Creation/Evolution Journal

Was Clarence Darrow a Bigot?

Darrow's Famous Bigotry Quote Is Not Authentic

I wish to commend Tom McIver for exposing the questionable authenticity of the widely used quote attributed to Clarence Darrow, "It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins" (McIver, 1988). Wendell Bird, whose Yale Law Review article (1978) was the source of many of the citations, has subsequently recognized that the quote is probably not authentic. So much for trusting Ivy League publications!

I believe, also, that McIver should be commended for revealing another misquotation of Darrow. It is clear that Darrow did not believe that creation was scientific. Thus, when he declared at the Scopes trial that children should have "both" creation and evolution, he meant both "evolution" (which is science) and "creation" (which is theology). This fits not only with his whole argument at the trial but also with what he said a few years later when he declared, "In fact, there is no other theory to teach regarding the origin of the various animal species, including man" (Darrow, 1932).

Darrow Did Level the Charge of Bigotry at Creationists

However, there are some interesting things brought into focus by the McIver article that should not pass unnoticed. Darrow did believe that passing and defending the Tennessee creation law was "bigotry."

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Darrow used the words bigotry or bigot numerous times during the trial. In fact, they are used six times on only two pages of the trial transcript (Hilleary and Metzger, 1925). For example, when Bryan stated on the witness stand, "I am perfectly willing that the world shall know that these gentlemen have no other purpose than ridiculing every Christian who believes in the Bible," Darrow responded, "We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States and you know it, and that is all" (p. 299; emphasis added). In another place, Darrow argued:

Unless there is left enough of the spirit of freedom in the state of Tennessee, and in the United States, there is not a single line of any constitution that can withstand bigotry and ignorance when it seeks to destroy the rights of the individual; and bigotry and ignorance are ever active.

[p. 75; emphasis added]

He even refers to Thomas Jefferson, asking:

Can a legislative body say, "You cannot read a book or take a lesson, or make a talk on science until you first find out whether [what] you are saying [is] against Genesis . . ."? It could—except for the work of Thomas Jefferson, which has been woven into every state constitution of the Union, and has stayed there like the flaming sword to protect the rights of man against ignorance and bigotry. . . .

[p. 83; emphasis added]

At another point Darrow appealed to the judge:

Your honor knows that the fires that have been lighted in America to kindle religious bigotry and hate. . . . You know that there is no suspicion which possesses the mind of men like bigotry and ignorance and hatred.

[p. 87; emphasis added]

Even the lawyers opposing Darrow took note of his use of the word bigots, saying, "They say it is sponsored by a lot of religious bigots. Mr. Darrow said that, substantially that" (p. 197).

These citations leave no doubt that Darrow believed that those who produced, promoted, and defended the Tennessee anti-evolution law were bigots for denying the right to teach evolution in the public schools, even though creation was not being taught. In this connection, it is interesting to observe precisely what Darrow himself was promoting to see if, perchance, the charge of bigotry is a double-edged sword.

What the Evolutionists Were Defending

According to McIver, and I believe he is right, "Darrow was challenging the law in order to allow the teaching of evolution" (McIver, 1988). Yet, he acknowledges that "the Dayton public schools were only teaching one view—evolution—and that was what Darrow was trying to defend" (p. 9). If so, then Darrow's plea, "Let them have both. Let them both be taught," comes up a little hollow. For he certainly was not advocating that the Genesis account be taught in public schools, even as theology. Darrow was categorically opposed to teaching religion in the public schools.

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Furthermore, Darrow's reference to Jefferson is infelicitous, since he believed that "all men are created" and even referred to a creator in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson would certainly be surprised to return to the United States today and find that Darrow and the evolutionists have declared it unconstitutional to teach the truths of the Declaration of Independence in public schools. Jefferson himself set up a department of divinity in his state-supported University of Virginia and signed into law a treaty with the Kaskasia Indians to pay a Catholic missionary to do mission work with them (1803).

In addition, it seems to me that McIver's claims that only evolution is scientific—and that creation is religious—is a form of definitional bigotry. For if creation is not scientific, then most of the major scientists between 1620 and 1860 were not scientific when they said that scientific evidence points to a creator. Sir Isaac Newton, for example, declared:

It is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions. . . . This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

[Newton, 1686]

As we have shown elsewhere, creation is just as scientific as macroevolution (Geisler and Anderson, 1987). Of course, neither creation nor macroevolution is an empirical science. That is, no one observed the origin of the universe, and it is not being repeated today. However, both creationist and evolutionist views are "scientific" in the sense of forensic science. They are simply speculative reconstructions of past unobserved events on the basis of the remaining evidence.

Now it seems to me to be a form of epistemological bigotry to argue that we can allow public school science teachers to speculate only about possible natural causes but not about possible intelligent causes. By this same logic, archaeologists are not scientific when they posit an intelligent cause for ancient pottery. Both archaeologists and anthropologists cease to be scientists when they assume that arrowheads were made by Indians. Maybe Darrow did not say it, but in view of this I will: "It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins!"

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By Norman L. Geisler
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.