Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rimmer to Ramm

In the days following World War II my parents and their friends frequently attended Saturday evening meetings sponsored by evangelistic outreach organizations. It was the late 1940s and gasoline was no longer rationed. Even as a pre-teen I would attend with them, especially if the featured attraction was a Moody Science film. On some occasions well-known speakers would visit our town. I recall the name Harry Rimmer mentioned as an upcoming visitor, even though I do not recall attending a meeting where he spoke.

Harry Rimmer (1890-1952) was a Presbyterian minister popular on the church and conference speaker circuit. His scientific credentials were almost non-existent, but back then fundamentalist churches hungered for a creationist spokesman to expose the follies of evolution. Rimmer was their man. He wrote many books and pamphlets and spoke to hundreds of assemblies. This colorful figure’s popularity was more dependent upon his entertainment skills than any genuine scientific expertise.

The trio of Rimmer, armchair geologist George McCready Price (1870-1963), and surgeon A. I. Brown (1875-1947) were three of the most popular church conference speakers from the late 1920s to the 1940s. It is interesting that none of them possessed credentials in science. Journalists and professional scientists sometimes revealed these deficiencies, but their enormous popularity in fundamentalist circles remained undiminished.

Into this distressing scenario dawned a new day. None other than Moody Bible Institute’s “Sermons from Science” originator Irwin A. Moon conceived the idea of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) in 1941. The ASA was an organization of evangelical scientists concerned about the deficiencies of much of the so-called “science” purveyed in Christian churches with the goal of arousing opposition to evolution. What was needed, Moon perceived, was a solid appraisal of the evolutionary belief system by credentialed experts in the field of science rather than a populist polemic from the pews.

ASA members agreed to this creedal statement: “I believe in the whole Bible as originally given, to be the inspired word of God, the only unerring guide of faith and conduct. Since God is the Author of this Book, as well as the Creator and Sustainer of the physical world about us, I cannot conceive of discrepancies between statements in the Bible and the real facts of science.” The ASA was a leap forward in promoting an understanding between the domains of scriptural truth and responsible, solid discoveries in the field of science. This relationship had faded somewhat after having been stronger during the 19th century. Church leaders had earlier accepted geologists’ findings of earth’s antiquity. Some even found the concept of evolution to be acceptable. Most found Day-Age or Gap creationism to their liking, based on the physical evidence.

In the years just before and after the 1941 origin of the ASA, ideas of a young earth and a recent, globe-covering flood began to re-emerge. Such beliefs were not acceptable to ASA officials. Under the leadership of J. Laurence Kulp (1921-2006), flood geologists were isolated within the ASA. Kulp identified four errors of the young earth flood geologists: (1) equating historical geology with evolution, (2) assuming a young earth (6000-10000 years) and occurrence of a globe-encircling flood to account for all geological strata, (3) misunderstanding the “physical and chemical conditions under which rocks are formed,” and (4) ignoring the findings of radioactive dating which pointed to a very old earth. As a scientist, Kulp was responsible for the split of conservative Christianity into the self-identities of “fundamentalists,” and “evangelicals.”

Into this scenario entered Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm (1916-1992). In 1955 he published The Christian View of Science and Scripture. While Ramm’s desire to have the Christian community espouse a healthy view of science was commendable, he went too far and became the trigger for a vigorous response from fundamentalist Christians just a few years later. They rightly claimed that he leaned toward the higher critics in questioning the scientific accuracy of the Genesis 1 creation account and in endorsing theistic evolution. Subsequent events of the last half century are some of the most fascinating in the long history of creationism.

This blog has consistently advocated respect for correctly interpreted scripture as well as correctly interpreted science. We stress once more that if both science and scripture are interpreted correctly, there can be no lack of harmony. Divergent creationist viewpoints stem in large part from differences in how we interpret God’s revelation in both the spiritual and the natural spheres. Achieving truth in both spheres is a reachable goal.