The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Clarence Darrow
Misquoted by Creationists
Copyright © 1994-1997 by Rob Zuber

"It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins."

Hmmm. Did Clarence Darrow ever say that? Tom McIver attempted to track down the source of this quote [1]. The results are very interesting.

First it should be noted that it wouldn't make any sense for Darrow to say such a thing at the Scopes trial. Darrow was trying to defend the practice of teaching only evolution, which is what the Dayton public schools were doing at the time of the Scopes trial [1]. Darrow would be shooting himself in the foot.

So what did McIver discover? It's a long and twisted story so I will attempt to summarize.

"One thing is clear, however: Darrow did not say any such thing during the trial -- at least not according to the quasi-official, unedited, published transcript of the entire proceedings, the 1925 book The World's Most Famous Court Trial (National Book Company). It is conceivable that the stenographer might have missed a few words, since there was considerable noise and excitement during the trial, and part of it was held outdoors, but it seems most unlikely that such a ringing statement would have been omitted from the complete transcript in the published version considered authoritative by scholars." [1]

It seems most creationists cite an article by the creationist lawyer Wendell Bird [2] as their source. Bird, in turn, cites a biology professor by the name of Robert O'Bannon (who supports the teaching of creationism in public schools) as his source. O'Bannon is described as a biology professor at Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee [1]. McIver says,

"O'Bannon gives no source for the quote. I asked him recently where it came from and whether he had intended it as a direct quote, as the transcript indicated, or merely a paraphrase. O'Bannon, who was very courteous and open, said it was a direct quote and that he got it from the Griggs reference cited elsewhere in his symposium talk."

The Griggs reference that O'Bannon cites is reference [3]. McIver then goes on,

"Griggs modestly volunteered that his Science and Scripture article was a 'trivial essay' that he had not intended as a scholarly reference. The Darrow quote was written from memory, without the aid of a written source. For this reason, he said, he intended the quote as a paraphrase, not a direct quote. He had heard it orally from a Baptist preacher in Denver who died some years ago. Griggs emphasized, however, that this preacher was quite trustworthy, so even though paraphrased, he is sure that the quote is accurate. The preacher himself got it from a Dayton newspaper account around the time of the trial, he thinks. Griggs believes the reporter probably heard Darrow say it before the actual court proceedings, though he is not sure whether it was a public statement or something said during an interview."

To top it all off, Dr. Norman L. Geisler (a creationist who once used the now infamous quote in one of his books) says (in [4]),

"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'. Wendell Bird, whose Yale Law Review article [2] 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' [5]."

"It is the height of bigotry to teach only one theory of origins." -- Dr. D James Kennedy 'quoting' Darrow in his The Case for Creation video.


[1] McIver, Tom. 1988. Creationist Misquotation of Darrow Creation/Evolution XXIII

[2] Bird, Wendell. 1978. Freedom of Religion and Science Instruction in Public Schools Yale Law Journal. 87:3:515-570.

[3] Griggs, Jolly F. 1974. Is the Public School the Established Church? Science and Scripture. 4:2:23-29

[4] Geisler, Norman L., 1989. Was Clarence Darrow a Bigot? Creation/Evolution XXV

[5] Darrow, Clarence. 1932. The Story of My Life. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

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