Friday, September 05, 2014

On the history of creation science

The modern premillennial views that have flourished in America since the nineteenth century have often been based on exact interpretations of the numbers in biblical prophecies. The Bible, such millenarians assume, is susceptible to exact scientific analysis, on the basis of which at least some aspects of the future can be predicted with some exactitude. Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the influential dispensational premillennialists among fundamentalists all treat the prophetic numbers in this way. ... It is not surprising, therefore, that such groups who derive some of their key doctrines from exact interpretations of prophecy should be most adamant in interpreting Genesis 1 as describing an exact order of creation in six twenty-four-hour days. Fundamentalists, often with dispensationalist ties, have been among the most ardent supporters of the recent "creation-science" movement that insists on a young earth, and hence on an entirely antievolutionary view of creation. [George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 158-9]

Not all creation-scientists are millenarians, however. Another more formidable tradition in American Protestantism that often has supported interpretations of Genesis 1 and has influenced both American fundamentalism and popular American conceptions of Scripture is Protestant scholasticism. This tradition has been articulated most prominently by the Princeton theologians, such as Benjamin Warfield, who popularized the concept of the "inerrancy" of Scripture. ... Belief in the inerrancy of Scripture did not entail that it always be interpreted as literally as possible, as demonstrated by the allowance for long "days" of creation by most Princetonians and the allowance for limited biological evolution by Warfield himself. Nonetheless, for some who adopted the Princetonian formulations on Scripture the emphasis on scientific exactness of scriptural statements was conducive to views of those who insisted that Genesis 1 referred to literal twenty-four days. (Ibid., 160)

As opposed to Ron Numbers and Mark Noll, it is refreshing to read the better historiography of George Marsden. It is certainly incontrovertible that historically, the modern creation science has been greatly facilitated by Seventh-Day Adventism and the writings of amateur George McGready-Price. But the millennialism that gave impetus to the rise of the modern creation science movement, while it might be significant, is not the only stream that has contributed towards the resurgence of interest in origins and the belief in 6-24 creation. An altogether separate stream came about from the vestiges of Reformed Scholasticism, which Marsden here linked from the Old Princetonian tradition to the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. If this book were to be written later, he probably could reference the RCUS creation report as another example of the legacy of Reformed Scholasticism.

A good history would look seriously at the claims of others and avoid false generalizations, instead of writing a book merely for reasons of propaganda to legitimize one's embarrassment of one's former tradition, as Mark Noll did in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I must say that Marsden's history of the rise of the modern creation science movement is much better. Of course, the name of George McGready-Price and Seventh-Day Adventism will be mentioned in any history of the modern creation science movement, but a recognition that this is not all to the movement is a step in the right direction. While not exactly linked to the rise of "creation science," it would certainly be helpful for historians of creationism to look at the beliefs of fringe denominations like the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA), which holds to 6-24 creation, and perhaps look at the smaller isolated nonconformist churches in Britain and inquire as to their views on origins (I'm not saying that they will all hold to 6-24, but it would be interesting research nonetheless).

The issue of origins is more complicated than simplistic histories of creationism have made it out to be. If one really wants to know why people embrace 6-24, it would be better for them to ask those who hold to 6-24 why they hold to that view, instead of just lumping them all with kooks like George McGrady-Price and discounting them as intellectual Neanderthals.

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