Summer for the Gods

How conservative Christians coalesced against the teaching of Darwin

Continued from page 3

In 1919, Riley welcomed some 6,000 conservative Christians to the WCFA's inaugural conference with the warning that their Protestant denominations were "rapidly coming under the leadership of the new infidelity, known as 'modernism.'" One by one, seventeen prominent ministers from across the country took the podium to denounce modernism as, in the words of one speaker, "the product of Satan's lie" and to call for a return to biblical fundamentals in church and culture.

Although these early developments laid the foundation for the anti-evolution crusade and the ensuing Scopes trial, they did not predestine it. Fundamentalism began as a response to theological developments within the Protestant church rather than to political or educational developments within American society. Even the name of the WCFA's journal, Christian Fundamentals in Schools and Churches, originally referred to support for teaching biblical fundamentals in divinity schools and churches rather than opposition to evolutionary instruction in public schools--though it neatly fit the organization's later emphasis. "When the Fundamentals movement was originally formed, it was supposed that our particular foe was the so-called 'higher criticism,'" Riley later recalled, "but in the onward going affairs, we discovered that basic to the many forms of modern infidelity is the philosophy of evolution." Riley was predisposed to make this connection, but it took the much better known William Jennings Bryan to turn the fundamentalist movement into a popular crusade against evolutionary teaching that led directly to Dayton.

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Bryan was not a dispensational premillennialist: he did not agree with their view that the Bible prophesied the imminent degeneration of the world in preparation for Christ's second coming. Quite to the contrary, he thoroughly enjoyed many things of this world--particularly politics, oratory, travel, and food--and believed in the power of reform to make life better. Reform took two forms for Bryan--personal reform through individual religious faith and public reform through majoritarian governmental action. He maintained a deep faith in both throughout his life, and each contributed to his final political campaign against evolutionary teaching. "My father taught me to believe in Democracy as well as Christianity," Bryan observed late in his life.

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Edward J. Larson
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