One way of looking at the origins debate is by looking at the publishing scene. I have observed elsewhere that the last 20 years have seen more books published on the topic than the prior 100 years combined. The creation science movement has pumped out an astounding number of books and seminary professors have written numerous commentaries on Genesis. There has been an explosion of “popular” books on the topic as well. It’s these latter more popular books that I have been interested in recently. As a measure of their influence I have looked at the current book ranking on Amazon.com to see how various science/faith books are doing. These numbers only reflect Amazon rankings of their sales and so do not reflect sales through seminary and Christian book stores or through YEC web site and so are biased toward the audience that is likely to buy from Amazon over their other venues. But they still paint a general picture of what is being read today. These numbers change at least weekly.
First, looking at the top 100 books in the “Science and Religion” category we have these notable authors and books: Francis Collins “Language of God” which has been out several years still holds down a top 3 spot with a book ranking of 4000. Plantina, Enns (“Evolution of Adam and Eve”), Lennox (“Seven Days that Divide the World”) Dawkins, Strobel (“Case for the Creator”), Meyer (“Signature of the Cell”) all are all in the top 20. The 50th anniversary edition of Morris (“The Genesis Flood”) sits at #33. Ross’ newest book sits at #43 and John Walton (“Lost World of Genesis One” see my prior post for more about this book) is at #40 with a sales ranking of 18,000 .
These authors represent the range of views on evolution and the age of the earth from young earth to intelligent design to old earth creationist to atheist Darwinian. There has been a lot of talk of Adam and Eve among evangelicals lately and this is in no small part due to the attention paid to it by two reformed-minded academics. Peter Enns has maintained good sales rankings with his recent book, “The Evolution of Adam” and even his older by popular “Inspiration and Incarnation” (ranked just under 50,000). John Collins “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist” which was released early last year was at 43,000. Both books were released within a year and have been widely read and commented upon. I expect that there will be a number of follow-up books in the next two years that either continue or critique their work.
A year ago when I first looked at these numbers, Walton’s “Lost World of Genesis One” was still ranked just over 6000 among all books on Amazon and in the top 100 of all religion books despite having been released two years before. I compared this to some other recent books on creation/evolution debate and most of them have rankings in the 50,000 to 250,000. Strikingly when compared to other commentaries on Genesis and other scholarly works from either a scientific or theological perspective this book is clearly very very popular with more reviews than any book on the creation topic than I have ever seen, not that all agree with his thesis but that the book is thought provoking and well written. At the time Peter Enns book, “Inspiration and Incarnation” was ranked 66,000 on Amazon (notice that today it is under 50,000 again) but it had been out a while and Sparks book “God’s Word in Human Words” which I read last year is ranked 667,547 indicating it is only read in academic circles. The “Human faces of God” by John J Collins which I read (or I should say tried to read but it is poorly written and I think just plain wrong) had only been out 6 months and had a ranking of 234,000. Even Walton’s most recent book “Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology” is ranked 710,000 demonstrating that the more scholarly book is far less appealing even though this book is a much better defense of his reading of Genesis 1 than “Lost World”. Again, these books may have more significant sales through seminary bookstores and other publishers sites but I still doubt they are widely read other than by some seminarians. Based on its pace of sales it is evident that Walton’s “Lost World” must be being read by orders of magnitude greater numbers of readers and thus must be landing on the bedside table of many lay Christians. It doesn’t hurt that Walton has been willing to take part in many debates and give many talks to support the book. Ken Ham was very upset to learn that the same Baptist church that was having him for a seminar series was having Walton talk the very next week on Genesis. I’m sure the contrast in styles will be evident to anyone that attends both talks. If anyone goes to see Walton in person they will find he is an exceptionally articulate speaker that communicates ideas to the common man even though he is talks like an academic.
Popular books are important but academic books, even if not read by a wide audience, will have a long-term effect on the debate. There are very few academic books or even general commentaries that hold to a strong young earth creationists perspective. Seminary students even at very conservative seminaries either must avoid the topic of Genesis or confront the many questions that are raised by the current literature. 30 years ago there were not many conservative alternatives to the 24-hour literalists literature. Today there are many serious scholarly works by committed orthodox evangelicals. For example, it is unlikely that many people can read a book even like Beale’s “Erosion of Inerrancy of Evangelicalism” which is a critique of Enns and not come away with a good dose of skepticism of the ultra-literalist hermaneutic of Ken Ham type young earth creationist.
It should be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years. YEC seems to be going strong based on the support of the creationist organizations and their number of publications and conferences that they put out. However, I really feel like the YEC movement has peaked. I think they have reached their entire target audience. What is happening now that the lay Christian has deluged with the importance of Genesis and so they aare more attentive to the questions that it raises. As a result there are many that are looking for more answers and when they don’t find them are beginning to question the YEC dogma. The YEC movement is gradually maturing and rather than providing more answers it is raising more questions. Literally, its leaders are old now and although there are plenty of youth that aspire to take the place of the current leaders, the leaders today have created ministries that are as much a personality cult as they are a group with a cohesive message. Ken Ham has made Answers in Genesis into Ken Ham ministries and it will struggle to find an identity once he is gone although his son obviously looks like he is being groomed to take his dads place. ICR has survived the death of Henry Morris, in part because his son took over and Morris has several other strong contemporaries that are still in control. This spat amongst Ham and home schoolers and even between home school groups looks to be just the first crack that I think will eventually develop into something that resembles a chasm. The home school conferences and Ken Ham have grown to be nearly synonymous and that was fine as long as Christian home school was synonymous with young earth creationism but with the many other organizations now producing materials that are not YEC and other groups who don’t want to be associated with YEC become more popular these large conferences are going to have a hard time with people like Ham because he is basically coming to these conferences and pronouncing that other guests at these conferences are heretics and he will do whatever he can stop their message from being heard. This is making even the YEC sympathetic crowd very nervous since on other issues, these conferences have always accepted a plurality of views on a number of other doctrinal issues given they are broadly evangelical.
I’m not sure where I was going with this. I guess I’m just wondering if Walton’s writing, even if not completely correct, might not be seen as a watershed book, along with several other significant academic contributions, for the Genesis debate in the church when we look back 20 years from now. It is way too early to tell but it could be this book will be remembered as bringing about a new discussion within evangelicalism regarding Genesis. Morris’s book “The Genesis Flood” is viewed as catapulting the YEC movement into the modern evangelical consciousness. That book is now 50 years old and look at the influence it has had on the church in those 50 years. Where will this discussion be in another 50 years?