Clarence Darrow

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You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.

Clarence Darrow (18 April 185713 March 1938) was an American lawyer, most famous for having defended teenaged thrill killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14 year old Bobby Franks (1924), and for defending John T. Scopes in the so-called "Monkey" Trial (1925), opposing William Jennings Bryan.


  • In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born.
    • Funeral oration for John Peter Altgeld (14 March 1902); published in an appendix to The Story of My Life (1932)
  • Liberty is the most jealous and exacting mistress that can beguile the brain and soul of man. She will have nothing from him who will not give her all. She knows that his pretended love serves but to betray. But when once the fierce heat of her quenchless, lustrous eyes has burned into the victim's heart, he will know no other smile but hers.
    • Funeral oration for John Peter Altgeld (14 March 1902)
  • With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in man, than any other association of men.
    • ‘The Open Shop’, in The Railroad Trainman (November 1909)
  • Man does not live by truth, but by the illusions that his brain conceives.
  • It is often said that the accused should be given an immediate trial; that this and subsequent proceedings should not be hindered by delay; that the uncertainties of punishment furnish the criminal with the hope of escape and therefore do not give the community the benefit of the terror that comes with the certainty of punishment that could prevent crime. I can see no basis in logic or experience for this suggestion. It is based on the theory that punishment is not only a deterrent to crime, but the main deterrent. It comes from the idea that the criminal is distinct from the rest of mankind, that vengeance should be sure and speedy and that then crime would be prevented. If this were true and the only consideration to prevent crime, then the old torture chamber and the ancient prison with all its hopelessness and horror should be restored. Logic, humanity and experience would protest against this. If there is to be any permanent improvement in man and any better social order, it must come mainly from the education and humanizing of man. I am quite certain that the more the question of crime and its treatment is studied the less faith men have in punishment.
    • Crime : Its Cause And Treatment (1922) Ch. 36 "Remedies"
  • I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.
  • If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.
    • Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee (13 July 1925)
  • All men do the best they can. But none meet life honestly and few heroically.
    • As quoted in Infidels and Heretics : An Agnostic's Anthology (1929) edited by Clarence Darrow and Wallace Rice, p. 206
  • The purpose of life is living. Men and women should get the most they can out of their lives. The smallest, tiniest intellect may be quite as valuable to society as the largest. It may be still more valuable to itself: it may have all the capacity for enjoyment that the wisest has. The purpose of man is like the purpose of the pollywog — to wriggle along as far as he can without dying; or to hang on until death takes him.
    • As quoted in Infidels and Heretics : An Agnostic's Anthology (1929) edited by Clarence Darrow and Wallace Rice, pp. 206 - 207
  • I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose.
    • Speech in Toronto (1930); as quoted in "Breaking the Last Taboo" (1996) by James A. Haught
    • Variant: I believe that religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in God as I don’t believe in Mother Goose.
      • As quoted in Jesus: Myth Or Reality? (2006) by Ian Curtis
    • Religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don't believe in either.
      • As quoted in The New York Times (19 April 1936)
  • There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court.
    • Interview in Chicago (April 1936)
  • Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.
    • The Sign (May 1938) This has been misquoted as: The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it.
  • I feel as I always have, that the earth is the home and the only home of man, and I am convinced that whatever he is to get out of his existence he must get while he is here.
  • I am an Agnostic because I am not afraid to think. I am not afraid of any god in the universe who would send me or any other man or woman to hell. If there were such a being, he would not be a god; he would be a devil.
    • As quoted in a eulogy for Darrow by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1938)
  • Do you, good people, believe that Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden and that they were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge? I do. The church has always been afraid of that tree. It still is afraid of knowledge. Some of you say religion makes people happy. So does laughing gas. So does whiskey. I believe in the brain of man. I'm not worried about my soul.
    • In a debate with religious leaders in Kansas City, as quoted in a eulogy for Darrow by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1938)
  • Calvin Coolidge was the greatest man who ever came out of Plymouth Corner, Vermont.
    • As quoted in Foundations of Democracy: A Series of Debates (1939) by Thomas Vernor Smith and Robert Alphonso Taft, p. 10
  • When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. I’m beginning to believe it.
    • As quoted in Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941) by Irving Stone, Ch. 6
  • History repeats itself. That's one of the things wrong with history.
    • As quoted in Peter's Quotations: Ideas For Our Time (1977) edited by Laurence J. Peter, p. 248
  • I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood.
    • As quoted in Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams, from 2000 Years of Disbelief (1996) edited by James A Haught p. 817
  • Hell, that's why they make erasers.
    • On mistakes, reported in Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941), p. 75

Resist Not Evil (1904)[edit]

Full text online
  • Every government on earth is the personification of violence and force, and yet the doctine of non-resistance is as old as human thought — even more than this, the instinct is as old as life upon the earth.
    • p. 12
  • That men should ‘turn the other cheek,’ should ‘love their enemies,’ should ‘resist not evil,’ has ever seemed fine to teach to children, to preach on Sundays, to round a period in a senseless oratorical flight; but it has been taken for granted that these sentiments cannot furnish the real foundation for strong characters or great states. p. 13
  • The nation that would to-day disarm its soldiers and turn its people to the paths of peace would accomplish more to its building up than by all the war taxes wrung from its hostile and unwilling serfs.
    • p. 27
  • To disband the armies and destroy the forts, to diffuse love and brotherhood, and peace and justice in the place of war and strife, could tend only to the building up of character, the elevation of the soul, and the strength and well-being of the state.
    • p. 39
  • No nation can be really great that is held together by Gatling guns, and no true loyalty can be induced and kept through fear.
    • p. 40

Voltaire (1916)[edit]

Full text online
  • When Voltaire was born really but one church which, of course, was ignorant, tyrannical and barbarous in the extreme. All creeds are alike, and whenever there is but one, and the rulers honestly believe in that one, they are bound to be ignorant, barbarous and cruel. All sorts of heresies were punishable by death. If anyone dared to write a pamphlet or book that questioned any part of the accepted faith, the book was at once consigned to flames and the author was lucky if he did not meet the same fate. Religion was not maintained by the precepts of the priest, but by the prison, the torture chamber and the fagot. Everyone believed; no one questioned. The religious creeds, while strict and barbarous, did not interfere with the personal conduct of any of the rulers. They were left free to act as they pleased, so long as they professed to believe in the prevailing faith.
  • Had the modern professors of eugenics had power in France in 1694, they probably would not have permitted such a child to have been born. Their scientific knowledge would have shown conclusively that no person of value could have come from the union of his father and mother. In those days, nature had not been instructed by the professors of eugenics and so Voltaire was born.
  • Even Voltaire's father could not make a lawyer out of a genius. To be a good lawyer, one must have a mind and a disposition to venerate the past; a respect for precedents; a belief in the wisdom and the sanctity of the dead. Voltaire had genius, imagination, feeling, and poetry, and these gifts always have been, and always will be, incompatible with the practice of law.
  • The usual is always mediocre. When nature takes it into her head to make a man, she fits him with her own equipment and educates him in her own school.
  • Whatever else he was during his life, he was never dull, and the world forgives almost anything but stupidity.
  • Voltaire was not the first or last man to convert a prison into a hall of fame. A prison is confining to the body, but whether it affects the mind, depends entirely upon the mind.
    It was while in prison that he changed his name from the one his father gave him — Arouet — to the one he has made famous throughout all time — Voltaire. He said, "I was very unlucky under my first name. I want to see if this one will succeed any better."
  • Pensions are the favors of the powerful, and dangerous to any great intellect. It is only here and there down throughout the ages that a Voltaire is born who does not fall a victim to their blandishments.
  • Much of his work he did while confined to his bed. He was always an invalid, always obliged to take great care of himself, living constantly with death just before him, never idle a moment for fear his work would not be done. Probably no man ever lived who assailed the Church and the State with the same wit and keenness that was always at Voltaire's command; and yet in spite of this he managed to live comfortably, accumulate riches and die in peace.
  • No iconoclast can possibly escape the severest criticism. If he is poor he is against existing things because he cannot succeed. If he is rich, he is not faithful to his ideals. The world always demands of a prophet a double standard. He must live a life consistent with his dreams, and at the same time must obey the conventions of the world. He cannot be judged either by one or the other, but must be judged by both.
  • The truth is always modern and there never comes a time when it is safe to give it voice.
  • There are two things that kill a genius — a fatal disease and contentment. When a man is contented he goes to sleep. Voltaire had no chance to be contented, and so he wrote eternally and unceasingly, more than any other man in the history of the world.
  • In Geneva lived Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He too was a rebel, mighty in war. Voltaire was keener, wittier, deeper, greater. Rousseau was more fiery, emotional, passionate. Both were really warriors in the same great cause. From their different places, three miles apart, both sent forth their thunderbolts to wake a sleeping world. When the world awakened and shook itself, churches, thrones, institutions, laws, and customs were buried in the wreck. Some charged the wreck to Voltaire, some to Rousseau.
  • No doubt there is much immature talking and hasty writing and will always be where liberty of speech and press prevails. The political, religious, and social views of any age and even of the most radical members of society, were born, long before their time. Those who invented the alphabet and the printing press are indirectly responsible for much of the violence of a changing social state; but in the same way, they are responsible for the progress of the world, for the enlightenment, for the civilization, and for all that makes the present better than the past.
  • Valiantly he fought on every intellectual battlefield. True he bowed and dodged and lied over and over again, that he still might live and work. Many of his admirers cannot forgive this in the great Voltaire. Rather they would have had him, like Bruno and Servetus, remain steadfast to his faith while his living body was consumed with flames. But, Voltaire was Voltaire, Bruno was Bruno, and Servetus was Servetus. It is not for the world to judge, but to crown them all alike. Each and all lived out their own being, did their work in their own way, and carried a reluctant, stupid humanity to greater possibilities and grander heights.

Arguments in the Case of the Communist Labor Party (1920)[edit]

Argument of Clarence Darrow in the Case of the Communist Labor Party in the Criminal Court, Chicago (1920)
  • The Constitution is a delusion and a snare if the weakest and humblest man in the land cannot be defended in his right to speak and his right to think as much as the strongest in the land.
    • p.17
  • You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.
    • p. 39
  • As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever. The objector and the rebel who raises his voice against what he believes to be the injustice of the present and the wrongs of the past is the one who hunches the world along.
    • p. 52

Scopes Trial (1925)[edit]

  • Judge: Do you want Mr. Bryan sworn?
Darrow: No.
Bryan: I can make affirmation; I can say "So help me God, I will tell the truth."
Darrow: No, I take it you will tell the truth, Mr. Bryan. You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven't you, Mr. Bryan?
Bryan: Yes, sir, I have tried to.
Darrow: Then you have made a general study of it?
Bryan: Yes, I have; I have studied the Bible for about 50 years, or sometime more than that, but, of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was but a boy.
Darrow: You claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
Bryan: I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there: some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance: "Ye are the salt of the earth." I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people.
Darrow: But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale--or that the whale swallowed Jonah--excuse me please--how do you literally interpret that?
Bryan: When I read that a "big fish" swallowed Jonah--it does not say whale. That is my recollection of it. A big fish, and I believe it, and I believe in a God who can make a whale and can make a man and make both what He pleases.
Darrow: Now, you say, the big fish swallowed Jonah, and he there remained how long--three days--and then he spewed him upon the land. You believe that the big fish was made to swallow Jonah?
Bryan: I am not prepared to say that; the Bible merely says it was done.
Darrow: You don't know whether it was the ordinary run of fish, or made for that purpose?
Bryan: You may guess; you evolutionists guess...
Darrow: You are not prepared to say whether that fish was made especially to swallow a man or not?
Bryan: The Bible doesn't say, so I am not prepared to say.
Darrow: But do you believe He made them--that He made such a fish and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?
Bryan: Yes, sir. Let me add: One miracle is just as easy to believe as another.
Darrow: Just as hard?
Bryan: It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform. When you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.
Darrow: Perfectly easy to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale?
Bryan: If the Bible said so; the Bible doesn't make as extreme statements as evolutionists do.
Darrow: The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it.
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
Bryan: No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.
Darrow: Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?
Bryan: I don't know what they thought.
Darrow: You don't know?
Bryan: I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.
Darrow: Have you an opinion as to whether or not the men who wrote that thought--
Thomas Stewart: (a prosecution lawyer)--I want to object, your honor. It has gone beyond the pale of any issue that could possibly be injected into this lawsuit, except by imagination. I do not think the defendant has a right to conduct the examination any further and I ask your honor to exclude it.
Bryan: It seems to me it would be too exacting to confine the defense to the facts. If they are not allowed to get away from the facts, what have they to deal with?
Judge: Mr. Bryan is willing to be examined. Go ahead.
Darrow: Can you answer my question directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?
Bryan: Well, I should say so.
Darrow: Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: You have not?
Bryan: No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.
Darrow: I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Don't you know it would have been converted into molten mass of matter?
Bryan: You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.
Darrow: Don't you believe it?
Bryan: I would want to hear expert testimony on that.
Darrow: You have never investigated that subject?
Bryan: I don't think I have ever had the question asked.
Darrow: Or ever thought of it?
Bryan: I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance.
Darrow: You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: When was that flood?
Bryan: I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.
Darrow: About 4004 B.C.?
Bryan: That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. [A witness had testified on Bishop Ussher's theory that the Earth was formed in 4004 B.C.] I would not say it is accurate.
Darrow: That estimate is printed in the Bible?
Bryan: Everybody knows, at least, I think most of the people know, that was the estimate given.
Darrow: But what do you think that the Bible itself says? Don't you know how it was arrived at?
Bryan: I never made a calculation.
Darrow: A calculation from what?
Bryan: I could not say.
Darrow: From the generations of man?
Bryan: I would not want to say that.
Darrow: What do you think?
Bryan: I do not think about things I don't think about.
Darrow: Do you think about things you do think about?
Bryan: Well, sometimes. (Laughter.)
Policeman Deputy Clason: Let us have order....
Thomas Stewart: {prosecution attorney}--Your honor, he is perfectly able to take care of this, but we are attaining no evidence. This is not competent evidence.
Bryan: These gentlemen have not had much chance--they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.
Judge: All right. (Applause.)
Darrow: Great applause from the bleachers.
Bryan: Darrow--I have never called them yokels.
Bryan: That is the ignorance of Tennessee, the bigotry.
Darrow: You mean who are applauding you? (Applause.)
Bryan: Those are the people whom you insult.
Darrow: You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion.
Judge: I will not stand for that.
Darrow: For what he is doing?
Judge: I am talking to both of you.
Darrow: Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: Have you ever tried to find out?
Bryan: No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been interested in it. (Laughter.)
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?
Bryan: You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods.
Darrow: Where have you lived all your life?
Bryan: Not near you. (Laughter and applause.)
Darrow: Nor near anybody of learning?
Bryan: Oh, don't assume you know it all.
Darrow: Do you know there are thousands of books in our libraries on all those subjects I have been asking you about?
Bryan: I couldn't say, but I will take your word for it....
Darrow: Have you any idea how old the earth is?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: The book you have introduced in evidence tells you, doesn't it?
Bryan: I don't think it does, Mr. Darrow.
Darrow: Let's see whether it does; is this the one?
Bryan: That is the one, I think.
Darrow: It says B.C. 4004?
Bryan: That is Bishop Ussher's calculation.
Darrow: That is printed in the Bible you introduced?
Bryan: Yes, sir.
Darrow: Would you say that the earth was only 4,000 years old?
Bryan: Oh, no; I think it is much older than that.
Darrow: How much?
Bryan: I couldn't say.
Darrow: Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?
Bryan: I don't think it is older or not.
Darrow: Do you think the earth was made in six days?
Bryan: Not six days of 24 hours.
Darrow: Doesn't it say so?
Bryan: No, sir.
Judge: Are you about through, Mr. Darrow?
Darrow: I want to ask a few more questions about the creation.
Judge: I know. We are going to adjourn when Mr. Bryan comes off the stand for the day. Be very brief, Mr. Darrow. Of course, I believe I will make myself clearer. Of course, it is incompetent testimony before the jury. The only reason I am allowing this to go in at all is that they may have it in the appellate court as showing what the affidavit would be.
Bryan: The reason I am answering is not for the benefit of the superior court. It is to keep these gentlemen from saying I was afraid to meet them and let them question me, and I want the Christian world to know that any atheist, agnostic, unbeliever, can question me anytime as to my belief in God, and I will answer him.
Darrow: I want to take an exception to this conduct of this witness. He may be very popular down here in the hills--
Bryan: Your honor, they have not asked a question legally and the only reason they have asked any question is for the purpose, as the question about Jonah was asked, for a chance to give this agnostic an opportunity to criticize a believer in the world of God; and I answered the question in order to shut his mouth so that he cannot go out and tell his atheistic friends that I would not answer his questions. That is the only reason, no more reason in the world.
Malone: (another defense counsel) Your honor on this very subject, I would like to say that I would have asked Mr. Bryan, and I consider myself as good a Christian as he is, every question that Mr. Darrow has asked him for the purpose of bringing out whether or not there is to be taken in this court a literal interpretation of the Bible, or whether, obviously, as these questions indicate, if a general and literal construction cannot be put upon the parts of the Bible which have been covered by Mr. Darrow's questions. I hope for the last time no further attempt will be made by counsel on the other side of the case, or Mr. Bryan, to say the defense is concerned at all with Mr. Darrow's particular religious views or lack of religious views. We are here as lawyers with the same right to our views. I have the same right to mine as a Christian as Mr. Bryan has to his, and we do not intend to have this case charged by Mr. Darrow's agnosticism or Mr. Bryan's brand of Christianity. (A great applause.)
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Bryan: Yes.
Darrow: Do you believe she was literally made out of Adam's rib?
Bryan: I do.
Darrow: Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
Bryan: No, sir. I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.
Darrow: You have never found out?
Bryan: I have never tried to find out.
Darrow: You have never tried to find out?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: The Bible says he got one, doesn't it? Were there other people on the earth at that time?
Bryan: I cannot say.
Darrow: You cannot say. Did that ever enter your consideration?
Bryan: Never bothered me.
Darrow: There were no others recorded, but Cain got a wife.
Bryan: That is what the Bible says.
Darrow: Where she came from you do not know. All right. Does the statement, "The morning and the evening were the first day," and "The morning and the evening were the second day," mean anything to you?
Bryan: I do not think it necessarily means a 24-hour day.
Darrow: You do not?
Bryan: No.
Darrow: What do you consider it to be?
Bryan: I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter--let me have the book. [Reaches for a Bible.] The fourth verse of the second chapter says: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," the word day there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is any necessity for construing the words, "the evening and the morning," as meaning necessarily a 24-hour day, "in the day when the Lord made the heaven and the earth."
Darrow: Then, when the Bible said, for instance, "and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?
Bryan: I do not think it necessarily does.
Darrow: Do you think it does or does not?
Bryan: I know a great many think so.
Darrow: What do you think?
Bryan: I do not think it does.
Darrow: You think those were not literal days?
Bryan: I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.
Darrow: What do you think about it?
Bryan: That is my opinion--I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
Darrow: You do not think that?
Bryan: No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6 million years or in 600 million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.
Darrow: Do you think those were literal days?
Bryan: My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.
Darrow: I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?
Bryan: I believe that.
Darrow: Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?
Bryan: No, sir.
Darrow: Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?
Bryan: No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter.)
Darrow: Now, you refer to the cloud that was put in heaven after the flood, the rainbow. Do you believe in that?
Bryan: Read it.
Darrow: All right, Mr. Bryan, I will read it for you.
Bryan: Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee to slur at it, and while it will require time, I am willing to take it.
Darrow: I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.
Judge: Court is adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.

Why I Am An Agnostic (1929)[edit]

Full text online
  • An agnostic is a doubter. The word is generally applied to those who doubt the verity of accepted religious creeds of faiths. Everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept. Catholics are agnostic to the Protestant creeds, and the Protestants are agnostic to the Catholic creed. Any one who thinks is an agnostic about something, otherwise he must believe that he is possessed of all knowledge. And the proper place for such a person is in the madhouse or the home for the feeble-minded. In a popular way, in the western world, an agnostic is one who doubts or disbelieves the main tenets of the Christian faith.
  • I am an agnostic as to the question of God. I think that it is impossible for the human mind to believe in an object or thing unless it can form a mental picture of such object or thing. Since man ceased to worship openly an anthropomorphic God and talked vaguely and not intelligently about some force in the universe, higher than man, that is responsible for the existence of man and the universe, he cannot be said to believe in God. One cannot believe in a force excepting as a force that pervades matter and is not an individual entity. To believe in a thing, an image of the thing must be stamped on the mind. If one is asked if he believes in such an animal as a camel, there immediately arises in his mind an image of the camel. This image has come from experience or knowledge of the animal gathered in some way or other. No such image comes, or can come, with the idea of a God who is described as a force.
  • To say that God made the universe gives us no explanation of the beginnings of things. If we are told that God made the universe, the question immediately arises: Who made God? Did he always exist, or was there some power back of that? Did he create matter out of nothing, or is his existence coextensive with matter? The problem is still there. What is the origin of it all? If, on the other hand, one says that the universe was not made by God, that it always existed, he has the same difficulty to confront. To say that the universe was here last year, or millions of years ago, does not explain its origin. This is still a mystery. As to the question of the origin of things, man can only wonder and doubt and guess.
  • Many Christians base the belief of a soul and God upon the Bible. Strictly speaking, there is no such book. To make the Bible, sixty-six books are bound into one volume. These books are written by many people at different times, and no one knows the time or the identity of any author. Some of the books were written by several authors at various times. These books contain all sorts of contradictory concepts of life and morals and the origin of things. Between the first and the last nearly a thousand years intervened, a longer time than has passed since the discovery of America by Columbus.
  • One believes in the truthfulness of a man because of his long experience with the man, and because the man has always told a consistent story. But no man has told so consistent a story as nature.
  • Can any rational person believe that the Bible is anything but a human document? We now know pretty well where the various books came from, and about when they were written. We know that they were written by human beings who had no knowledge of science, little knowledge of life, and were influenced by the barbarous morality of primitive times, and were grossly ignorant of most things that men know today.
  • Can anyone with intelligence really believe that a child born today should be doomed because the snake tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam? To believe that is not God-worship; it is devil-worship.
    Can anyone call this scheme of creation and damnation moral? It defies every principle of morality, as man conceives morality. Can anyone believe today that the whole world was destroyed by flood, save only Noah and his family and a male and female of each species of animal that entered the Ark? There are almost a million species of insects alone. How did Noah match these up and make sure of getting male and female to reproduce life in the world after the flood had spent its force? And why should all the lower animals have been destroyed? Were they included in the sinning of man? This is a story which could not beguile a fairly bright child of five years of age today.
  • What of the tale of Balaam's ass speaking to him, probably in Hebrew? Is it true, or is it a fable? Many asses have spoken, and doubtless some in Hebrew, but they have not been that breed of asses. Is salvation to depend on a belief in a monstrosity like this?
  • When every event was a miracle, when there was no order or system or law, there was no occasion for studying any subject, or being interested in anything excepting a religion which took care of the soul. As man doubted the primitive conceptions about religion, and no longer accepted the literal, miraculous teachings of ancient books, he set himself to understand nature. We no longer cure disease by casting out devils.
  • The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.

The Story of My Life (1932)[edit]

  • Autobiography is never entirely true. No one can get the right perspective on himself. Every fact is colored by imagination and dream. The young look forth across the sea to a mirage of fairylands filled with hidden treasures; the aged turn to the fading past, and through the mist and haze that veils once familiar scenes, bygone events assume weird and fanciful proportions.
    • Ch. 1 "Before The Beginning"
  • One cannot live through a long stretch of years without forming some philosophy of life. As one journeys along he gains experiences and even some ideas. Accumulated opinions and philosophy may be more important to others than the bare facts about how he lived, so my ambition is not so much to relate the occurrences as to record the ideas that life has forced me to accept; and, after all, thoughts, impressions and feelings are really life itself. I should like to think that these reflections might make existence a trifle easier for some of those who may chance to read this story.
    • Ch. 1 "Before The Beginning"
  • Ancestors do not mean so much. The rebel who succeeds generally makes it easier for the posterity that follows him; so these descendants are usually contented and smug and soft. Rebels are made from life, not ancestors.
    • Ch. 1 "Before The Beginning"
  • I have always felt that doubt was the beginning of wisdom, and the fear of God was the end of wisdom.
    • Ch. 4 "Called To The Bar"
  • Every instinct that is found in any man is in all men. The strength of the emotion may not be so overpowering, the barriers against possession not so insurmountable, the urge to accomplish the desire less keen. With some, inhibitions and urges may be neutralized by other tendencies. But with every being the primal emotions are there. All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.
    • Ch. 10 "Child Training"
    • The last line here has sometimes been misquoted as "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure." It has also been attributed to, among others, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. The misquoted version also frequently begins, "I've never wished a man dead..." or "I never wanted to see anybody die..."
  • Wars always bring about a conservative reaction. They overwhelm and destroy patient and careful efforts to improve the condition of man. Nothing can be heard in the cannon's roar but the voice of might. All the safeguards laboriously built to preserve individual freedom and foster man's welfare are blown to pieces with shot and shell. In the presence of the wholesale slaughter of men the value of life is cheapened to the zero point. What is one life compared with the almost daily records of tens of thousands or more mowed down like so many blades of grass in a field? Building up a conception of the importance of life is a matter of slow growth and education; and the work of generations is shattered and laid waste by machine guns and gases on a larger scale than ever before. Great wars have been followed by an unusually large number of killings between private citizens and individuals. These killers have become accustomed to thinking in terms of slaying and death toward all opposition, and these have been followed in turn by the most outrageous legal penalties and a large increase in the number of executions by the state. It is perfectly clear that hate begets hate, force is met with force, and cruelty can become so common that its contemplation brings pleasure, when it should produce pain.
    • Ch. 26 "The Aftermath Of The War"
  • I had grown tired of standing in the lean and lonely front line facing the greatest enemy that ever confronted man — public opinion.
    • Ch. 27 "The Loeb-Leopold Tragedy", p. 232
  • I was truly sorry for Mr. Bryan. But I consoled myself by thinking of the years through which he had busied himself tormenting intelligent professors with impudent questions about their faith, and seeking to arouse the ignoramuses and bigots to drive them out of their positions.
    • p. 267
  • Life cannot be reconciled with the idea that back of the universe is a Supreme Being, all merciful and kind, and that he takes any account of the human beings and other forms of life that exist upon the earth. Whichever way man may look upon the earth, he is oppressed with the suffering incident to life. It would almost seem as though the earth had been created with malignity and hatred. If we look at what we are pleased to call the lower animals, we behold a universal carnage. We speak of the seemingly peaceful woods, but we need only look beneath the surface to be horrified by the misery of that underworld. Hidden in the grass and watching for its prey is the crawling snake which swiftly darts upon the toad or mouse and gradually swallows it alive; the hapless animal is crushed by the jaws and covered with slime, to be slowly digested in furnishing a meal. The snake knows nothing about sin or pain inflicted upon another; he automatically grabs insects and mice and frogs to preserve his life. The spider carefully weaves his web to catch the unwary fly, winds him into the fatal net until paralyzed and helpless, then drinks his blood and leaves him an empty shell. The hawk swoops down and snatches a chicken and carries it to its nest to feed its young. The wolf pounces on the lamb and tears it to shreds. The cat watches at the hole of the mouse until the mouse cautiously comes out, then with seeming fiendish glee he plays with it until tired of the game, then crushes it to death in his jaws. The beasts of the jungle roam by day and night to find their prey; the lion is endowed with strength of limb and fang to destroy and devour almost any animal that it can surprise or overtake. There is no place in the woods or air or sea where all life is not a carnage of death in terror and agony. Each animal is a hunter, and in turn is hunted, by day and night. No landscape is beautiful or day so balmy but the cry of suffering and sacrifice rends the air. When night settles down over the earth the slaughter is not abated. Some creatures are best at night, and the outcry of the dying and terrified is always on the wind. Almost all animals meet death by violence and through the most agonizing pain. With the whole animal creation there is nothing like a peaceful death. Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.
    • p. 383


  • Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.
    • As quoted in Improving the Quality of Life for the Black Elderly: Challenges and Opportunities : Hearing before the Select Committee on Aging, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, first session, September 25, 1987 (1988)
    • This quote's earliest known source is from Leon C. Megginson (see Charles Darwin)
  • I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I’d just hate it.
    • This quote was attributed to Darrow in the biography Clarence Darrow for the Defence (1949), but its earliest known source is from a journal entry of George Sand from 1835.

Quotes about Clarence Darrow[edit]

  • Another visitor was a lawyer from Clarence Darrow's office. He had come to warn me that I was hurting my case by my persistent defence of Czolgosz; the man was crazy and I should admit it. "No prominent attorney will accept your defence if you ally yourself with the assassin of the President," he assured me; "in fact, you stand in imminent danger of being held as an accessory to the crime." I demanded to know why Mr. Darrow himself did not come if he was so concerned, but his representative was evasive. He continued to paint my case in sinister colours. My chances of escape were few at best, it seemed, too few for me to allow any sentimentality to aggravate it. Czolgosz was insane, the man insisted; everybody could see it, and, besides, he was a bad sort to have involved me, a coward hiding behind a woman's skirts. His talk was repugnant to me. I informed him that I was not willing to swear away the reason, character, or life of a defenceless human being and that I wanted no assistance from his chief. I had never met Darrow, but I had long known of him as a brilliant lawyer, a man of broad social views, an able writer and lecturer. According to the papers he had interested himself in the anarchists arrested in the raid, especially the Isaaks. It seemed strange that he should send me such reprehensible advice, that he should expect me to join the mad chorus howling for the life of Czolgosz.
  • Clarence Darrow spoke eleven hours at Bill Haywood's trial, and fifty thousand people marched in Boston alone. Roosevelt said Darrow was an undesirable citizen, so we all wore placards saying, "I am an undesirable citizen." Darrow said, "I speak for the poor, for the weak, for the weary, for that long line of men, who in darkness and despair, have borne the labors of the human race."
  • Clarence Darrow, supposedly a competent thinker, also took a pro-war position.

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