Tag Archives: darwin

Answers in Genesis’ Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

Many get fed up with Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis continually misrepresented normal science. Poor Ken , he has a thing about “billions of years” and resorts to porkies to reject them. This is a good summary of why his recent porkies are pure Ham.

http://scienceandcreation.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/answers-in-genesiss-deceptive-video-on.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScienceAndReligionAViewFromAnEvolutionaryCreationist+(Science+and+Religion:+A+View+from+an+Evolutionary+Creationist)

I don’t know why he does it

Answers in Genesis’ Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

Answers in Genesis now has a “Check this Out” feature where they tackle a scientific claim which argues for an old earth and try to debunk it.  Recently, much to my dismay, one of the home school teachers sent out a link to one of these videos on radiometric dating.  Aside from the mistakes inherent in the video, itself, it betrays a deep misunderstanding of how science works.  Here is the short video.

We will take this bit by bit.

  • 0:28 – the narrator states that most scientists regard the age of the earth as between 4.55 and 4.6 and then remarks that, if this is so accurate, why the 50 million year discrepancy?  He then states “That seems like a lot.”  50 million divided by 4.55 billion is 1.09%.  That is the standard error. This date range is made up of thousands of individual dates. The speedometer on your car is less accurate than that (standard error of 2.5%).  In fact, in any statistical test a 1% standard error is considered is equivalent to saying that you are 99% confident that the results you have are accurate. 1% is not a lot of anything. Also carefully omitted from the narrative is that these dates are derived from at least five different kinds of radiometric isochron dating:
    • Lead-Lead isochron
    • Samnium-Neodymium isochron
    • Rubidium-Strontium isochron
    • Rhenium-Osmium isochron and
    • Argon-Argon isochron.

All of these dating methods have different decay states, decay rates and half lives and yet all give dates to within 1% error

  • 1:52 – After a reasonably straightforward description of radiometric dating, the narrator then, while admitting that it is true that a decay rate can be measured using “observational science,” it requires “historical science” to tell how old the rock actually is. He states that in order to get accurate measures from rocks, one would have to know both the decay rate and the initial conditions of the rock, otherwise we cannot directly measure the ages of rocks.  He asks “how do we know what the initial conditions were in the rock sample?”  and “How do we know the amounts of parent or daughter elements haven’t been altered by other process in the past?” and How does someone know the decay rate has remained constant in the past?”   He then says “They don’t.” This is false.
  • Timothy Heaton, Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences & Physics at South Dakota State University writes this about the parent/daughter ratios:

    Isochron dating bypasses the necessity of knowing the quantity of initial daughter product in the rock by not using that value in the computation. Instead of using the initial quantity of daughter isotope, the ratio of daughter isotope compared to another isotope of the same element (which is not the product of any decay process) is used as the comparison for isochron dating. The plot of the ratios of the number of atoms of the parent isotope to the number of atoms in the non-daughter isotope compared to the number of atoms of the daughter isotope to the non-daughter isotope should result in a straight line that intersects the vertical y-axis (which is the ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes). This point of intersection gives the initial ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes, which would also be the ratio in a mineral that crystallized without any parent isotope present.

    Here is a web site that shows how this plot works in graphic fashion. The narrator’s  hourglass analogy is, therefore, inaccurate.  We don’t need to know how much sand was in the hourglass to begin with, nor did we need to observe the process.  The decay rate is well-known and invariate, which leads to his second statement.

  • As far as the variation in decay rates of radiogenic isotopes goes, they have been shown to vary only  0.1% in response to outside influences (here, and here) and have been shown to vary significantly only under extreme laboratory conditions not found on earth.

As noted above, buried deep in this video and others that Answers in Genesis puts out is a particular philosophical bent that sees “observational science” as real science and “historical science” as not. Ken Ham is often quoted as rejecting historical science by rhetorically asking “Were you there?”  In other words, we cannot know historical processes because we did not observe them.  Consequently, when the narrator of this video says “we don’t” in answer to how we can know how some of our assumptions about radiometric dating are correct, it is this philosophical bent in action.

Such a perspective is facile, as it completely disregards the fact that we reconstruct past events every day at all levels, from the simple act of encountering a broken glass on the floor with ice and water beside it (someone dropped a glass of water) to complex murder investigations in which no one but the murderer was present.  No one questions the validity of these assumptions and they form the basis for much of what we do in life, including our entire criminal justice system.

Secondary to this notion that we can reconstruct the past is that the processes that occur today also occurred in the past.  If I am digging in a field and encounter, at a depth of three or so feet, a series of horizontal metal beams that are four and a half feet apart with ties in between them, because I know that distance is the standard railway gauge, I can reasonably assume that what I have uncovered is part of an old railway.  Was I there when they built it?  No, but I didn’t have to be to have a pretty good idea of what it is.

This is true not just of human constructs but also of natural formations.  Because we have modern floods, hurricanes, meteorite craters and so on, we can identify these formations in the past.
This puts historical science and all of its reconstructive observational power on level footing with observational science.  While Ken Ham and others at Answers in Genesis might say otherwise, it simply is not so.

It is amazing how much damage to scientific and academic integrity one can do in a three-minute video.  Answers in Genesis is, apparently, up to the task.

Was there really warfare between Science and Christianity?

Was there really warfare between Science and Christianity?

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The classic TV portrayal of conflict between science and religion is the reconstruction of the Huxley-Wilberforce encounter shown in the last episode of the 1970s series the Voyage of the Beagle. Wilberforce is portrayed as a scientific ignoramus and Huxley as a cool scientific orator. In many places it is assumed that Orthodox Christianity means accepting creation in six days and any departure from that is a shift in a liberal direction. This is the stock in trade of many treatments pitting science against Christianity

 

Geology and Genesis, 1790 to 1860

To put it simplistically Geology took off as a science in the 1790s under Hutton in Scotland, Smith in England and Cuvier and Brogniart in France when conclusive evidence was found for ordering strata and showing a vast age of the earth. Hutton’s chief spokesman was the Rev John Playfair and Smith’s the Revs B.Richardson and J.Townshend. Most educated people accepted the new findings and even the church press showed little opposition. From 1810 there was much geological fieldwork and in 1815 Smith produced the first geological map of England and Wales.

 

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Hutton and Smith

Geologists came from various backgrounds with a considerable number of clergy, often Evangelical. The 1820s was the heyday of clerical catastrophic geology of Buckland and Sedgwick, who held that strata were deposited over a long period of time (millions of years) in a succession of catastrophes or deluges, the Noachian being the last.

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Sedgwick and Lyell

In his Principles of Geology (1830) Lyell took over their methods and timescale and replaced catastrophism with uniformitarianism. Lyell has become a mythic figure with claims that he introduced notions of an ancient earth. That is bunk and has been discredited by such historians as Rudwick and Gould. As the vast of age of the earth was widely known in 1790 it cannot be the case as Lyell was born in 1797, unless miracles can happen!

Not all was smooth sailing and from the mid-twenties a vocal group, the Anti- or Scriptural Geologists, tried to show that geologists were mistaken and that Creation took place in 6 days. This disparate group included clergy and laity with a Dean of York, an Oxford Professor and Brande, Faraday’s colleague at the Royal Institution. Scientifically their writings were worthless by the standards of the day and were attacked by such orthodox Christians as Conybeare, Buckland, Sedgwick, Sumner and Pye Smith. Lyell mocked from the sidelines. To give an idea of numbers, during this period I can name at least six Deans of Cathedrals, a dozen Bishops and half a dozen clerical Oxbridge professors, who actively supported geology. In the period 1825-1850 the vast majority of Christians accepted geology, but a small and noisy minority did not. It is vital to get it in proportion. Andrew White in History of the warfare of science and theology claimed that the Anti-geologists were the Orthodox Party thus distorting our understanding.

By the 1850s the Anti-geologists were a spent force and even such an extreme Evangelical as J.Cumming accepted geology. Almost the only exception was Phillip Gosse in Omphalos (1857)

 

The Dawn of Evolution 1859

Charles Darwin

The Origin of Species was the seminal work of the decade and attracted great interest. The popular perception is that it was violently objected to by the Christian Church as it “questioned both the literal accuracy of the first chapters of Genesis and the argument from design for the existence of God”. The first part of this quote from Altholz is simply untrue as no educated Christians believed in 4004 BC in 1860, except a few Plymouth Brethren. Design in the strict Paleyan sense may have been killed by Darwin, but many kept to some kind of Design; Kingsley, Gray, Temple, Birks, and Hensleigh and Julia Wedgwood (Darwin’s Cousins). The main religious concern was whether our apedom would destroy our morality as Wilberforce made clear.

The responses to Darwin are fascinating and varied and no simple answer can be given. Initially some scientists were in favour – Huxley and Hooker, some not sure – Lyell, and many against, notably the leading physicists and geologists. Of Anglican and Scottish Presbyterian clergy (some of considerable scientific ability) none were literalists, and of 30 or so responses I have studied they are equally divided between being for, against or undecided. All 30 accepted geological findings and a scientific outlook. Wilberforce’s objections were largely geological, but felt our apedom would destroy Christianity. The evangelical Canon H.B. Tristram of Durham was a migratory bird and a competent ornithologist. He accepted and applied natural selection to birds in 1858, after reading Darwin’s Linnean Society paper. He went to Oxford in 1860 an evolutionist but after hearing Wilberforce and Hooker (Huxley spoke too quietly to be heard) he changed his mind. A year or so later he became an evolutionist again and used creation and evolution as synonymous.

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Wilberforce and Huxley

Well. was there conflict? There was not CONFLICT, but there was conflict. The reviews and the meeting at Oxford show that there was controversy both religious and scientific. The only example of ecclesiastical prejudice I can find is the sacking of Prof Buchman of Cirencester Agricultural College, whose evolutionary ideas offended the Anglican management. By 1866 even the Victoria Institute were tolerating evolution, even if some members objected. Within two decades most educated Christians accepted some kind of evolution, even if, like Wallace, limited evolution to non-humans.

 

Whence Conflict between Science and Religion?

The idea that there has been a serious conflict is widely held but recent studies have challenged this,whether they focus narrowly on Huxley and Wilberforce or look more widely. The conclusion by Lindberg and Numbers, Gould, Brooke and Russell is that the conflict thesis comes from a reading back into events by some of the protagonists of the 19th century. Huxley and Hooker embellished their controversies with the church, Edmund Gosse in Father and Son made his father to be typical of Christians,  Andrew White’s massive The Warfare of Science with Theology (1896) is so flawed as to be worthless, despite its massive documentation which often cannot be followed up, Darwin’s claims that at Cambridge he did not “doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible” are not true, Leslie Stephen’s concerns with the historicity of the Ark has been shown by Sir Owen Chadwick to be the product of a lively imagination and many evangelicals had come to Colenso’s conclusions about Noah some 30 years before 1860. Most of these examples are referred to in serious works of history but a little historical research refutes them. This does raise a few questions on Altholz’s assertion that for Huxley and others “Truthfulness had replaced belief as the ultimate standard.”

The conflict thesis in its classic form needs to be consigned to the bin, BUT there is an opposite danger – the total denial of any conflict whatever and the claim that there was harmony. That is as erroneous. The other danger is to ignore popular perception as this did and still does reckon there is a conflict.

To conclude, there was some conflict, which has various causes; the wish of some scientists to break away from church involvement, the concerns of some that evolution may eliminate God. There was also conflict of re-adjustment. But it is best seen as “a storm in a Victorian tea-cup” exaggerated for polemical purposes.

Finally there was no serious battle of Genesis and Geology, but a few Christians objected to geology. By 1860 biblical literalism was virtually extinct but was revived in the USA in 1961 in the form of Creationism. Neither was there a battle royal over evolution. In 1860 hardly any educated people were still literalists. Until this is firmly grasped it is impossible to assess the relationship of Christianity and Science and to consider exactly what were – and are – the problems.

The ultimate problem is why there is suffering and evil, but I’ll leave that.

 

References;

J.H. Brooke, Science and Religion, some historical perspectives, Cambridge, 1991,

M.B.Roberts, Darwin’s Doubts about Design, Science and Christian Belief, 1997, vol9, p113-26

S.J.Gould, try historical essays in his various Penguins which are always well-argued

Brooke and Cantor, Reconstructing Nature, T&T Clark, 1998

Marston,P and Forster, G. Science, Reason and Faith, Monarch 1999

Numbers, R, Darwinism comes to America, 1998, Harvard Univ Press

Roberts, Michael Evangelicals and Science Greenwood 2008

and two useful books

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for more see the websites of http://biologos.org/  www.asa3.org   http://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/

 

Man but a worm

 

 

 

My Trip to the Ark Encounter: Some Pictures and Reflections

Having met Ham at a meeting in 1992 I have followed his absurd ideas. This ark must be the most monstrous.

It is baffling why anyone believes what he says

Naturalis Historia

Just 10 days after the grand opening of the Ark Encounter on July 7th, I traveled down to Kentucky to pay a visit to Ken Ham’s latest evangelistic outreach endeavor. It was a Friday and I arrived less than one hour after opening and spent the better part of six hours on the Ark Encounter premises.   I have shared some of my thoughts about the Ark Encounter previously (Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Opens to a Flood of Press but Few Visitors than Anticipated;  The Ark Encounter: Depicting a Real Flood with Unrealistic ImagesThe Ark Encounter Common Ancestors:  The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds).  Today I just take you on a visual tour of the Ark Encounter theme park, share a few more thoughts about the exhibits, and suggest some needed improvements.

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My first glimpse of the Ark as I pulled onto the Ark Encounter property.  The Ark…

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Ark Encounter Common Ancestors: The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds

Just what animals did Noah take on the ark?

Many havem answered that question. In the 17th century Bishop John Wilkins said Noah took 2 camelopards and 1835 sheep for the “rapacious beasts” according to my copy of Catcott on the deluge (1760) I think they were wiser and more consistent than todays Young Earthers

Naturalis Historia

Just how many animals where on Noah’s Ark according to 6-day creationists?  That answer has varied considerably over the past century.   With the completion of the Ark Encounter, the most visible attempt to show the feasibility of  preserving all land animal diversity from a global flood, more people are being exposed to a modern answer to that age-old question.   The group – Answers in Genesis – who constructed the Ark Encounter theme park have provided the lowest estimate to date: a max of 6700 total animals.

To rationalize their small Ark population they have become increasingly vocal about how modern biological diversity – the abundance of species – is the result of rapid speciation of ancestral “kinds” following a severe biological bottleneck during Noah’s flood just 4350 years ago.  We could call these ancestors of modern species progenitor kinds or proto-kinds but just what is a “kind” and just how are the boundaries of one kind versus another determined?  How a “kind”…

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Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth

An excellent book about a wonderful place which Creationists are determined to misunderstand

Age of Rocks

Book Review
Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth
by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney (editors)
(hardback from Amazon or direct from the publisher for under $30)

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Prelude to Catastrophe: Why this book is so needed today

When I was 16 years old, I encountered the first book I ever read about geology. It was the first step of many toward a doctorate in the discipline. To this day, I can still praise Steven Austin’s Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe as a simple primer on the processes by which sedimentary rocks form. His explanations of features like cross bedding, faulting, erosion, and layering were clear, accessible, and generally accurate. Yet Austin’s book did not gain popularity for accomplishing what any introductory textbook already had. His provocative message was that the Grand Canyon was laced with fingerprints of a recent global catastrophe, as described in chapters 6-9 of the…

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Professor wants faith-based Christian universities for Scotland

Re-blogged from Paul Braterman’s blog.

Paul is right to show his concern for this, though we differ on the position of church schools.

My impression is that would be a very narrowly-Christian university as shown by Fraser’s membership of the Wee Frees (who though very rigid – I would not be welcome – are not quite 6-day creationist).

To us orthodox, but not fundamentalist Christians reference to “pre-suppositional framework” sets alarm bells ringing, as pre-suppositionalism is an extreme evangelical and largely very reformed argument which tends to exclude all others, Christian or not, by bleat “your pre-supps are wrong”. It is a closed impenetrateble self-confirming hermeneutic and is usually 6 day creationist.

Unless I am a radical secularist, (as Creationists think I am) his labelling unvrsities as “radical secularist” is simply wrong. Our universities are SECULAR not secularist and on the whole staff and students of diverse beliefs can thrive in them.

Perhaps this is a suggestion too far.

 

Professor wants faith-based Christian universities for Scotland

ProfJamesFraserProfessor James Fraser CBE,  has called for the establishment in Scotland of universities that teach within “the pre-suppositional framework of a Christian world view”, as opposed to the “radical secularist” position that he attributes to the existing universities, and holds up the network of Christian universities in the United States as a model. This demand is ill-conceived and presumptuous, and should be resisted. Professor Fraser is a philosophy graduate who has spent nearly all his career in university administration; he, of all people, should know better.

Remember that Scottish Universities are very heavily dependent on taxpayer money, since Scottish students have their fees paid for them by the Government. So the proposed Christian universities would be funded, in direct competition with the existing system, at the expense of a general population of whom now less than half are Christian. But that’s the least of it.

Self-styled Christian universities do indeed exist in the United States, and the problems that they pose should be enough to make Professor Fraser think again. They require their faculty to be Christians, and teach from a Christian point of view. But who is to say what point of view is Christian, and what is not? The Free Church, whose General Assembly he was addressing, adheres to a version of Christianity according to which the world was made in six days, the entire earth and life science content of the school curriculum must be wrong because it contradicts the Word of the Bible, humankind is “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good”, and all those who do not receive God’s grace are condemned to miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Is this what Professor Fraser wants to be able to demand from his Faculty? There have been cases, in the United States, of distinguished Professors being sacked from these Christian universities, merely because they did not accept on faith the literal truth of Genesis. Is this what we are being asked to emulate?

presupapolocoverAs for a “pre-suppositional framework”, that is a technical term that Professor Fraser will not have used lightly. The pre-supposition involved is that all reasoning and all evidence must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the framework, which is itself sacrosanct. Such an approach to knowledge is the very opposite of everything that a university stands for.

And finally, the claim that existing universities are “radical secularist”. I honestly do not know what the learned Professor means. All points of view are represented within our universities, and that is how it should be. Religious viewpoints have, if anything, a privileged position. They have chapels for those who wish to use them, hold religious services, and provide facilities for chaplains of all faiths. And nothing could be more stimulating for believers and nonbelievers alike than to freely mix and to discuss their agreements and differences. Why would anyone wish things otherwise?

Image of Professor Fraser from University of Highlands and Islands news release

Source: Professor wants faith-based Christian universities for Scotland

Ninetieth Anniversary of the Scopes Trial

A few photos to set the scene

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 In October 2010 we visited Dayton for a day and got a feel of the place!! We went round the Courthouse and visited various old buildings in Dayton.

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THE SCOPES TRIAL 1925

The myth of the scopes trial has taken on a life of its own and has misinformed opinion ever since the trial in July 1925. In the United States science for evangelicals was dominated by the Scopes trial, and the abiding images of those decades are provided by Inherit the Wind. This portrays American evangelicals as having  a hillbilly faith based on anti-intellectual literalism. Edward Larson in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer of the Gods (Larson 1997) corrects much of that, but old story still rules. The events that led up to the trial are the most bizarre in the history of science and religion. As we saw in Chapter 3 ( of my book Evangelicals and Science, 2008), the warfare model of the relationship of science and Christianity dominated the twentieth century. In a sense the warfare model both fuelled the events of the Scopes trial and their interpretation as it had become the received wisdom of any secular Americans. The attorney Clarence Darrow (1857–1938) knew the books of Draper and White by heart, and the defense co-counsel at Dayton, Arthur Garfield Heys said, “Of all the books I have read for this trial, the ‘Warfare between Science and Religion [sic], by Prof. White, is, to my mind, one of the most interesting and readable.” With attitudes like this, it is not surprising that fundamentalists initiated the anti-evolution crusade and objected to the new Darwinian biology textbooks, such as Hunter’s Civic Biology  used in Tennessee. In the 1920s the  Eugenics movement was at its height and many eugenicists were evolutionists—R. A. Fisher, Leonard Darwin, and H. F. Osborn. By 1935, thirty-five states had passed laws to compel the sterilization of the eugenically unfit. As Hunter wrote in his Civic biology, “If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.”

Christian anti-evolutionists like the “Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) who was a thrice-failed presidential candidate

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and Billy Sunday (1862–1935) denounced eugenics as inspired by evolution. Bryan called it brutal and at Dayton argued it was a reason not to teach evolution. Billy Sunday bracketed eugenics and evolution in his 1925 Memphis crusade. The Modernist theologians Shailer Mathews (1863–1941) and H. E. Fosdick (1878–1969) both supported eugenics. From our post-Nazi perspective it is difficult not to grant the moral high ground to the Fundamentalists. It also gave reasons to reject Modernism. Ironically in 1939 when most had rejected eugenics WilliamJ. Tinkle (1892–1981) “was still advocating selective human breeding in his creationist textbook, Fundamentals of Biology” (Numbers,1992, p. 223).

Anti-evolutionism was only part of fundamentalist militancy as their main target was theological Modernism, which swept through every denomination. As a result conservatives formed a loose coalition to combat this threat to orthodoxy. Some stressed the German roots of higher criticism and attributed a “survival of the fittest” mentality to German militarism. These were combined into the distinctive Fundamentalism of the 1920s and 1930s and the formation of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA) in 1919. With William Jennings Bryan’s opposition to the war and anti-evolutionism, this led to Dayton. The alliance of Bryan and Fundamentalists like Riley does not demonstrate that they were in total agreement. Riley was a dispensationalist, but Bryan believed in the power of reform to make life better. Bryan had a thirty-five year career in public life, becoming a Democratic Congressman in 1890. With his oratory he became known as the Great Commoner and secured three presidential nominations. After supporting Woodrow Wilson in his presidential campaign of 1912, Bryan became secretary of state and resigned from office after America’s entry into World War One. Yet he was a progressive reformer and  supported both prohibition and female suffrage. As his biographer Lawrence Levine commented, “In Williams Jennings Bryan reform and reaction lived happily, if somewhat incongruously, side by side.” His anti-evolutionism came from his Christian convictions but he was no six-day creationist. He was willing to accept evolution for the animal kingdom but not for man. He was very much in line with earlier Christians, like James Orr. Into this heady political and religious mix the Scopes trial was born. Matters began late in 1921whenKentucky’s Baptist State Board ofMissions passed a resolution asking for a law against teaching evolution. Bryan heard about it early the next year and adopted it. The campaign spread quickly, with John Roach Straton (1875–1929) advocating anti-evolution in New York, Norris in Texas and T. T. Martin throughout the south with William Bell Riley was offering to debate evolutionists, and providing the support of theWCFA. Three years later these four were the most prominent ministers supporting Scopes’ prosecution. In January 1925 Senator Shelton introduced a bill in the Tennessee Legislature. The next day John W. Butler put forward similar legislation in the House of Representatives, demanding a $500 fine for a public school teacher teaching “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible …” The House passed it by 71 votes to five. The public was caught off guard and opponents began to work on the Senate and wrote letters to the press. In February Billy Sunday returned to Memphis for a second crusade. On March 21, the Senate passed the Butler bill by twenty-four to six and itwas sent to the Governor to sign. Despite protests from evolutionists and liberal churchmen it was made law in Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union saw the bill as contrary to civil liberties and offered legal help to any schoolteacher challenging the law.

Entrance to mine closed in 1924, which resulted in economic problems for Dayton (I had a delightful walk there)

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What happened next is slapstick comedy. Dr. George Rappleyea, a mine Manager, who attended a modernist Methodist church, read in the Chattanooga Times on May 4 of the ACLU’s offer of legal help. The most credible version of the legend says he hurried to Robinson’s drugstore and suggested getting publicity for Dayton. With seven others, including several attorneys, he obtained support from the ACLU. They then called in the high school’s science teacher and football coach, John Scopes and Rappleyea asked him if he had been teaching from Hunter’s Civic Biology. When he admitted his felony Robinson told him, “Then you’ve been violating the law” and then asked, “John, would you be willing to stand for a test case?” The die was cast.

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Scopes was not a radical and taught physics, math, and football rather than biology. Like his father he was agnostic. He preferred sport to politics and occasionally attended  Dayton’s Methodist church. The following day, affront-page article in the Banner carried the story how George Rappleyea was prosecuting a teacher for violating state law. Anyone reading that the prosecution was acting for the ACLU would have known it was not an ordinary criminal case. Many Tennesseans did not appreciate Dayton’s publicity stunt.

Scope’s lodgings

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The preliminary hearing took place on May 9 for action in August. The prosecutors included two local attorneys Sue (a man) and Herbert Hicks along with Bryan, though he had not pursued law for thirty years. According to Larson, this changed the whole issue from a narrow constitutional test to one where evolution as well as Scopes was on trial. The ACLU’s hopes for a test case were dashed again when Clarence Darrow offered to duel Bryan. Darrow, who was then sixty-eight, is best described as an atheistic pugilist of considerable notoriety, which had increased after his successful defense of the Leopold-Loeb case, when Darrow saved two from death by appealing to psychological determinism. The historian Will Herberg described him as ‘the last of the ‘village atheists’ on a national scale’. The humanist Edwin Mimms from Vanderbilt University wryly commented, “When Clarence Darrow is put forth as the champion of the forces of  enlightenment to fight the battle for scientific knowledge, one feels almost persuaded to become a Fundamentalist.”

The ACLU tried to displace Darrow as defense lawyer, but Scopes wanted him. The trial began on July 10, with five hundred visitors from the media. With America’s finest journalists present, including H. L. Mencken, the trial became a media event and dominated the national  newspapers for a week. Judge Raulstonarrived at 8.30 a.m. with a Bible and statute book and as temperatures were set to top 100 degrees he allowed attorneys to dispense with coats and ties. He was followed by the defense, Darrow, Malone and Neal, and then Scopes and Rappleyea. At nine o’clock Bryan entered with the other prosecutors to great applause. The court opened with an “interminable” prayer punctuated by amens. Shortly before noon a thousand people left the stifling courtroom, to find four steers being barbecued. After lunch the jury was selected and the venire men chosen were fundamentalist inclined ,which Mencken did not regard as impartial. After that court was adjourned for the weekend and most visitors headed to the Great Smoky Mountains to escape the heat, while Bryan preached at Dayton’s Southern Methodist church.

The Courthouse,Dayton

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Me in the dock

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And by his statue

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On Monday the court was refilled to capacity and business began. The defense challenged the constitutionality of the antievolution statute to quash the indictment. Neal and Hays began the defense so that Darrow could close dramatically. Hays compared the statute to a law against  Copernicanism claiming that “Evolution is as much a scientific fact as the Copernican theory. McKenzie and Stewart took up the prosecution. Then Darrow took the floor and argued that the antievolution law was illegal as it established a particular religious viewpoint in public schools. Darrow’s speech was electric and Mencken wrote that “It was not designed for reading but for hearing.” Responses to the speech were varied, some hissed (morons to Mencken) and others applauded. Court resumed next morning only to be adjourned due to power failure, which prevented Judge Raulston from preparing his ruling on the motion to quash the indictment.

Wednesday was the hottest day and during lunchtime Scopes went swimming in a mountain pool with two of the prosecutors, Wallace Haggard and William Bryan Jr. and returned late.

A local river

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That afternoon the defence’s first witness, the zoologist Maynard M. Metcalf, was called and Darrow prevented Scopes from taking the stand, because he was not, in fact, a biology teacher and that would collapse the whole trial. Metcalf was an Oberlin graduate and also taught a college-age Sunday-school class. Darrow persuaded Metcalf to explain evolution. The next day William Bryan Jr. opened for the state. Hays followed, to be answered by Bryan Sr., who rose to the occasion with an hour-long attack on teaching evolution, followed by Malone with an appeal for freedom. Stewart was last and put the case for statutory interpretation rather than testimony for or against evolution.

The next day the court met for an hour before closing for the weekend. Monday was crunch time and every seat was filled by 8.30a.m.. when proceedings began with prayer aimed at the defense. Hays read out  the statements of the witnesses for the defense, eight scientists, three of whom sought to reconcile evolution with Genesis, as did the four religious witnesses, including Shailer Mathews. Then Hays summoned Bryan who stated, “They came here to try revealed religion. I have come here to defend it, and they can ask me any questions they please.” As the Nashville Banner reported, “Then began an examination which has few, if any, parallels in court history. In reality, it was a debate between Darrow and Bryan on Biblical history, on agnosticism and belief in revealed religion.”

They jousted over Jonah and the whale and the long day of Joshua. When it came to Genesis 1, Bryan demonstrated his acceptance of the Day-Age interpretation, resulting in the following exchange:

Have you any idea of the length of these periods?

No; I don’t

Do you think that the sun was made on the fourth day?

Yes.

And they had evening and morning without the sun?

I am simply saying it is a period.

They had evening and morning for four periods without the sun, do you think?

I believe in creation as there told, and if I am not able to explain it I will accept it.

This gave the defense what they wanted in that as Hays said, “Bryan had conceded that he interpreted the Bible.” Scopes reported in his autobiography that, “The Biblical literalists…were…disappointed that Bryan gave ground” (Larson, 1997, p. 189) This part of Bryan’s testimony was altered in Inherit the Wind. Soon afterwards Raulston adjourned for the  day and Darrow’s supporters were jubilant. Next day the jury was sent out after Darrow had suggested that the judge should instruct them  to find the defendant guilty. They did and recommended a $100 fine. The following Sunday afternoon Bryan died in his sleep.

Then the Scopes trial took on a life of its own. Soon the Scopes legend began to grow, beginning ith the publication of F.L. Allen’s Only Yesterday:an Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties in 1931 and culminating with the release of the film version of Inherit the Wind in 1960. As Larson wrote, “Far more than what happened in Dayton, these two works shaped how later generations would come to think of the Scopes trial.” Allen intended to give a racy account of the Roaring Twenties, but  altered what happened at the trial, incorrectly stating, “Bryan affirmed his belief that the world was createdin 4004 BC.” By doing this Allen wrongly persuaded future generations that not only was Bryan a six-day creationist but that this was a central tenet of fundamentalism. As Larson points out Allen made many distortions, which became the Scopes legend. Larson then names other writers who adopted Allen’s account such as the historians Furniss and Hofstadter.

Hofstadter drew parallels with the Scopes trial and McCarthyism in his Anti-intellectualism in American life, which is what the liberal left wanted to hear. This association with McCarthyism inspired Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s play, Inherit the Wind, in which anti-evolutionism was not the danger but McCarthyism instead, as they felt that McCarthyism paralleled some aspects of the Scopes trial. When I first saw the film some thirty years ago I thought it was a docudrama of the Scopes trial. Whatever the intentions of the playwrights, this is how most viewers perceive it as it molded their understanding of 1920s anti-evolutionism. The characters in Inherit the Wind have their counterparts in the Scopes trial, but much was changed for artistic and political reasons. Prominent in the film is the fundamentalist mob singing about the old-time religion. Bryan was metamorphosed into Brady, a mindless reactionary demagogue who told Drummond (Darrow) that creation took  place “on the 23rd of Octoberin the Year 4004BC at  -uh,at 9 a.m!” Brady collapsed and died at the end of his closing speech. At the time critics savaged the play and the movie and by 1967 Joseph Wood Knutch could say, “Most people who have any notions about the trial get them from the play Inherit the Wind, or from the movie.”

The response today of YEC leaders to the Scopes trial exposes the ambiguity of the participants. The Bryan of Inherit the Wind would be more to their liking. Henry Morris wrote, “Probably the most serious mistake made by Bryan on the stand was to insist repeatedly that he had implicit confidence in the infallibility of Scripture, but then to hedge on the geological questions, relying on the day/age theory. George McCready Price had warned him against this very thing. Darrow, of course, made the  most of it, ridiculing the idea of people claiming to believe the Bible was inspired when its meaning was so flexible that one could make it say whatever he wished!” (Morris, 1984, p. 66). Writing in 1942, Price complained that Bryan had “conceded the entire geological arguments to evolutionists, with the pitiful results now known to all the world” (Numbers, 1992, p. 99).

The Australian, Carl Weiland, reviewing Larson’s book also criticized Bryan for accepting geological time. He wrote “In fact, it may surprise many readers to know that the ‘Great Commoner,’ as the populist Bryan was affectionately known, would have felt perfectly comfortable with any of today’s ‘intelligent design’ theorists and long-age creationists. In a pinch, he would have been able to cope with some form of theistic evolution, it seems so long as Adam’s soul remained divinely created. . . .And of course, it is well-known that in the witness box, the wily Darrow showed up the inconsistencies in Bryan’s acceptance of millions of years in the face of the Bible’s clear statements on six days. Not to mention that Bryan, not having a clear stand or understanding on the historicity of Genesis, had no coherent response to the question of Cain’s wife, either. The message this gave people was quite clear—if even this great ‘champion’ stumbled in the face of ‘science,’ Christians had no answers, and the Bible could not be trusted.”3

It is almost impossible to consider the Scopes trial dispassionately as it is hard to separate myth from history. Many see it as the precursor of the recent YEC debates and education bills. In one sense it is, but there are vital differences. In 1925 the contentious issue was the teaching of evolution, but not geology. Today the intention is to reject both evolution and geology.

Perhaps the real victor of the Scopes trial was George McCready Price, who is the grandfather of modern creationism, to whom we now turn.

P.S. A link to the transcripts of the trial http://darrow.law.umn.edu/trials.php?tid=7

Thanks to Gary Hurd for giving the link

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Bryan College, which has recently purged OECs , i.e. those believing the same as Bryan. (Had to correct this as originally said YECs.) They is a distinct irony in that Bryan College is YEC wheres as Bryan was OEC and open to evolution except for humans.

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