had more of an impact on America than many people realize. It was the event that launched the public anti-Christian movement that has lead to America no longer being one nation under God.
But what would have happened if William Jennings Bryan had been able to properly defend the Bible by having the right answers to Clarence Darrow’s questions? Had Bryan been prepared and successfully defended the Bible and his faith, Darrow and ACLU may not have had the victory they claimed in degrading the Bible and Christians. Had Bryan successfully defended the Bible perhaps the movie Inherit the Wind may not have been made and public opinion not been swayed by it. Without that victory, the ACLU may not have grown as powerful as they did so soon after the trial and perhaps we may still have prayer, Bible reading and the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas in our public schools.
Don’t be like Bryan when it comes to defending the Bible. I pray you will use the wealth of information on our website to help prepare you to defend your faith and the Bible when the time comes and be assured in today’s world, that time will come more and more frequently. 2 Timothy 2:15 instructs us to:
Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, dividing the word of truth aright.
Scopes, John Thomas, The World’s Most Famous Court Trial, The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., Clark, NJ, 1997, pp. 296, 302-3.
n one of his most popular talks, Dr. David Menton exposes the distortions and inaccuracies in the play and movie Inherit the Wind. Incorporating clips from the 1960 film, Dr. Menton, gives example after example of how the film has rewritten the real history of the trial, using it as propaganda to ridicule Christianity. This influential propaganda piece has deceived a whole generation with the false belief that Christians went on a witch hunt to stop John Scopes from teaching evolution, but in reality it was a set up by the American Civil Liberties Union.
About the speaker
Dr. David Menton was awarded Professor of the Year in 1998 while associate professor of anatomy at the respected Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Now a professor emeritus (he holds a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University), Dr. Menton now speaks full-time for Answers in Genesis. Audiences enjoy Dr. Mentons well-illustrated presentations on a variety of fascinating topics, such as the human body, feathers and birds, and the Scopes trial.