Tuesday, February 28, 2017

History? No, more like Hamstory!

This man has a  rather distorted view of young earthist
history and he's trying to pass it on to others.
As I said in my last post, the 1960s saw a reactionary Christian response as Christianity became increasingly marginalized from the intellectual establishment. I think I'm right in assuming a causal link: By the 1960s that marginalization seemed to have reached a threshold which triggered a contrarian revival in Christian gnosticsm and the anti-science philosophies of Genesis literalism. In connection with the latter I wrote the following in this post:

That the resurgence of Genesis literalism is a recent phenomenon is in fact effectively admitted by fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham himself where in a blog post entitled “Happy Reformation Day” (31 October 2013) he applauds the reference to the 1960s YEC rival as “The Creation Reformation”. Prior to the sixties there was only a low background of Genesis literalism, a background found among the more extreme Christian sects like the Adventists, the Amish, the Jehovah's witnesses, the Plymouth brethren and I guess numerous marginal fundamentalist Christian sects in North America*. Since the rise of science YEC was never mainstream.

The general picture I have sketched out here is of young earthism reviving in the 1960s against an otherwise marginalized background of Genesis fundamentalism. After the scientific and industrial revolutions the wide spread Genesis literalism of more primitive times went into decline, particularly among science savy Christians and Christian academics. I don't think this general historical picture is contentious; even Ken Ham would accept it, although he would express it the emotively charged terms of "compromise". 

However, even though Ham accepts this general view, it is starting to look as though he is presiding over an organisation which has been distorting the history of young earthism: In particular this distortion entails minimizing the role that Seventh Day Adventism and Adventist George McReady Price played in influencing the young earthism which came out of the 1960s. This distortion is starting to come to light in a web article on the Biologos web site by researcher Ted Davis. This article is entitled:

Ken Ham's Alternative History of Creationism.

It can be read here:


The question of Adventist George Price's role in the 1960s YEC revival has been raised before, particularly in a book called "Reason and Faith" by Christian authors Roger Forster and Paul Marsden. Let me quote a little more from my post which I've already linked to:

We often hear Christians referring to believers like James May (JM) and Andrew Holland (AH) as fundamentalists. However, I think you will find that JM and AH are part of a recent recrudescent trend that kicked in only in earnest from the sixties onward. This YEC trend is, in fact, more extreme than most Christians who identified themselves with R A Torrey’s twelve volume series published between 1910 and 1915 entitled “The Fundamentals”, a work that became the manual of the early 20th  century fundamentalists. In their book “Reason and Faith”, evangelical Christians Roger Forster and Paul Marston comment as followers on the original fundamentalists:

“A few points are worth spelling out in more detail here. First, by Morris own admission [That is Henry Morris a founding father of modern YEC], most founding fundamentalists accepted either the age-day or the gap-theory form of creationism and he [Morris] can cite none who were young-earth creationists….. Orr (1844-1913), who contended for a moderate Calvinist form of historical evangelicalism in Britain and America …asserts: ‘The Bible does not profess to anticipate the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Its design is …..to reveal God and His will and His purposes of grace to men, and, as involved in this, His general relation to the creative world….Natural things are taken as they are given, and spoken of in simple, popular language, as we ourselves every day speak of them.’” (P329)

Forster and Marston go on to trace a link between contemporary YEC and Adventist prophetess Ellen G White through the Adventist YEC apologist George McCready Price:

“What we find then, that Price’s [YEC] appeal was to his fellow believers in the prophetess Ellen White, to some Lutheran pastors without scientific training and to the very occasional irascible person with scientific training. The bulk of critics of evolution did not accept flood theory. Even the famous lawyer/politician William Jennings Bryan, who led the abortive attack on evolution in the infamous Scopes trial, or Tennessee Monkey Trail as it became known, was (by Morris’ own admission) an age-day theorist who rejected Price and accepted orthodox geology” (P331)

JM and AH will try to make out that they stand in the best traditions of the mainstream faith, but they actually have a more natural affinity with the pre-scientific days of the faith or to sectarian and cultic Christian figures.

The foregoing tends to confirm Davis research as to the importance of Price in recent young earthist history. According to Davis Ham's organisation are loathe to acknowledge the role of Price in their history.  Let me quote the conclusion of Davis article: 

Why do Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit? Is it because (like those Christians mentioned by Morris) they don’t want their movement associated with a Christian sect that is sometimes viewed with suspicion? Perhaps that is part of the picture, but I think there’s a much bigger reason behind it. The tangled history of modern creationism threatens the simplistic, highly inaccurate narrative AiG hammers into their followers: that Young-Earth Creationism is, and always has been, the “zero-compromise” option for all devout believers in the authority of the Bible. The real story, as we have seen, is much more complicated than AiG’s rhetoric indicates. The fact that Ham and AiG are so blatantly twisting the facts here, and are so critical of those like Duff (and Numbers) who are trying to set the record straight, does not reflect well on the credibility of their organization 

Davis' article is well worth a read: He shows that Henry Morris readily acknowledged his indebtedness to Price. In the light of Davis article I thought I'd do a little research of my own.

On page 330 of Reason and Faith Forster and Marston also provide evidence of Price's influence on Morris:

In actual fact it would seem that the origins of modern young earth creationism may be traced back to Ellen White (1827-1915), a prominent early leader and prophetess among Seventh-day Adventists. In her character studies 'Patriarchs and Prophets' she had written of the geological efficacy of the Flood, burying immense forests which turned to coal. As a young man, Adventist George McReady-Price (1870-1962) read these and although untrained in any area of science, began in 1906 (though mainly in the 1920s) a series of books advocating a form of Flood geology in which all strata were laid down in the Flood. Morris admits: 

"Almost the only writers to advocate literal recent creationism during this period, however, were to be found among Lutherans and Seventh-day Adventists - no doubt partly because their respective founders, Martin Luther and Ellen G White, had taught six-day creationism and a world wide flood.

On page 332 of the same book we find quotes by Henry Morris:

[Price's] tremendous  breadth of Knowledge in science and scripture, and his beautiful writing style made a profound impression on me when I first began studying these great theme's, back in the early 1940s.

In 1959 'almost all Christian colleges and seminaries' were going along with the evolutionary creationism of the Christian  American Scientific Affiliation, and 'the few who still rejected theistic evolution were either teaching progressive creation or ignoring the issue via the gap theory'

In my copy of Whitcombe and Morris' book "The Genesis Flood" George McReady Price's name appears four times in the index as follows:  

Price,  George McCready, 184, 185, 189, 211

On page 184 above there is further evidence of Morris being impressed by Price: Viz:

Long ago George McReady Price made an extensive study of areas of this type around the world. He discussed these in many books written by him on the general theme of deluge geology. Although his examples were very impressive and well-documented, his writings were largely ignored by geologists, ostensibly because of his largely self-made geological education.

Young earthists like Price are rightly largely ignored in the professional scientific journals of the academic establishment, just as Christian geocentrists and flat-earthers are rightly ignored; these movements are anti-science after all. (See here,  here, and here. However, if one is making a special study of these subjects in relation to religious belief that's a different matter). In the above quote written by Morris in the early 1960s we can see the precursors of right-wing antiestablishmentarianism being put in place; specifically the prototypes of the divide between private operators and the publicly owned and funded academic establishment. But what is particularly ironic is that according to Davis Price has not only been ignored by this academic establishment but AiG are now also largely ignoring Price!  In fact Davis claims that: 

....Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit

According to Davis Price's name can only be found nine times in the whole of the AiG website; that's in spite of the fact that Price was so influential upon to Henry Morris who in turn was so significant to the 1960s young earthist revival through the book "The Genesis Flood". To check out Davis conclusion I looked through a series of web articles by AiG writer Terry Mortenson on what he calls "The Scriptural Geologists". Links to these web articles can be found on Mortenson's introductory article here:

Title: British Scriptural Geologists of the First Half of the Nineteenth century
Link: https://answersingenesis.org/creation-scientists/profiles/historical-setting/

As Price lived 1870-1962 Mortenson, by only considering the first half of the nineteenth century, neatly provides a pretext for not mentioning Price: But why not? Given that Morris was so influenced by Price you might expect him to at least get a mention, but not so; neither Price nor Morris are mentioned. By strictly keeping his terms of reference focused on the first half of the nineteenth century Mortenson is avoiding what seems to be an embarrassing connection for AiG.  Below I list the Genesis literalists that Mortenson documents:

Granville Penn 1761-1844  * George Bug 1769-1851 * Andrew Ure 1778-1857 * Henry Cole 1792?-1858  * Thomas Gisborne 1758-1846  * Rev Samuel Best 1802-1873 * George Fairholme 1789-1846 * James Mellor Brown 1796?-1867 * Fowler De Johnsone  * John Murray 1786?-1851 * George Young 1777-1848

Mortenson says of the above: 

Largely overlooked by modern historians, the scriptural geologists in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century tenaciously defended Genesis 1–11 as a reliable historical account.

They are overlooked because they don't hold a significant place in the history of Christianity during the first half of the nineteenth century. They are the rearguard of the old pre-scientific order as they attempt to recast that order in the new scientific paradigm. And even today after the 1960s revival of Genesis literalism, as Ken Ham admits, young earthism is in a small minority among Christian academics. Also, it is very telling that none of the above "scriptural geologists" appear in the names index of my copy of "The Genesis Flood". That's most likely because Whitcombe and Morris research efforts were not based on the these "scriptural geologists". In fact it is quite likely that Whitcombe and Morris had never heard of them. In the first halve of the nineteenth century British Christianity was very much part of the establishment and yet in spite of that the above names have been ignored; this is strong evidence of their lack of historical significance among the Christian mainstream. They have been dragged up by Mortenson in order to divert AiG's attention from Price and the Adventists and this has the effect of conveying a false impression that AiG owes its credit mainly to these "scriptural geologist". It is important to stress "AiG's attention" here: Clearly AiG are not fooling people like Biologos. This diversion is about AiG trying to convince itself that it doesn't have any roots in Ellen White's Adventism. But in comparison with Morris and Price the "scriptural geologists" do not have a significant place in the historical canon of modern young earthism let alone the Christian mainstream. Of course, an AiG fundamentalist is unlikely to see establishment neglect of the so-called "scriptural geologists" as an outcome of historical proportion; rather they may well see it as willful and sinful neglect by secular historians and "compromising" Christian academics and portray this neglect as part of their mythical narrative of  conspiracy and persecution. 

In a blog post entitled "My Parents are to blame!" and dated 10th January Ken Ham complains that Mortenson's work on the scriptural geologists has also been ignored; well, for reason already given AiG research must accept its place: Fundamentalist research doesn't qualify as being on a par with professional academic science and should only be studied if one is engaged on a project to research fundamentalism itself.  In the said post Ham writes:


In regard to Duff’s somewhat sarcastic and at times demeaning language (really invoking ad hominem attacks on me), what I specifically wanted to comment on was the false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White.

Actually, what I believe concerning God’s Word beginning in Genesis is a result of my parents training me to stand boldly, uncompromisingly, and unashamedly on the authority of the Word of God. My parents hated compromise and did their best to uphold and honor the authority of God’s Word without in any way knowingly compromising God’s Word with fallible ideas of man. I was a creationist interested in teaching God’s Word in Genesis and opposing evolutionary ideas before I ever heard of Henry Morris or any others that Duff mentions who had an interest in the topic of origins, the Flood, and other issues in Genesis.

Dr. Duff is just following the distorted historical analysis of the openly agnostic, apostate Seventh Day Adventist historian, Ronald Numbers (whom he refers to in the article). Young-earth creation is not a novel view invented by Seventh Day Adventists. It was historic Christian orthodoxy until the 19th century when the millions of years myth was popularized by atheist and deist geologists (and some professing Christian geologists who ignored Genesis), as is documented in the first three chapters of Coming to Grips with Genesis. In the early 19th century, most of the church quickly compromised with millions of years, but the young-earth “scriptural geologists” at that time raised biblical, geological, and philosophical arguments against those old-earth ideas and reinterpretations of Scripture, as The Great Turning Point documents.

Duff also incorrectly implies that Adventist George McCready Price invented the young-earth view and that it was merely modified by Whitcomb and Morris (authors of The Genesis Flood). But Price most definitely did not. He was interpreting the geological record using “biblical glasses,” just like the scriptural geologists did and as modern young-earth creationists do.

Here Ham has not only completely missed the point but he also betrays his distorted grasp of history. Firstly, there ought to be no suggestion that young earthism is a novel idea invented by Seventh Day Adventists; rather Adventists, through people like Whitcombe and Morris, helped to popularise it. Nevertheless, there clearly has been a marginal sectarian background of  Genesis literalism since its 18th-19th century demise and Ham was presumably in touch with the ultras of this background via his parents. That in itself proves little and is a distraction from the main point: That point is that the Seventh day Adventists via Whitcombe and Morris became a significant factor in the 1960s revival of young earthism. As Ham points out using his usual spiritual ad hominem (Ken Ham is a liberal user of spiritual ad hominem)":

In the early 19th century, most of the church quickly compromised with millions of years,...

...thereby effectively admitting to the histiorically marginal status of the so-called scriptural geologists. Ham says that he got his beliefs from his parents - quite possibly true as there is always a background of fundamentalist ultras to be found as Morteson's articles suggest. But so what? That doesn't change the fact that it was Morris and by implication Price who were  highly instrumental in the 60s revival of young earthism. In the light of this we can see that the following statements by Ham are either false, misleading or distortions:


FALSE CLAIM BY HAM: ...the false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White.

MISLEADING CLAIM BY HAM: I was a creationist interested in teaching God’s Word in Genesis and opposing evolutionary ideas before I ever heard of Henry Morris or any others that Duff mentions who had an interest in the topic of origins, the Flood, and other issues in Genesis.

HAM'S DISTORTED STRAWMAN (BORDERING ON THE FALLACIOUS): Duff also incorrectly implies that Adventist George McCready Price invented the young-earth view and that it was merely modified by Whitcomb and Morris (authors of The Genesis Flood). But Price most definitely did not.

Did Price play an important role in the the young earthist revivals?  Price most definitely did!

I think we see here how modern Christian fundamentalists, through their insistence on anti-science concepts such as young earth, geocentricity and flat earth, have been rejected by both Christian and non-Christian academics alike and thereby these fundamentalists have backed themselves into an anti-establishmentarian culture. This in turn has made them a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theorism, so-called "libertarianism"** and Trumpkinism - an extreme example being professional Christian conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Fundamentalist "science" doesn't deserve to position itself as something on a par with contemporary mainstream Christian academia. It is, in fact, a throw back to pre-industrial Christianity. 

Footnotes:
* I found out later that the Jehovah's witnesses are not young earth although anti-evolution. As for the Brethren and Amish I haven't been able to get final confirmation either way.

** Libertarianism, so called, which affects to be the enemy of "oppressive big government" is a close relation of conspiracy theorism: For those marginalized fundamentalist communities and those disaffected with liberal government it is all too easy to start imagining government as the seat of malign Machiavellian conspirators. But I'm as cynical about phrases like "Small government libertarianism" as I am the "Dictatorship of the proletariat"; they are slogans used by disaffected & marginalised idealists, slogans which are then easily exploited by the power hungry as they elbow aside their retinue of starry eyed idealists and place themselves on the seat of power. 

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