As an outspoken critic of evolution (which he called a “guess with nothing in the universe to support it”), the college’s namesake isn’t known for his love of science. In his own day, critics accused Bryan of spreading “appalling obscurantism” and “peculiar imbecilities.” Bryan—and creationists like me—are commonly believed to be antiscience. After all, how could you possibly doubt something so well established as evolution? You might as well believe the earth is flat, or so the common wisdom would have you believe.But is this really so? Ron Numbers, in his article on the creationists in Science, writes:
Though one could scarcely have guessed it from his public pronouncements, Bryan was far from being a strict creationist. In fact, his personal beliefs regarding evolution diverged considerably from those of his more conservative supporters. Shortly before the trial he had confided to Kelly that he, too, had no objection to “evolution before man but for the fact that a concession as to the truth of evolution up to man furnishes our opponents with an argument which they are quick to use, namely, if evolution accounts for all the species up to man, does it not raise a presumption in behalf of evolution to include man?”This puts him more in the camp of C.S. Lewis, who was accepting of evolution as a scientific discipline but not of “evolutionism” (what we would refer to as philosophical naturalism). This does not paint a picture of an anti-evolutionist at all but one concerned about the effects of evolution in society.
What is also side-stepped in this article is the fact that Bryan was not a young-earth creationist at all but rather accepted that the earth might be millions of years old. This also puts him at odds with modern creationists and, as Numbers writes, more in tune with other conservative theologians of his time. In writing about William Jennings Bryan's anti-evolutionism, these things should have been addressed.