The Horrible Place to Which Society’s Belief in Evolution Eventually Leads
Part 1: The Foundation Is Laid
The Christian must be ready to separate genuine science from philosophy. Evolution, as it is typically presented in textbooks and museums, confuses the two, presenting as “science,” what is actually naturalistic philosophy.…Let’s be clear on the distinction between empirical science and philosophy, and then let’s answer science with science and philosophy with philosophy.
—Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey1—
Of all the trials that have been famous and notable throughout history, the Scopes Trial likely has had the most far-reaching influence on American thought and culture. A Publisher’s Note for an online report about the trial says, “It is unlike any case ever tried, and we believe [it] has an interest that will hold long after the individuals involved shall have passed away.”2 In fact, the Scopes Trial has been called “The Trial of the Century.”3,4,5
Named for Dayton teacher John Thomas Scopes, the trial took place during eight days of proceedings beginning Friday, July 10, 1925, and ending on Tuesday, July 21.6 Scopes was tried for violating the Butler Act, which had been adopted by the Tennessee Legislature and signed into law earlier the same year.7 The Butler Act stated
That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.8
George Rappleyea, a Dayton resident, wanted to challenge the law. Even though he went to church, not all of his reasons for opposing it were amiable to the Christian faith.9 For one thing, he believed theory of evolution. For another, he knew that a trial in Dayton would put Dayton on the map and generate revenue for the small town. 10,11,12 Rappleyea talked the ACLU into supporting the idea, and he and some other businessmen enlisted John T. Scopes, a football coach at the high school who at times substituted for the regular biology teacher, to become the plan’s central figure.13 Actually, Scopes didn’t remember teaching evolution to students, but the organizers couldn’t allow that to thwart what they had in mind. Here was a teacher who at least had been given an opportunity to violate the law and who now was willing to participate in the scheme.14
The trial, which pitted Clarance Darrow, a famous agnostic lawyer, against William Jennings Bryan, a devout Christian and a three-time Democrat candidate for president, drew worldwide attention. Bryan served as an assistant prosecutor, but Darrow was Scopes’ chief defense attorney.15 Darrow did not want Scopes to testify because, if he had, it might have been discovered that Scopes hadn’t even been present at school on the day specified in the indictment.16 Instead, he wanted various experts on the theory of evolution to give testimony, but Judge John T. Raulston ruled they couldn’t be called as witnesses.17 On the seventh day of the trial—Monday, July 2018,19—Darrow amazed everyone by calling William Jennings Bryan to the stand. Court was being held outside that day because of concern the courtroom floor might collapse under the weight of so many spectators. The oppressive heat was a factor pushing the proceedings outside as well20—and perhaps this was symbolic, because the drama couldn’t have been hotter or more riveting. Darrow sought to corner Bryan and throw him off track with rapid-fire questions about the Bible and the creation account in Genesis. Contrary to one of the many myths promoted by the 1955 play Inherit the Wind and its many movie versions—the 1960 film in particular is erroneously believed by many to be factual docudrama of the trial—Bryan held his own:
The trial record discloses that Bryan handled himself well and when put on the stand unexpectedly by Darrow, defined terms carefully, stuck to the facts, made distinctions between literal and figurative language when interpreting the Bible, and questioned the reliability of scientific evidence when it contradicted the Bible. Some scientific experts at the trial referred to such “evidence” of evolution as the Piltdown man (now dismissed as a hoax).21
Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee
The jury found Scopes guilty of violating the Butler Act, and he was fined $100.00. This was the outcome for which Darrow had hoped.22 On a side note, contrary to another myth popularized by Inherit the Wind, Bryan wasn’t trying to harm John Scopes. Uncomfortable with the law’s provision that educators would be personally fined if found guilty, Bryan magnanimously offered to pay Scopes’ fine himself.23
Much as been written about Darrow’s questioning of Bryan, but here I would like to highlight the questioning of two young men on Day 4, Wednesday, July 15.24,25 The prosecution called 14-year-old Howard Morgan and then called 17-year-old Harry Shelton, both students at Central High where Scopes taught, to testify.
First, Howard Morgan took the stand. This was the son of Luke Morgan, a banker and the man hosting Darrow in Dayton.26,27
Morgan testified that Professor Scopes taught him from a textbook titled General Science by Lewis Elhuff, which said that “a little germ of one cell organism formed, and this organism kept evolving until it got to be a pretty good sized animal, and then came to be a land animal, and it kept on evolving, and from this was man.”
The boy admitted, though, that he couldn’t find anything about evolution in the book and didn’t remember what mammals were. On cross-examination Darrow gently questioned Morgan further about what he remembered of the course Scopes had taught him. At that moment Morgan couldn’t remember much of anything except the organism evolving into man. The student’s testimony strongly supported later claims that he and his classmates who were called to testify were coached. What fourteen-year-old boy would otherwise remember such a specific scientific detail, and none other, two and a half months into summer vacation?28
Darrow’s last question to young Morgan was about John Scopes’ teaching: “It has not hurt you any, has it?” Amid the laughter from spectators in the courtroom, Morgan answered, “No, sir.”29,30
Harry Shelton then took the stand and testified that Mr. Scopes had led a review in his biology class and taught that “all forms of life begin with the cell.”31 When Darrow had an opportunity to cross-examine him, this exchange took place:
Q—How old are you?
Q—Prof. Scopes said that all forms of life came from a single cell, didn’t he?
Q—Did anybody ever tell you before?
Q—That is all you remember that he told you about biology, wasn’t it?
Q—Are you a church member?
Q—Are you a church member?
Q—Do you still belong?
Q—You didn’t leave church when he told you all forms of life began with a single cell?
Mr. Darrow—That is all.32
We see from these exchanges that Clarence Darrow was a master manipulator. Asking rhetorical questions with an element of humor, he conveyed the idea no sane person ever could think it harmful to be taught the theory of evolution. Specifically, had the teaching of evolution, if indeed it had occurred just three months prior, somehow been detrimental to young Howard Morgan? Of course, all anyone would have to do is ask him, and of course he’d say no, which he did. Moreover, if Harry Shelton hadn’t left the church after being told just twelve weeks earlier that “all forms of life begin with a single cell,” the concepts and principles of Darwin’s theory were—and are—totally harmless. Being taught these ideas would never lead anyone away from the church!
Really? Fast forward in time several decades for mounting evidence to the contrary! One reason young adults are leaving church is that they perceive it as being anti-science: “Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.”33 Yes, part of this is the church’s fault, for it has failed completely to talk about the scientific evidence supporting the biblical record. This has been a huge mistake. Ken Ham and Britt Beemer write,
Effectively, the Church basically hands over the history of the universe to the secular educational institutions, and concentrates on the spiritual and moral aspects of Christianity. The church actually disconnects the Bible from the real world. The children (and everyone else, through Sunday school lessons, youth studies, etc.) in the churches are really taught that in church, one doesn’t deal with geology, biology, and so on—that is for school. In church, we talk about Jesus—we deal with doctrines and we study moral and spiritual matters—but anything pertaining to understanding geology, biology, astronomy, anthropology, and so forth is left for school.34
Returning to Clarence Darrow, we should state clearly that any assurances from Darrow that Darwinism never will lure people away from church should be met with skepticism. Darrow was neither a Christian nor a promoter of biblical morality and ethics. In fact, a little less than a year before the Scopes Trial, Darrow used his persuasive courtroom skills to save two young men, murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, from execution by the state of Illinois. Both were from wealthy Chicago families, both were extremely intelligent, and both were fascinated with crime. Leopold became intrigued by Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of supermen (Übermenschen), exceptional persons with unusual abilities and brilliant minds that supposedly freed them from the constraints under which everyone else lived. Thinking he was one such man, Leopold believed he was exempt from the law. He persuaded his friend Richard Loeb that he, too, was this kind of individual as well.35
Desiring to commit the perfect crime, the two young men enticed Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old, into a car. There Loeb used a chisel to murder Franks. They dumped his naked body in a culvert near Wolf Lake in Hammond, Indiana, approximately 25 miles from Chicago. It was called the crime of the century.36 Evidence of the pair’s guilt was enormous, but their attorney, Clarence Darrow, delivered a passionate plea that the state spare their lives. Writes William Bennett: Darrow
argued for a “deterministic” view of the universe. “Nature is strong and she is pitiless.” Nature works in mysterious ways over which we have little control, he contended. He made a case for life imprisonment as being even harsher punishment than hanging—“In all the endless road you tread, there’s nothing but the night.” In pleading for the lives of the two killers, Darrow passionately cried out: “If the state in which I live is not kinder, more humane, and more considerate than the mad act of these two boys, I am sorry I have lived so long!” Many in the courtroom, including the presiding judge, wept openly as Darrow finished his appeal.37
The point here is not so much that Darrow argued for his clients’ lives to be spared but that he used flawed philosophical arguments in doing so. His courtroom pleas in 1924 were reminiscent of statements he’d made 22 years earlier in a speech to a group of prisoners. Portraying criminals as helpless victims, Darrow declared,
[T]here is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood.…I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.38
Here’s the point that we must not miss: Everything Darrow said is entirely consistent with Darwinian evolutionary theory. Darwinism, which states that random chance gave rise to life and to higher life forms from lower life forms, eliminates the need for God. Without God, people are material beings only; they have no souls.
Everything Darrow said is entirely consistent with Darwinian evolutionary theory. Darwinism, which states that random chance gave rise to life and to higher life forms from lower life forms, eliminates the need for God. Without God, people are material beings only; they have no souls. No substantive basis exists for rejecting anything!
In his novel The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky astutely observed, “If there is no immortality of the soul, there can be no virtue and therefore everything is permissible.”39 This is the ugly place to which a society that believes in Darwinian evolution eventually arrives. If God doesn’t exist, then all we have in this life is all there is, so we may as well make the most of it while we’re here. Without God, right and wrong don’t exist, either, so no one is bound by any moral constraints; instead, everyone is left to follow his or her own base appetites.40
So, equipped with this philosophical background, we need to ask, What are some of the practical ramifications of a widespread, long-term belief in Darwinian evolution? We’ll explore this question in next week’s post.
Part 2 is available here.
Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999), 55.
14Marvin Olasky and John Perry, Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 13-15.
26Olasky and Perry, 89-90.
28Olasky and Perry, 90.
29Olasky and Perry.
31Olasky and Perry.
32Foote, Fred (2012-01-16). The Complete Scopes Trial Transcript (Kindle Locations 5527-5540). Kindle Edition.
34Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit church and What You Can Do to Stop It, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 78.
37William J. Bennett, America: The Last Best Hope, Volume II: From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 73.
38Clarence Darrow, quoted in Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999), 181.
39quoted in Jim Nelson Black, The Death of Evolution: Restoring Faith and Wonder in a World of Doubt, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 88.
40Jim Nelson Black.