Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Early Christadelphians were not young earth creationists

It is easy to forget that the science denialism and obscurantism found in magazines such as The Testimony does not reflect the early Christadelphian approach to science. While no early Christadelphian accepted evolution [1] they accepted that the Earth was ancient, and life progressively appeared on it over geological time. In short, YEC and flood geology represent a deviation from the original Christadelphian position.

Examples are fairly easy to find. Emphasis is mine:
The Christadelphian, on (5:172), 1868, said:
'That the earth had a history anterior to the six days’ work, is certain, from both scripture and nature. Geology proves the existence of forms of life long before the Mosaic creation; and the Bible tacitly affirms a pre-Adamite order of things, in the words addressed to Adam and Eve “replenish (or fill again) the earth,” which are the words made use of to Noah, when the world had been cleared of its antediluvian inhabitants.'
The Christadelphian, on (10:163), 1873, said:
'That Moses does not teach the creation of the earth in the ordinary sense six thousand years ago is proved by his recognition of a pre-“creation” existence. Before the six days’ work began, he speaks of the earth as being “without form and void,” and “darkness on the face of the deep.”—(Gen. 1:2.) How long it had been in this state is not hinted; but the narrative leaves room for the measureless ages said to be required by geology.

Neither was the human the first rational race on its surface, if we are to attach the same sense to the words addressed to Adam as they possessed when addressed to Noah. “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish (fill again) the earth.” There may have been a previous race, swept away after the manner of the flood, the catastrophe leaving the earth in the state in which the six days’ work found it.'
The Christadelphian, on (21:177-178), 1884, said:
'Brother Simons, of Outram, writes thus excellently on a subject which has perplexed many only because they do not take all the elements of the case into account:'  Brother Simons in The Christadelphian, on (21:177-178), 1884, said:
'Geology teaches us much; it speaks of a time and creation on this earth when animal life, if not totally, was nearly unknown, and only the lower order of vegetable life covering its face, and this must have existed many thousands of years; and during the whole of that long period, the earth was undergoing wonderful and necessary changes to fit it for a creation of a higher order, and evidently with the creature man in view.
There are evidences to show that when this early period had done its work, it was replaced by a creation of a higher order, when animal and vegetable forms of a far more wonderful structure were brought into existence and most admirably adopted to the atmosphere, climate, and peculiarities of that creation; and this, again, must have lasted for many thousands of years, and in its turn been swept away, and a grander creation built on its ruins. And so on, stage after stage. Geologists show that there has been five separate independent creations on the face of our earth prior to the present, and during the whole of those long periods, the Almighty Architect has been bringing the earth into form and suitability to the creatures His wisdom has made. Throughout the long ages of the past, careful investigation can trace the preparations for the creature of intelligence . . man.'
The Christadelphian, on (25:764), 1888, said:

'Clip from the Shepton Mallet Journal, of March 19th, containing lecture on geology, containing a good deal of natural truth well-stated, but having no bearing on Bible claims, though the lecturer evidently thought otherwise. The Bible does not interfere with the pre-Adamic age of the world.'

The Christadelphian, on (22:405), 1885, said:
'Interested Stranger.—No doubt the earth has gone through changes.
Christadelphian. — Have not these changes been in the nature of progress—an advance from a crude to a more perfect state?
Interested Stranger.—It has doubtless been so.
Christadelphian.—From what sort of a state did this process make its start?
Interested Stranger.—That, I think, we cannot ascertain.
Christadelphian. — Not in an exact sense perhaps; but are we not justified in saying that if we go far enough back in the record of the earth’s physical history, as written in the rocks, we come to a time when the earth was a molten mass, incapable of sustaining life, either vegetable or animal?'
The Christadelphian, on (22:405), 1885, said:
'Christadelphian.—And you may be aware that by means of the spectroscope, it has been discovered that the heavenly bodies are composed of the same chemical substances that go to make up the earth?
Interested Stranger.—Yes.
Christadelphian.—You may perceive then that the one is capable of throwing light upon the other. We cannot ascertain the physical history of the earth further back than the fire period from the earth itself: but the starry heavens show us (through the telescope) bodies in various stages of development, and therefore stages through which it is probable the earth has come. The nebulous matter in the milky way is very instructive on this point.'
 The Christadelphian, on (22:405), 1885, said:
'Christadelphian.—Here is the point: if the universe has been a progressive development, there must have been a time—inconceivably remote truly—but still a time when it began to travel from its invisible state of abstract power to its present state of concrete form and glory.'
I am not arguing that had the early Christadelphians been around in the 21st century they would have accepted evolution. That is not my point. What I am saying is that unlike too many Christadelphians of the 21st century, believers in the late 19th and early 20th century did not regard science as an enemy, and were willing to frame their understanding of the Bible in its light. It is an indictment on our community that a far more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the Bible-Science issue can be found in 19th century Christadelphian writings than in some 21st century writings.