Re-Writing History
Photo taken of Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) during the Scopes Trial in 1925.

Re-Writing History

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Evolutionist defends William Jennings Bryan against those who re-write history.

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Evolutionist Karl Giberson has posted an article complaining of evolutionist Jerry Coyne’s recent articles “paying homage to the great journalist H. L. Mencken, best known for his coverage of the 1925 Scopes Trial.” Giberson writes, “The series represents ongoing efforts to enhance the mythology of evolution, efforts that have been particularly successful when it comes to the Scopes Trial.”

The Scopes mythology Giberson seeks to debunk involves Mencken’s bitterly satirical ridicule of William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was the prosecutor in the 1925 Scopes trial in which substitute schoolteacher John Scopes was tried in Dayton, Tennessee, for violation of a law prohibiting the teaching of human evolution from nonhuman ancestors. Mencken’s “hyperbolic and uncharitable rhetoric” portrayed Bryan as an inarticulate “great buffoon” and the local populace as “rustic ignoramuses.” Such Scopes mythology has perpetuated Mencken’s contention that “anyone who rejects evolution must be . . . an ignorant mangy buffoon” and Richard Dawkins’s characterization of evolution’s skeptics as “ignorant, stupid or insane.”

Bryan was actually an articulate, literate statesman who was concerned about the dangers of Social Darwinism, a problem Giberson concedes was real.

Bryan was actually an articulate, literate statesman who was concerned about the dangers of Social Darwinism, a problem Giberson concedes was real. Giberson, however, considers “the sordid tale of Social Darwinism” to be “a misapplication of Darwin’s ideas that died in the Nazi death camps along with those the Nazis perceived to be from a ‘low and degenerate race.’” Giberson quotes from the textbook used in Tennessee’s classrooms in 1925, highlighting this racist application of Darwinian evolution.

Because Bryan stood as an articulate critic of evolution in order to oppose these dangerous ideas, Giberson warns, “Such uncharitable caricatures of the critics of evolution make it easy to dismiss their concerns. If our critics are buffoons, we can ignore them.” He concludes, “We should listen more carefully to the critics of evolution today. Not all of them are stupid, wicked or insane.”

While it is commendable of Giberson to admit that an evolution skeptic can have legitimate concerns about the results of evolutionary belief, it is interesting that this charity extends to the reputation of a man whose concerns were proven correct by unspeakable evils recorded in history. As co-author of the book The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, however, Giberson’s tolerance and respect for critics of evolution seems to have major limits. Giberson, a theistic evolutionist, assisted Dr. Frances Collins in founding and shaping The BioLogos Foundation, serving as its executive vice-president until stepping down to allow more time for writing.1 BioLogos is an organization devoted to searching for ways to wed God’s Word with evolution to make it acceptable to Christians. Giberson may be able to tolerate those who fear evolutionary belief’s racist applications, but in The Anointed he and co-author Randall Stephens write bitterly against those like the late Dr. Henry Morris, Ken Ham and the other biblical creationists who take a stand for the authority of God’s Word and point out the dangers of twisting God’s Word to accommodate evolutionary beliefs.

One could wonder just which evolutionary critics are those Giberson would still count as stupid, wicked, or insane. But there is nothing “stupid, wicked or insane” about standing on the authority of God’s Word not only to honor our Creator God but to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ through trust in His Word.

Giberson is correct. Bryan was not a buffoon. He was indeed very liberal for his day and championed nearly every liberal/progressive cause.

Dr. David Menton has extensively researched Bryan and the Scopes trial. He comments, “Giberson is correct. Bryan was not a buffoon. He was indeed very liberal for his day and championed nearly every liberal/progressive cause. This may go a long way toward explaining why Bryan, the ‘Great Commoner’ was never elected president in three attempts. He was very well read in the creation/evolution controversy much as an active creationist today is. He carried on a respectful correspondence with professional evolutionists of his day and was a member of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). If you read the Scopes trial transcript it is easily discerned that Bryan knew more about evolution and creation than Darrow did. Bryan for example had read Darwin’s Origin of Species 25 years before the Scopes trial. Nevertheless, Bryan definitely believed in an old earth and this compromise is precisely the petard Darrow used to defeat him.” Bryan’s compromise of Scripture backfired.

Bryan technically won his case when Darrow changed his client’s plea to guilty. However, when Bryan conceded the days in Genesis were not literal 24-hour days, he gave Darrow an opening to attack the rest of the Bible. Then as now, once a Christian surrenders the plain reading of God’s Word to accommodate man’s fallible ideas, he opens the door for attack on the rest of the Bible and ultimately on Jesus Christ who, according to Romans 5:12 and 5:15, died on the Cross to defeat the death that came into the world as a result of man’s sin. Sin and death’s entry into the world is described in Genesis chapter 3. Any position that attempts to plug millions of years into the Bible necessarily asserts that death and suffering—which are graphically depicted in the fossil record—are the result of God’s “very good” creative work in Genesis 1, rather than the result of man’s sin and God’s subsequent holy judgment. And that deadly compromise position undermines understanding why Jesus Christ came into the world and went to the Cross. Giberson promotes just such a dangerous position.

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  1. Darrel Falk, “Karl Giberson Moves On to Create More Time for Writing,” BioLogos blog, May 16, 2011,


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