Sunday, July 20, 2014

Historical revisionism concerning Creationism

As a result of their concern not only for the authority of Scripture but also for the theodicy problem posed by evolutionary biology, [Seventh-Day] Adventists have played an important role in the dubious project of "creation science," beginning with the tireless efforts of self-taught creationist George McGready Price (whose now thoroughly discredited ideas about geology were relied on by William Jennings Bryan in the infamous 1925 Scope "Monkey Trial," and who helped inspire modern American creationism via the work of John Whitcomb and Henry Morris in the 1960s). [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 18]

It has been said that error repeated thousands of times become truth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the supposed history of Young-Earth Creationism. To substantiate this point on the dubious beginning of "creation scince," Osborn cites the the work of Mark Noll in the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Ron Numbers' work The Creationists. The problem comes however when those two references are not exactly reliable.

The first major problem comes with the distortion of the acceptance of evolution and the development of science in the 19th century since the time of Darwin. It is a myth that evolution was embraced by scientists and rejected by the clergy, painting a portrayal of "progressive science" and backward "religion." It is also a myth that creation science was absent before Henry Morris came onto the scene. On this point, Numbers especially is to blame, and before him all the other historians that paint a picture of a "conflict" between "science" and "religion." Rather, as historian James R. Moore states, "The truth is nearer to the exact opposite: it was a few theologians and many scientists who dismissed Darwinism and evolution" [James R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant struggle to come to terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America 1870-1900 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 88-9]. As Terry Mortenson has showed, there were Scriptural Geologists in the 19th century, who had rejected even Charles Lyell's new geology. The conflict was never a conflict between "science" and "religion," but between the initially minority evolutionary scientists and their progressive clergy allies, against the 19th century creation scientists and [Old] Evangelicals.

The second major problem lies with the argumentation itself. Proving that Morris came chronologically after Price, or that Price was the last influential "creationist" before Morris, proves little. Even if one proves that Morris had read Price, to tar the modern creationist movement is to commit the Genetic fallacy. This is not to mention that creationists such as Ken Ham and Jonathan Sarfati did not know of Price before becoming creationists. In fact, on a personal note, I did not even know of Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis and these organizations before I decided that creationism was the position taught by the Scriptures. The mention of Price is there just as a Guilt-by-association tactic, to tar all creationists as anti-intellectual idiots complete with dunce hats. The fact that Price is a Seventh-Day Adventist further serve their purpose, as it tars creationism with a suspicion of heterodoxy. Of course, the fact that the "other side" have Teilhard de Chardin as well as the process theologians on their side hardly counts as a point for their position, but I digress.

Lastly, the Scopes trial is distorted and blown way out of proportion. William Jenning Bryan hardly counts as a YEC. Rather, he is an Old-earth Creationist. So what does the Scopes Trial have to do with YEC at all? Secondly, the history of the Scopes Trial has also been distorted. The defendant John Scopes was planted to test the new law forbidding teaching human evolution, and the whole trial was basically a monkey court to make fun of Christianity. Scopes intentionally pleaded guilty before his own cross-examination, leaving people with the impression only of the cross-examination of Bryan, who was portrayed as being a fool since he as an OEC was incapable of answering them.

It is a wonder to behold why Noll and Numbers have been allowed to get away with murder so to speak in academic circles. Such historical revisionism is unworthy of true scholarship, and should be rejected as myths altogether.

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