My public school teaching career was launched in 1959 at the beginning of a period of intensifying social and political tumult. The early 1960s marked a social watershed perhaps more profound than anything preceeding. Into the mix came John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris with their landmark volume The Genesis Flood in 1961. These were the days when John F. Kennedy was president. It marked the birth of a movement some call The New Creationism.
Ronald L. Numbers, skilful chronicler of creationist history, rightly makes a surprising claim: “Few biblical creationists before the 1960s would have included an appeal to geological catastrophism. Scientific creationists, in contrast, identified the flood of Noah as the real crux of the conflict between the evolutionist and creationist cosmologies.”
The term “Scientific Creationism” was first used formally by Henry M. Morris in 1970 when he taught a course so named. Many young earth flood geologists had longed to give their movement a scientific cachet, even though they had rejected mountains of mainstream science knowledge acquired in the previous two centuries of geological discovery. Many in the creationist camp were justifiably concerned about moral and spiritual decline. They tried to connect rejection of their creationist proposals (recent creation, recent worldwide flood, no death of any creature prior to the fall of Adam) with the moral downslide they claimed resulted from belief in an old earth and uniformitarianism. They claimed old earth, evolution, and societal moral decay were bound together in the same bundle. The scientific support for this paradigm needed effective packaging.
The “science” turned out to be largely the science of unique hermeneutics. The leaders promoted their own versions of tightly inductive scripture interpretation. The meaning of scripture texts, they claimed, is determined by their contexts. The most “obvious” and “literal” meanings of the texts should be plain for all to see. The more traditional scientific data from the world of nature were always interpreted to support young earth viewpoints. Even today, these are claims I have heard repeatedly in my many written communications with brethren from the young earth camp. Today, however, their interpretations of “new data” even cast doubt on traditional applications of formulas for light travel as determiners of elapsed time. As a result, they claim the entire cosmos is only a few thousand years old.
A popular book entitled Scientific Creationism was published in 1974. When I became aware of this book in 1980, the book was in its 7th printing. My wife and I were both public school educators. As teachers of a high school Sunday School class, we enthusiastically purchased a copy for use in our class. At that time I had not followed this issue closely. In my church it was barely ever mentioned. The book was useful in refuting many of the assumptions of evolutionary belief and in supporting the presence of design features in nature, such as the incredibly complex, information-packed DNA molecule.
On the other hand, the volume offered denials of many sound evidences supporting an ancient earth, including radioactive dating. The authors admitted their refutation of radioactive dating “may seem presumptuous.” The “technical staff and consultants” who prepared the volume for the Institute of Creation Research claimed “None of these (dating) processes gives any very good evidence, and certainly do not prove, that the earth is very old.” They went on to claim “The only real evidence for a long history of the earth is its necessity to support the evolution model.” Their vision of “scientific” evidences for a recent creation is substantially at odds with virtually the entire community of contemporary scientists. It is certainly at odds with the particular findings of geologists of the past 250 years.
My review of this 30-year-old volume took me to one of the last pages. On p. 252 the writers proposed “If the system of flood geology can be established on a sound scientific basis, and be effectively promoted and publicized, then the entire evolutionary cosmology, at least in its present neo-Darwinian form, will collapse.” Next to that paragraph in that long-ago used book I had penciled in a modest comment: “It can’t.” In the succeeding three decades the creationism issue and several other important issues have been combined to become, increasingly, a banner waved by the most conservative wing of the evangelical church. It has acquired prominence in the cultural and political realm as well as in the kingdom of the moral and spiritual.