Old Gold and Black

April 21, 1922


Site Editor's Note: In 1922, William Jennings Bryan was still three years away from Dayton, Tennessee and the notorious John Thomas Scopes trial at which he argued successfully against the teaching of evolution in the public schools of Dayton and thereby got the volunteer to the cause of freedom, Mr. Scopes, convicted of a misdemeanor despite the latter's representation by Clarence Darrow of Chicago. Bryan died just after the trial ended. The Nebraska newspaper man from Illinois had earlier in his career become the youngest ever party nominee for the presidency in 1896 at the age of 36, losing as a Democrat to Republican William McKinley. Nominated again in 1900 and losing a second time to McKinley, he would yet wear the Democratic party mantle once more in 1908, losing this time to William Howard Taft. He helped Woodrow Wilson capture the nomination in 1912 and was made Secretary of State under Wilson. Opposed to the war in Europe, he resigned in 1915 over disagreement with Wilson regarding the condemnatory harshness of the second Lusitania note to the Kaiser. Though fundamentalist on religious matters, causing him to be an early proponent of prohibition, and lost on the favoring of a silver-based coinage, Bryan had also favored progressive measures as the establishment of an income tax, popular election of Senators, women's suffrage, and public disclosure of newspaper ownership. Cash's father, also an early proponent of women's suffrage, had voted for and always admired Bryan, no doubt causing considerable debate over time between father and son on the populist's merits and demerits.

Cash here displays by the end of his senior year in college an attitude fully formed which would prevail throughout his adult life--a strong embrace of freedom of thought, religion, and speech and, by equal measures, caustic rejection of any form of intolerance, especially that displayed in plumes by the myopic hysterics of the fundamentalist sects in the South.


The forces of intolerance are never asleep. The spirit that brought forth the Spanish Inquisition and the persecution of a John Wyclif--the very spirit that nailed the Son of God Himself to a cross of pain--still lives and stalks among us. Its methods, we grant, have become more subtle and perhaps more humane; its intent has become more deadly. Once it aimed at the suppression of independent speech. Now it would throttle the very fountain-head of human achievement and progress, the right to freedom of thought.

Willie J. Bryan started it when he hied himself to Kentucky and wildly beseeched the long-haired Solons of that state to save the simple youths of that one-time paradise of "red licker" from the fire and brimstone and wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth which would surely be their portion if they persisted in hearing such awful words as "evolution" and the accursed name of "Darwin." It seems that Willie gets hot over the question of evolution on the ground that he knows quite positively that no one ever fed peanuts through the bars of the cage to his great-grandpa, or even to his great-great-great-grandpa--and thereby Willie displays a colossal ignorance of what Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel and all the other great proponents of evolution really taught. It is peculiarly fitting that William should have started this thing. He has a penchant for dragging moss-covered arguments and theories out of forgotten hiding places, dusting them up a bit, and palming them off on the "deer peepul" as something new under the sun. And because the memory of the said "peepul" is notoriously short, he comes dangerously near getting away with it sometimes. Witness his advocacy of "free and unlimited coinage of silver." He actually came near to hornswaggling this country into accepting that ancient "cheap money" bunk. However, it is not of Bryan's views on evolution, nor Bryan himself, nor even of the movement against evolution that we regard with dislike, but it is the spirit of intolerance toward all who believe in evolution in any form, in the effort to crush liberty of thinking in the colleges.

It is a pity that the Baptist denomination, with a history made glorious by championing, almost without exception, the cause of freedom of conscience and thought, should be so prominently identified with this pernicious effort. Surely it is a far-cry from Roger Williams--founder of the first Baptist Church in America--driven from Massachusetts in the dead of winter and branded as an atheist because he dared express his opinion, to the day when a Baptist president of a Baptist college cannot give an exposition of a scientific theory to a college class of Baptist young men and express his own Christian interpretation of that theory without having calumny heaped upon his head and being declared a corrupter of youth. Some dear brother who was born exactly 500 years too late, declares in the Biblical Recorder that Dr. William Louis Poteat is an atheist, and proceeds to prove that statement with a hair-splitting and intricate logic that would have delighted the theologians of the Dark Ages. The brother assumes an air of finality in the matter. Quite evidently he believes there is no appeal from his decision. Now, we maintain that the brother has a perfect right to his own opinion in regard to the theory of evolution, but he has no authority for trying to force it on other people and he has no right to become abusive simply because people are so foolish as to fail to recognize that it is the voice of the law and the gospel which speaks through him. To anyone who knows the Christian tenor of Dr. Poteat's life the charge is absurd.

The theory of evolution has a fixed and definite place in science. The whole science of biology is built up around it. Directly or indirectly, it affects most of the subjects taught in college. Unless the brethren would have the colleges return to the ancient curriculum of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Theology, it is preposterous to talk of eliminating the teaching of evolution. That man who has the slightest claim to the possession of a liberal education should be ignorant of the meaning of the Darwin theory is unthinkable. The argument that it is unchristian and ought not to be taught in denominational colleges is nonsense. As a matter-of-fact, it is not necessarily opposed to Christianity. Whether God created the universe suddenly or by gradual process of progression from lower and simple forms to higher and complicated ones does not affect the fact of his divinity. The trouble with the brethren who deny this is that--as Mr. Emerson says--they can only conceive of God in terms of Man. But if the doctrine were atheistic, the contention that it should not be discussed before college classes would still be foolish. As well say that one should not read the Buddhist Zend Avesta, the Koran, or the writings of Confucius because they happen to teach other systems of religion. Because a college class hears an exposition of Nihilism is no good reason why they should immediately become enamored of the red flag and obsessed with an itch to hurl bombs at every policeman along the street.

It is extremely hard to believe that many of the "fundamentalists" have any first-hand knowledge of colleges. Evidently they conceive of college students as a bunch of sponges, absolutely devoid of brains, who soak up and absorb without question everything that they read or hear. That the students are sometimes given to weighing and considering and deciding questions according to reason on a basis of facts does not seem to have occurred to them.

The whole truth of the matter is that a few self-anointed bigots are trying to set themselves up as prophets sent from God "to be the dictators of principles and teachers of unquestionable truths" for the masses of the people. The "fundamentalist" movement is a throw-back to the blackest days of the fifteenth century. Conceived in the primitive slime of ignorance, it seeks to thwart and retard the march of truth and knowledge by playing upon the fears and superstitions of the credulous and the willful blindness of the prejudiced. What strange instruments does his Satanic Majesty sometimes choose to carry out his work!

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