Ken Ham would have us believe that the modern creationist movement, which apparently began only 53 years ago, is the real deal this time. Unlike all the other attempts to create a history of the Earth with a recent global flood as a centerpiece, this time it apparently is going to usher in a real reformation in both science and an appreciation for biblical authority. And the new centerpiece of this reformation is the recreation of Noah’s Ark.
The July 1 teaser for a Ken Ham article on the front of the Answers in Genesis website proclaims:
As the wooden pegs were hammered into our beams on May 1, I saw the event as part of a continuing reformation to restore biblical authority that started in 1961.
This of course is in reference to the symbolic start of the Ark Encounter apologetics park. But what caught my eye was the 1961 reference. That is a reference to the The Genesis Flood publication date and the article itself begins with this acknowledgment:
Fifty-five years after the publication of the classic book The Genesis Flood—which really started the modern biblical creation movement
Here the notable word is really. This continues the tradition among most modern creationists of ignoring their intellectual roots. The Genesis Flood may be the best known expression of modern creation today but its content certainly wasn’t novel. Whitcomb and Morris mostly just modified the work of Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) George McCready Price’s writings from the first decade of the 20th century. Price’s student and a number of other SDA followers wrote numerous books and tracts on flood geology and the new “creationism.” In the 1930s they formed the Deluge Geology Society (DGS) which restricted member to those that believed that the creation week was “six literal days, and that the Deluge should be studied as the cause of the major geological changes since creation.”
One notable non-SDA member of this society was Henry Morris who would eventually co-author The Genesis Flood in 1961. In most versions of the history of creation science found on the Answers of Genesis website one could be forgiven for thinking that The Genesis Flood were a special creation itself. Most leaders of today’s creationists organizations prefer to distance themselves from a heritage that they probably don’t feel especially close to theologically especially given the association of the original creationists of the early 1900s with the work of Ellen White. Thus, they rarely acknowledge the origins of the principle tenets of scientific creationism or that there was a significant creationist cultural presence in elements of the church prior to the publication of the book. The Genesis Flood is a recapitulation of naturalistic mechanisms to explain a recent global flood that had already been vetted and discarded by hundreds of scientists over hundreds of years but has been repackaged once again as a necessary means of upholding biblical authority.
The real history of modern creationism has been explored in an the book The Creationists: From Creation Science to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition (2006) by Dr. Ronald Numbers (Professor of History of Science and Medicine, U. Wisconsin, Madison). Numbers grew up SDA himself and has written extensively about Ellen White and so is in an excellent position to understand the history of modern creation science. If you don’t have time for that tome you could still benefit from reading the Wikipedia page on flood geology for a concise but informative history of this form of creationism from the late 1600s through the present day.
The hypothesis that all geological formations, and the fossils found within them, could be explained by a global flood has been proposed repeatedly for over 300 years. It has varied in the details but the core arguments have not changed much. Whether it is Woodward in 1695, the Mosaic Geologist’s of the early 1800s or members of the SDA in the later 1800s and early 1900s, the arguments (both scientific and theological) have been about the same. Those hypotheses have been discussed, debated and dismissed over and over again by natural historians, Christian geologist, the scientific community and the vast majority of theologians (see the references below for works substantiating this claim).
As I stated initially, Ken Ham would have us believe that the modern creationist movement is the real deal this time. Unlike all the other attempts to create a history of the Earth with a recent global flood as a centerpiece, this time it really is going to usher in a real reformation in both science and an appreciation for biblical authority. He even goes as far as to compare the modern creation science movement with the reformation kicked off by Martin Luther in the 1500s.
Having Dr. Whitcomb hammer his peg into a beam at our ceremony reminded me of Martin Luther almost 500 years ago, when Luther hammered his theses into the wooden door of a German church and proclaimed biblical authority . It started the Reformation.
Does Ham believe that all other attempts to establish a recent catastrophic global flood were unable to bring about reformation because they were not sufficiently accurate interpretations of the geological record? Or maybe all other attempts were led by Christians that weren’t as theologically orthodox as he perceives himself – they didn’t quite have all their answers from Genesis. Why should we expect that this latest attempt to promote a previously rejected flood geology hypothesis will bring back a full appreciation for biblical authority? I find the strong connection made between biblical authority and creation science to be dubious given especially since those in the reformed theological tradition, including myself, have been most likely to uphold biblical authority but also have a history of concluding that the Scriptures don’t speak to the specific age of the earth or universe.
In many ways George McCready Price was the Ken Ham of the early 20th century. He was clearly a modern creationists but is nearly forgotten today. Will Ken Ham be likewise ignored by his counterparts 100 years from now?
I have written several times about the history of creationism on this blog:
Ray to Llwyd: On Formed Stones and Mammalian Fossils
Ray to Lhwyd in 1695 continued: Fossils and the Flood
John Ray: Testing Knowledge with Observation
John Ray on Woodward in 1695: Words that still apply today
John Calvin on the Ancients Ability to Divine Truth
Isaac Newton on the Mosaic Account of Creation
Peter Harrison “The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science” 1998 Cambridge University Press. This is a great read on the relationship of the growth of natural science and the influence of Protestantism in that growth. The book focuses heavily on issues surrounding Genesis for its examples.
Ronald Numbers “The Creationists: the evolution of scientific creationism” 1992 University of California Press. Ronald Numbers studies the history of science and has a special interest in creation science having grown up as a seventh day Adventist. This book is the single best read if one wants to get a feel for the history of the modern-day creationists movement. Though not a creationists the book has been lauded by creationists as a good overview of their movement even if they don’t agree with all of his interpretations of that history.
Ralph O’Conner “The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856” 2007 Chicago Press. This book examines how fossils were presented to the public in the 1800s and how the public responded. O’Conner spends a good amount of time talking about the Scriptural Geologists and how they explained the fossil finds of the 1800s.
W. Robert Godfrey “God’s Pattern for Creation: a covenantal reading of Genesis 1” 2003. Godfrey is the current president of Westminster Seminary in California. This is my favorite short book that provides a nice background to what Genesis is teaching us about creation. Godfrey uses a covenantal approach to lay out problems with the traditional literal approach. This is the book I would give to the lay Christian wanting to understand what the Biblical author (in this case he believes this author is Moses) wishes to communicate in Genesis 1. The body of the text is only 90 pages and is easily read in a sitting and well worth it for getting a nice view of the bigger picture. I bought extra copies just so I could loan this book out.
C. John Collins “Genesis 1-4: A linguistic, literary and theological commentary” 2006. Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary (PCA). I just finished reading this book recently and although I have read many other commentaries on the same passage I learned many new things from Collins and he presents one of the most compelling linguistic cases for a non-strict literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2. He promotes a view called the Analogical days which right now I find the most compelling. So far this book has the most detailed Biblical analysis of just what are the effects of the fall that I’ve read yet. He argues from the Scriptures very effectively that sin did not bring physical death into the world as is commonly believed. I find his sections about the nature of nature and how the curse effects that nature to be very insightful. I think this book will be very influential in the coming years. So far I have found that the framework interpretation has received much criticism but at this point I feel that framework interpretation continues to receive attention simply because the 6 day creationists focus on it knowing that they can poke holes in it. On the other hand I have not found many serious rebuttals to Collins analogical days view which I believe is a more consistent interpretation of Genesis and corresponds to my understanding of how the Bible was written (doctrine of inspiration).
C. John Collins “Science and Faith: friends or foes” 2003. Crossway. This book has an excellent chapter on Providence and miracles which I have used in preparing my recent Sunday school lessons. This book contains the most complete description of his analogical days interpretation. Collins includes a chapter on the age of the earth in which he accepts the evidence that points to an old earth. However, he stops at accepting a large part of evolutionary theory and defers to an ID argument in the last chapters. I did not know this when I first picked up the book and I was actually quite surprised because his whole discussion of providence and miracles appeared to me to lay the groundwork for accepting much of evolutionary theory and so his last chapter just didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book. Overall, a very readable book that provides very reasonable evidence for holding an old earth and literary/analogical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis.
John Walton “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” 2009. Walton, professor at Wheaton College, presents in this book a view that has become known as the cosmic temple inauguration view. Walton argues that Genesis one describes the functions of the creation not their physical origin. A very readable and thought-provoking book, a more scholarly follow-up book is due out in October of 2011. Of the books I have read in the past five years this one is right up there in terms of impact on me and has had a big impact in the evangelical world.