The Big Lie of "Inherit the Wind"
Two interesting articles crossed my desk this past week about the same thing. They both have to do with the Scopes Trial of Dayton, Tennessee which took place in 1925. The trial was really a test case of a Tennessee law which forbade the teaching of evolution in the public schools. On trial was a man named John Thomas Scopes for teaching evolution. The prosecuting attorney was William Jennings Bryan, a lawyer, statesman, and twice a presidential candidate. However, Mr. Bryan, though a good man and a be liever in God, was no Bible scholar. The defense attorney was an A.C.L.U. attorney by the name of Clarence Darrow.
One of the articles, appearing in "Does God Exist; Vol. 23; number 5 (Sept/Oct, 1996) was entitled "Exposing the Lie in 'Inherit the Wind" by Robert Harsh. It exposed the many fallacies in the play (and most carried to the movie). The fact is that the play's writers were more concerned in mocking believers than in what really happened. For example, the play presents Scopes as a persecuted but highly competent biology teacher. The truth is that he was a substitute teacher without any degree in any of the sciences. He had been pressured by the A.C.L.U. to say he had taught evolution. Scopes later wrote "To tell the truth, I wasn't sure I had taught evolution."
The play presents Bryan as an ignorant man who had never even read Darwin's "Origin of the Species". In fact, Bryan was one of America's most respected intellectuals of the time. He had read Darwin's book and he was educated.
The Play presents the people of Dayton as being ignorant and rude to Darrow. But Darrow himself says he was very well treated; in fact he had never been treated better despite his differences with most of the people of Dayton.
The play tells us of Reverend Jeremiah Brown, a mean spirited, simple-minded religious leader who would call down judgment on anyone who supported Scope, including his own daughter who happened to be Scope's fiancee. The truth? No such Reverend; no daughter; and Scopes had no steady girlfriend at the time. It was simply a ploy to turn people against religion.
More examples are given in the article, but I'd like to turn our attention to the second article that crossed my desk. It appeared in Reason & Revelation; vol. XVI, no. 8, 1996 and is entitled "When Bryan Took the Stand". It is written by Brad T. Bromling. He tells of three weaknesses in Bryan's defense. Facts are facts, and indeed Bryan could have done a better job.
First, in response to Darrow's mocking question, "Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?" Bryan answered "No sir: I leave the agnostics to hunt for her." Bryan really failed to give the reasonable implication that the Scriptures give. Perhaps he did not know it. The Bible says that Adam and Eve had many other children, sons and daughters, in addition to the three that are named (Genesis 5:4). If Bryan had only handed Darrow the Bible he had sworn to tell the truth on and had him read that verse, it would have been so much better.
When asked about the Jonah and the fish episode, Darrow wondered if it was a "ordinary run of fish or a special fish made for that purpose". Bryan did not know, but if he had merely turned to Jonah 1:7 and read, "Now the Lord prepared a great fish..." showing special divine preparation was made for Jonah's special case.
The third weakness on Bryan's part was his response to the question, "Do you think the earth was made in six days?" Bryan thought the six days might correspond to six ages.
Bryan was a first rate politician. But he was not a first rate student of the Bible. There has been a lasting image ingrained into the folklore of the nation concerning that trial that, while much of it is simply nonsense concocted by unbelievers, there were enough shortcomings on Bryan's part to give them ammunition that they do not deserve. The lesson to us: know the facts; be competent in using them. Ironically, Bryan should have been prepared for those questions. Darrow had asked him the same ones two years before. Why he didn't simply prepare himself for them we may never know.
By Jon W. Quinn
The Final Page
From Expository Files 3.11; November 1996