William Bell Riley (1861 - 1947)

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William Bell Riley ("The Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism")'s Geni Profile

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Death: Died
Managed by: Doug Robinson
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Immediate Family

About William Bell Riley


William Bell Riley (March 22, 1861 in Greene County, Indiana, USA – December 5, 1947 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) was known as "The Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism." After being educated at normal school in Valparaiso, Indiana, Riley received his teacher's certificate. After teaching in county schools, he attended college in Hanover, Indiana, where he received an A.B. degree in 1885. He served several Baptist churches in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, in addition to studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

It was Riley's World Christian Fundamentals Association that wired William Jennings Bryan urging him to act as counsel for the association in the Scopes Trial.


Riley began his ministry as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota and served there for forty-five years, and another five as pastor emeritus. Riley wrote a number of texts on Christian Evangelism and founded the Northwestern Bible Training School along with an Evangelical Seminary.

Theologically, Riley was a Baptist traditionalist who believed in the New Hampshire Confession of Faith of 1833, the most popular Baptist creed of the 19th century. His first major work was an exposition of the Confession and in 1922 he tried to get the Northern Baptist Convention to adopt it as its binding statement of faith.

Riley was the editor of The Christian Fundamentalist from 1891 to 1933. In 1919 Riley founded the World Christian Fundamentals Association. Riley was president of the Minnesota Baptist State Convention in 1944-45. When Riley died in 1947, Billy Graham conducted the funeral services. At the time of his death Northwestern Bible School was the second largest Bible School in the world with some 1,200 students enrolled.


In 1923 Riley set up the Anti-Evolution League of Minnesota, which blossomed the following year into the Anti-Evolution League of America (later run by T. T. Martin). While the anti-evolution crusade is often thought of as a Southern phenomenon, two of its foremost leaders, Riley and John Roach Straton, were from Minneapolis and New York City respectively. In the early 1920s Riley promoted a vigorous anti-evolutionary campaign in the Northwest and it was Riley's World Christian Fundamentals Association that wired William Jennings Bryan urging him to act as counsel for the association in the Scopes Trial.

Riley and Bryan tried to remove all teaching of evolution from public schools. One of the creationists in their movement, T. T. Martin claimed that German soldiers who killed Belgian and French children by giving them poisoned candy were angels compared to those who spread evolution ideas in schools. Riley also claimed that "an international Jewish-Bolshevik-Darwinist conspiracy to promote evolutionism in the classroom" was behind the changes in curriculum occurring in the 1920s. Riley advocated a form of "Day-Age Creationism".

The main objection that Riley had to evolution was:

"The first and most important reason for its elimination is in the unquestioned fact that evolution is not a science; it is a hypothesis only, a speculation"

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William Bell Riley ("The Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism")'s Timeline

March 22, 1861
December 5, 1947
Age 86