Transcripts from
Tennessee versus John Scopes,

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.

Toward the end of the trial, Darrow put Bryan on the stand to give expert testimony on the Bible. The transcript excerpts below include some reference to crowd noises. With hundreds of people standing in the back of the courtroom, Judge John T. Raulston feared the floor might collapse and moved the trial outdoors, where about 5,000 people listened to the heated exchanges between Bryan and Darrow. The transcripts also include comments from "the Court" (i.e. Judge Raulston, who was a conservative Christian). -smv

Summary of the Defense

The purpose of the defense will be to set before you all available facts and information from every branch of science to aid you informing an opinion of what evolution is, and of what value to progress and confort is the theory of evolution, for you are the judged of the law and the facts, and the defense wishes to aid you in every way to intelligent opinion.

The defense denies that it is part of any movement or conspiracy on the part of scientists to destroy the authority of Christianity or the Bible. The defense denies that any such conspiracy exists except in the mind and purpose of the evangelical leader of the prosecution. The defense maintains that the book of Genesis is in part a hymn, in part an allegory and work of religious interpretations written by men who believe that the earth was flat and whose authority cannot be accepted to control the teachings of science in our schools.

The narrow purpose of the defense is to establish the innocence of the defendant Scopes. The broad purpose of the defense will be to prove that the Bible is a work of religious aspiration and rules of conduct which must be kept in the field of theology.

The defense maintains that there is no more justification for imposing the conflicting views of the Bible on courses of biology than there would be for imposing the views of biologsts on courses of comparative religion. We maintain that science and religion embrace two separate and distinct fields of thought and learning.

We remember that Jesus said: "Render unto Ceasar's the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."

Prosecution's Response

This is wholly improper, argumentative. It is not a statement as to what the issues are. Your honor has already held that this act is constitutional, it being the law of the land, there is but one issue before this court and jury, and that is, did the defendant violate the statute. That statute interprets itself, and says that whenever a man teaches that man descended from a lower order of animals as contradistinguished from the record of the creation of man as given by the word of God, that he is guilty. Does the proof show that he did that, that is the only issue, if it please the honorable court, before this jury. . . .

Examination of W.J. Bryan by Clarence Darrow, of counsel for the defense:

. . . .{1}
Mr. Darrow--You claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
A--I believe 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.
. . . .{2}
Mr. Darrow--The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it.
A--I do.
Q--Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
A--No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.
. . . .{3}
Mr. Darrow--If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?
A--Well, I should say so.
Q-- Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?
Q--You have not?
A-- No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.
Q-- I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
A-- No.
Q--Don't you know it would have been converted into molten mass of matter?
A--You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.
Q--Don't you believe it?
A--I would want to hear expert testimony on that.
Q--You have never investigated that subject?
A--I don't think I have ever had the question asked.
Q--Or ever thought of it?
A--I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance than that.
Q--You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?
A--Yes, sir.
Q--When was that Flood?
A--I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.
Q--About 4004 B.C.?
A--That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. I would not say it is accurate.
Q--That estimate is printed in the Bible?
A--Everybody knows, at least, I think most of the people know, that was the estimate given.
Q--But what do you think that the Bible, itself says? Don't you know how it was arrived at?
A--I never made a calculation.
Q--A calculation from what?
A--I could not say.
Q--From the generations of man?
A--I would not want to say that.
Q--What do you think?
A--I do not think about things I don't think about.
Q--Do you think about things you do think about?
A--Well, sometimes.
(Laughter in the courtyard.)
Policeman--Let us have order....
. . . .{4}
Byran--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 question they please.
The Court--All right.
(Applause from the court yard.)
Darrow--Great applause from the bleachers.
Bryan--From those whom you call "Yokels."
Darrow--I have never called them yokels.
Bryan--That is the ignorance of Tennessee, the bigotry.
Darrow--You mean who are applauding you? (Applause.)
Bryan--Those are the people whom you insult.
Darrow--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion.
The Court--I will not stand for that.
Darrow--For what he is doing?
The Court--I am talking to both of you....
Q--Wait until you get to me. Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?
Q--Have you ever tried to find out?
A--No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been in interested in it. (Laughter.)
Q--Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?
A--You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods.
Q--Where have you lived all your life?
A--Not near you. (Laughter and applause.)
Q--Nor near anybody of learning?
A--Oh, don't assume you know it all.
. . . .{5}
Mr. Darrow--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-- I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four-hour day.
Q--You do not?
Q--What do you consider it to be?
A--I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter--let me have the book. (Examining Bible.) The fourth verse of the second chapter says: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," the word "day" there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is any necessity for construing the words, "the evening and the morning," as meaning necessarily a twenty-four-hour day, "in the day when the Lord made the heaven and the earth."
Q--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--I do not think it necessarily does.
Q--Do you think it does or does not?
A--I know a great many think so.
Q--What do you think?
A--I do not think it does.
Q--You think those were not literal days?
A--I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.
Q--What do you think about it?
A--That is my opinion--I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
Q--You do not think that ?
A--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--Do you think those were literal days?
A--My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.
. . . .{6}
Bryan--Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world, I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennesseee--
Darrow--I object to that.
Bryan--(Continuing) to slur at it, and while it will require time, I am willing to take it.
Darrow--I object to your statement. I am exempting you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.
The Court--Court is adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.

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