Required Reading: Meet Tim LaHaye

Do you know Tim LaHaye?

LaHaye

LaHaye

If you’re interested in conservative educational thinking in the United States, you should.

Steve Fouse at AliveReligion recently offered a helpful introduction to LaHaye’s enormous influence among conservative and fundamentalist circles.

As Fouse points out, arguments about conservatism that seek to explain away its popularity miss the boat on LaHaye.  Fouse takes Thomas Frank to task for making such oversimplistic assumptions.  Fouse prefers the explanations of historians such as Darren Dochuk.  Dochuk’s more complex perspective fits better the career of a fundamentalist Renaissance Man like LaHaye.

Fouse notes LaHaye’s wide-ranging interests, from LaHaye’s role in the Institute for Creation Research, to his best-selling apocalyptic novels, to his evangelical sex guides.

Fouse mentions LaHaye’s central interest in educational issues, from sex ed to creationism.  If anything, Fouse downplays the influence LaHaye has had in late twentieth-century educational conservatism.

Fouse could have mentioned, for instance, LaHaye’s role in arguing for increased phonics instruction.  In his 1983 book The Battle for the Public Schools, LaHaye argued that abandoning phonics could be part of a massive conspiracy to “reduce the standard of living in our country so that someday the citizens of America will voluntarily merge with the Soviet Union and other countries in a one-world socialist state”   (46).   Disappearing phonics instruction showed the extent to which Christian America had been undermined.  It served as a canary in the secular coalmine.  “Some modern educators,” LaHaye insisted, “use look-and-say instead of phonics because the material enables them to secularize our once God-conscious school system” (50).

Similarly, Fouse did not mention LaHaye’s ardent activism in favor of more traditionalism in US History instruction.  In LaHaye’s 1987 Faith of Our Founding Fathers, LaHaye argued that the nation had endured a “Deliberate Rape of History” (5). Between 1954 and 1976, LaHaye insisted, a generation of “left-wing scholars for hire” worked for secularizing organizations such as the Carnegie Foundation (6).  Such authors systematically distorted the truth of America’s Christian heritage.  Thus, in order to find the true history of America’s founding, readers needed to look to older books, written by those “closest to the events they describe” (6). LaHaye insisted on the Christian beliefs of the Founding Fathers, demonstrating that “most were deeply religious, all had a great respect for the Christian traditions of the colonies, and all were significantly influenced in their thinking by the Bible, moral values, and their church” (30).

Thanks to Steve for offering his post about this important figure.  All of us who hope to understand conservatism in American education should check it out.


 

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Inter-faith Creationism?

It is no longer surprising to see deeply conservative religious thinkers reach across religious lines to work together.  Could we soon see effective Muslim-Christian coalitions to support the teaching of creationism?

Perhaps as a model, interfaith creationists could consider Robert George and Hamza Yusuf’s collaboration.  The two leading intellectuals, one Catholic, one Muslim, co-wrote an open letter to hotels, requesting the removal of pornography from television options.

Even more apt, we could consider the fact that American creationism has always used the work of fellow creationist writers from different religious traditions.  In the 1920s, as my grad-school mentor Ronald Numbers argued, Catholic writers such as Alfred McCann were favorites among ferociously Protestant creationists.  More recently, this tradition has continued with the creationist embrace of Jonathan Wells’ work.

Could this tradition of creationist ecumenism work to bridge the Christian-Muslim divide?

There is no doubt that both religions harbor fervent creationists.  A recent article in The Economist detailed recent creationist developments among Islamic populations.  The article cited a study by Salman Hameed of Muslim attitudes to evolution.  That study found that 20% of Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan embraced evolution.  In Egypt, only 8% did.

As The Economist article describes, “controversial” Turkish evangelist Adnan Oktar, known as Harun Yahya, has long conducted an energetic creationist campaign in Muslim circles, including a series of conferences in the USA.

Of course, the conservative theology behind both Islamic and Christian creationism creates some barriers.  Orthodox religious thinkers on both sides will be wary of working with people from opposing traditions.

But there has also been a long tradition of cooperation.  As Ronald Numbers pointed out in The Creationists, in the mid-1980s, the Institute for Creation Research received a telephone call from the minister of education of Turkey, requesting teaching materials (Creationists, 2006, pg. 421).  In 1992, a Turkish creationism conference invited ICR stalwarts Duane Gish and John Morris as keynote speakers.  Professor Numbers also describes the founding in 1990 of the Turkish Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV).  In Numbers’ words, “For years BAV maintained a cozy relationship with Christian young-earth creationists, feting them at conferences, translating their books, and carrying their message to the Islamic world”  (Creationists, 2006, pg. 425).

For a long generation, then, Muslim and Christian creationists have worked together.  The question is not whether such cooperation can happen.  Rather, the question is whether and when these efforts will gather enough support to become a major influence on the politics and policies of creationism and evolution education.

 

 

Evolution for Christians

How are evangelical Christians supposed to understand evolution?  This morning at BioLogos, evangelical scientist Dennis Venema begins a series that hopes to explain why evolutionary ideas do not conflict with a Bible-based evangelical faith.

One of the trickiest aspects of understanding American creationism is that there are potentially as many “creationisms” as there are creationists.  Many outsiders like me tend to use the term “creationist” as a catch-all term, when in fact the differences among and between types of creationism are perhaps the key to bridging many of our evolution-creation culture-war divides.

Some “creationists,” for instance, embrace the young-earth creationism promulgated by organizations such Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research.

Others might find an old-earth version more compelling, one such as that defended by Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe.

Yet others might prefer the big-tent creationism of the intelligent-design movement, promoted most assiduously by the Discovery Institute.

Still others might prefer the sort on offer by Dennis Venema in this series.  BioLogos calls its brand of creationism “evolutionary creationism.”  In general, BioLogos’ creationism embraces the tenets of evolutionary science.  Such evolution, many evolutionary creationists insist, is simply God’s method of creation.
I’m looking forward to following Venema’s series.  Venema describes it this way:

“The goal of this course is straightforward: to provide evangelical Christians with a step-by-step introduction to the science of evolutionary biology. This will provide benefits beyond just the joy of learning more about God’s wonderful creation. An understanding of the basic science of evolution is of great benefit for reflecting on its theological implications, since this reflection can then be done from a scientifically-informed perspective. From time to time we might comment briefly on some issues of theological interest (and suggest resources for those looking to explore those issues further), but for the most part, we’re going to focus on the science.”     

 

The Bible in America: Thunderbolt, Part II: Schempp

If we listen to the voices of Fundamentalist America, we might conclude that public schools in America are terrible places to be.  Twenty years ago, John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research warned that public schools had become “aggressively anti-Christian.”  The problems, Morris declared, went beyond the obvious:

Open drug sales and use, ethnic gang wars, and student/teacher violence are easily recognized problems, but how about the more subtle attempts at “values clarification,” or the encouragement of experimentation in “sex education” classes, or the inclusion of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, or easy access to abortions through school clinics.

Other conservative Christian activists agree.  Thirty years ago, Jerry Combee wrote,

the public schools have grown into jungles where, of no surprise to Christian educators, the old Satanic nature ‘as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’ (I Peter 5:8).  Students do well to stay alive, much less learn.

More recently, activists involved in the Exodus Mandate have warned that public schools “are no more reformable than Soviet collective farms. . . . Conservative school reformers are a lot like Civil War reenactors who specialize in Pickett’s Charge.  They never take the high ground; they never really win.”

This staggering decline in the quality of public schools began, many conservatives insist, when the US Supreme Court kicked God out of schools in 1962 and 1963.  In 1962, as we’ve seen, the court decreed that states could not impose a non-sectarian prayer in public schools.  More devastating to many conservative Christians, in 1963 the court ruled in the decision Abington Township School District v. Schempp that even Bible reading and the Lord’s Prayer had no legitimate place in those schools.

Despite what many outsiders might think, the world of conservative evangelical Protestantism in America is truly kaleidoscopic, to borrow the phrase of religious historian Timothy L. Smith.  Different schools of thought among Bible believers disagree vehemently on questions of politics, culture, and theology.  Ask twenty “fundamentalists” what the Bible means and you’ll get at least twenty different answers.  Yet when it came to the Schempp decision, a variety of voices from around this diverse world all agreed.  This decision meant not only that God had been kicked out of public schools, but that Christianity itself had been kicked out of American public life.

For instance, in the immediate aftermath of the Schempp decision, separatist Presbyterian fundamentalist Carl McIntire still hoped that concerted political action might overturn it.  McIntire helped organize “Project America” to press politicians to adopt a Constitutional amendment in favor of prayer and Bible reading in public schools.  At first, McIntire repeatedly stressed his feeling that huge majorities of Americans would support such an amendment.  After a bitter political fight, however, McIntire acknowledged that it was hopeless.  Writers in McIntire’s Christian Beacon began to emphasize the notion that their beliefs made them a beleaguered minority in American life.  In 1965 one writer warned that America was “moving farther and farther from its Christian heritage.”  Another predicted that soon mainstream Americans would resort to “repression, restriction, harassment, and then outright persecution . . . in secular opposition to Christian witness.”

Other evangelical voices made similar about-faces in the aftermath of Schempp.  Baptist fundamentalist publisher John R. Rice reflected that the relationship between evangelical faith and public schooling had changed drastically.  He recounted for his readers how things had been radically different in the not-too-distant past:

Once when I was engaged in revival services in the Second Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I was invited to speak in every high school in the city and in the principal grade schools, both white and colored, and was gladly received.  The only people offended were those involved in the few elementary schools where I could not come for lack of time. 

Such halcyon days, however, had been destroyed by the cowardly Supreme Court.  Worst of all, Rice concluded, the court seemed to have the support of “the public sentiment.”

This sense of a drastic and sudden shift in the relationship between evangelical belief and public life was widely shared among all different sorts of conservative evangelical Protestants in the aftermath of Schempp.  One writer in the Moody Bible Institute’s Moody Monthly, for example, concluded that evangelicals must retreat to play the role of God’s “witnesses and lights in a dark place” in mainstream American culture.

Similarly, the intellectuals at Christianity Today articulated their shock and dismay of the implications of Schempp. At first, the editors believed that America’s “devout masses” still supported school prayer.  As did other evangelicals, however, they concluded bitterly that “In the schools secularization has triumphed.”  Instead of relying on devout masses, the editors soon hoped only to energize the “believing remnant” in America to support Bible-reading and prayer in public schools.

As we’ll see in future posts, the Schempp decision might not have had the drastic impact many of these writers assumed at the time.  Nevertheless, the degree of unanimity among a wide variety of conservative evangelical Protestants is remarkable.  From separatist fundamentalists to more ecumenical neo-evangelicals, prominent voices all agreed that this momentous decision had done more than just kicked God out of public schools.  In their opinions, Schempp had forced a sudden recalculation of the role of Bible believers in all of American public life.

Coming soon: Thunderbolt, Part III: What thunderbolt?

Anti-Evolution III: Science

ANTI EVOLUTION III: SCIENCE

Anti-evolutionists often assert scientific arguments against evolution.  This trend grew especially
strong in the later part of the twentieth century.  At that time, anti-evolutionists associated with the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego realized that their ideas would never be allowed into public school classrooms as religion.  But they could be allowed if they were used as alternative scientific explanations.  The science of creation science was born.

I personally am not convinced by these arguments.  There is plenty of evidence that those who know this stuff best—biologists, geologists, etc.—find these arguments baseless.  Nevertheless, I will attempt to summarize some of their arguments here.  As with the rest of these posts, I will not attempt to convince those already dedicated to an evolutionary worldview.  Rather, I only hope to show that there are reasons why anti-evolutionists hold their beliefs.  They do not have to be ignorant or crazy to do so.  Just as an undergraduate college student in a secular university learns about the geologic ages of the earth and the process by which one form of life evolved from another, so a college student at some religious colleges will learn that the earth was formed in the past 10,000 years and all life forms on it were created by divine fiat.  Those forms, the student will learn, developed according to kind.  Just as the student at the secular school does not have to be ignorant or crazy in order to accept the idea of an ancient earth and a long, directionless process of
evolution, so a student at a religious school does not have to be ignorant or crazy to learn an alternative science.
It is only the exceptional student at either school—usually one with a previous intellectual commitment to a different understanding of the origins of life—that will really question the big story she or he is being taught.

Another reason to cut these anti-evolution scientific arguments plenty of intellectual slack is because they are forced to argue in terms that do not fit their basic underlying ideas.  Imagine that the current mainstream scientific understanding of the origins of life had to justify itself in
Biblical terms.  It would be difficult.  So those who believe in a young earth are forced to make their scientific cases in language that has developed to explain an ancient earth.

One of the oldest scientific arguments against the notion of evolution through natural selection has been that of the development of complex organs.  This case was made long before the notion of evolution became the dominant scientific paradigm and it continued among anti-evolutionists throughout the twentieth century.  And it has been attacked by evolutionary scientists as unsatisfactory.  But for those of us who are not trained in evolutionary science, the argument makes intuitive sense.  I, for one, can’t see what’s wrong with it, and that makes me think that sensible, intelligent, rational people trained in this sort of argument have some grounds for opposing the notion of evolution.

If we understand the mechanism of natural selection to be one in which large-scale evolutionary change happens as an accumulation of tiny random beneficial mutations, then the evolution of complex organs is hard to account for.  Consider Darwin’s tentative explanation of the evolution of the eye, for instance.  He suggested that some part of an early animal’s skin would develop light sensitivity.  Then that sensitive spot would develop the parts of an eye that allowed it to see things.

How could that work?
With any complex organ, there would not be much of a selection advantage until the entire organ developed.  That is, it would not help a blind frog to mutate just a retina, without the rest of the eye.  It would not pass on its genes for retina-having at a greater rate than those blind frogs who had no such genes.  The Darwinian story of a long slow growth of beneficial mutations, even if there was only the tiniest chance of such mutations, falls apart with organs that would need several distinct parts to develop at the same time in order to offer any evolutionary benefit.

So, in order for our blind frog to be able to pass along his genes at a higher rate, there would need to be an impossibly complex mutation.  This would be a comic-book mutation, one beyond what even evolutionists posit as possible.  Our frog would need to mutate an entire, functioning eye that allowed it to see.  All at once.  The chances against even the tiniest advantageous mutation are so small it requires millions of years of accumulating mutations for evolution to make sense.  How can we believe that a complex organ would simply spring into existence?  It strains credulity.

More modern evolution doubters have offered more subtle versions of this complex-organ  argument.  Biochemist Michael Behe has examined the process of blood clotting and suggested that such processes represent what he calls an “irreducible complexity.”  A mutation might be
possible that gave an animal one part of this clotting mechanism.  But having only one part of this package would not offer any evolutionary benefit.  And the notion that all of the many interlocking biological parts necessary to produce such an effect could have simply happened by chance all at
the same time are simply too far beyond the range  of the possible to convince any rational observer.

Consider another example.  Evolutionists will tell you that one of the strongest pieces of evidence
for organic evolution is that once you start looking at evidence, it all confirms the hypothesis.  But if you start with a different hypothesis, you can also find all sorts of confirming evidence.  For example, instead of assuming that evolution created life on earth, assume instead a young earth,
less than 10,000 years old.  If you begin with this idea, it requires a very different understanding of the development of life forms.  There is no time for dinosaurs to have had their millennia, then died out.  If such creatures existed, they would have to have lived at the same time as humans.
We would predict some record of the sightings of such creatures by humans.

That prediction, one could say, has been repeatedly borne out.  By people from different cultures
in different centuries.  The evidence has been right in front of our faces, but because scientists have assumed an ancient earth, they have been blinded to it.  The obvious evidence is all the reports of giant lizards.  In Europe and Asia, the so-called ‘dragons’ have been reported by credible witnesses for centuries.  The fact that such dinosaurs died out, apparently, before the modern era does not mean that they did not coexist with humanity for a long time.

The bar of proof does not need to be very high.  The point is that the idea of a young earth can find confirming evidence from history and nature.  It can support itself with arguments about complex organs and blood-clotting mechanisms.  It does not require, as some evolutionists assert, a willful ignorance or dementia.  Just because those trained in an evolutionary worldview do not understand or agree with the scientific arguments in favor of a creationist worldview doesn’t mean that creationists are ignorant or crazy.   It only means that they are committed to a different understanding of nature and of the nature of humanity.

 

ANTI-EVOLUTION III: FURTHER READING:

Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, 2nd ed. (New York: Free Press, 2006); Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2006); Duane T. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! (El Cajon, California: Institute for Creation Research), 2006); John C. Whitcomb Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis
Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications
(Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966); Ken Ham, The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved! A Biblical View of These Amazing Creatures (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2008).

Pro-Evolution III: Sects and Science

EVOLUTION III: SECTS AND SCIENCE

 

Perhaps most troubling of all is the shallowness of anti-evolutionists’ reasons for rejecting evolution.  It makes a great deal of sense to reject
evolution if it is a simple choice between religion and evolution.  Faith makes all sorts of demands, and spurning a scientific idea seems relatively easy.  Especially if that rejection is seen as a requirement of faith.  And for a lot of evolution skeptics, that is apparently part of their rationale.

But rejecting evolution as a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy is extremely problematic.  For one thing, many ardent and devout Christians do not agree that they must oppose evolution in order to be faithful Christians.  They believe in an all-powerful God who uses evolution as his method of
creation.  To insist that one cannot be a Christian if one accepts the fact of evolution means rejecting the faith of all those people.

Even more disturbing, the idea that evolution must be rejected by faithful Christians has shallow and erratic roots.  Not until about 100 years after Darwin’s publication of Origin of Species did Bible-believing Christians largely agree on the notion that the idea of an ancient earth with long periods of evolution was anathema.  Before that, many fundamentalist leaders theorized that the “days” described in Genesis could represent long geologic periods in which life forms developed.  Some subscribed to the notion of an enormous temporal gap between the events described in one part of Genesis, when God created light, and other parts, when he created humanity.  During that gap, these early fundamentalists believed, life could have developed in an evolutionary way.  The important point to these Bible-believing, fundamentalist Christians was that God  intervened directly in time to create forms of life, especially human life.  They did not see a conflict with their religious beliefs and the scientific observations that the planet had lived through long geologic ages.

The idea that true Christian faith only had room for a young earth began among small sects, not originally among the majority of Bible-believing Christians.  Most of the first generations of fundamentalists in the 1920s through the 1950s did not agree that the earth had been created in the last 10,000 years or so, in pretty much its present form.  They did not agree that the fact of a worldwide flood—Noah’s flood—constituted a test of
true belief.  The story of how those extreme ideas came to be considered central tenets of Biblical Christianity shows how tenuous and ultimately unnecessary they are.  It was not always the case that fundamentalist Christianity required belief in a young earth and a literal worldwide flood.  Once we can understand that such beliefs represent a triumph of a certain sect, we can see why evolution does not need to be rejected by devout Christians as a whole.

Ellen G. White: Vision of the End, Vision of Beginning

In the 1920s, when these questions of evolution and Christian belief erupted in the first of America’s twentieth-century culture wars, many leading evolution opponents believed that the earth could be ancient.  At least, they did not see a young earth as one of the bedrock notions of their Biblical faith.  William Bell Riley, for instance, allowed that God took ages to create the earth and its life.  Riley insisted that there was not “an intelligent fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing.”  We can’t doubt Riley’s opposition to evolution.  In 1919, he organized the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, the first fundamentalist umbrella
organization, to combat the teaching of theological modernism and evolution.  He led the fight for anti-evolution laws in the 1920s.  Evolution, for Riley, meant the teaching of atheism.  He dedicated his career to stopping it dead.  But that did not mean that Riley believed in a young earth.  He took a backseat to no one in his fundamentalism.  But he did not think that it was a requirement to insist that the earth could only be 6,000 years old or so.

Similarly with William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan may be remembered best for his role in the 1925 Scopes trial.  In that trial, Bryan led the prosecution of John Scopes for teaching evolution and breaking Tennessee’s new anti-evolution law.  The trial was remembered—badly—in the play and film Inherit the Wind.  In the movie, Bryan comes off as a bitter, malevolent, ignorant man.  Bryan was none of those things.  He had run for President three times as the candidate of the Democratic Party.  He had been Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.  He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a devout Bible-believing Presbyterian.  He lent his talents and prestige to the very
successful 1920s campaign to get evolution out of America’s public schools.  Like Riley, Bryan thought evolution was bad science.  He thought it
was a way to confuse young people and force them to doubt their Biblical faith.  Once students were told that life had evolved in a random process, Bryan believed, they would necessarily doubt the fact that God had created life in its present forms.  But Bryan also believed that God might have done His creating over long geologic ages.  Bryan believed that they “days” referred to in Genesis could refer to millions of years.  Over those millennia, Bryan believed, God could have created life in all its forms.  Any other belief would run up against the scientific evidence for the age of the earth.  Bryan fought for the Bible.  Bryan fought against evolution.  But Bryan did not believe that he had to believe in a young earth.

In the 1920s, only a minority of evolution opponents insisted on the belief in a young earth as an article of faith.  Fundamentalist geologist George McCready Price led the charge.  In the 1920s, Price wrote, lectured, and debated tirelessly against evolution supporters.  He built a reputation as the leading anti-evolution scientist.  And Price insisted that one of the central tenets of his faith was the notion of a literal six-day creation, without long gaps for the earth to develop.  Price demanded belief in a literal worldwide flood and a young earth.  As opposed to his Bible-believing allies, Price insisted that adherence to such ideas formed the foundation of true orthodoxy.

Price studied the earth’s crust to find evidence.  The striated levels in exposed cliffs showed most geologists that the earth had formed in long ages of sedimentation and crust upheavals.  Price saw something different.  Price explained the striation in rocks as proof that they had been formed in a huge flood.  The fossils embedded in those rocks came from plants and animals trapped by the rising waters.  It was the flood, in Price’s geology, that explained the complicated crust.

Price did not just stumble upon his beliefs.  He was a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  For members of that faith, the idea of a young earth and a literal worldwide flood really were requirements.  One could not be an orthodox believer and still doubt such notions.  But the rub for non-Seventh-day Adventists comes from understanding the roots of such orthodoxy.  It did not come from the Bible itself, but rather from the prophetic experience of the denomination’s founder, Ellen G. White.

White began her prophetic career as a follower of William Miller.  Miller had predicted the date of the coming apocalypse around 1843 or 1844.
His predictions proved so popular among his neighbors in Vermont and New York that he published them for wider circulation.  Soon, he took his lecture on the road, presenting his biblical case for 1843 as the end date predicted in the Book of Daniel.

Thousands were convinced.  The Millerite revival grew from a local curiosity to a national movement.  At first, Miller was hesitant to give an exact date for the Second Coming.  But he believed that the world must end by March 21, 1844.  Some believers sold their farms, wrapped up their earthly concerns, and donned white robes to await Jesus Christ.  Famously, some even sat on the roofs of their barns and watched the sun rise on March 22.  On that morning, things appeared much as before.  No Jesus.

Some gave up.  Others listened to a new date—a correction William Miller agreed to—that said the true date must be in April.  Those must have
been anxious weeks.  Not wishing to be caught out like the foolish virgins, but now maybe a little skeptical that these predictions had the true power of prophecy, Millerites still waited.  After April 18, Miller himself gave up.  He apologized for his mistake but did not refute the notion that the world would soon be coming to an end.  He merely admitted that his calculations of its date must have been in error.

Ellen White did not give up.  In 1844 she was a young woman, convinced by the power of prophecy.  She had been converted by William Miller when she was still a young girl of twelve.  His predictions of judgment and apocalypse had terrified her, and she had spent nights crying, sweating, and shaking in fear of her body and soul’s suffering and damnation.  She was convinced.  But when Miller’s date came and went, she wasn’t sure what to believe.  Like many Millerites, her answer was to pray.  Unlike most of the disappointed ones, though, White’s prayers brought her outside of herself.  She was entranced in visions of heaven and earth.  She began seeing divine histories of the future scrolled out for her with the universe as a canvas.  She described the experience as being surrounded by a bright light.  She would be swept out of her body and hear the commanding voice of Jesus as God, telling her the story of the universe’s past and future.  She was surrounded by clouds of angels celebrating her divine experience.  At first, she kept her experiences to herself.  But she knew that could not last.  Jesus himself had directed her to share what she had been told.  She had become a prophet, equal in power and vision to those whose inspiration had created the Bible itself.  It was not intended for her alone, but for all humanity, to make known the truth of life.

White listened, and spoke.  She spread the word of her visions with the help of her new husband.  She described what God had shown her, which included the creation of the earth in six literal days.

Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) will tell you that White’s prophecies aren’t the same as the Bible.  Although she was inspired by the same power that inspired the Biblical authors, and White’s writings are authoritative among SDA believers, they do not make up a new Bible.  But the visions
she described, along with the implications for life and faith, still had the power to dictate behavior and belief among her followers.

Among those followers were the founders of big food companies, like Kellogg’s and Little Debbie’s.  The dietary restrictions that resulted from White’s prophecies meant that SDA members could not eat lard, so a Little Debbie’s snack will not have the same lardy filling as a Hostess Twinkie.  They also led Mr. Kellogg to experiment with healthy new foods, including by accident the original corn flake.

More important here, one of White’s visions included the creation of the universe and life.  White described her vision of God’s direct creation in six literal days.  She placed the date either 6000 or 4000 years before her writing.

Just as SDA members needed lard-free food, they also needed to believe in a literal six-day creation.  Not six “ages,” in which the words of Genesis stood for long geologic ages.  Not one day, then a long geologic gap, then five more days.  For Seventh-day Adventists, White’s vision affirmed a literal six-day creation, not very far in the past.

One of those followers was George McCready Price.  In the 1920s, when other Bible-believing fundamentalists believed in the possibility that the earth had existed for long ages before God created humans, Price campaigned for a much more radical kind of opposition to evolution.  He had to.  Ellen G. White attested to it.  To do otherwise would have been unthinkable for any Seventh-day Adventist, even if it would not have been for other conservative Christians.

As so often happens, Price’s unshakeable commitment to the notion of a recent, literal six-day creation carried the day.  Other fundamentalists were open to the idea of a young earth, but they didn’t insist on it.  Price did.  In addition to debating every prominent evolutionist he could find, Price helped establish the Deluge Geology Society.  As the name implies, this group was committed to the notion of a literal worldwide flood
that was responsible for forming the apparent layering of the earth’s crust.  This flood could explain the fossil record of extinct species.

When new generations of Christians wanted to find out more about evolution, it was the Deluge Geology Society that seemed the most active
and ardent opponent to the idea.  Part of that opposition, the new generations learned, must mean a literal six-day creation.  It must include a real worldwide flood.  And it must mean that the earth was young, no older than ten thousand years.

One of this new generation of anti-evolutionists was Henry Morris.  Morris was not SDA, but as he explored the possibilities of opposition to evolution, he found the most congenial home in Price’s Deluge Geology Society.  As he developed his ideas about the age of the earth and the origins of life, he did so under the influence of Price’s ideas.

In 1961, Morris published his own anti-evolution bombshell.  Along with John Whitcomb, another non-SDA anti-evolutionist, Morris explained his ideas about creationism in The Genesis Flood.  This book became the inspiration for a new generation of evolution opponents.  Unlike the folks that started the fight in the 1920s, this generation agreed on some basic ideas: the earth was no older than 10,000 years; it had been created in six literal days as described in Genesis; and it had been destroyed in a literal worldwide flood.  Most important, The Genesis Flood
made a convincing and influential argument that all of these beliefs were central to Biblical Christian orthodoxy.  As had not been the case for earlier Biblical Christians, the new generation, readers of Morris and Whitcomb’s book, believed that these fairly radical notions had always been central to true faith.

They had not.  They developed in large part from the visions of Ellen White.  They were not part of the ancient orthodoxy of Christian belief, but rather of the influence of one energetic SDA scientist, George McCready Price.

That matters.

Understanding the sectarian roots of this kind of anti-evolutionism will show that such opposition is much newer and peripheral to Christian belief than its advocates will admit.  But here’s another twist.  Even for those anti-evolutionists who dispute this line of argument, the story of Ellen G. White’s prophecies tells us something about religious opposition to the idea of evolution.  That is, many earnest anti-evolutionists could say that this SDA history has nothing at all to do with their anti-evolution beliefs.  They could say that Ellen White’s visions may agree with their belief in a young earth, a six-day creation, and a worldwide flood, but that they were convinced by arguments that came directly from the Bible, not from White’s prophecies.  That wider biblical argument, after all, was the one laid out in Morris and Whitcomb’s Genesis Flood.  Fair enough.
Just because Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto that governments should impose a graduated income tax does not mean that every such tax is a communist law.

But here’s the kicker.
Non-SDA anti-evolutionists do not care much about Ellen White’s prophecies.  Her vision of God’s work does not compel them to fight against the teaching of evolution.  For those outside of the SDA tradition, White’s prophecies are irrelevant.  They may even be blasphemous, assuming the role of something near the Bible itself.  In any case, those who believe in the Bible are not generally motivated by anything White may have seen.  It makes no part of their anti-evolution activism.

For these non-SDA anti-evolutionists, I suggest the following mental experiment.  Imagine your feelings about the prophecies of Ellen White.  You do not find her visions compelling.  You do not think they should be guiding public policy.  That feeling is the feeling of many Americans, Christian and non-Christian, about all Bible-based opposition to evolution.  Most Americans do not agree that the Bible dictates a belief in a literal special creation.  Lots of people do not care what the Bible says at all, the same way many anti-evolutionists don’t care about Ellen G. White.  Is it fair to base our public education system on ideas that are only meaningful for one segment of the population?  No matter what proportion of the population hold that belief?  The answer is obvious.  No sectarian belief ought to dictate public policy.  It should be left to private individuals to promote their particular beliefs, whether that be the vegetarianism and flood geology of a Seventh-day Adventist or the transubstantiation beliefs of a Catholic.  None of those beliefs should guide the planning of public school education.  Keeping evolution out of schools, or even watering it down by teaching it side by side with the notion of special creation, takes those sectarian beliefs and elevates them to the notion of universal doctrine.  It is not fair to those who do not come from that tradition, whether they are a minority or a majority.

 

EVOLUTION III: FURTHER READING

John C. Whitcomb Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966); Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, expanded edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006); William V. Trollinger Jr., God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).