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Death leaves work undone.

William Jennings Bryan died just a few days after the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial came to an end. This left him with work undone.

In the short term, he was trying to re-establish his dignity. Scopes lost his case: found guilty and fined. While seemingly a victory for Bryan and the prosecution, they had been out-manoeuvred. Bryan was made to look a fool by volunteering to serve as witness and suffering cross-examination by an angry and tactical Clarence Darrow. The trial ended without Bryan able to give a rebuttal before jury, spectators, or world-wide audience. The speech he planned was left unheard, and he was forced to leave the trial’s sparring match unable to land his much-promised knock-out blow.

Death leaves important things undone, too. The Scopes Trial scared Bryan. His attack on science had been a tactical mistake. In his closing speech, Bryan planned to tell his flock to change their approach: return to the churches, return to the faithful, defend the fundamentals, defend doctrine against modernists and the ‘higher criticism’. Science wasn’t always dangerous, Bryan argued, but its hubris needed a check. Science needed the moral compass of religion. He could look past their ‘age of rocks’ provided they let him keep focus on the ‘Rock of Ages’.

But death silenced Bryan. He couldn’t save face, or make his argument. He failed to turn his flock around. We’ll never know what effect his own reversal might have had on faith communities or on our later understanding of the relations between science and religion. Bryan’s change of tactic has been trampled underfoot in the stampedes driven by those with a stake in keeping this conflict going.

Several years ago, we reprinted Bryan’s Last Message, the speech he sought to give at the trial and delivered only to a small venue as a test run. The speech had been hard to find. We thought the message of peaceful co-existence is one worth hearing again. We published in paperback and hardcover. We also experimented with the up-and-coming technology of Kindle.

New technologies bring new ways to access ideas. Like every publisher, we at EGP work to keep up with these new opportunities. This month, we publish using a new system: Apple’s iBook software offers an ebook experience that is much richer than the basic Kindle. The format has some real advantages, especially in terms of visuality and interactivity. To no one’s surprise, this technology looks brilliant on an iPad. It is distributed through the iTunes shop, reaching far and wide.

In all honesty, working through the Apple post-production process is no walk in the park for a publisher. But it’s worth the effort if more people read Bryan and think about new possibilities for the relationship between science and religion. The warfare metaphor needs replacing.


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