Maynard Metcalf
by Doug Linder (2004)

Maynard Metcalf

Maynard M. Metcalf, a balding 57-year-old zoologist from John Hopkins University, and the five other defense scientists in Dayton began each morning of trial with a breakfast at The Mansion on the edge of town, followed by a drive to the courthouse.  They spent evenings sitting around a large table discussing with lawyers the day’s proceedings and plans for the next day.  These discussions made plain that Arthur Garfield Hays managed the defense effort while Darrow, in the words of the defense’s geological expert, “was the ‘front’ for our side.”  When he was not busying himself with chores such as repairing the old house’s fickle plumbing system, George Rappalyea joined in the roundtable.

The defense experts came to Dayton knowing that they might never take the stand.  The prosecution had made known that they would object to expert testimony on relevance grounds, and there was reason to believe that Judge Raulston might sustain their objection.  The battle over the admissibility of expert testimony seemed likely to be the decisive contest of the trial.


The prosecution rests its case on Wednesday morning, July 15.  Clarence Darrow calls Metcalf as the defense’s first witness as the afternoon session begins.  (The choice of Metcalf reflects the belief of defense lawyers that Metcalf could best demonstrate that an intelligent person could be both an evolutionist and a Christian—thus supporting the defense contention that the teaching of evolution does not “deny” the Biblical story of creation. 

Metcalf, a heavy-set man with an egg-shaped face and rimless glasses, takes his seat on the witness chair.  As he does so, William Jennings Bryan rises from his seat at the prosecution table, walks over and plants himself less than ten feet in front of Metcalf, and glares at the surprised scientist.  Then, without a word of explanation for his strange behavior, Bryan returns to his seat.

Darrow ignores his adversary’s gesture and begins his examination of Metcalf.  After establishing Metcalf’s scientific credentials, Darrow moves on to his religious activities.  Metcalf testifies that he taught Bible classes for three years at his Congregational Church in Baltimore, and before that at his college alma mater, Oberlin, a Protestant liberal arts school. 

Darrow asks Metcalf when he first learned of the theory of evolution.  He replies that “night after night” as a child he would discuss “evolutionary subjects” with his older brother “until we went to sleep at night.”  Metcalf concludes, “I guess I had been brought up on it.”  

Darrow asks Metcalf, “Do you know any scientific man in the world that is not an evolutionist?”  Attorney General Thomas Stewart leaps to his feet to object, and Raulston sustains the objection.  “I do not think you can bring one witness to prove what others believe,” the judge explains.  Hays insists that the question was relevant to establishing the defense’s contention that the theory of evolution was generally accepted and therefore the ban on its teaching was not “a reasonable exercise” of state power.  Hays argues, “Our whole case depends upon proving that evolution is a reasonable scientific theory.”  Raulston refuses to reconsider his ruling, but allows Metcalf to privately tell the court reporter and attorneys what his answer would have been to Darrow’s question.  Metcalf says that he knew “practically all of the zoologists, botanists, and geologists of this country” that had studied evolution.  “I am absolutely convinced from personal knowledge that any one of these men feel and believe, as a matter of course, that evolution is a fact.”  Their disagreements, he maintains, relate only “to the exact method by which evolution had been brought about.”

Stewart, worried that the jury might read Metcalf’s answer in a newspaper, asks that “this part of the record” not be turned over to reporters.  Judge Raulston grants the prosecution’s request.

Stewart then renews a general objection to Metcalf’s testimony: “I am objecting to a general question as to what evolution is.”  Stewart complains that scientific testimony on the nature of evolution presents a question for judges to consider, not juries.  “We are excepting, your honor, to everything that pertains to evolution or tends to show that there might or might not be a conflict between the story of divine creation and evolution.” Stewart asks the judge to exclude the jury while the prosecution argues its objection.  Darrow asks how the jury, “only one of whom ever read about evolution,” could intelligently decide the case without the expert testimony.  Judge Raulston, after listening to the hotter and hotter protests from the prosecution, excuses the jury until the next morning after warning them not to “linger in the courthouse yard” where they might hear Metcalf’s testimony over the public address system.  The jury foreperson assures Raulston that “not a single jurymen has heard a single word pass over the horns out there.”  

With the jury absent, Raulston says that he considers the question of the admissibility of the scientific evidence “the most difficult thing the court is going to pass on.”  He asks whether the attorneys could argue the question in the hours that remain that afternoon.  Both sides are skeptical.  Stewart expresses his willingness, however, to “get on it.”  Darrow complains, “All of us are tired.”

Darrow continues with his questions.  Metcalf proves a confident and compelling witness.  He asserts with equivocation, “We are in possession of scientific knowledge to directly and fully answer the question: ‘Has evolution occurred?’”  He admits that “there are dozens of theories of evolution”—including some that are “almost wholly absurd”—but says that the differences relate to the “the methods by which evolution has been brought about.”  Asked to define evolution, Metcalf says, “It means the change of an organism from one character into a different character.”  Metcalf adds, “By character I mean its structure, or its behavior, or its function, or its method of development from the egg or anything else.”  Darrow asks Metcalf if he could estimate how long the process of evolution had been going on.  Metcalf says “no.”  The difficulty comes, he says, from the several episodes of mass extinctions that seem to have occurred.  “We do no know how many times” these cataclysmic events “may have wiped out practically all” faunas and floras, and  as a result we are not “in a position to say when the earliest organisms appeared upon the earth.”  Darrow wonders what Metcalf thought about Bishop Ussher’s estimate of 6,000 years since the dawn of life.  Metcalf says he’d be more comfortable with “a very modest guess” of 600,000,000 years.  

Darrow asks Metcalf if he knew “where animal life began.”  The scientist replies that it “probably” began “at the borderline between the water and the land where conditions were a little more complex.”  He indicates, however, that most of life’s early history on earth took place in the ocean and that for “long periods in the earth’s history there was probably no such thing as land life.”  Metcalf explains that “terrestrial life” presented “conditions of difficulty” not found in the more uniform conditions of the ocean. 

Finally, Darrow turns to the most controversial of subjects: the origin of man.  Metcalf begins by noting that man is “not a very highly evolved animal in his body—he isn’t as highly specialized as a great many organisms.”  He expresses confidence to “a tremendous probability” that man evolved from other species.   He contends that fossil evidence suggests earlier, more primitive varieties of man, just as fossil evidence suggests other species had similar histories.  The series is “so convincing,” Metcalf concludes, “that I think it entirely impossible for any normal human being who was conversant with the phenomena to have even for a moment the least doubt” that man evolved.  


Journalist H. L. Mencken, in his daily report from Dayton for the Baltimore Evening Sun, called Metcalf’s testimony “the high point” of the day’s proceedings.  Mencken wrote that Metcalf presented “one of the clearest, most succinct and withal most eloquent” cases for evolution he had ever heard.  He heaped praise on the scientist: “A word or two and he was howling down the wind.  Another and he hauled up to discharge a broadside.  There was no cocksureness in him.  Instead he was rather cautious and deprecatory and sometimes he halted and confessed his ignorance.  But what he got over when he finished was a superb counterblast to the fundamentalist buncombe.” 

Mencken saw Metcalf’s testimony as a triumphant moment for the forces of enlightenment: “It went whooping into the radio and it went banging into the face of Bryan.”  Bryan, according to Mencken, bore the testimony in silence with “his gaze fixed immovably on the witness.  Now and then his face darkened and his eyes flashed, but he never uttered a sound.”  The reporter who had long made his own allegiance clear saw Bryan thoroughly routed and pathetic.  “The old gladiator faced his real enemy at last.   Here was a sworn agent and attorney of the science he hates and fears—a well-fed, well-mannered spokesman of the knowledge he abominates.”  Bryan, Mencken speculated, feared knowledge because “wherever it spreads his trade begins to fall off, and wherever it flourishes he is only a poor clown.” 

Still, however, Mencken recognized formidable power that Bryan held among “these fundamentalists of the hills.”  Don’t underestimate, he wrote, “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 can shake and inflame them” and “in Tennessee he is drilling his army.”

 Dr. Metcalf returns to the witness stand the next morning, but as soon as Darrow asks his first question, Stewart stands to urge Judge Raulston to allow no further scientific testimony.  “We want this inquiry confined,” Stewart says. Metcalf’s earlier testimony provides a sufficient basis, he contends, for the judge to rule on the relevance of the evidence. “We ought to get at once to the issues.” Raulston agrees, promising Darrow that his witness could return to the stand if—and when—he found the scientific testimony admissible.  “You may stand aside, Dr. Metcalf,” Raulston says.   The scientist walks back to the defense table.  

Stewart moves to exclude the scientific testimony.  “The state moves to exclude the testimony of the scientists by which the counsel for the defendant claim that they may be able to show that there is no conflict between science or religion, or in question, the story of divine creation of man.”  Stewart asserted the act “interprets itself.”  He accuses the defense of trying “to prove what is the law is not the law.” 

As Dr. Metcalf and the other scientists sit patiently watching, attorneys spend the balance of the day arguing over the admissibility of their testimony.  In between arguments, Judge Raulston, after meeting with a courthouse employee, expresses concern that the large crowd might become  too enthusiastic and cause the floor of the second-story courtroom to collapse.  “I do not want to alarm you,” Raulston says, “but I do know that the floor is heavily weighted and the least vibration might cause something to happen, and applause might start the trouble.”  Despite the judge’s warnings, attorneys make no effort to tone down their eloquence and at several points in the afternoon’s proceedings, the crowd responds with hearty applause. 

Arthur Garfield Hays argues that evolution “is just as well substantiated” as the Copernican theory that the earth revolves around the sun and that the defense has the right to present experts to show that.  “The eyes of the country, in fact of the world are upon you here,” Hays, tells the judge, and “your honor…knows it is necessary to properly introduce” evidence on the meaning of evolution.  

General McKenzie for the prosecution insists, “We have done crossed the Rubicon.”  After Judge Raulston upheld the constitutionality of the act, McKenzie argues, “That never left anything on the face of the earth to determine, except as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant at bar in violating that act.” McKenzie testifies as to his personal belief in Genesis and challenges Hays, “Do you believe in the story of divine creation?” Hays answered curtly, “That is none of your business.”

William Jennings Bryan weighs in with a speech for the prosecution—his first speech of the trial.  Bryan agrees with his colleague McKenzie that there is no question that but Scopes taught man was descended from a lower form of life and that fact is sufficient to prove guilt.  “This is not the place to try to prove that the law ought never to have been passed,” Bryan says. The place for that argument was the Tennessee legislature and to hear expert testimony now would be “an impertinence” equal to sending experts to New York remonstrating that state for attempting to repeal prohibition.  “Even if they put God back there [providing the spark that began the evolutionary process], it does not make it harmonious with the Bible,” Bryan declares.  

Not content to limit his attack to the question of expert testimony, Bryan lambasts what he calls the “hypothesis” of evolution.  He ridicules evolution for what he claimed was a lack support in the fossil record and the inability of its proponents to explain how the process began.  “Not one of them can tell you how life began,” he harrumphs.  Bryan complains that Darwin, in his Descent of Man, had man, “the wonder and glory of the universe,” descend from “old world monkeys….Not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys.”  

Bryan saves his sharpest barbs for George Hunter and his Civic Biology.  “There is that book!” he exclaims.  “There is that book they were your teaching your children that man was a mammal and so indistinguishable among the mammals that they leave him there with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other animals.”   Referring to a diagram that showed man in a circle labeled “mammals,” Bryan asks, “How dared the scientists put man in little ring like that with lions and tigers and everything that is bad!”  He complains of Hunter’s insensitivity in “shutting man up in a little circle like that with all these animals that have an odor that extends beyond the circumference of this circle, my friends.”  

Attorney-general Stewart has the last word.  To the delight and applause of spectators, Stewart claims that the scientific evidence the defense hoped to introduce “strikes at the very vitals of civilization and of Christianity and is not entitled to a chance to prove by the word or mouth of man that man originated at the bottom of the sea.”  The very notion, Stewart insists, “is as absurd and as ridiculous as to say that a man might be half monkey, half man.”  He pleads for Judge Raulston to avoid “the never-ending controversy,” the “babble of song,” that would follow if the defense had its way.


The next day, Judge Raulston announced his ruling on the admissibility of further expert testimony.  In his opinion, Raulston said that he found the meaning of the Butler Act clear to “the ordinary, non-expert mind.” The law contained no ambiguous words or complex terms that required the guidance of experts.  As a result, Raulston concluded, “the court is content to sustain the motion of the attorney-general to exclude the expert testimony.” 

Hays immediately rose to announce the intention of the defense to appeal the judge’s ruling.  Hays called the ruling “a denial of justice” that was contrary “to every element of Anglo-Saxon procedure and jurisprudence.”

Raulston agreed to allow the defense to submit, in affidavit form, a summary of the testimony the excluded experts would have presented had they been given a chance.  Then, in a surprise ruling, he indicated that if the defense did submit such statements from experts, the prosecution would be allowed to cross-examine.  Darrow responded angrily: “I do not understand why every request of the state and every suggestion of the prosecution should meet with an endless waste of time, and a bare suggestion of anything that is perfectly competent on our part should be immediately overruled.”  Raulston gave Darrow a chance to temper his remarks, “I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the court?”  Darrow, with his back to the judge and looking out a courtroom window, then uttered the words that would earn him the first contempt citation of his long career, “Well, your honor has the right to hope.”  The judge, stunned, answered, “I have the right to do something else, perhaps.”

Notes on Other Defense Experts

Fay Cooper Cole

Dr. Cole was an anthropologist from the University of Chicago. He was prepared to testify that the effective study of anthropology depends upon an understanding of the doctrine of evolution. In his affidavit, Cole detailed the history of man, using the discoveries of the bones of beings as far back as 1891 (Java Man). Using such examples, Dr. Cole reasoned that man has taken on many variations over time, and that human development would be difficult to explain without referring to the various similarities in the animal kingdom.

Cole noted that numerous muscles and organs in the human body that he argued have no apparent physical uses (i.e. muscles behind the ears). He argued that at sometime in the development of man, these "useless" parts had a function.

Witherton C. Curtis

Dr. Curtis was a zoologist at the University of Missouri. The defense believed he would make a good witness because he tended to emphasize the spiritual rather than the material influences of science. Curtis said in his affidavit that evolution should be defined as the doctrine of how things have changed in the past, and how they are changing in the present. Dr. Curtis claimed that the doctrine of evolution could be divided into three categories: cosmic, geologic, and organic. Curtis argued that evolution is a necessary instrument in the search for answers to important cosmological, geological, and biological questions.

Charles Hubbard Judd

Charles Hubbard Judd was the Director of the School of Education and head of the Department of Education at the University of Chicago for sixteen years prior to the Scopes trial. He was prepared to testify that the public school system would suffer if legislatures prohibited instruction about evolution. Mr. Judd asserted in his affidavit filed with the court that it would be impossible to carry on the work in most of the departments of higher learning of the State of Tennessee without teaching the doctrine of evolution as the "...fundamental basis for the understanding of all human institutions."

Jacob G. Lipman

As a specialist in the studies of various types of soil, Mr. Lipman was prepared to testify there is a direct relationship between the soil and plants and animals in the evolution of organic life. Lipman's affidavit suggested that without the doctrine of evolution, agriculture could not provide an effective service to mankind: "The material of plant and animal bodies is used over and over again, and the processes of decay must go on in order that the carbon, nitrogen, sulfur phosphorus, lime, and other elements locked up in the bodies of plants may be released for the countless generation of living things....Man has learned to use this knowledge to improve his condition, and in following the laws laid down by the divine Creator, he has been able to form more perfect forms of plant and animal life."

Kirtley F. Mather

Kirtley Mather was serving as the Chairman of the Department of Geology of Harvard University at the time of the Scopes trial. He offered extensive testimony on how geologists are able to accurately tell the history of various animal and plant life by discovering and researching fossil remains. He testified that in many of the rocks they find, there are fossil remains of both plant and animals that are as old as the rocks from which they are found. Mr. Mather then traced out a chronological time line of the oldest rocks and the fossils found.

Mather argued that evolution is not trying to replace religion, but merely serves as another approach to finding out how mankind and the rest of the living world came about.

Maynard M. Metcalf

 At the time of the trial, Dr. Metcalf was engaged in private research at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in zoology. Speaking in support of the doctrine of evolution, Dr. Metcalf offered some rather strong opinions: "Teaching in any field that deals with living things is disgracefully, yet criminally, inadequate if it omits emphasis upon evolution...Such teaching would be criminal malpractice just as truly as would be a physician's failure to following established sound methods of treatment because of fear of persecution by ignorant neighbors." Metcalf contended in testimony presented without the jury being present that, "The fact of evolution is as fully established as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun."

Wilbur A. Nelson

As the state geologist of Tennessee, Wilbur Nelson was prepared to relate his testimony in the Scopes trial to the surrounding regions of Tennessee and the Mississippi River Valley. In his affidavit, he asserted that Tennessee could not have taught geology for ninety-seven years prior to this trial without stressing the doctrine of evolution as a foundation for this field of study. Geology, he testified, is the study of the earth and its age, along with the rocks and buried life contained therein. He argued that the theory of evolution was an important tool for geologists attempting to determine the age of the earth and length of geologic periods.

Horatio Hackett Newman

Professor Newman was a zoologist at the University of Chicago. In his affidavit, he argued that science does not allow any intermediate positions. He believed that you must choose between the changing world (i.e. evolution) or fixity and unchangeabilty. "Once you admit a changing world, admit the essence of evolution." Newman suggested that evolution's triumph over other theories of creation depends upon its strength, coherency, and abundance.