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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BRICKNER-DARROW DEBATE

BRICKNER-DARROW DEBATE

The BRICKNER-DARROW DEBATE, between attorney Clarence Darrow and Rabbi BARNETT R. BRICKNER, took place on Thursday evening, 9 Feb. 1928, before a standing-room-only crowd at Cleveland's Masonic Auditorium. An estimated audience of 500,000 Greater Clevelanders listened to the 2-hour debate over radio station WHK. The CLEVELAND ADVERTISING CLUB, under the direction of president Wilbur Hyde, sponsored the debate on the subject "Is Man a Machine?" Darrow, the most famous criminal lawyer in America and a celebrated agnostic, argued the affirmative. Rabbi Brickner, the spiritual leader of Cleveland's ANSHE CHESED congregation, argued the negative. Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Carrington T. Marshall moderated.

Each participant spoke 3 times. Darrow, who opened the debate, held that man's physiological composition and functions were exactly like those of a machine and that other animal forms as well as plant life are machines, positing that animals are also capable of thought and reason. Brickner countered that it is the capability of thought and reason that differentiates man from machine and also noted that a machine does not have a soul, a point Darrow challenged, suggesting that no one knows whether animals have souls.

The Plain Dealer, which reported the debate, chose 4 unofficial judges to select a winner. They included Maurice Bernon, former common pleas judge; Dr. William Reed Veazey, professor of chemistry at Case School of Applied Science; Charles W. Mears, advertising counselor; and John J. Sullivan, appellate judge. All four thought Brickner presented the stronger argument. Mayor JOHN D. MARSHALL called it a draw. Plain Dealer surveys of the audience both before and after the debate indicated a 4:1 ratio favoring Brickner.


Rabbi Barnett R. Brickner Papers, WRHS.

See also LAW, RELIGION.