March 23, 2013
By Ray Lakeman
Presented at a meeting of “Reasonable Faith Adelaide” on 14-March-2013.
My major source is The Creationists – From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design [1992, 2006] can be borrowed from the ISSR library at Tabor Adelaide. Summary essays from Ronald Numbers can be found at:
I wish to make my own position clear. I was raised in a family of farmers and market gardeners with limited education, but when I lost my hands at age 5 my father became determined that I should have the education he was denied. My family were pretty casual about Christianity, but were happy to claim allegiance to Anglican or Methodist churches. I was sent to Sunday School, and when older attended church. As a science teacher at age 33 I was confronted by the issues of creation versus evolution and began to investigate. By age 43 I owned a Young Earth Creation view. This presentation is about the modern history of creationism. It is not my intention to teach creationism other than to explain the history, and I will not defend creationism here. I also wish to make it clear that Reasonable Faith neither endorses nor rejects Young Earth Creation. However, Reasonable Faith does stand on the Nicene Creed which says, “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” I acknowledge the helpful suggestions of Kevin Rogers while I prepared this presentation. It was Kevin who suggested I unpack the significance of the Scopes Trial and the play Inherit the Wind. In these topics I have used additional sources to flesh out the study that Numbers presents. The images I present are easy to obtain on the web. The 2min video extract is from The Magician’s Twin: C.S.Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society by John West,available on YouTube.
As Dr. Ronald Numbers is my main source I shall introduce him. Numbers is a respected historian and was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist home in south-western USA with the standard SDA teaching that creation occurred 6,000 years ago and that Noah’s Flood formed the vast rock deposits and fossil beds of the Earth’s crust. During his higher education Numbers abandoned the SDA teaching and in his book he makes his position clear: “I no longer believe in creationism of any kind”, he says, and he goes on to declare “I am strongly committed to treating [creationist] advocates with the same respect I might accord to evolutionists”. Numbers is true to his word, for nowhere in his book does he insult creationists while describing their modern history. For this reason I commend his book to Reasonable Faith members as a good source of information on an important question for our culture: How shall our generation interpret the Bible and Science? History gives the answer thus far, and this book is a good contribution to that history.
Title Slide 1
Creation Science can be described as Biblical Creation stripped of explicit references to Biblical authority, God, Adam and Noah. Creation Science is a new movement of the twentieth century. It arose as a movement composed of trained scientists and lay Christian supporters from a wide range of Christian churches, and it has grown despite almost universal opposition from both mainstream scientists and the mainstream leaders in churches.
In the early years of the twentieth century the self-described geologist George McCready Price stood virtually alone in insisting on the recent appearance of life and on a global flood catastrophe that massively rearranged the earth’s crust. Price was well-received by creationists, but made few converts beyond his Seventh Day Adventist Church.
In 1932 the Evolution Protest Movement was formed in London, and is now called the Creation Science Movement, the oldest creationist society on Earth.
C.S.Lewis Slide 2
It is interesting to note that in its early years the Evolution Protest Movement tried to win C.S.Lewis as an advocate and failed. Lewis excused himself with the statement “When a man has become a popular Apologist he must watch his step”. However, in 1951 Lewis had changed and wrote to the Evolution Protest Movement, “You might be right in regarding evolution as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives”. The Creation Science Movement has a prominent website and program of activities to this day.
In 1938 the Deluge Geology Society was formed in Los Angeles with strong roots in Adventism, and in 1944 their member Frank Marsh published “Evolution, Creation and Science” with a trained biologist’s view on Young Earth Creation. Marsh exchanged letters with Theodosius Dobzhanski, and found that their ideas were far apart. It is Dobzhanski who said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. In Marsh’s final letter he said to Dobzhanski that he was not a grouch looking to argue with famous biologists, nor was he looking for fame, recognition or livelihood. Though he disliked being at odds with the academy Marsh was willing to turn a cheek to criticism if he could convince some mainstream scientists to accept special creation. Later Dobzhanski graciously wrote that Marsh was an intelligent and informed person who did not accept evolution as true. A rare acknowledgment for those days.
Around 1946 radioisotope dating was providing evidence to challenge the Young Earth view, and this caused internal disputes between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists and led to the demise of the Deluge Geology Society.
Organised creationism didn’t amount to much until around 1960 when everything changed. But to understand what happened in 1960 it is helpful to first understand the 1925 Scopes Trial.
John Scopes Slide 3
The Scopes Trial made an enormous impression on America and the world. Shortly after the Tennessee governor signed an anti-evolution bill into law, the young American Civil Liberties Union in New York began searching for a volunteer to test the Tennessee law in court. John Scopes was a young teacher who substituted for two weeks in a biology class, and was unsure if he ever used the word “evolution”, but he agreed to be charged for the crime of teaching evolution in order to test the law, and in return he would be paid enough to fund his entry into his planned course of study.
Darrow and Bryan Slide 4,5,6
On the evolution side the ACLU hired an expensive team of experts led by the agnostic big city criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes, and on the anti-evolution side, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association hired the popular Presbyterian anti-evolutionist and three-times presidential candidate William Bryan to prosecute Scopes. The 8-day “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee was given top headlines across the nation’s newspapers and around the world. Everyone realized that there was an important question on trial, “Did human beings descend from monkey ancestors?”. What would the lawyers decide? And could state science curricula teach evolution and deny the Bible account of creation?
On day 7 of the trial, Darrow put Bryan in the witness stand as a Bible expert and was surprised that Bryan did not accept a literal reading of Genesis 1. Bryan said the “days” could each be 600 million years! The ACLU objective was to overthrow the anti-evolution laws and open the door for teaching evolution, but Bryan won the case and Scopes was fined a token $100 for breaking the law. The trial also made clear that the public were not buying the evolution story, as public sentiment was clearly opposed to monkey ancestors and the teaching of evolution in taxpayer funded schools.
Cartoons and Newspapers, Slides 7-13
Numbers points out that in the years following the trial several historians have claimed that the Scopes Trial was a public relations victory for the evolutionists. But Numbers counters that the evidence does not support that view. Journalists did review Bryan’s performance harshly, saying he revealed his ignorance of both religion and science. Darrow received considerable criticism also for his ignorance of religion and science as well as for disrespecting the judge, being rude to Bryan, and trying to deny the people of Tennessee their democratic rights to determine what should be taught in tax-supported schools. So poor was Darrow’s performance that the ACLU tried to dump him from the defence team – unsuccessfully.
After the trial the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association were flushed with a sense of victory: “[Bryan] not only won his case in the judgment of the Judge, in the judgment of the Jurors, in the judgment of the Tennessee populace attending; he won it in the judgment of an intelligent world”.
Numbers believes the ACLU and the Scopes trial set back the cause of teaching evolution for at least 30 years, for in this period “American textbook publishers tried to avoid antagonising conservative Christians by saying as little as possible about evolution. This policy of ‘neutrality based on silence’ began to crumble in the late 1950s …”. The “space race” was on, and millions of dollars were being spent on science education in order to beat the Russians! By 1963 the Biological Science Curriculum Study had published three new biology texts and more than 50% of US students were being confidently taught about their ape-like ancestors. An organised backlash began. Some of the anti-evolution reaction was from Bible-believing Christians, and some was from people who were insulted by the idea of monkey relatives. Anyway, the public were far from convinced of the truth of Darwin’s hypothesis and the arrival of this evolutionist textbook galvanised Christians to fight back by joining together in creationist societies.
Inherit the Wind, Slides 14, 15
Numbers shows that the Scopes trial is important in the modern history of creationism, and the play “Inherit the Wind” is also important because it conveys a false view of history into our modern culture. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee wrote “Inherit the Wind” as a criticism of McCarthyism and the anti-communist investigations conducted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Unfortunately the play used Scopes as a safer vehicle from which to comment, and the play blatantly portrays the Scopes trial as a public relations victory for the enlightened forces over the fearful dogmatists, for the authors had no interest in an accurate portrayal of the Scopes Trial. The play was first performed in 1955 and a note in the opening of the script admits that while the play depicts the Scopes Trial “it is not meant to be a historical account and there are numerous instances where events were substantially altered or invented”. As well as the play there are three film versions of “Inherit the Wind” from 1960, 1988 and 1999, all of which give the false view of being true history. I considered showing a clip of Spencer Tracey in the 1960 movie, but it was so completely misleading that I rejected doing so.
David Menton has carefully analysed the play and compared it with the real Scopes Trial and notes that throughout the play Bryan is portrayed as closed-minded, pompous, stupid, intolerant, hypocritical, insincere and gluttonous. The following sample dialogue between Darrow and Bryan appears on page 51 (real names substituted):
DARROW: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve memorized many passages from The Origin of Species?’
BRYAN: ‘I am not the least interested in the pagan hypotheses of that book.’
DARROW: ‘Never read it? ‘
BRYAN: ‘And I never will.’
The truth is quite different, however: Bryan is reported by one of his biographers, Lawrence Levine, to have read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 20 years before the Scopes trial. Bryan’s reservations about the theory of evolution were certainly influenced by his religious beliefs, and he had actually written many well–argued articles critical of the evidence used to defend the theory of evolution.
Bryan also carried on a long correspondence on evolution with the famous evolutionist Henry Osborn. For a layman, Bryan’s knowledge of the scientific evidence for and against evolution was unusually sophisticated. By comparison, the trial transcript shows that Darrow gave the impression of having a poor grasp of evolution. Darrow appeared to rest his belief in evolution on scientific authority, which he accepted without question.
If you want a detailed rundown of the inventions in “Inherit the Wind” see
The new 1963 US biology textbooks presented evolution as a fact, and stirred Bible-believers to action. In 1961 Morris and Whitcombe published “The Genesis Flood”, and in 1963 formed the effective Creation Research Society. For all Bible-believers Morris’s book and society explained a convenient compression of billions of years of Earth history back to 6,000 years. This was a consistent and comprehensive answer to all the Biblical interpretation gymnastics. The creation – evolution question was painted in sharp relief: Either Bible history for one camp, or Big Bang with Billions of Years and Evolution for the other camp. Henry Morris was clear: All the mainstream geologists, biologists and astronomers were wrong. The Bible made full sense of the world in its straightforward reading, and a full repudiation of the Academy’s story of origins made room for the Bible’s story of Creation, Fall, Judgment by Flood, Redemption by Christ, Final Judgment and Consummation of the Creation. If you believe Genesis it is easier to believe Revelation and everything in between, said Morris. Anyone with hope of a miraculous end for this Age finds it easier to believe a miraculous start of this Age. Ronald Numbers admits that this is an attractive view for a Christian.
I have related only a few episodes in the history that Numbers presents. For example, Numbers gives interesting accounts of Muslim Creationism, accounts of the Intelligent Design Movement, accounts of the Australian Answers in Genesis organisation and much more.
Summary, Slide 16
Numbers focuses his study of creationism within the modern era and shows it has been a time of radical change. From p368-372 he gives an interesting summary of this period. In the early years of the twentieth century there were very few creationists with academic recognition and scientific training. Creationists were obscure, isolated, ignored and ridiculed. Bible-believing Christians were often happy to ignore the creation-evolution conflict, and when pressed on the issue, often avoided conflict by using interpretations of Genesis 1 which accommodated the scientist’s story of deep time and evolution. These explanations were mostly of the “Days of Genesis 1 should be interpreted as Ages” type, or proposed an enormous “Gap” in the Genesis account so evolution could occur. A Garden of Eden special creation of Adam and Eve was often invoked along with the standard evolution story for the rest of creation. In the 1920s one man stood out — the Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price, who taught and wrote booklets promoting recent Creation and Flood Geology. Numbers would have us believe Price was the first modern creation scientist, and his view is backed up with much detail.
100 years later, creationists have changed a lot! Well educated and academically recognised creationists are numbered in the thousands, and new scientific creationist books are published almost every week. Organised creation societies exist around the world. Instead of being ignored or dismissed as a bad joke, creationists are the objects of serious criticism and dire concern! The Young Earth Creation view is being hotly argued on internet forums world-wide. Public opinion polls have remarkably remained in favour of creation and against evolution. (For example, a recent New York Times poll found 65% of US citizens want both creation and evolution taught in school science).
Arthur Schopenhauer said newly discovered truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, and dismissed as not worthy of consideration. Second, it is vehemently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being obviously true and self-evident. Modern Creation Science is definitely still facing vehement opposition in stage two and it is unclear if there will ever be a stage three. Creation Science has experienced shocking success since 1960, and although it is still a small force in culture, it is certainly not going away. Actually, says Dr. Ronald Numbers, one should expect the influence of Creationism to continue growing.
William Lane Craig, Slide 17
William Lane Craig avoids the issues of evolution and young earth in his debating, but when he speaks of evangelistic opportunity he is optimistic, and I think Craig’s optimism is a fitting “last word”:
“It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to create a cultural milieu in which the Gospel can still be heard as a legitimate option for thinking people. People may not come to Christ through the arguments, but the arguments give them permission to believe, as it were – the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved by the preaching of the Gospel and by the Holy Spirit.”
“Now, I believe, we are living at a time in history when huge doors of opportunity stand open before us. We are living at a time when Christian philosophy is undergoing a renaissance, which has revitalized natural theology, and arguments for the existence of God. We’re living at a time when modern science is more open to the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the universe than at any time in recent memory. And we’re living at a time when biblical criticism has largely established the credibility of the outlines of the New Testament life of Jesus, so that the Gospels are now regarded once again as serious historical sources for the life of Christ. This is a tremendously exciting time to be alive and working in apologetics. I think that we’re well poised intellectually to regain lost ground and to help reshape our culture in such a way that the Gospel can be heard as a legitimate option for people today.”
(Accessed Feb 2013: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/)
I share Dr. Bill Craig’s optimism, and I am encouraged by the modern history of creationism. I thoroughly commend The Creationists by Dr. Ronald Numbers to anyone who has ever wondered about the people who believe in Creation.
Modern Cartoon, Slide 18