Creationist Debate: The Encounter between the Bible and the Historical Mind
Arthur McCalla | 2006-08-15 00:00:00 | Continuum | 248 | Philosophy
This book places the present Creationist opposition to the theory of evolution in historical context by setting out the ways in which, from the seventeenth century onwards, investigations of the history of the earth and of humanity have challenged the biblical views of chronology and human destiny, and the Christian responses to these challenges. The author's interest is not primarily directed to questions such as the epistemological status of scientific versus religious knowledge or the possibility of a Darwinian ethics, but rather to the problems, and various responses to the problems, raised in a particular historical period in the West for the Bible by the massive extension of the duration of geological time and human history.Reviews
Just by coincidence, I happened to read "The Creationist Debate" and "Monkey Trials & Gorilla Sermons" back to back. It turns out, they cover much of the same territory.
Basically, there are numerous, competing strands of Christianity, biblical interpretation, and social philosophy, and also different strands of evolutionary theory. Both books discuss how those various, competing strands have interacted with each other over the past couple of hundred years. (TCD goes back even further, to early Church Fathers, but only very briefly.)
For example, Christians who hold to premillennial dispensationalism tend to be biblical literalists, believe that human society is not capable of endless improvement, and reject not only Darwin's method of evolution, i.e., natural selection, but also the fact of evolution, i.e., the claim that species have evolved from goo to you.
Christians who take a postmillennial approach, on the other hand, are much more open to non-literal interpretations of the Bible, much more open to the idea of goo-to-you evolution, and up until about 1930 were open to the Lamarckian method of evolution, in which individuals, through their own efforts, improved themselves and then passed those improvements on to their offspring. That Lamarckian concept of evolution was mimicked in postmillennials' social philosophy too, i.e., their belief that human society was also capable of essentially endless improvement through the efforts of individual members of society.
Both books trace the complex interactions of those various strands of religious and scientific thought over the past two centuries. For example, postmillennialism and Lamarckism dominated up until the 1920s; but developments in genetics indicated that Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics was simply impossible; the political power of premillennial dispensationalists had increased dramatically; and the experience of World War I and the Great Depression shattered belief in endlessly improving society. That complex web of factors combined into a perfect storm of opposition to evolutionary theory.
Both books cover much of the same territory, but McCalla focuses more on the specific issue of biblical interpretation, while Bowler focuses more on theological issues and social philosophies. Take your pick.
Both books mention at least some of the lawsuits about the constitutionality of teaching evolution and creationism/Intelligent Design in public school science classes, but neither book spends much time on the actual constitutional issues. There is also little, if any, discussion of creationism/Intelligent Design's scientific problems. Both books stay focused on the strands of religious, biblical, social, and evolutionary thought I mentioned above.
Both books make some pretty subtle distinctions and are appropriate for people who are serious students of those particular issues.Reviews
The argument between fundamentalist Christians and historians is much older than the modern science of Darwin and Newton. Explorers of the 16th century already realized that the histories of some peoples were much older than permitted by the story in Genesis. By the early 17th century theologians realized the Hebrew text of the OT was the interpretation of 5th and 6th century rabbis, and that we do not possess a complete or accurate text of the Bible. "By the end of the seventeenth century the labours of the Chronologists and biblical critics had seriously undermined the claims of biblical exceptionalism by amassing considerable evidence for two unsettling claims: that the Bible is a book with a history and that the history of the world vastly exceeds in length and scope the limits of sacred history."(p. 38-39)
In the18th century age of enlightenment educated people increasingly learned the Bible was unreliable in regard to history and scientific fact. Even in judging moral and ethical action, man must rely on his common sense and on accepted truth. Thus, the fathers of our Nation justified rebellion and a republican government not from the Bible, but from the common sense philosophy and ethics.
The science of Newton, the geology of James Hutton, the "deep time" of Lyell, and finally the evolution of Darwin showed just how unreliable the Bible is on explaining the working of the world. Most educated Christians could and did accept that science explains the earth, while the word of god tells us its meaning and instructs us in ethical behavior.
McCalla has written an excellent history about our use of the Bible. He does address fundamentalism in America and the Scopes trial in later chapters. This is not a conflict between science and religion, but rather an argument between liberal Christians who accept the Bible as a historical document and simple minded believers who insist on a variety of quite confused literal interpretations.Download this book!Free Ebooks Download