William Jennings Bryan,
Scopes Trial Closing Speech

Excerpted from Famous Trials in American History.


In March 1925, the Tennessee legislature made it illegal to teach evolution in the public schools. Later that year, John Scopes, a high school science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was charged with teaching evolution. It was easy enough to show that he had broken the law - - the basic biology textbook he assigned included evolution. Scopes lost his case, but the trial is most significant for its effect on public opinion. It drew national attention because it reflected a basic conflict in society between "traditionalists" and "modernists." (William Jennings Bryan represented the traditionalists, and Clarence Darrow represented the modernists.) The prosecutors won their case in court, but the ideas they represented lost considerable prestige.

In 1925 William Jennings Bryan was a famous populist politician, having been the Democratic presidential candidate three times (beginning in 1896). He was also a Fundamentalist Christian who was campaigning to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. Bryan spent weeks composing this closing speech, which represents the traditionalists' position on science and faith. Because of a technicality, the trial ended before he could give the speech. -smv


Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane--the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times a bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings, alone, can solve the problems that vex heart and perplex the world....

It is for the jury to determine whether this attack upon the Christian religion shall be permitted in the public schools of Tennessee by teachers employed by the state and paid out of the public treasury. This case is no longer local, the defendant ceases to play an important part. The case has assumed the proportions of a battle-royal between unbelief that attempts to speak through so-called science and the defenders of the Christian faith, speaking through the legislators of Tennessee. It is again a choice between God and Baal; it is also a renewal of the issue in Pilate's court....

Again force and love meet face to face, and the question, "What shall I do with Jesus?" must be answered. A bloody, brutal doctrine--Evolution--demands, as the rabble did nineteen hundred years ago, that He be crucified. That cannot be the answer of this jury representing a Christian state and sworn to uphold the laws of Tennessee. Your answer will be heard throughout the world; it is eagerly awaited by a praying multitude. If the law is nullified, there will be rejoice wherever God is repudiated, the savior scoffed at and the Bible ridiculed. Every unbeliever of every kind and degree will be happy. If, on the other hand, the law is upheld and the religion of the school children protected, millions of Christians will call you blessed and, with hearts full of gratitude to God, will sing again that grand old song of triumph: "Faith of our fathers, living still, In spite of dungeon, fire and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy Whene'er we hear that glorious word--- Faith of our fathers--Holy faith; We will be true to thee till death!"

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