Darrow vs. Bryan
Historic Associated Press Coverage

July 20, 1925

Dayton, Tenn., July 20. -- Admitted agnosticism met unwavering fundamentalism here today as Clarence Darrow, defense attorney in the Scopes evolution case, drew William Jennings Bryan, associated prosecuting counsel, upon the witness stand.

Hundreds of men and women, drawn from the peaceful hills and valleys for miles around, pushed close to the rough wooden platform beside the courthouse as the verbal swords of the two clashed time and again, sending off flashes that drew volleys of handclapping and booming mountain fox calls.

A silence, broken only by the erstling of the maple trees, settled over the crowd as Arthur Garfield Hays announced the intention of the defense to call Bryan to the witness stand.

John T. Scopes, the Tennessee biology teacher who sparked a landmark legal battle after he was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution, in 1925. The purpose was explained later by Mr. Darrow as an effort to "show the people what fundamentalism is." Bryan arose from the witness stand to tell Darrow, the judge and the assembled spectators that its purpose was to cast "slurs upon the Bible."

The nature of the examination brought Attorney General S. T. Stewart and other members of the prosecution counsel to their feet time after time to interpose objecting. Frequently it even caused Darrow to arise with objections as the witness proceeded to direct the course himself.

Faces grew strained and lips tightened among the spectators at the apparent irreverence of some of the questions and they arose to cheer as the witness waved aside the protecting of the judge with the declaration:

"These gentlemen have not had much chance. They did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any questions they please."

As it proceeded insinuations ceased to be insinuating and became either unveiled sarcasm or pointed irony, until, argument succeeding argument, a fresh one threatened to arouse more controversial remarks than any of the preceding ones and Judge Raulston adjourned for the day with several members of both the prosecution and the defense counsel on their feet and hot words on their tongues.

The questioning began with the usual qualifying questions for the expert witness and after Bryan had announced his intention of calling to the stand Darrow, Malone and Hays.

The witness said that he had made considerable study of the Bible, including its interpretation on the particular question involved.

"I have studied the Bible for fifty years," he said, in answer to a question, "or some time more than that, but of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was a boy."

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

"I believe that 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."

"But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale -- or that the whale swallowed Jonah -- excuse me, please, how do you literally interpret that?"

"When I read that a big fish swallowed Jonah, it does not say whale."

"Doesn't it? Are you sure?"

"That is my recollection of it. A big fish and I believe it, and I believe in a God who can make a whale and can make a man and can make both do what He pleases."

Other interrogations along the same line followed until the query:

"You don't know whether it was the ordinary run of fish or made for that purpose?"

"You may guess; you evolutionists guess," responded the witness.

"But when we do guess, we have a sense to guess right."

"But do not do it often."

"You are not prepared to say whether that fish was made purposely to swallow a man or not?"

"No, the Bible doesn't say."

"But you believe He made them, that He made such a fish and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?"

"Yes sir; let me add, one miracle is just as easy to believe as another."

A suggestion from Darrow that one was just as hard for him to believe as another brought an immediate response.

"It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform. When you get beyond what man can do, you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible."

"Perfectly easy to believe that Johan swallowed the whale."

"If the Bible said so; the Bible doesn't make extreme statements as evolutionists do."

"That may be a question, Mr. Bryan, about some of those you have known?"

"The only thing is, you have a definition of fact that includes imagination."

An objection from the attorney-general to the argumentative form of questioning brought the remark from Darrow that the witness must "not argue with me either."

Thence the interrogation turned to the plausibility of Joshua's making the sun stand still, and brought another objection from the attorney-general, who declared the questions had gone beyond the pale "of any issue that could possibly be injected into this law suit except by imagination."

Famed attorney Clarence Darrow, left, and William Jennings Bryan, associated prosecuting counsel, are pictured at the trial of biology teacher John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. Darrow was one of three attorneys who unsuccessfully defended Scopes in his test of a Tennessee law banning the teaching of the theory of evolution. Bryan testified for the prosecution as an expert on the Bible. Scopes lost the case. Bryan, however, asserted, "it would be too exacting to confine the defense to the facts. If they are not allowed to get away from the facts, what have they to deal with?"

The next query from Darrow was:

"Have you an opinion as to whether, whoever wrote the book, I believe it was Joshua, the book of Joshua, thought the sun went around the earth or not?"

"I believe he was inspired."

"Can you answer my question?"

"When you let me finish the statement."

"You cannot measure the length of my answer by the length of your question."

"No sir, except that the answer will be longer."

"I believe that the Bible was inspired and whether the inspired author, one who wrote as he was directed to write, understood the things he was writing about, I do not know."

"Whoever inspired it. Do you think whoever inspired it believed that the sun went around the earth?"

"I believe it was inspired by the Almighty and He may have used language that could be understood at that time instead of using language that could not be understood until Darrow was born."

"So it might not, it might have been subject to constructing, might it not?"

"It might have been used in language that could be understood then."

"The means that it is subject to construction."

"That is your construction. I am answering your question."

"Is it your opinion that passage?

"Well, I think anybody can put his own construction upon it, but I do not mean that necessarily that is a correct construction. I have answered the question."

"Don't you believe that in order to lengthen the day it would have been construed that the earth stood still?"

'"I would not attempt to say what would have been necessary, but I know this, that I can take a glass of water that would fall to the ground without the strength of my hand and to the extent of the glass of water I can overcome the law of gravitation and lift it up. Whereas, without my hand it would fall to the ground. If my puny hand can overcome the law of gravitation, the most universally understood, to that extent, I would not deny the power of the Almighty God was made the universe."

"I read that years ago. Can you answer my question directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?"

"Well I should say so."

"Yes."

"But it was language that was understood at the time and we now know that the sun stood still as it was with the earth.

"We know also that the sun does not stand still?"

"Well, it is relatively so, as Mr. Einstein would say."

"I ask you if it does stand still?"

"You know as well as I know."

"Better. You have no doubt about it?"

"No. And the earth moves around?"

"Yes?"

"Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered, what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?"

"No."

"You have not."

"No: the God I believe in could have taken care of that."

"I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?"

"No."

"Don't you know it would have converted into a molten mass of matter?"

"You testify to that when you get on the stand -- I will give you a chance."

"Don't you believe it?"

"I would want to hear expert testimony on that."

"You have never investigated that subject?"

"I don't think I have ever had the question asked."

"Or ever thought of it?"

"I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance than that."

"You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?"

"Yes."

"When was that flood?"

"I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning."

"About 4004 B. C.?"

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

"That estimate is printed in the Bible?"

"Everyone knows, at least, I think most of the people know, that was the estimate given."

Other questions followed along the same line until Attorney-general Stewart objected to the cross-examination by Darrow of his own witness.

Bryan, however, assured the court that he desired the defense attorney to be given altitude, "for I'm going to have some latitude when he gets through."

Arising, he addressed both the court and the crowd:

"These gentlemen have not had much chance. They did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any questions they please."

Applause from the spectators brought an interchange of remarks between the attorney and the witness which concluded with the declaration of Darrow that "you insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion."

Another objection came from the attorney-general, who asserted that Darrow was making an effort to insult the witness. Judge Raulston, however, indicated that he did not wish to be purely technical and allowed the examination to continue.

Corbis, 1925 (not from AP).The effort to establish the date of the flood was continued. Bryan asserting that the Bible gave the date as about 2343 B.C.

"You believe that all the living things that were not contained in the ark were destroyed?"

"I think the fish may have lived."

"Outside of the fish?"

"I cannot say?"

"No; except that, just as it is. I have no proof to the contrary."

"I am asking you whether you believe it."

"I do."

"That all living things outside of the fish were destroyed?"

"What I say about the fish is merely a matter of humor."

"I am referring to the fish, too."

"I accept that, as the Bible gives it, and I have never found any reason for denying, disputing or rejecting it."

"But the Bible you have offered in evidence says 2340, something, so that 4200 years ago there was not a living thing on the earth, excepting the people on the ark, the animals on the ark and the fishes?

"Don't you know there are any number of civilizations that are traced back to more than 5000 years?"

"We know we have people who trace things back according to the number of ciphers they have. But I am not satisfied they are accurate."

"You are not satisfied there is any civilization that can be traced back five thousand years."

"I would not want to say there is because I have no evidence of it that is satisfactory."

"Would you say there is not?"

"Well, so far as I know, but when the scientists differ from 24,000,000 to 860,000,000 in their opinion, as to how long ago life came here, I want them to be nearer to come nearer together, before they demand of me to give up my belief in the Bible."

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

"I am not satisfied by any evidence that I have seen."

"I didn't ask what you are satisfied with; I asked if you believe it?"

"I am satisfied that no evidence I have found would justify me in accepting the opinions of these men against what I believe to be the inspired Word of God."

"And you believe every nation, every organization of me, every animal, in the world outside of the fishes ...

"The fish, I want you to understand is merely a matter of humor."

"I believe the Bible says so. Take the fishes in?"

"Let us get together and look over this."

"Probably we would better, we will after we get through."

"Don't you know that the ancient civilization of China are six or seven thousand years old, at the very least?"

"No; but they would not run back beyond the creation, according to the Bible, six thousand years."

"You don't know how old they are; is that right?"

"I don't know how old they are; but probably you do. I think you would give the preference to anybody who opposed the Bible, and I give the preferences to the Bible."

"I see. Well you are welcome to your opinion. Have you any idea how old the Egyptian civilization is?"

"No."

"Do you know of any record in the world, outside of the story of the Bible which conforms to any statement that it is 4200 years ago, or thereabouts, since all life was wiped off the face of the earth?"

"I think they have found records."

"Do you know of any?"

"Records reciting the flood, but I am not an authority on the subject."

"Have you ever read anything about the origins of religions?"

"Not a great deal."

"And you don't know whether any other religion gave a similar account of the destruction of the earth by the flood?"

"The Christian religion has satisfied me and I have never felt it necessary to look up some competing religions."

"Do you consider that every religion on earth competes with the Christian religion?"

"I would not say competitive, but the religious unbelievers."

"Unbelievers of what?"

Another objection from the attorney-general as Darrow continued. His examination brought the response from the defense attorney that he had a right to cross-examine a hostile witness.

"Is there any way by which a witness can make an affidavit that the attorney is hostile?" asked Bryan, referring to the manner of procedure in Tennessee by which an attorney is required to make affidavit that he was surprised by the testimony of the witness and with the discovery that he was hostile.

A discussion of Confucianism followed.

"Do you know it is more ancient than the Christian religion?"

"I am not willing to take the opinion of people who trying to find excuses for rejecting the Christian religion when they attempt to give dates and hours and minutes and they will have to get together and be more exact than they have yet been able to compel me to accept just exactly what they say as if it were absolutely true."

"I have all the information I want to live by and to die by," the witness said in response to one question.

Questions and answers came fast as the examination continued. Both grew short as the questioner sat hunched forward on the corner of the table, the witness swaying a palmetto leaf fan.

"And that's all you are interested in?"

"I am not looking for any more religion."

"You don't care how old the earth is and how long the animals have been here?"

"I am not so much interested in that."

The witness here eluded his questioner and explained the differences between Confucianism and Buddhism, comparing each with Christianity. Buddhism he termed an agnostic religion.

The course was then shifted to a questioning of the story of the tower of Babel. Rebuke, not fear, inspired the action of God in causing confusion among the builders; the witness said.

He refused to attempt to tell how old the earth might be, although he said: "I could possibly come as near as the scientists do."

As both interrogations and replies became faster and shorter, the attorney-general was brought forward again to ask the purpose of the examination.

"The purpose is to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible, and I am perfectly willing that the world shall know that these gentlemen have not other purpose than to ridiculing every person who believes in the Bible," declared Bryan.

"We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States, and you know it, that is all," fired back Darrow.

The two faced each other on the platform. The witness asserted:

"I am simply trying to protect the Word of God against the greatest, atheist, or agnostic, in the United States. I want the papers to know that I am not afraid to get on the stand in front of him and let him do his worst. I want the world to know that agnosticism is trying to force agnosticism on our colleges and on out schools and the people of Tennessee will not permit it to be done."

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PHOTOS

Top: John T. Scopes, the Tennessee biology teacher who sparked a landmark legal battle after he was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution, in 1925.

Center: Famed attorney Clarence Darrow, left, and William Jennings Bryan, associated prosecuting counsel, are pictured at the trial of biology teacher John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. Darrow was one of three attorneys who unsuccessfully defended Scopes in his test of a Tennessee law banning the teaching of the theory of evolution. Bryan testified for the prosecution as an expert on the Bible. Scopes lost the case.

Bottom: Corbis, 1925 (not from AP).

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