The Evolution Inquisition: An Occultist’s Response to the Scopes Trial

John L. Crow

In January 1925 Effa Danelson changed the name of the magazine she edited from Psychic Power to The Occult Digest. She had long been involved in various occult and spiritualists circles in the Chicago area even publishing a book in 1904 entitled, Journeys Though Space: Experiences of Effa E. Danelson which is a collection of journal entries where she discusses Spiritualism, mediumship, her interpretations of Christianity and its teachings. In general she rejects fundamentalist Christianity and asserts that the only sin of man is ignorance and that humans lived their lives to grow spiritually. By changing the name of the journal, Danelson wanted to market it to a broader clientele, and also broaden her conversation with other aspects of occultism including astrology, palmistry, magic, mental healing, and much more. This desire to make the magazine as widely attractive was indicated in her magazine tagline, “A Monthly for Everybody.”

In the summer of 1925, Danelson published two editorials attacking the Scopes trial, Christian fundamentalists, and the position of Williams Jennings Bryan. Calling the trial “The Evolution Inquisition in Tennessee,” Danelson claims that the “religionists” were attacking progress and science. She based her argument on the separation of church and state, constitutional rights for the freedom of thought, and condemned fundamentalists for using the law to impose their theological views on the population. Her rhetoric is familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to the various issues that have been making their way through the state and federal legislatures and courts over the last few years. While I could summarize her arguments, I’ll let the rest of this blog post be her words. The first editorial is from the July 1925 issue of The Occult Digest and the second from the August-September issue. I have also included a number of cartoons that were published along with the editorials.

Today the whole world is a spectator to a challenging defiance to the Constitutional rights for which our United States have paid the supreme sacrifice that we may enjoy free thought, free speech, free press and the right to worship as we see fit.
The Tennessee law is a reversal of the fundamental principles of American liberty—the separation of church and state. The American people, if they possess any true appreciation of their heritage of freedom will not become confused by the religious issue raised between “fundamentalists” (the advocate of the literal interpretation and application of the Bible) and the “Modernists,” who stand for all that liberalism and science has given the world today.

A great debate is going on between Religion and Science. To call it a “trial” would be a misnomer. It is the beginning of a long fight between those opposed to progress and those determined to know the truth about natural laws that govern life. The prime factor is to force religion into the schools—to make a Church Empire of these United States and wield the club of The Almighty to frighten the masses and force them into submission to the church.

Only those who have the Light, born to Knowledge, will be able to withstand this Evolution – Hell – Fire – Damnation – Propaganda – Drive of the Anti-Evolution members of the Church societies.

The people who are afraid to die will passively hold out their hands ready for the bailiffs to put on the handcuffs. People fear fire—especially hell-fire. The uncertainty of life after death (to those who dare not recognize the truth) makes them afraid to
look beyond the “Door of The Cross” for an entrance to Life.

Those opposed to progress are opposed to anything that does not yield to their ideas, representing an uncreative type of mind drifting along the lines of least resistance. They joyfully partake of the harvest that scientific minds have sown, providing the fruitage is particularly palatable to them. If not, they reject it, without desire to analyze its benefits, their minds following the footsteps of ancestor-worship.

If they stopped to reason, they would know that every issue in life is one of evolution. Our most modern light discovered by science, whose rays outshine the sun, is an evolution of the striking of two flints together.

When we stop to think how our day in a country that symbolizes “the light of the world,” one can sentence a human being to death, apply the torch to the body and gloat over the suffering, tie a rope around a man’s neck and in glee watch the body grow cold, strap a man into an electric chair and joke over the prospect of suffering, or stand a man against a wall and shoot him down—when in this day of “civilization” these things are done by the worshipers of a great Christian God, we are almost tempted to believe that man is still a beast of the jungle.

The question needs no debating as to whether man came from an ape. We would sooner think that the ape was an evolution of man.

When we read of sacrifices that have been offered, the sacrificial atonements demanded and made in the name of the Lord, at the command of God, the Creator of Man, and think of these two great conflicting forces today—one defending Religion, the other defending Science, we wonder at man’s folly and stupidity.

Does Science need defense? Should religion be defended? Hasn’t it spoken for itself? Nineteen hundred years have passed since the supreme sacrifice of Jesus, the recognized Savior of the World, and for countless ages before, mankind walked and talked with the self-same God whose religion is being defended in the hills of Tennessee. Hasn’t it had all the trial to which it is rightfully entitled?

What has it given man? Little children are robbed today. Human lives are sacrificed and debauchery exists as of old. Has there been any evolution? We enjoy inventions today (inspired by independent thinkers) that give time to man. All over the world the voice is heard. Wonderfully marvelous things are man’s possessions. But what progress has man made?

Do we need debates whether religion or science shall live? We say, “Produce—and let us judge as to which we shall live!” Religion drips with the blood of the human race—year in and year out—individual, wholesale, national, and international. Read the sacred records and you will find where these men received their training and who set the example they have faithfully followed.

It is the old, old story that not precept but example carves the name of every character in history. The pendulum of time shall decide whether the scale of Life goes up or down. The question is not whether your ancestor was an ape, but are you going to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Are you going to put your name on the church-book and obey the mandates and laws made 2000 years ago? That is the question in debate.

THIS IS YOUR FIGHT. It doesn’t belong to Tennessee, more than to any other part of the world. The late World War started in Bosnia. This fight started in Tennessee. This great conflagration was purposely planned. Who are the invisible rulers? The trenches are dug for a long time. The artillery in position, ready for command. Free-loving Americans, gird on your armor and awaken to the fray. Before you know it, that part of our constitutional law that gives men freedom to worship (or not) will be blotted off the records of this great country—and in its place—the Hangman’s Rope. It is a debate in which nations will be involved. It is THE BEGINNING of a WORLD-WIDE MOVEMENT to deprive you of YOUR RIGHT TO THINK.

It is appalling to think that a group of people in the 20th century would, to the detriment of the whole world, attempt to throttle advancement, giving as their reason a “record” written into a book by men who knew nothing of the laws that govern life. It is pitiful to the last degree that intelligent men and women can naturally believe these absurdities.

Why is it that men and women, endowed with wonderful blessings, in other things so intelligent, should convert their influence into dungeons to rob the people and prevent them from understanding the simple Law of Being?

Picture for yourselves these men. The years are stretching far behind them. These are already approaching the setting of their sun, and in their last heritage to the world, they would disgrace Humanity, they would throttle youth, they would weld the chains of bondage with their last conscious moments.

It shall be a never-to-be-forgotten trial. It is the Battle of Colors—THE SCIENCE OF LIGHT against THE BLACK OF AGE-OLD SUPERSTITION. If Science wins in this controversy. We shall have liberty in the pursuit of progress. If the Religionists win, we shall have mental bondage—An Evolution Inquisition besides which the religious inquisitions of the past shall sink into OBLIVION.

In the year 1925, in Dayton, a little town nestled among the hills of Tennessee, war was declared upon the human race. The skirmish began in the corner drug store. From there it was carried into the Circuit Court of the State of Tennessee. July 10th, the first guns were fired, and the bombardment began against civilization.

The trouble started when a highly developed, oratorical male of the human species refused to be mentioned as a possible near-relation of the monkey, another highly developed specimen of the tribe of man, whose habits were more peaceful than the first named.

The original questions was, “WAS MAN A MONKEY IN HIS NATURAL State?”

This before-mentioned oratorical male of the human species was a good swimming hole and took a plunge, after which he bridled and spurred his donkey ad with his Bible set forth, astride of this ancient animal, to canvas the State of Tennessee as an Aunty-Evolutionist.

Now this particular individual, known by name as William Jennings Bryan, could not make his tribesmen understand what evolution meant. To get their attention he said to them: “Fellow tribesmen, Your Bible—the last word on creation of out tribe—is being attacked. We must defend it. Lend me your ears and your support, and we will make laws to protect our God, compelling those Evolutionists to accept His Holy Word in our state. From here we will move into the Capitol of all the States and force all people to obey our mandates.”

Then in a louder tone he threatened, “If you don’t follow me, you will become captives, you and your wives, your children and your beasts of burden, of these dissenters of God’s law. They will destroy our Bible and disrupt our religion.”

When he had done speaking, these poor people of Tennessee were sore afraid and cried with one voice, “Where you lead, Brother Bryan, we will blindly follow.”Thus did this deceiver ply his arts to bring these loving and trusting people to the sacrifice.

It is not the question of religion versus evolution that is being tried out in the courts of Tennessee. It is a THREAT to make ALL people adopt and support the religion of Wm. Jennings Bryan and his colleagues. The question of evolution is not being debated; neither will it be. The question from the start to finish is a religious one—instigated, propagated, and promulgated—to throttle advancement of any and all free thought that will help establish the origin of man and his advancement by a rational and sane appeal-to-reason.

These anti-evolutionists are not objecting to modern inventions for their comfort and safety, but just let anything be advanced that weakens their accepted interpretation of their brand of religion and every mother’s son of the scapegoats are hell-bent for Heaven—we find them dead up to their necks—mumbling their prayers, waking up only when they fall over and idea put out by an independent thinker, and disturbed in their waking trance, they wildly beat the air but never seem to “come to” sufficiently to ask what it all means.

These poor people are easily carried away by a silver-tongued orator and made to pay the price—16 to 1. Deluded into believing that their God is in danger they willingly sacrifice their all to save that God from his enemies.

Does Bryan believe in the power of God? He proves by his statements that he does not. Does he believe that God made man out of dust of the earth and then made a woman from a rib taken from Adam? He does not!

William Jennings Bryan is a sane man. He is the publicity man for the churches that have become white sepulchers. They are making their last grandstand move to save their incomes, and, playing upon the weakness of the populace, they have struck a keynote.

This movement has been well-fed and coached and the leaders know their tribes well. They will lead those they can, drive those they can not lead and those they can not drive—will they brutally murder, once they get into power?

This prosecution is the searchlight for the persecution that will follow. Every movement that does not believe in hell-fire from Heaven will be made law-bound. Prohibitive laws will be international and will cover everything from a human being to a gnat; prohibiting everything that a passage in the Bible can be found to fit.

Religionists have bitterly fought every movement of advanced thought that has been created, always being able to defend their opposition by a passage from the Bible. The last attack is the most pitiful of all and should disgust every thinking man and woman and arouse them to their danger.

This same class of minds are fighting the twilight sleep for their mothers at childbirth, giving as their reason the same old anesthetic to the people, “God intended women to suffer in child-bearing. It is her punishment for the sin of Eve……” (Genesis 3:16).

The intolerance and bigotry of such leaders keep the people in slavery to an avenging God whom they miscall “Love”—sacrificing yearly, millions of children, to the God of their Traditions.

Now comes this evolution inquisition. Shall it be said that in 1925, the children of the civilized world were bound and gagged by band of religious bigots and deprived of their mental liberties? Who will lead an army against this travesty of the human race?  Who will lead the thinkers into the camps of these enemies of truth and progression? Who will destroy their strongholds and free the captives?

In this great day of mental advancement shall we stand idly by and watch humanity die at the hands of these bigots posing as agents of a dead religion?

Freemen—Do You Want to Retain Your Freedom? Now is the Time to Let Your Voices be Raised in Protest.



Tom Van Dyke said…
Pretty ugly.

BTW, the quote

“If you don’t follow me, you will become captives, you and your wives, your children and your beasts of burden, of these dissenters of God’s law. They will destroy our Bible and disrupt our religion.”

appears nowhere else on the internet, according to Google, although Bryan's general thrust was quite prescient.
Trevor Burrows said…
Thanks so much for sharing these texts, John. Really great stuff. I've often thought there could be a really good project in looking at how the evolution debates, and the larger modernist/fundamentalist conflicts that encompassed them, were viewed by non-Protestant or marginal players. I've seen a few articles here and there, but nothing larger and substantial. We generally read it as a intra-Protestant conflict, or a secular/religious conflict, but don't often think about how and why other groups might have responded.

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