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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > William Jennings Bryan Quotes

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William Jennings Bryan
(19 Mar 1860 - 26 Jul 1925)

American politician and lawyer , former U.S. Secretary of State (1913-1915), who opposed the theory of evolution and was the key prosecution witness speaking against it at the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Science Quotes by William Jennings Bryan (13 quotes)


If they believe it [evolution], they go back to scoff at the religion of their parents.
— William Jennings Bryan
From the transcript of the Scopes Monkey Trial fifth day's proceedings (16 Jul 1925) in John Thomas Scopes, The World's Most Famous Court Trial: Tennessee Evolution Case: a Complete Stenographic Report of the Famous Court Test of the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act, at Dayton, July 10 to 21, 1925, Including Speeches and Arguments of Attorneys (1925), 175.
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (400)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Parent (39)  |  Religion (210)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Scoff (4)

In Cairo, I secured a few grains of wheat that had slumbered for more than thirty centuries in an Egyptian tomb. As I looked at them this thought came into my mind: If one of those grains had been planted on the banks of the Nile the year after it grew, and all its lineal descendants had been planted and replanted from that time until now, its progeny would to-day be sufficiently numerous to feed the teeming millions of the world. An unbroken chain of life connects the earliest grains of wheat with the grains that we sow and reap. There is in the grain of wheat an invisible something which has power to discard the body that we see, and from earth and air fashion a new body so much like the old one that we cannot tell the one from the other.…This invisible germ of life can thus pass through three thousand resurrections.
— William Jennings Bryan
In In His Image (1922), 33.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (151)  |  Bank (8)  |  Body (193)  |  Century (94)  |  Chain (38)  |  Descendant (12)  |  Discard (14)  |  DNA (67)  |  Earth (487)  |  Egypt (18)  |  Fashion (24)  |  Feeding (7)  |  Germ (27)  |  Grain (24)  |  Growth (111)  |  Invisible (30)  |  Life (917)  |  Million (89)  |  New (340)  |  Nile (4)  |  Old (104)  |  Pass (60)  |  Planting (4)  |  Power (273)  |  Progeny (6)  |  Reap (6)  |  Resurrection (3)  |  Slumber (3)  |  Sow (10)  |  Sufficient (24)  |  Teeming (2)  |  Thought (374)  |  Thousand (106)  |  Time (439)  |  Today (86)  |  Tomb (7)  |  Unbroken (9)  |  Wheat (8)  |  World (667)

In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane—the earth’s surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future.
— William Jennings Bryan
Proposed summation written for the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), in Genevieve Forbes Herrick and John Origen Herrick, The Life of William Jennings Bryan (1925), 405. This speech was prepared for delivery at the trial, but was never heard there, as both sides mutually agreed to forego arguments to the jury.
Science quotes on:  |  Aircraft (6)  |  Battlefield (5)  |  Brother (16)  |  Civilization (155)  |  Contentment (10)  |  Cruelty (14)  |  Destruction (80)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Earth (487)  |  Evil (67)  |  Future (229)  |  Genius (186)  |  Instrument (73)  |  Love (164)  |  Proof (192)  |  Science (1699)  |  Slaughter (6)  |  Submarine (9)  |  Suicide (16)  |  Surface (74)  |  Trivial (30)  |  War (144)  |  Water (244)

It is better to trust in the Rock of Ages, than to know the age of the rocks; it is better for one to know that he is close to the Heavenly Father, than to know how far the stars in the heavens are apart.
— William Jennings Bryan
In chapter, 'The Origin of Man', In His Image (1922), 93.
Science quotes on:  |  Better (131)  |  Close (40)  |  Distance (54)  |  God (454)  |  Heaven (118)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Science And Religion (267)  |  Star (251)  |  Trust (40)

Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo.
— William Jennings Bryan
Proposed summation written for the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), in Genevieve Forbes Herrick and John Origen Herrick ,The Life of William Jennings Bryan (1925), 405. This speech was prepared for delivery at the trial, but was never heard there, as both sides mutually agreed to forego arguments to the jury.
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The first objection to Darwinism is that it is only a guess and was never anything more. It is called a “hypothesis,” but the word “hypothesis,” though euphonioous, dignified and high-sounding, is merely a scientific synonym for the old-fashioned word “guess.” If Darwin had advanced his views as a guess they would not have survived for a year, but they have floated for half a century, buoyed up by the inflated word “hypothesis.” When it is understood that “hypothesis” means “guess,” people will inspect it more carefully before accepting it.
— William Jennings Bryan
'God and Evolution', New York Times (26 Feb 1922), 84. Rebuttals were printed a few days later from Henry Fairfield Osborn and Edwin Grant Conklin.
Science quotes on:  |  Acceptance (41)  |  Charles Darwin (284)  |  Dignity (18)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Guess (36)  |  Hypothesis (227)  |  Old-Fashioned (5)  |  Survival (49)  |  Synonym (2)  |  Word (221)

The only part of evolution in which any considerable interest is felt is evolution applied to man. A hypothesis in regard to the rocks and plant life does not affect the philosophy upon which one's life is built. Evolution applied to fish, birds and beasts would not materially affect man's view of his own responsibilities except as the acceptance of an unsupported hypothesis as to these would be used to support a similar hypothesis as to man. The evolution that is harmful—distinctly so—is the evolution that destroys man’s family tree as taught by the Bible and makes him a descendant of the lower forms of life. This … is a very vital matter.
— William Jennings Bryan
'God and Evolution', New York Times (26 Feb 1922), 84. Rebuttals were printed a few days later from Henry Fairfield Osborn and Edwin Grant Conklin.
Science quotes on:  |  Acceptance (41)  |  Animal (309)  |  Beast (32)  |  Bible (83)  |  Bird (96)  |  Descendant (12)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Hypothesis (227)  |  Interest (170)  |  Man (345)  |  Philosophy (213)  |  Plant (173)  |  Responsibility (47)  |  Rock (107)

The real question is, Did God use evolution as His plan? If it could be shown that man, instead of being made in the image of God, is a development of beasts we would have to accept it, regardless of its effort, for truth is truth and must prevail. But when there is no proof we have a right to consider the effect of the acceptance of an unsupported hypothesis.
— William Jennings Bryan
'God and Evolution', New York Times (26 Feb 1922), 84. Rebuttals were printed a few days later from Henry Fairfield Osborn and Edwin Grant Conklin.
Science quotes on:  |  Acceptance (41)  |  Beast (32)  |  Consideration (65)  |  Effort (94)  |  Evolution (482)  |  God (454)  |  Hypothesis (227)  |  Image (38)  |  Plan (69)  |  Proof (192)  |  Truth (750)  |  Unsupported (3)

Their theories should be carefully examined and their arguments fairly weighed, but the scientist cannot compel acceptance of any argument he advances, except as, judged upon its merits, it is convincing.
— William Jennings Bryan
In chapter, 'The Origin of Man', In His Image (1922), 93.
Science quotes on:  |  Acceptance (41)  |  Argument (59)  |  Care (73)  |  Compelling (7)  |  Convincing (9)  |  Examining (2)  |  Fair (9)  |  Judge (43)  |  Merit (25)  |  Scientist (447)  |  Theory (582)

There is no more reason to believe that man descended from some inferior animal than there is to believe that a stately mansion has descended from a small cottage.
— William Jennings Bryan
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (309)  |  Belief (400)  |  Cottage (3)  |  Descend (8)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Inferior (14)  |  Mansion (3)  |  Reason (330)  |  Small (97)  |  Stately (6)

What shall we say of the intelligence, not to say religion, of those who are so particular to distinguish between fishes and reptiles and birds, but put a man with an immortal soul in the same circle with the wolf, the hyena, and the skunk? What must be the impression made upon children by such a degradation of man?
— William Jennings Bryan
Science quotes on:  |  Bird (96)  |  Child (189)  |  Degradation (12)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Fish (85)  |  Hyena (2)  |  Immortal (13)  |  Impression (51)  |  Intelligence (138)  |  Religion (210)  |  Reptile (23)  |  Same (92)  |  Skunk (2)  |  Soul (139)  |  Wolf (6)

Why should an hypothesis, suggested by a scientist, be accepted as true until its truth is established? Science should be the last to make such a demand because science to be truly science is classified knowledge; it is the explanation of facts. Tested by this definition, Darwinism is not science at all; it is guesses strung together.
— William Jennings Bryan
In chapter, 'The Origin of Man', In His Image (1922), 94.
Science quotes on:  |  Accepting (4)  |  Classification (79)  |  Charles Darwin (284)  |  Definition (152)  |  Demand (52)  |  Establishing (7)  |  Explanation (161)  |  Fact (609)  |  Guess (36)  |  Hypothesis (227)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Science (1699)  |  Scientist (447)  |  String (17)  |  Suggestion (24)  |  Test (96)  |  Truth (750)

Why, these men would destroy the Bible on evidence that would not convict a habitual criminal of a misdemeanor. They found a tooth in a sand pit in Nebraska with no other bones about it, and from that one tooth decided that it was the remains of the missing link. They have queer ideas about age too. They find a fossil and when they are asked how old it is they say they can't tell without knowing what rock it was in, and when they are asked how old the rock is they say they can't tell unless they know how old the fossil is.
— William Jennings Bryan
In Henry Fairfield Osborn, 'Osborn States the Case For Evolution', New York Times (12 Jul 1925), XX1. In fact, the tooth was misidentified as anthropoid by Osborn, who over-zealously proposed Nebraska Man in 1922. This tooth was shortly thereafter found to be that of a peccary (a Pliocene pig) when further bones were found. A retraction was made in 1927, correcting the scientific blunder.
Science quotes on:  |  Age (137)  |  Bible (83)  |  Bone (57)  |  Conviction (57)  |  Criminal (14)  |  Evidence (157)  |  Fossil (107)  |  Idea (440)  |  Missing Link (4)  |  Queer (4)  |  Rock (107)  |  Tooth (23)



Quotes by others about William Jennings Bryan (7)

Coolidge is a better example of evolution than either Bryan or Darrow, for he knows when not to talk, which is the biggest asset the monkey possesses over the human.
[Referring to the Scopes trial, with Darrow defending a teacher being prosecuted for teaching evolution in the state of Tennessee.]
'Rogers Thesaurus'. Saturday Review (25 Aug 1962). In Will Rogers' Weekly Articles (1981), Vol. 2, 66.
Science quotes on:  |  Evolution (482)  |  Human (445)  |  Monkey (37)  |  Politics (77)  |  John T. Scopes (5)  |  Teaching (99)

As Karl Marx once noted: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial was a tragedy. The creationists and intelligent design theorists are a farce.
In '75 Years and Still No Peace'. Humanist (Sep 2000)
Science quotes on:  |  Creationist (15)  |  Fact (609)  |  Farce (4)  |  History (302)  |  Intelligent Design (4)  |  Karl Marx (21)  |  John T. Scopes (5)  |  Tragedy (19)  |  Trial (23)

The Earth Speaks, clearly, distinctly, and, in many of the realms of Nature, loudly, to William Jennings Bryan, but he fails to hear a single sound. The earth speaks from the remotest periods in its wonderful life history in the Archaeozoic Age, when it reveals only a few tissues of its primitive plants. Fifty million years ago it begins to speak as “the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life.” In successive eons of time the various kinds of animals leave their remains in the rocks which compose the deeper layers of the earth, and when the rocks are laid bare by wind, frost, and storm we find wondrous lines of ascent invariably following the principles of creative evolution, whereby the simpler and more lowly forms always precede the higher and more specialized forms.
The earth speaks not of a succession of distinct creations but of a continuous ascent, in which, as the millions of years roll by, increasing perfection of structure and beauty of form are found; out of the water-breathing fish arises the air-breathing amphibian; out of the land-living amphibian arises the land-living, air-breathing reptile, these two kinds of creeping things resembling each other closely. The earth speaks loudly and clearly of the ascent of the bird from one kind of reptile and of the mammal from another kind of reptile.
This is not perhaps the way Bryan would have made the animals, but this is the way God made them!
The Earth Speaks to Bryan (1925), 5-6. Osborn wrote this book in response to the Scopes Monkey Trial, where William Jennings Bryan spoke against the theory of evolution. They had previously been engaged in the controversy about the theory for several years. The title refers to a Biblical verse from the Book of Job (12:8), “Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee.”
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Today the earth speaks with resonance and clearness and every ear in every civilized country of the world is attuned to its wonderful message of the creative evolution of man, except the ear of William Jennings Bryan; he alone remains stone-deaf, he alone by his own resounding voice drowns the eternal speech of nature.
In The Earth Speaks to Bryan (1925), 8.
Science quotes on:  |  Deaf (3)  |  Drowning (2)  |  Earth (487)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Speaking (38)  |  Speech (40)  |  Voice (41)

Every breath you draw, every accelerated beat of your heart in the emotional periods of your oratory depend upon highly elaborated physical and chemical reactions and mechanisms which nature has been building up through a million centuries. If one of these mechanisms, which you owe entirely to your animal ancestry, were to be stopped for a single instant, you would fall lifeless on the stage. Not only this, but some of your highest ideals of human fellowship and comradeship were not created in a moment, but represent the work of ages.
Quoted in Closing Address by Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, president of the Union Theological Seminary, New York, at the Memorial Service for Osborn at St. Bartholomew's Church, N.Y. (18 Dec 1935). In 'Henry Fairfield Osborn', Supplement to Natural History (Feb 1936), 37:2, 133-34. Bound in Kofoid Collection of Pamphlets on Biography, University of California.
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Direct observation of the testimony of the earth … is a matter of the laboratory, of the field naturalist, of indefatigable digging among the ancient archives of the earth’s history. If Mr. Bryan, with an open heart and mind, would drop all his books and all the disputations among the doctors and study first hand the simple archives of Nature, all his doubts would disappear; he would not lose his religion; he would become an evolutionist.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91. Written in response to an article a few days earlier in which William Jennings Bryan challenged the theory of evolution as lacking proof.
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He leads a new crusade, his bald head glistening... One somehow pities him, despite his so palpable imbecilities... But let no one, laughing at him, underestimate the magic that lies in his black, malignant eye, his frayed but still eloquent voice. He can shake and inflame these poor ignoramuses as no other man among us...
[Describing William Jennings Bryan, orator, at the Scopes Monkey Trial.]
Henry Louis Mencken and S.T. Joshi (ed.), H.L. Mencken on Religion (2002), 18.
Science quotes on:  |  Crusade (4)  |  Scopes Monkey Trial (6)


Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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