Harry Emerson Fosdick:
THE editor of The Times has asked me to reply to Mr. Bryan's statement on "God and Evolution." I do so, if only to voice the sentiments of a large number of Christian people who in the name of religion are quite as shocked as any scientist could be in the name of science at Mr. Bryan's sincere but appalling obscurantism.
So far as the scientific aspect of the discussion is concerned, scientists may well be left to handle it. Suffice it to say that when Mr. Bryan reduces evolution to a hypothesis and then identifies a hypothesis with a "guess" he is guilty of a sophistry so shallow and palpable that one wonders at his hardihood in risking it. A guess is a haphazard venture of opinion without investigation before or just reason afterward to sustain it; it is a jeu d'esprit. But a hypothesis is a seriously proffered explanation of a difficult problem ventured when careful investigation of facts points to it, retained as long as the discovered facts sustain it, and surrendered as soon as another hypothesis enters the field which better explains the phenomena in question.
Every universally accepted scientific truth which we possess began as a hypothesis, is in a sense a hypothesis still, and has become a hypothesis transformed into a settled conviction as the mass of accumulating evidence left no questions as to its substantial validity. To call evolution, therefore, a guess is one thing; to tell the truth about it is another, for to tell the truth involves recognizing the tireless patience with which generations of scientists in every appropriate field of inquiry have been investigating all discoverable facts that bear upon the problem of mutation of species, with substantial unanimity as to the results so far as belief in the hypothesis of evolution is concerned. When Darwin, after years of patient, unremitting study, ventured his hypothesis in explanation of evolution-- a hypothesis which was bound to be corrected and improved--one may say anything else one will about it except to call it a "guess." That is the one thing which it certainly was not. Today, the evolutionary hypothesis, after many years of pitiless attack and searching investigation, is, as a whole, the most adequate explanation of the facts with regard to the origin of species that we have yet attained, and it was never so solidly grounded as it is today. Dr. Osborn is making, surely, a safe statement when he says that no living naturalist, so far as he knows, "differs as to the immutable truth of evolution in the sense of the continuous fitness of plants and animals to their environment and the ascent of all the extinct and existing forms of life, including man, from an original and single cellular state."
When, therefore, Mr. Bryan says, "Neither Darwin nor his supporters have been able to find a fact in the universe to
From The New York Times, March 12, 1922. Reprinted by permission of The New York Times.