This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/the-quest-for-historical-accuracy-ronald-numbers-replies-to-william-vandoodewaard
I can’t promise that Ron Numbers will join in the discussion, but I am more than willing to talk about any subject touched on here.
Thanks for bring this to the forum, Ted. I read Numbers’ book years ago and am tempted to seek it out again as I can’t even remember if it was his first edition or the subsequent updated one that I read.
All of the kerfuffle around this does highlight the importance we all feel and attach to having a perceived continuity with the intellectual leadership of past eras – creationists obviously wanting to see something of an unbroken (if at times tenuous) line between their current approach and that of Christ and Paul, and more evolutionary minded creationists also wanting to defend a reflection their own approaches back through various church fathers too. Hence the umbrage of Numbers’ assertion that flood geology should have any substantial root in a figure like Price.
Is it possible for us (on any side of this issue) to overvalue such a continuity?
Before the advent of modern science in the 17th century, there was little reason for anyone to doubt that Genesis gave a literal account of how God created the world. I find it fascinating that early church scholars had come to the conclusion that the “days” of Genesis may have referred to indefinite periods of time. St. Augustine believed that God would have created the world in an instant, so that the six days of step-by-step creation served a theological purpose. Others may have been influenced by the ancient Greek belief that the world had existed forever. It would be interesting to know how these early church leaders would have reacted if modern scientific knowledge had been available to them.
Yes, at least partly, but it’s easy to misunderstand the real historical situation. Virtually all church fathers, including Augustine, believed that the world had been created just a few thousand years ago. As you say, Augustine did not take the six days “literally,” believing instead that all things were made simultaneously, in an instant (though some things were first made as “seeds” that grew and developed over time) rather than “in the space of six days” as Calvin and the Westminster divines would later say (deliberately denying Augustine’s view). Modern scholars who want to find precedents for putting long “ages” into the Bible, either before the six days (as in the gap theory) or during the six days (as in the day-age view) will find little comfort from the patristics. Such views did not really begin until much later, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries although there are some ideas not entirely different from the gap view prior to 1700. At the same time, those like Ham who insist on “literal” days must admit that quite a few patristics, including some really big names, held that the “days” were literary devices, which God employed to help our feeble understanding of the mysteries of creation. Creationists are now starting to talk about all such Fathers as having “compromised” biblical teaching. I think this is a fairly new trend, but if I’m mistaken about that it’s certainly true that they have sought to distance themselves from the “fundamentalists” of the 1920s, their very spiritual ancestors. Basically, the fundamentalist leaders were all OECs of one type or another.
Here’s a pertinent thought experiment: take Ken Ham out of 2016 and plop him down in 1925. If we assume he’s as influential then as he is now–in other words, if we assume he would have been seen as a leader of the conservative Protestant community–then he Answers In Genesis would have been an old-earth creation ministry. Otherwise it would have had minimal influence. On most other matters, there is much continuity between the fundamentalist leaders of the 1920s and very conservative leaders today; continuity on biblical inerrancy, opposition to evolution and higher biblical criticism, militant defense of Christian “fundamentals” like the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the second coming, the immortality of the soul, etc. But radical, complete discontinuity on the age of the earth and flood geology.