Daniel in the Lyin’s Den

Yesterday I found myself. Online, that is. I was cited ambivalently as “some guy” in the Uncommon Descent blog comments, noting my Creationism’s White Box podcast. For those unfamiliar with Uncommon Descent, this is a blog hosting many posts by William Dembski, a leading creationist. Finding myself there, I instantly recalled that Daniel was never masticated in the lion’s den.

Not being one to judge without good cause, I read the critique with care. It read: “Some guy I read in the last few days here [link to my podcast] has suggested (to the approval of a few clerics) that creationism is an early 20th century phenomenon but all he’s really done is conflate creationism with the Creationist movement that grew out of, or was associated with, the publication of ‘The Fundamentals’.” Since academics like to split hairs (and even atoms), I thought I’d use today’s post to explain, in History 101 style, the problems with this assertion.

Creationism, like any other human enterprise, has a history. Christianity was born in a literalistic age, of sorts. Early Christians took the Hebrew Bible (pretty much The Bible in those days) literally. Belief in a flat earth and mythic beings still predominated the upper cortices of early brains too. My detractor could have been correct had the conflationism charges been laid at my door prior to the Enlightenment. The fact is that everyone born since the eighteenth century (academically speaking) has had access to science and the facts we’ve ascertained about our world. One of those sets of facts has had to do with evolution, and another with the history of the Bible. Interestingly, both of these sets of facts coincide perfectly: biological evolution took place and the Bible was a product of its environment. These truths have been available for centuries for any who would look at them.

The veracity of this statement is attested by the nearly universal acceptance of evolutionary theory by Christians in the western world in the late nineteenth century. Creationism, as such, did not exist at this time. It was in reaction to a number of social and theological factors that Creationism first hatched around the turn of the twentieth century. It was a new bird (I’ll avoid saying “hopeful monster”). Any claim that it was a default version of Christianity is strictly Retro — any such claim is tantamount to declaring that the Enlightenment never happened. I’m not a supporter of revisionist history, so I just can’t accept this flimsy construct. Fact is, Creationism is relatively new.

There is a great bibliography out there for anyone interested in getting the actual facts. Start with Ronald Number’s The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (University of California Press, 1992) and read on. Otherwise, feel free to believe in a flat earth — you can find good proof of this in central Illinois or Kansas.

3 thoughts on “Daniel in the Lyin’s Den

  1. A broader exposition of the underlying point you are making here is well expounded in a new (slim and easy to read) book by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, In Praise of Doubt. The issue is the presence of real choice. As soon as it’s there the way we look at something changes. There was no “belief” in divine creation 2000 years ago; it was an automatic assumption, part of the way the world worked. It was only after there was an actual choice (in the form of a coherent alternative) that the issue of whether you had to believe it or not arose. As you rightly say it’s at that point we get the brand new ideology of creationism. The book uses a nice illustration about Empress Eugenie and Queen Victoria to show the distinction.


    • Steve,

      Many thanks for the suggestion! Peter Berger’s work is always worth paying attention to — I’ll locate a copy soon, I hope. This is an excellent explanation of what I was trying to say!


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