Friday, June 29, 2012

What Came Before 1960

When the discussion of science arises in our modern time, especially as it impacts the discussion of origins, it is important to look back at a broad range of history over several hundreds of years to discover the many turns and twists. It is important to discover how historic discoveries may impact our understanding of where we are now in our current level of discussion. For example, the current status of the young earth creationist controversy has roots reaching back barely a half century. These young earth believers have acquired the term “creationist” from our popular culture. But the history of creationism goes back much farther.

In 1961 a monumental literary work was published which has great bearing on the creationist controversy and how the creationists present their case to the world even today. John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris produced their magnum opus which was to forever change the terms of the creationist dialogue.  Young earth believers, old earth believers, theologians, and evolutionists of diverse stripes echo dozens of other analysts when they all claim The Genesis Flood, The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications, was a seminal work largely responsible for triggering the modern revival of interest in creationism.

We must digress briefly. The population of the United States has increased about 132 million since 1961. That is roughly a 185% increase. Many of our new residents have sparse clues as to what took place in the conversation concerning creationism before that. John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris wrote their outsized 518-page volume supplementing the brief Genesis account. Many of the 132 million residents our country has added since 1960 fall within the roughly 40% of American citizens who believe in young earth creationism: the earth and its living forms are less than 10,000 years old. This was the beginning of the Genesis creation account. Specifically, this was the beginning of the time, space, matter and energy of our universe. In short, they interpret scripture as claiming the heavens and earth did not exist prior to that time.

Many of our country’s new residents, therefore, especially within the evangelical community of faith, rely upon the authoritative pronouncements of Whitcomb and Morris and their “spiritual descendants” for an important cornerstone of their faith structure. We cannot overemphasize the long lasting effects of the Whitcomb and Morris volume and the many adjunct ministries and educational offshoots which have proliferated from those programs. When I was a young Christian I hungered for a response with which to answer secular scientific challenges to faith, particularly the challenges posed by the paradigm of evolution.

The Whitcomb and Morris aftermath remains as the primary model of creationism within the young earth community. Old earth creationists believe in scientific findings of a very old universe, but subscribe to sudden new appearances of living things without evolution. Those sympathetic to the freshly minted variety of “evolutionary creationism,” have been co-opting the term “creationism” in their extensive negative commentaries on the young earth variety. Finally, naturalists poke fun at any sort of creationism.

We leave our readers with a statement from one our favorite evangelical scholars. Several times we have quoted this scholar fondly, and he remains one of our favorite historians and Christian thinkers. Professor Mark Noll claims, “To the extent possible for a historian who does not believe in Creation Science and who looks to guidance on these issues to practicing scientists who are also orthodox Christians, this paper tries to be as objective as possible.” In a future blog post we shall endeavor to mine Noll’s objective knowledge of science and creationism prior to 1960 as it impacted the church.