A new statue has been erected in Dayton, Tennessee. Twelve years after the town put up a memorial statue of famed orator, presidential candidate, and prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, last week they added one of Clarence Darrow. Darrow played opposite Bryan in perhaps the most famous American courtroom drama in history (sorry, OJ), the Scopes Monkey Trial.
Yes, Darrow was an agnostic/atheist who ridiculed the Bible and sought to make a mockery of the whole of Scripture throughout the eight-day spectacle that had been largely orchestrated by a group of Dayton businessmen desperate to generate attention for their tiny town. But even as a Christian who thinks Darrow’s arguments were silly, his tactics shady, and his demeanor unpleasant, I can’t imagine why anyone would think his statue shouldn’t appear at the site.
This isn’t about glorifying atheism. If God-deniers are looking for a hero, they can find a much better champion than Clarence Darrow. Just like if Christians are looking to immortalize a star for their cause, there are far more impressive candidates than Bryan (who famously struggled to defend some of the simpler questions of Biblical apologetics, like “Where did Cain get his wife?”).
But this is about history and a unique moment from our people’s past that is still dramatized yearly outside that old courthouse. It also spawned a famous, though wildly inaccurate movie, Inherit the Wind, and fills pages of our children’s history textbooks. That’s why the immortalizing of someone as cantankerous as Darrow should be appreciated.
Americans should know their history, which is why it is such a tragedy when for the sake of political correctness, statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals are taken down. The reason that trend is alarming is the same reason the Darrow/Bryan statues are encouraging. And it’s why I was pleased that despite initial media reports that protests and demonstrations had been planned for the statue’s unveiling, none of that materialized.
Truthfully, Christians are the ones who could really benefit by a renewed societal awareness of what happened in Dayton in 1925. Imagine if the entire country was exposed to the stirring oratory of Darrow’s assistant counsel John Malone who pleaded with the jurors weighing whether Darwinism should be taught,
“For God’s sake let the children have their minds kept open—close no doors to their knowledge. Make the distinction between religion and science. Let them have both. Let them both be taught. Let them both live.”
In 1925, the law allowed students to only be exposed to the Biblical history of creation as recorded in Genesis. Malone, Darrow, and Scopes were all begging for open minds that presented new theories and ideas, and allowing the evidence to lead kids to believe what they chose to believe. Fast-forward almost 100 years and the intellectual descendants of those three men have utterly betrayed their plea. Having come full circle, modern-day Darrows and Malones now demand that students only be exposed to the Darwinist interpretation of life’s origins in exclusion to every other idea or theory. Those are what Malone would call closed minds, slammed doors, and an abject refusal to “let them both live.”
And we’re all the poorer for it.