Saturday, 7 February 2015

When did our community become infected with YEC and fundamentalism?

Putting an exact time on when our community's original belief in an old earth and a local flood gave way to young earth creationism and flood geology is of course impossible given that there was never an abrupt transition from one view to the other. However, given that the evangelical Christian world was also largely old earth creationist [1] prior to the publication of John Whitcomb and Henry Morris' The Genesis Flood, it is reasonable to see how our community responded to this book, and see whether it was positively or negatively reviewed. Given the massive influence The Genesis Flood had in catalysing a shift towards YEC / flood geology in the Evangelical world, and the fact that YEC and a flood geology were not part of our community's intellectual heritage, it is not unreasonable to conclude that a positive review of this book may well have precipitated the disastrous charge towards YEC.

Unfortunately, this book was positively reviewed in the November 1962 edition of The Christadelphian by A.D. Norris, who ironically was an OEC. [2] Norris's largely uncritical review concluded:
The book does not claim to be an exhaustive review of the subject: still less can this notice claim to be an exhaustive review of the book. But the book does present a very diligently developed case for its catastrophism which is well worth the respect of careful reading; and this notice has tried to do justice to its adventurous approach and its thorough scripturality of outlook. It is certainly not written by men who bury their heads in the sands and ignore the findings and opinions of contemporary scientists, and it reveals by its frequent quotations from friend and foe a quite remarkable acquaintance with what can be said both for and against the opinions expressed. 
For those with just a little scientific background the book is well worth the time and labour which reading it will involve, whatever opinions on the views expressed may ultimately emerge. And brethren and sisters will do well to think as respectfully and as informedly of the written Word as these men do. [3]
Norris was not a geologist, and again we have an example of what happens when a professional strays outside his area of competence, and fails to recognise basic errors that other professionals in that area would have recognised. Fifteen years later, OEC physicist Alan Hayward, in a letter prompted by a hopelessly uncritical review of Henry Whitcomb's The World that Perished by F.T. Pearce [4] pointed out that professional geologists had slammed the book on its many errors of fact:
This would not matter, of course, if Morris and Whitcomb, as self-taught geologists, had acquired a really good grasp of the subject. Unfortunately it rather looks as if this is not the case. Several geologists of repute, including Prof. J. R. van der Fliert of Amsterdam Free University and Dr. R. M. Ritland of the Geoscience Research Institute, Berrien Springs, have pointed out numerous passages in The Genesis Flood where Morris and Whitcomb are wrong on their facts. This is not just a matter of loose reasoning and dubious speculation (though there is plenty of that in the book, to be sure!) but of mis-statements about various rock formations and other matters of common observation. It appears that, because of the authors’ rather inadequate knowledge of the world’s geological structures, many of their arguments are based on false premises. 

The review says that The Genesis Flood “caused somewhat of a sensation in both religious and scientific circles”, and “provoked considerable discussion in the religious and scientific journals in the USA.” This may possibly be true of the religious circles and journals, but it certainly is not true of the scientific side. The scientific community ignored the book as being unworthy of serious notice, in much the same way as earlier generations of scientists ignored the publications of the Flat Earth Society. [5]
Certainly, within a a decade of this review, The Christadelphian office was selling books such as:
Biology, A Search for Order in Complexity (Editors: Moore and Slusher)
Christianity and the Problem of Origins (Hughes)
Darwin, Before and After (Clark)
Evolution, Or Science Falsely So Called
Evolution and the Christian Faith (Davidheiser)
Evolution and the Modern Christian (Morris)
Genesis Flood (Cloth) (Morris and Whitcomb)
Studies in Genesis One (Morris)
Studies in the Bible and Science (Morris)
The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch (Patten)
The Flood Reconsidered (Filby)
The Origin of the Solar System (Whitcomb)
Twilight of Evolution (Morris)
Universe, Plan or Accident (Clark)
Why Scientists Accept Evolution (Clark and Bales) [6]
Given the status of The Christadelphian, the upshot of this is that our community was giving tacit approval to interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis that were largely straight from fundamentalist Evangelical Christian sources. The impact of this is still being felt today.


1. Historian of science Michael Keas notes in his paper on the influence theologian R.A. Torrey had in the early fundamentalist Christian movement that "none of the essays in The Fundamentals advocated a young earth. Orr also concluded that Noah’s flood was anthropologically universal, but geographically local. Many of the errors of fundamentalism became pervasive only later in the history of the movement, after the influence of giants like Orr had faded.

2."My own inclinations, for what they are worth, have been set out before, and still seem to me the most likely, assuming that the length of the geological ages must be accepted." See Norris A.D. "Where Science and Religion Meet.  4—More Evidence in the Case" The Christadelphian (1965) 102:117-120

3. Norris A.D. Review: "The Genesis Flood" The Christadelphian (1962) 99:501-503

4. Pearce F.T. Review: "The World that Perished" The Christadelphian (1977) 114:138

5. Hayward A Letter: Flood Geology - A Note of Caution The Christadelphian (1977) 114:268-269

6.  Pearce F.T. “Bible-Science Seminar” The Christadelphian (1971) 108:266.