July 21, 1925
“William Bell Riley was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1897 until 1942. Riley was a theological conservative and advocate for the New Hampshire Confession of Faith of 1833. In 1919, he founded the World Christian Fundamentals Association as resource for the Church in an era of modernism. In 1947, Riley persuaded Billy Graham to become president of his university and seminary; the Northwestern Bible College (University of Northwestern-Saint Paul).” *
According to William Vance Trollinger Jr., author of God’s Empire: Wiliam Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism. (1990, The University of Wisconsin Press.), Riley was “…the dominant figure in American fundamentalism in the first half of the twentieth century. More than any other individual, it was Riley who, in the decade after World War I, marshaled the fundamentalist forces into crusades designed to purify both American Protestantism and American culture in general”. “Riley was the founder and leading spokesperson of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA), the first organization that attempted to unite conservative Christians of all denominations in an international association. An indefatigable polemicist, he was one of the most active and effective debaters among American antievolutionists”.***
Given this stance, it is no surprise that he was aware of a small trial developing in Tennessee that would become a touchstone of controversy in American culture; the evolution of man vs. the creation of man. Riley responded by tapping, perhaps, the greatest orator of the 20th century to defend the Church; William Jennings Bryan. It also bode well for the Fundamentalists that Jennings was a man of influence: lawyer and three-time Democratic presidential nominee, former United States Secretary of State, lifelong Presbyterian, and a man of the people.
The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was a famous American legal case in 1925 in which a high school teacher John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. It became a national show trial highlighting the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. Famed orator and politician William Jennings Bryan argued the Fundamentalist position that the Word of G-d revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. Clarence Darrow, a powerful defense attorney and labor lawyer, argued the Modernist position that evolution was not inconsistent with religion. It became a theological contest between the two camps as to which should be taught in public schools.**
In Your mercy, Lord hear our prayer. We, the State of Minnesota, being comprised both of people of faith and those who believe in the supremacy of science have judged You. Our greatest offenses to You, perhaps, are judging Your ability to create, that You are not the author of all science and natural laws of the universe, and indirectly, by attempting to usurp Your benevolent moral authority as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending of all. We, who live in the dusty bookshelf of our observations within linear history, do not comprehend the Ancient of Days, the Eternal Now, the I Am. Great One, will You forgive us; back then in 1925, now, and into the future?
Will You have mercy on the beliefs and misbeliefs of William Bell Riley, the WFCA, and the Fundamentalist movement of this era? Their root fears, in this case, likely would be that teaching evolution alongside creationism would cast doubts on the truthfulness and historicity of Your Word. To amplify further, public schools may eventually abandon teaching the Bible at all, based on the premise that it’s “unscientific” where it addresses science, and that it’s values are static rather than evolutionary. Though one needs to understand it to thoroughly grasp the greatest writings of Western civilization, it could also be deemed untenable as literature.
Granted, their fears have come true in less than 90 years. We do not currently rely on the Bible for any use in public education in Minnesota. Yet, where they closed their ears to Your voice spoken through science and evolution, will You have mercy? Will You forgive where fundamentalists’ fears may have blocked the growth of students eager to study a species’ curious abilities of adaption?
Similarly, will You have mercy on the beliefs and misbeliefs of the modernists and evolutionists of this era? They likely feared that their students would subject their minds to the shaky traditions and teaching of Your Word without the ability to “scientifically” test them to be credible. Were their suppositions of the infallibility of the scientific method and reproducible experiments even the correct means to assess any book, let alone Your Revealed Word written over a span of 2,000 years by forty different authors from three different continents? What are the correct means of testing the reliability of writing?*****
First, does a book of antiquity pass the basic principals of historiography: the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test? What type of manuscript evidence exists? How many extant copies of the book do we possess, and how close are these copies to the date of publishing? These are useful questions our educators have failed to ask of Your Word. Have mercy on our lack of curiosity!*****
Next, does archaeology support or refute the claims of the Bible? Below, two giants in the field give their testimony on the subject.
Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist said, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” *****
“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.” William F. Albright ******
Again, were the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ? Below is a brief list of Old Testament prophecies and their New Testament fulfillment:
- Born of a seed of woman – Galatians 4:4
- Born of a virgin – Matthew 1:18
- Son of G-d – Matthew 3:17
- Seed of Abraham – Galatians 3:16
- Son of Isaac – Luke 3:23
- Son of Jacob – Luke 3:23,34
- Tribe of Judah – Hebrews 7:14
- Family line of Jesse – Luke 3:23,32
- House of David – Revelation 22:16
- Born at Bethlehem – Matthew 2:1
- Presented with gifts – Matthew 2:11
- Herod kills children – Mathew 2:16
- His pre-existence – Colossians 1:17
- He shall be called ‘Lord’ – Luke 2:11
- Shall be Immanuel – Matthew 1:23
- Shall be a prophet – Matthew 21:11
- Priest – Hebrews 3:11
- Judge – John 5:30
- King – Matthew 27:37
- Special anointment of Holy Spirit – Matthew 3:16,17
- His zeal for G-d – John 2:15-17
- Preceded by a messenger – Matthew 3:1,2
- Ministry to begin in Galilee – Mathew 4:12,13,17
- Ministry of Miracles – Mathew 9:35
- Teacher of parables – Matthew 13:34
- He was to enter the Temple – Matthew 21:12
- He was to enter Jerusalem on a donkey – Luke 19:35-37
- “Stone of stumbling” to Jews – I Peter 2:7
- Light to Gentiles – Acts 13:47-48
- Resurrection – Acts 2:31
- Ascension – Acts 1:9
- Seated at the right hand of G-d – Hebrews 3:1
- Betrayed by a friend – Matthew 10:4
- Sold for 30 pieces of silver – Matthew 26:15
- Money to be thrown in Temple – Matthew 27:5
- Price given for potter’s field – Matthew 27:7
- Forsaken by disciples – Mark 14:50
- Accused by false witnesses – Matthew 26:59,60
- Dumb (silent) before accusers – Matthew 27:12
- Wounded and bruised – Matthew 27:26
- Smitten and spit upon – Matthew 26:67
- Mocked – Matthew 27:31
- Fell under the Cross – John 19:17
- Hand and feet pierced – Luke 23:33
- Crucified with thieves – Matthew 27:38
- Made intercession for his persecutors – Luke 23:34
- Rejected by his own people – John 7:5,48
- Hated without cause – John 15:25
- Friends stood afar off – Luke 23:49
- People shook their heads – Matthew 27:39
- Stared upon – Luke 23:35
- Garments parted and lots cast – John 19:23,24
- To suffer thirst – John 19:28
- Gall and vinegar offered him – Matthew 27:34
- His forsaken cry – Matthew 27:46
- Committed himself to G-d – Luke 23:46
- Bones not broken – John 19:33
- Heartbroken – John 19:34
- His side pierced – John 19:34
- Darkness over the land – Matthew 27:45
- Buried in a rich man’s tomb – Matthew 27:57-60
Professor Peter Stoner used these claims as an exercise in probability. If we used only eight items in this list, …”We find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 10 to the 17th power.” If we increased that number to forty eight prophecies, …”We find the chance that any one man fulfilled all 48 prophecies to be 1 in 10 to the 157th power.” *******
All this to say that using the suppositions of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, and or any other scientific method is an incomplete assessment of the truthfulness of the Bible, or the proper yardstick to judge any book. Your revelations in scripture are scientific where it applies to science, but how would Darwin’s method be meaningful across all time, beyond time, and to all subjects?
Human beings are not present to all time, therefore, is it possible that modernism falls apart due to lack of presence to observe, test, and record the conditions of reproducible experiments and their results? Will You forgive these judgments based on our infinitesimal comprehension of time, or the concept that time is a creature under Your control?
Ultimately, modernism has taught us that we are a chance, therefore, not subject to the moral laws of any deity. If we are the beginning, then we are then end. If all morals are subject to the forces of evolution, then all values are the determination of each human being. There are no distinctions between lightness and darkness, cruelty and love; there is only survival of the fittest. The ends justify the means.
Mercifully, You are the Alpha and the Omega. You are not offended by our quest to understand the universe. We know love because You have demonstrated love through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We know hate because we have experienced the absence of Your presence. We have worth built on the stability that we are declared worthy by the King of the Universe. That worth will go on after modernism, fundamentalism, or any ‘ism’ is no more.
Lord, we thank You that our society wrestled with the question of origins in the Scopes Monkey trial. In spite of its upheaval in the world of education, we have still remained a people. Will You give us the grace to continue to wrestle with our existential questions in the future? Will You bring Your Presence to all students in Minnesota?
1Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?****
***** Rivers in the Desert; History of Negev. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969, p33.
****** Albright, William F. Archaeology and the Religions of Israel. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1956, p1.
******* McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.Nashville, Atlanta, London, Vancouver: Thomas Nelson, 1979.
3 thoughts on “William Bell Riley: Minnesota’s Link to the Scopes Monkey Trials”
Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
LORD–FORGIVE THE PEOPLE FOR MISREPRESENTING YOUR WORD AND YOU!
Thank you for dropping by my blog.
Your very welcome!