Creation and Evolution Before the Civil War

Edward Hitchcock’s ideas about creation and evolution before the Civil War shaped American religious thought until the Space Race.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Comments and questions are encouraged. Hitchcock was one of the most important American scientists of his era, yet he isn’t exactly a household name. I wonder: had you heard of him, before reading any of the posts in this series? In some cases I know the answer is yes, but I’m curious.

@TedDavis Human nature plays such a role in the creation vs. evolution dichotomy… Especially the “resistance to change” part of human nature. How does anyone relearn, reprocess, and resynthesize a deeply held belief system without going through something like an existential crisis? :smile:

I think that is one thing that we often underestimate when we (collective “we”) are trying to integrate new scientific information into the mainstream.

So, how do we frame the conversation in order to take advantage of human nature, rather than always fighting it? In my view, one piece is to appeal to our innate curiosity. Making science more knowable to the general public is a huge challenge right now because there is It is overwhelming. This is an AIG strength… They are very good at making things seem “knowable.” They stay on topic, with clearly defined parameters for each article. Their science isn’t good, they quote mine often, and they use ad hominem attacks and set up straw men regularly. But they are readable.

We also need to give people permission to question. Religion is rooted in unquestioning belief. But good theology sees through that veil. Unshakeable faith is undoubtedly a goal for Christians. But, the Bible shows us a God that allowed people to wrestle with Him, lament, question. It is a thin faith that can’t hold up under scrutiny. The God of the universe will always hold up under scrutiny.

Maybe we need to remind people of that. I think Biologos is doing a good job of getting that message out.


I just realized I rambled on without pulling myself back to the topic of this thread:)

Something that came to mind as I was reading your article, Ted, is that watching this debate from a historical perspective can help us see roadblocks that we encounter today and give us insights into human nature. So we see Hitchcock, an intelligent guy, fighting with a theory that flies in the face of everything he believes in and knows to be true from his own experience.

Objectivity is difficult under those conditions.

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Right on, @Professormom. Creationist organizations do their level best to suppress doubt, by carefully framing their presentation of every single idea, such that anything that might lead an honest inquirer to question their overall perspective is either filtered out, or else depicted as a dangerous idea that leads first to doubt and then almost inevitably to infidelity. This is indoctrination, not education, so I won’t heap praise on AIG’s ability to make things “knowable.” They do that so well, only b/c they limit what they want their readers to know.

Concerning doubt, it’s so ironic that many creationist sites make much of Robert Boyle as an exemplary “creationist” scientist. Yes, he was a “creationist,” like virtually all Christians in the seventeenth century. Nothing ironic there. The irony is that he had a lifelong struggle with religious doubt, which he neither ignored nor suppressed. IMO, it was in fact this aspect of his personality that led him to write nearly a million words about Christian faith, reason, and science. My struggle with faith and doubt as a Christian (centered around evolution) - Faith & Science Conversation - The BioLogos Forum

If this becomes more well known (I wish), I wonder whether Boyle will disappear from creationist web sites.

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I have heard nothing of him until you have written about him. I have been to college and seminary, and I knew nothing about him.

Exactly. And indoctrination, when exposed, usually causes a violent reaction in the other direction. So what YEC organizations see as a strength, ends up being frailty. Sadly, young people who can’t wrestle with doubt because they have been given a false choice, don’t often merely “compromise” (like us, lol), they reject the whole package.

Just to clarify, I am not holding AIG up as any kind of a beacon. They are very good at shaping messages (by cherry-picking info for their purposes) and breaking things out so that the average reader says, “hmmm, that makes sense.” Whereas other creation-based groups or apologists can get really esoteric and lofty, leaving same reader frustrated and looking for clarity. It is the delivery that I was speaking to. Content is a whole different story, lol.

Luckily, Biologos has some talented communicators in their scientists and theologians. I think that makes all the difference.

I have to laugh on your comment about Boyle. I have wondered about that too!

Ted, Of course I’ve been aware of Hitchcock, but that’s mostly because I’ve read Ronald Numbers and read your posts for so long. I had never heard of Higley before, and that was interesting to me. The gap theory was still around when I was a kid in the '50s, I suppose mostly because of the Scofield Bible. I can’t remember paying much attention to those controversies at the time.

Some years ago, I became curious about the situation at Wheaton (I got accepted to Wheaton but went to Westmont, and they were sort of our big brothers, so to speak.) I read their doctrinal statement on the web, and it clearly specified separate creation for mankind. I wondered how they got anyone to teach a respectable anthropology class and sign off on their statement of faith. I guess that ruckus somehow delayed itself until their recent controversy. I think Westmont avoided the problem by just not specifying so much in their statement of faith. I’m in agreement that discretion is the better part of valor, so Westmont’s solution appeals to me. It would suit me if evangelicals argued less about this subject and came to terms with the fact that science creates certain difficulties for a traditional view, and neither science nor Biblical scholarship is going to provide a definitive scenario that fits both the Biblical and scientific stories. We might as well just agree to disagree, although it would be nice if the mass of the church could agree that it is possible to be a Christian and a molecular biologist.

Actually Wheaton’s statement spelled out the separate creation part as a result of controversy in the early 1960s, when biochemist Walt Hearn (who was later editor of the ASA newsletter) spoke there. DI has a decent account of that event as part of their review of the PBS “Evolution” series: A Critique of PBS's Evolution

Walt’s address at Wheaton is here: Science in Christian Perspective

Finally, the NT Times summed it up 40 years later:

I sometimes wonder: why didn’t Wheaton spell this out earlier? I suspect this is similar to a question about the ASA: why didn’t the ASA spell out some type of creationism when it was founded in 1941? In both cases, I think, the answer is the same: the founders just couldn’t imagine that Bible-believing Christians would ever accept evolution, especially human evolution. They didn’t reckon with the GI Bill, which led to a much greater number of Americans being college educated, including lots of evangelicals who got serious scientific training–and who even became scientists themselves, without leaving the evangelical fold. They came to understand that a scientific understanding of the world does not falsify the heart of Christian faith: that God took on human form for our sake, was crucified, dead and buried, and rose bodily–events of cosmic significance that started the church.

I can understand why evangelicals of the 1940s and earlier didn’t think they’d ever see “theistic evolution” (a term they typically used with scorn) inside their tent: in the 1920s, when fundamentalism was on the rise, only the “modernists” embraced evolution. The modernists threw the babies of the Incarnation and Resurrection out with bathwater of an anti-scientific literalism. Someone like John Polkinghorne or Walt Hearn or Francis Collins simply did not compute.

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I feel that the word antebellum from the Latin “before the war” should be used instead of before the Civil War. :wink: It has more class. :laughing:

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