Since I bashed that absurd article on evolution on Salon, it’s only fair that I mention that they’ve also published a good one: The destruction of creationism: How the search for the beginning of time sparked a scientific revolution. It’s by Martin J.S. Rudwick, and I adore Rudwick’s books — he writes about 19th century geology, and how the scientists of the day struggled with the evidence to develop our modern understanding of geologic time. Gripping stuff, if you’re a nerd.
This article is all about old-time theologians grappling with the idea of a pre-Adamite history of the Earth, which is the beginning of what will eventually kill creationism as scientifically viable. Once you start asking questions of the book, and you start looking at other sources to, say, merely clarify ambiguities, you’re doomed — you’re going to have to start considering new evidence, and pretty soon the splendorously isolated purity of your source text is corrupted.
We’ve only got an excerpt here. There’s more to come.
To summarize: the history of the universe, the Earth, and human life itself was traditionally conceived in the West as having been very brief in comparison with the modern picture. But this is a relatively trivial difference: the quantitative contrast is less significant than the qualitative similarity. What is not trivial is that the scholarly history represented by chronologists such as Ussher was almost exclusively based on textual evidence (the astronomical evidence of past eclipses, comets, etc. also came from textual records). Even in the historical analysis of Noah’s Flood by scholars such as Kircher the textual evidence was dominant and the use of natural evidence was marginal.
At much the same time, however, and still in the 17th century, other scholars were beginning to bring the natural evidence much more substantially into debates about the Earth’s own history, yet without seeing any obvious need to extend the timescale on which it had played out. This is the subject of the next chapter.
Tease! Now I’m going to have to buy Earth’s Deep History: How It Was Discovered and Why It Matters.
But the important message is that creationism was already intellectually dead by the 19th century — it wasn’t some one guy writing a book that did it, but a whole pattern of widespread scholarly activity that was honestly trying to answer the question of origins, and quickly expanded beyond the one source text.
Modern creationism is really brain dead — it’s zombie theology, mindlessly stalking the landscape. It’s not going to be killed by mere scholarship.