18. William Jennings Bryan campaigned against evolution in the 1920s
William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president unsuccessfully in three separate campaigns, became one of America’s most vocal opponents of evolution in the early 20th century. Bryan was not a cleric, but he was a devout evangelical, who published several religious-themed works, broadcast a radio program on which he preached sermons which were heard nationwide, and was a supporter of what became known as “day-age” creationism (in which the six days of creation in Genesis are not 24 hour days, but specific periods of indeterminate time). Day-age creationism attempted to reconcile Genesis with the geological record.
Bryan was appalled that leading members of established religions had embraced evolutionary theory, declaring it was compatible with religious teaching of their respective churches. He did not agree, and argued that literal interpretation of the Genesis account was unchallengeable. At the Scopes Trial, he was called as a witness by the defense, and in the end, his testimony was expunged by the judge, who called for a directed verdict of guilt by the jury. Bryan argued that what he called Darwinism was merely a “hypothesis“, and in a written speech the judge would not allow him to deliver but which he later published, he claimed, “science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals”.