Tag Archives: Genesis

Summer Heat: Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial

20th century cultural icons: cigarette smoking, agnostic advocate for science, Clarence Darrow  vs. defender of the Bible,  anti-evolutionist, populist politician, William Jennings Bryan, in the heat of a Tennessee summer.

20th century cultural icons: cigarette smoking, agnostic advocate for science, Clarence Darrow vs. defender of the Bible, anti-evolutionist, populist politician, William Jennings Bryan, in the heat of a Tennessee summer.

Where I live here in Virginia today, it is blisteringly hot.

It reminds me of an event that happened exactly ninety years ago today in Dayton, Tennessee. It was July 20,1925, and the famed political statesman, William Jennings Bryan, had taken to the witness stand, to be scrutinized by one of America’s most famous trial lawyers, Clarence Darrow. At stake was a relatively minor case, where a young, substitute biology teacher, John T. Scopes, had been charged with breaking a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in a state funded school. But the case soon became a media circus, as reporters from all over the country flooded the small courtroom facilities in this rural town, forcing the proceedings to be held outside in the intense summer heat.

Bryan, an evangelical Christian, had assumed the challenge to defend the law, while Darrow, an avowed agnostic, was determined to defeat it. But when Bryan went forward to be examined by Darrow, to warn against the cancer of Darrow’s evolutionary philosophy, the events that unfolded would shake the nation. Darrow, an unrepentant skeptic, peppered Bryan again and again with questions about the Bible. In the end, Bryan was able to successfully defend the law, but Darrow proved to win the cultural sentiment, leading to a spread of anti-Christian ridicule across the country at large. Thus marked the moment where American Christianity divided into the “fundamentalist/modernist” controversy. The “fundamentalist” wing sought to defend that “old time religion,” demonstrating the wisdom of the Bible over and against the false “wisdom” of modern science. The “modernist” wing reacted in the other direction, by essentially cutting the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith out of the Bible, in an effort to supposedly “save” Christianity. During the past ninety years, evangelical scholarship and apologetics have sought to break through the impasse caused by this controversy, thereby moving the conversation forward to persuade a lost generation of the Truth of the Savior.

Unfortunately, much of America’s cultural memory of the Scopes Monkey has been shaped by the subsequent play and movie, Inherit the Wind, that took many liberties in the retelling of the story.  For example, Inherit the Wind overlooks the fact that William Jennings Bryan took great interest in the case because he saw that the type of evolution being promoted in Scopes’ biology textbook advocated for eugenics, which he understood to be utterly immoral. Furthermore, the textbook, Hunter’s Civic Biology, contained the following statement that would hardly pass muster in today’s classrooms:  “At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, …These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest race type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.” Also, William Jennings Bryan was not an advocate of Young Earth Creationism, as he generally thought that the “days” of Genesis 1 referred to long periods of time, not literal 24-hour periods.

As I read the transcript of Darrow’s interrogation of Bryan, I admire Bryan’s intended desire to defend the truth of the Bible. However, I am not very impressed with all of Bryan’s answers. I Peter 3:15 teaches, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I would hope that if I were in Bryan’s shoes on that witness stand, I would do better. But would I really be prepared to do so, as the Apostle Peter admonishes?

If you were there on that witness stand instead of Bryan, burdened by the summer heat, and the heat of the skeptic’s questions, how would you respond? See the transcript of the proceedings below, and tell me what you would say differently. More on the Scopes Monkey Trial at ChristianHistory.org:

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Science and Creation: The Question Behind the Question

When Christians are discussing difficult topics, such as the “how” of creation, a number questions come to the forefront. For example, we may be talking about something like the problem of animal death before the Fall of humanity, but I often wonder if there are other issues lurking below the surface.

Our lead pastor, Travis Simone, and I discuss this topic in general in the latest installment of TableTalk during our summer Bible study series on Genesis 1-11. What do you think? Is there a question behind the question here? Have I correctly identified the right question, or is there something else?

Technical note: because of a glitch in the beginning, the audio is present throughout, but the video only shows up 3 minutes (3:00) into the session. So, please be patient!

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

Terry Mortenson on the Problem of Millions of Years

Here on Veracity, we have highlighted the work of Terry Mortenson, a speaker for the popular Young Earth Creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis. He spoke in Williamsburg several years ago on topics related to creation.

A lot of people, particularly atheists, ridicule Young Earth Creationists as being idiotic and stupid. I find this to be most uncharitable. Though I was not able to meet Terry Mortenson personally during his time in Williamsburg, I nevertheless found him to be quite charming, likable, and very articulate.

Terry Mortenson believes that modern science, even as practiced by Old Earth and Evolutionary Creationists, is built on inherently anti-biblical assumptions. Therefore, Christians should reject the concept of “millions of years” because it threatens to undermine the Bible. Science, as generally practiced today, can not be relied upon to give us true, genuine knowledge of the world that reflects God’s glory. In other words, God’s creation is NOT the 67th book of the Bible.

I would assume that Dr. Mortensen would take issue with how I understand the teaching of Psalm 19. My questions for Terry Mortenesen are not based on science, per se. That is a very involved discussion that would require me cracking open those dusty textbooks from my days in college. My concern is about the Bible. How would he read passages like Romans 1:18-23 (ESV)?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Here, the Apostle Paul, is talking about pagans who have no access to  God’s Law as set forth in Holy Scripture (he addresses the Jews who have God’s Law in Romans 2).  Paul’s main message is that the pagans have looked at the evidence for God in creation and then rejected God, worshipping creatures instead of the Creator. A lot of atheists and other skeptics probably fit in this category rather well today. But as I have highlighted above, Paul seems convinced that what can be known of God as Creator can be seen in the things that have been made. Not only that, but this knowledge from the created order has been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world. Paul makes no mention of the pagans having a Bible to give them knowledge of God as Creator. Rather, it would appear that Paul assumes that general knowledge of God can be truly known by people because He has made it plain to them. If I take this literally, it would imply that there is a Christian basis for doing science simply by observing nature, expecting that as a different source of information, it essentially will not and cannot conflict with what we read in Sacred Scripture.

How does this square with Terry Mortenson’s view that you must first look to the first few chapters of Genesis to establish the basis for building science? Dr. Mortensen is quite correct that it is easy for scientists to misinterpret the scientific data that God leaves us in Creation. Good point!

However, those who hold to more of an “Old Earth” perspective contend that it is possible for people to misinterpret the Bible, as well, thereby creating an apparent conflict between modern science and Christian faith that need not exist. According to this perspective that accepts the general narrative of modern science, misinterpreting the Bible can actually create an unnecessary barrier to having faith in God.

Every “Old Earth” scientist I know who loves Jesus is persuaded that “millions of years” is correct, not because they are uncritically consuming “anti-biblical” assumptions. They accept “millions of years” because, in their observations, the evidence God has placed there demands it. If convincing evidence could be demonstrated to overthrow “millions of years,” they would accept a “young earth” in a heartbeat.

So, is Dr. Mortenson correct? Tell me what you think in the comments section below after you view this short video.

So, When is a Day Not a Day?

For most of church history, Christians have generally considered the “days” of Genesis 1 to be normal, 24-hour periods. There was no serious challenge to this view until the age of modern science. But this does not mean that the “24-hour” view of the Genesis 1 “days” has always been held universally. There have been notable exceptions, namely from the 5th century Saint Augustine.

Nevertheless, there are some Christians today who make the argument that the six “days” of Genesis 1 must always mean “24-hours” each. Let me say up front that I stand with Saint Augustine on this one, that the exact meaning of the six “days” of Genesis is difficult to determine. Are they 24-hour periods or could they simply be long, indeterminate lengths of time? Saint Augustine did not know for sure, and neither do I. Saint Augustine was a lot smarter than I am, and he lived a long time before me, so I will put my lot in with him.

However, I do get greatly concerned when some insist that their view of a “24-hour” day is the only faithful way of reading the six “days” of Biblical Creation. This implies that the “24-hour” day view should be some test for Christian orthodoxy.  Anything that wavers from this is a compromise of Biblical authority. Thankfully, not everyone in the “Young Earth Creationist” camp takes this kind of rigid approach. But for those who do, this way of thinking is very harmful to the unity and testimony of the Body of Christ. So I would like to tackle one of the primary arguments used to defend this position, acknowledging that not everyone goes to such extremes with it.

But before I launch into that, it might be helpful to view the latest “Table Talk” session I had with our lead pastor, Travis Simone, during our Summer Bible Study series on Genesis 1-11. Notice how Travis makes the point that getting caught up in the details of how God created the world takes our focus away from the more important details pertinent to the Gospel. It is so easy to stumble over things like the exact meaning of”days,” that miss the main point of Genesis 1, namely that the God of the Bible is the Creator and that we as humans are created in His image:

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Plumb LineHere on Veracity, we talk quite a bit about three different models that Christians use to understand the “how” questions of Creation: How did God create the world? How long did it take God to create?

The three models are “Young Earth Creationism,” “Old Earth Creationism,” and “Evolutionary Creationism.” Some people get a little scared by the terminology. For example, some might say, “Atheists believe in evolution, so why should a Christian believe in it?” Or others might say, “Muslims say they believe in creationism. Is this about promoting Islam?”

Definitions are important, and here at Veracity, we go at great lengths to try to properly use these terms in such a way that respects and submits to the “plumb line” of Holy Scripture, the final standard for Christian authority.  Each of these views, “Young Earth Creationism,” “Old Earth Creationism,” and “Evolutionary Creationism,” have various strengths and weaknesses to them. Here at Veracity, we discuss different topics like this (and many others!!), offering different points of view, challenging one another to think about what we believe. As you study these topics, you get to decide which viewpoint makes the most sense and which view is the most faithful to God’s Word. As Veracity founding-blogger, John Paine, reminds me, Veracity exists not to tell people what to think, but rather to encourage people how to think.

Recently, I have been invited to participate in Table Talk sessions for a discussion on Genesis 1-11 with our lead pastor, Travis Simone, during the Summer Bible Study at our church. You can view the latest session here with some commentary, as well as explore other blog entries related to the topic. Recent topics in this series include “Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?,” “Tim Keller on Interpreting Genesis,” and “Does Genesis 1 and 2 Contradict One Another?” Simply browse the latest blog entries, or look for the “Search” option on the right hand side of the blog, and punch in something like “creationism” or “genesis,” and then click on “go” to pull up some articles that might help you think a little more deeply on these subjects.

Thank you for stopping by Veracity!

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