This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/ken-hams-alternative-history-of-creationism
Thank you for sharing a most informative article. Let me say that although White’s role is somewhat controversial, the Seventh Day Adventist church does great work in ministry, especially in health care, and other than meeting on Saturday, does not differ much from other evangelical churches, with members being fairly diverse in their beliefs on a variety of issues, though perhaps more conservative overall. Certainly, there is no reason to deny historical association, and I count many members of the present day church as my brothers and sisters.
I do as well.
It is interesting to watch the watch the rift between the “new SDA” which strongly emphasizes salvation by grace and distances itself from Prophetess Ellen White and the “old SDA” which still holds to a works-emphasis and the writings of White. I have friends on both sides and the contrast is striking. (I also notice that the “new SDA” tends to extend much grace towards the “old SDA” while I cannot always say the same in the reverse direction.)
Oddly enough, it is my “old SDA” friends who are “weak” on the importance of the scriptures. When my 90-something SDA evangelist friends tells me that I must worship on Saturdays, I ask him about Paul’s admonition to the Colossians about those who demand Sabbaths and New Moons etc. Incredibly, he tells me that “the Apostle Paul sometimes got mixed up about such things.” I can’t quite get him to say it outright, but it is clear that he considers Ellen White “more infallible” than the Apostle Paul.
Of course, these are anecdotes. Your mileage may vary.
very informative and well researched article. Thanks
I appreciate these first few comments. Just to make sure no one misunderstands me, let me just say that I’m not interested in bashing Adventists or their distinctive beliefs. No one has suggested that, obviously, but I thought I’d state it directly anyway. My column isn’t an anti-Adventist screed; rather, it’s an effort to underscore the major role that Adventists played in the history of a set of ideas that is very influential in modern America. If Price and White had not been Adventists–say (for the sake of argument) they had been Roman Catholics or Presbyterians instead–this column would still say the same things, with only a few descriptors changed accordingly.
My concerns are threefold (1) to set the historical record straight, in the face of “alternative facts” that might otherwise persuade some people to believe them; (2) to defend Joel Duff and Ronald Numbers from unfair claims about the historical accuracy of their statements; and (3) to make the point in the final paragraph about how misleading it is for AiG (or anyone else) flatly to claim that their position on origins is the only legitimate option for serious Christians.
Like most of us, Mr. Ham believes what makes the most sense to him–he’s absolutely entitled to form his own opinion and to try to persuade others of its correctness. But, he’s not entitled to invent his own “facts” in the process, especially when those “facts” mislead other Christians who are also trying to form their own opinions about this important matter. Opinions should follow facts, not the other way around.
I knew you did not have a problem with Adventists, but the subject matter reflecting how AIG was distancing themselves from White makes it worth stating that. We all have a few skeletons in our closet, and most current denominations come from breaks that were not exactly happy and glorious at the time.
What a refreshing response. Ken Ham…ah, I just don’t even know what to do with him sometimes. I’m frightened by the blatantly anti-intellectual nature of most of what AiG puts out. This is just another example. I’ll have to remember to pray for him, and all the other YEC ministries too.
I applaud your voice against Ken Ham. It is not just Christians that Ken Ham is misleading, it is children of all beliefs and non-beliefs. He employs people with science degrees like Georgia Puryom, Danny Faulkner, Snelling, Nathaniel Jeanson, and Elizabeth Mitchell to read the latest research results and then 1) misrepresent the scientific results as an atheist conspiracy, 2) dispute the validity of the results because it doesn’t confirm to Ken Ham’s interpretation of Genesis, and finally, 3) say that you are a bad Christian for using your own mind to critically evaluate the new findings. .
Posts like yours expose AIG for what it is. Groups like Biologos going after AIG’s lies is an important service to all children and young adults in America.
It’s also worth noting that the evidence of geology contradicted the typical deistic to atheistic position of the 1700’s, which was a cyclic, eternal earth, with humans also extending vastly back in time. The Christians and some non-believers who were developing geology in the 1700’s and early 1800’s recognized that geology pointed to a long but sequential change in the earth and life over time, with a beginning, not the eternal and cyclic model. Often any historical old earth or young earth position is misrepresented as matching the modern options, in geology textbooks as well as in young-earth circles.
The book “Beyond Creation Science” by Tim Martin and Jeffery Vaughn does an amazing job of laying out these exact roots of the YEC movement. It goes deeply into the connections between Ellen G. White’s eschatological teachings and her “visions” of the Noahic flood.
Furthermore, “Beyond Creation Science” shows how the prevailing dispensational eschatology of the late 19th and 20th century proved to the be the fertile ground that YEC theology would grow and quickly become the matching “beginning” to their dispensational “end”.
It is fascinating stuff for anyone interested in a deeper study of this topic.
What most surprised me about Ken Ham’s denial of SDA origins of the YEC “creation science” movement is that as the years went by, John Whitcomb Jr. was more and more open about the centrality of George McReady Price in “inspiring” his interest in the topics that became the focus of THE GENESIS FLOOD (1962, Henry Morris & John Whitcomb Jr.)
It is certainly true that in the 1960’s there would have been very strong reactions if the connections with Prophetess White and the SDA had been emphasized—because in those days SDAs were regarded much like JWs and Mormons: America’s home grown cults. That was especially the atmosphere at John Whitcomb’s seminary campus in Winona Lake, Indiana, which in those days was a very important Christian conference center in the summer time (home of the Billy Sunday Tabernacle) and year-round headquarters of so many Christian ministries. (Think of Colorado Springs today.)
Anyway, for me it is hard to rationalize Ken Ham praising The Genesis Flood and inviting John Whitcomb to the beam-and-pin (or whatever it was called) ground-breaking ceremony for the Ark Park and yet downplaying the SDA role in YEC history. He basically introduced John as the “father” (or at least, a father) of the modern “scientific” Young Earth Creationist movement.
I’m old enough to remember some friends and faculty colleagues being very concerned when John Whitcomb suddenly got so excited about George McReady Price’s self-published tract/booklet/whatever. At least one was worried about the pseudoscience of it but all were surprised that John was so focused on an SDA “assistant” of Ellen White. At the time it seemed like such a strange match. (A biology professor at Wheaton was so concerned about the pseudoscience that he drove the four hours from Wheaton to Winona Lake to plead with John Whitcomb not to mix good scriptures with bad science. He feared the damage a book like The Genesis Flood could do.)
By the way, it is interesting that as the years went by, John Whitcomb became more and more “conservative” to where he started criticizing his own seminary (Grace Theological Seminary) and eventually led a major split that took a few elderly faculty to a new seminary he founded in order to separate from the “too liberal” GTS. Yes, it is a familiar story.
By the way, whenever anyone challenged a scientific claim in The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb would basically punt to his co-author, Henry Morris. And on theological/exegetical matters, Morris would similarly defer to Whitcomb. Each was always certain that the other had total mastery of their domain of expertise. In actual fact, neither was all that broadly trained. Sadly, at the time, I naively thought they surely must be or else they wouldn’t be making such bold claims in defiance of the academy! (How did the two get together? Nobody else shared their interests. They made a very natural pairing by default.)
Perhaps that is what bothers Ken Ham the most. He wants to believe that their movement existed since the Apostles. In fact, the Morris & Whitcomb duo was a rather obscure and accidental origin for the movement. I’m not so sure that it could have succeeded in quite that same way at any time other than the 1960’s. It so fit the era, when fears of Communism, liberalism, and secularism drove American fundamentalist Christianity to seeking simple solutions to rally behind. And Whitcomb develop a reputation as “a Christian man of science” among the kinds of Christians who flocked to the Winona Lake Conference Center in the summers and heard him speak at the Homer Rodehaver Auditorium. (That’s yet another name that will date me as a dinosaur, a name even more obscure than Billy Sunday for most readers nowadays. I’m so old that I can say that I knew the guy who used to deliver Billy’s case of gin when it came in on the train from Chicago to Warsaw during the Prohibition era. He and Billy had a parting of the ways when Billy found that he was selling off a bottle or two per load that he had blamed on “rough handling and breakage.” And the first water slide I ever saw was Billy’s, that he built to facilitate his “morning dip.” )
By the way, that auditorium was a short walk from the Billy Sunday Tabernacle where in 1949 I found myself drafted to assist in taking a church busload of teenagers to the Youth For Christ rally there. The main speaker for the evening was a lanky preacher with an interesting North Carolina accent who I had never heard of. But it was just two weeks later that his nightly sermons in a Los Angeles stadium suddenly made him world famous. And just before he left for those crusades, he and his associates had a prayer meeting in the nearby Westminster Hotel, where they founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Yes, in those days, anybody who was somebody in the Christian world was likely to pass through Winona Lake, Indiana.
I share that so as to provide a bit of a backdrop to the community where one might say the modern day Young Earth Creationist movement also got its start and where The Genesis Flood came together. You see, John Whitcomb was teaching at the seminary just up the hill from there. If I recall, the publisher of the book was part way up that same hill.
Sorry. It’s late and I’m in nostalgia mode as I reminisce out loud. Old age tends to work that way.
I opened this column with the photo of Price’s first publication on flood geology b/c I own it, there’s a photo of Price on the cover, it’s not just a BW image, Price is the central figure in the column, and its content is basically Ham’s scientific creationism. I think those are all good reasons to use that image, but that pamphlet itself (as vs other publications by Price) wasn’t influential on Morris and Whitcomb, to the best of my knowledge. I didn’t think about that before seeing your really helpful comment, @Socratic.Fanatic. I don’t think it’s misleading to use it, but I didn’t intend to imply that it was that particular pamphlet that introduced Morris to flood geology.
In his first book, Morris cited seven different books by Price, in addition to some of his articles–but not the early pamphlet at the top of the column. The book that seems to have influenced him most was Price’s The New Geology (he cited the 1926 edition), his magnum opus as it were. Harry Rimmer was also impressed by that book, and Morris read Rimmer and modeled his own career after Rimmer–even though Rimmer was not a YEC (he endorsed the gap view instead).
Indeed, in A History of Modern Creationism (p. 80), Morris wrote, "I first encountered [Price’s] name in one of Harry Rimmer’s books… and thereupon looked up his book The New Geology in the library at Rice Institute, where I was teaching at the time. This was in early 1943 and it was a life-changing experience for me.” Probably I should have put that quote into my column!
I have other comments also and will put them separately.
That’s a TREMENDOUS story about Billy Sunday–never heard it before. However I have heard of Homer Rodehaver. In fact, in my various wanderings I’ve seen a letter from Homer’s brother, who wasn’t a fundamentalist.
This is very true. Price isn’t entirely absent from The Genesis Flood, but they mention him very sparingly so the influence isn’t very obvious to the casual reader–the reader who hasn’t read any of Price and doesn’t see the magnitude of the debt that the authors owed to Price’s New Geology in particular. It’s not entirely misleading to say that they took Price’s book and rewrote it for evangelicals of their day, updating a lot of the pseudoscience along the way.
They actually sent the manuscript to Price to get feedback, even though Price was a very old man (he died at 92, two years after the book appeared). Of course lots of other people are also thanked for reading it in the front matter of the book. The index lists just four pages under Price’s name, the first of which praises his work highly however.
On the other hand, the earlier works of Morris and Whitcomb (see above) make it abundantly clear that Price was their inspiration. No one can miss that–but who reads those works today?
I certainly did NOT think it misleading. I was actually delighted to see it—and didn’t even ponder the issue of which of Price’s works most influenced M & W. I appreciated your including it as an illustration. Before the Internet, those kinds of pamphlets and booklets were often very important in American Christendom. Spreading one’s ideas is so much easier today!
Of course, when I was a young man any such printed materials from SDAs were usually viewed with contempt—because “the cults” were despised and their materials burned. (I remember a pastor being incensed to find JW copies of AWAKE! on his screen door of the parsonage and promptly taking it to “the burn barrel” in the back of the church. Not a moment to lose!
Dr. Davis, I really appreciate any and all history you choose to post here. Many of them bring back memories. (And those memories include reminders of my gullibility as a cocky young professor who actually believed that he was a critical thinker who carefully scrutinized the evidence. However, years later I found that many of my ETS colleagues had had very similar experiences as enthusiastic “creation science” advocates. I’m amazed how many ex-YEC evangelicals have a similar story of having promoted The Genesis Flood and its arguments and taking years to gradually see the folly of it. Several times I’ve had people on forums say “Didn’t I read your story on ______ where you talked about your having one been a big fan of Henry Morris and speaking at Creation Science conferences?” I think a lot of us saw ourselves as science-oriented Bible scholars who were going to equip the Church to fight those evil evolutionists.
P.S. I may vaguely recall someone saying that the Price pamphlet had been given to Whitcomb years before and it led him to seek out Price’s “book”. I may be wrong in that and perhaps I jumped to conclusions when they simply referred to Whitcomb reading a “tract” by Price, so I thought the “tract” was perhaps the pamphlet you included in your post. However, if I recall, the “book” that Price wrote wasn’t all that bulky and book-like. ??? My memories are of a rather amateurish collection of text and illustrations that didn’t look all that “professional”.
Truly, my memory faculties nowadays should not be relied upon.
Homer Rodeheaver was on`e of the best-selling recording artists of the 1920s. Several of his recordings are available onYoutube. His theme song was “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” Many of his songs were on the subject of temperance, as were Billy Sunday’s sermons, so it is interesting that they were involved in bootlegging.
Incidentally, I am distantly related to Homer Rodeheaver. My dad said Homer and my great grandfather were about 4th cousins.
The mention of George McCready Price’s Canadian roots prompts me to offer some additional details.
Teaching as I do at a Canadian university, I like to add Canadian content when pertinent. Thus, when speaking about the Manhattan Project, I usually mention that the largest man-made explosion (albeit accidental) before the Trinity Test in 1945 was the Halifax Explosion of 1917, when a Belgian ammunition ship blew up in Halifax harbour, a modest walk from where I teach. It was a tremendous tragedy and 2000 lost their lives, not to mention 9000 injured and substantial property damage. Robert Oppenheimer’s team studied this explosion when making their calculations of the likely blast damage from an atom bomb.
When lecturing on the history of Creationism, I mention two well-known Creationists who were born in Canada.
G M Price, the one already mentioned, hailed from the small town of Havelock, New Brunswick, which is about three hours by car north of Halifax. New Brunswick borders the U.S. state of Maine, which is where Ellen G. White was born. Price taught in New Brunswick and after a brief stint in Nova Scotia followed by another in New York City, he was in California by 1905 or 1906. He lived to the grand old age of 92 and died in Loma Linda, California.
Another Canadian Creationist is Hugh Ross–who advocates an Old Earth and heads Reasons to Believe. He was born in Montreal, Quebec, grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia and completed his PhD in astrophysics at the University of Toronto. His Old Earth position puts him at odds with Price and other Young Earth Creations like Ken Ham, but he too ended up in California, first for a postdoc at CalTech. Reasons to Believe is based in the Los Angeles area.
Ken Ham himself is of course from Down Under.
I would certainly be interested to learn of any other Canadian Creationists, with or without California associations.
The first person (not already mentioned) who comes to mind is Arthur Custance: http://custance.org/insight.php, with his areas of interest here: http://custance.org/index.php
Though he was British by birth, he spent his whole adult life in Canada and presumably became a Canadian citizen.
He was IMO the last major proponent of the “gap theory” (I am ignoring popularizers of that view who did not really do their own original thinking about it), but as in all matters he followed his own drummer so it’s misleading simply to say that. To see what I mean, you’d have to read one of his books.
When I was writing by master’s thesis in Seminary on Genesis 1, I studied Arthur Custance’s Without Form and Void to learn about the gap theory. It was quite interesting, I had never once been exposed to the gap theory before reading it.
I’d be very interested in a series on Augustine and his thoughts on Genesis that culminated in The Literal Meaning of Genesis. He very much attempts the “literal interpretation” but is thrown back in several respects by the text. His wise and humble reaction is a guide for all of us. Let the God-honoring work of extracting meaning and understanding from Genesis continue until Jesus comes back.