Heretics must be erased

Creationists have a big problem: reality contradicts their beliefs. They are all in a situation of having to deny reality to some degree, but the question is…how much? Do you just go full on crackpot and declare that all of science is wrong, and that you just have to realize that God created everything with the illusion of great age? That’s tempting, but might be too great a reach for some. Better still is to deny the interpretations that conflict with your fable, and recast all the evidence in light of the Bible. That allows you to claim science supports your views while rejecting the science, which is a neat trick.

But there are multiple alternative ways to do that! Creationists have focused on two major problems with Biblical geology. One is the age of the Earth; the Bible makes it sound like our origin is relatively recent and human, while all the scientific evidence says its ancient. Another related problem is change: geology documents all kinds of upheavals, from seashells on mountaintops to warped strata in the rocks to the slow accumulation of sediments. That sure sounds like we need a lot of time to accommodate all that change.

One popular strategy was to shove all those ancient changes into a long period of time outside the scope of the Bible: yes, the Earth is old and there was a lot of irrelevant chaos over vast periods of time, but the Bible isn’t talking about that — it’s about God’s relationship to humankind, so it fast forwards through all the stuff about God’s relationship to dust, gas, and rocks. This was probably the most popular explanation at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century.

You may notice, though, that that rationale is no longer in vogue, even if it is just as compatible with the Bible as anything can be with that mess of contradictions. Instead, most creationists push a peculiar alternative.

The Earth is young. And all those geological changes occured during one cataclysm mentioned in the Bible, the Noachian Flood.

This is why modern creationists are obsessed with the flood. This is why Ken Ham spent all that money building a giant fake ark: The Flood (and the Fall) are their giant excuse. Geology and biology are all about change…well, hey, the Bible has you covered! It’s just that all that changed occurred in one year.

It’s a weird and very specific idea, and not a necessary one at all. Where did it come from?

We know exactly where it came from, and so does Ken Ham: he credits one book, The Genesis Flood, by Whitcomb and Morris. All you have to read to understand the ‘science’ of Answers in Genesis or the Institute of Creation Research is that one book. It was incredibly influential and set the dogma of creationism in stone. All the modern creationists acknowledge its importance.

But where did Whitcomb and Morris get this idea? We know the answer to that, too. We know exactly who the most influential creationist in the period from the Scopes trial in 1925 to The Genesis Flood in 1961 was: it was George McCready Price, who was both fanatical and prolific in promoting his crackpot ideas about Flood geology. Read The Creationists by the historian Ron Numbers; he’s thorough in describing the efforts of fundamentalist Christians to rebound from the debacle of Scopes, and George McCready Price is everywhere and central in their attempts to recover some credibility.

One catch: Price was a heretic. He was a gosh-darned Seventh Day Adventist, and he was always praising the visions of their prophetess Ellen White and working SDA doctrine into his accounts.

Ken Ham hates it when you link his theology to George McCready Price. He wrote an article denouncing the idea, stating that it was a false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White. No, no, those heretics had nothing to do with his obsession with the Flood!

At the same time, though, Ham acknowledges the indebtedness of the creationist movement to Whitcomb and Morris.

It is widely recognized today by both friend and foe that the modern creation movement—now growing steadily across America and other western nations—had its genesis in the early 1960s. But it happened in a somewhat surprising manner. First, it came through God using Henry Morris, a soft-spoken, bespectacled academician living in central Virginia. Second, the resurgence of the creation movement in modern times (a movement that had become relatively quiet since the Scopes trial of 1925) was launched not at a major rally led by Dr. Morris nor through any controversy in the courts or schools—nothing noisy whatsoever. In fact, the event was not even associated with the first chapter of Genesis and the account of creation.

The resurgent movement’s surprising trigger was the release of Dr. Morris’s groundbreaking book The Genesis Flood (coauthored with Dr. John Whitcomb). But what a stir that book created. The impact of this now-classic work was such that many church historians have concluded that Dr. Morris was a giant—perhaps unparalleled—in the battle for biblical inerrancy, as he defended the most-attacked book of the Bible. This unassuming scholar was to spearhead an international movement that was to shake the very foundations of the evolution establishment and, just as importantly, challenge the church to accept biblical authority from the very first verse.

All this is true. It doesn’t answer the question, though: where did Whitcomb and Morris come up with flood geology as a unifying concept? Whitcomb was a theologian, Morris was an engineer; neither were geologists. They had to get this idea from somewhere, and if you read The Genesis Flood and any of George McCready Price’s numerous tracts and papers, it’s obvious. Morris and Whitcomb were idea launderers. They took the flood geology of a Seventh Day Adventist and washed off the taint of Ellen White. And now Ham is in denial.

Oh yes he is! The gang at BioLogos (ooh, ick) looked into it. Poor George McCready Price and Ellen White have been mostly expunged from AiG’s history of creationism.

While conducting research for this column, I searched for Price’s full name on the AiG website, as well as a separate search without using his middle name (which found just one more article along with nearly 100 false positives). The result was unexpected, but revealing. AiG is a massive site devoted to almost every imaginable aspect of creationism, including a very large number of articles partly or entirely devoted to the history of the ideas and the movement. Yet my search for Price produced only nine articles—a remarkably small number, given the enormous role that he actually played in the history of creationism. Henry Morris’ name appears in more than 500 articles, with Whitcomb’s close behind. And, searching for Ellen White yields only three articles. Many other historical figures who didn’t really contribute to creationism come up far more often. Dozens of articles mention Robert Boyle, nearly 200 mention Johannes Kepler, and even more mention Isaac Newton. Now, there’s nothing odd about AiG showing much interest in great scientists from the seventeenth century, even someone like Newton who denied the divinity of Jesus, but the near absence of Price (and White) is passing strange.

Even better, they go to the earlier books of the Sainted Henry Morris, and guess what? Morris himself declares the source of his ideas about geology!

There are a few geologists, even today, who hold to some form of the flood theory. Probably the outstanding example is George M. Price, who is probably as conversant with the whole subject of historical geology as any man living. Because of his views, he has been subjected to a great deal of criticism and ridicule by orthodox geologists, but his wealth of accumulated facts and his incontrovertible logic have never been answered. Much of the material in this chapter is taken from his works.

It wasn’t just Price, either. Morris credits a lot of Adventists for his ideas.

In the bibliography at the end of that chapter, Morris listed four books and four articles by Price—far more than anyone else cited there. He also listed three articles by Adventist author Benjamin Franklin Allen and a very rare item by another Adventist (though not apparently of the Seventh-day variety), namely, The Flood: The Fact of History (1890), by Charles Totten, a military officer and Anglo-Israelite who probably originated the modern urban legend that astronomers have confirmed Joshua’s missing day. More than half of the twenty-three works, including eight by the man he identified as most important, were written by Adventists.

Oops. Not only can’t Ken Ham get the science right, he even distorts the history of his own worldview.

Poor George. He truly was a crackpot, and totally wrong about everything, but now he’s being carefully scrubbed out of all of the official state portraits of the creationist movement.


  1. sayke says

    Oooooooooooh, I grew up in the SDA church and they will swear black and blue that they are as Christian as any Christian, and more biblical because they keep the right sabbath. They almost never bring up Ellen White and get real real mad when you suggest they’re actually a culty off-shoot. What’s really funny though is that all their bookstores sell AiG stuff, because it really does line up with what they preach.

  2. jerthebarbarian says

    You may notice, though, that that rationale is no longer in vogue, even if it is just as compatible with the Bible as anything can be with that mess of contradictions.

    Well it’s not in vogue with people who call themselves creationists. But it is still the “solution” to reconciling the Bible with science for the people who believe that God created everything and somehow uses evolution and other natural processes as tools to get his creation set up just the way he wants it to be. Which unless things have changed is the stance of most mainstream Christian denominations in the US and Europe (including the Catholic Church, who are still the largest single Christian denomination on the planet). So it isn’t that that stance has disappeared or fallen out of favor, it’s that it’s the stance is held by a whole lot of people who are also mostly considered enemies by the evangelical creationists and who don’t consider themselves “creationists” (even though they are technically) because that term has become almost synonymous with “science-denailist” and they aren’t that.

  3. says

    IIRC, he subscribes to the idea that Ham ben Noah was black but insists that racism is incompatible with Christianity. So Ken Ham being ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the history of his own ideas may not be anything new.

  4. marcoli says

    It is always informative to see how religious zealots deal with different branches of zealots. Rather than having a debate between creationists and scientists, let the various kinds of religious people debate each other.

  5. devnll says

    “This was probably the most popular explanation at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century.”

    There is a certain delicious irony in the fact that the people who want to drag us kicking and screaming back to the Victorian age would have been soundly laughed out of the room by most Victorians.

  6. weylguy says

    The Seventh Day Adventists grew out of the failed 1843/44 end-of-world prophecy of farmer-turned-Bible-expert William Miller. Thousands of faithful Millerites quit their jobs and gave away their belongings in preparation for the Great Day of Christ’s return, only to be crushed by what came to be known as the Great Disappointment. Many fell away in disillusionment, but a remnant stayed on to found the SDA church. Indeed, the word “adventist” refers to the advent of the return of Jesus. Today there are almost 20 million members, five million more than the number of Jews worldwide. Go figure.

  7. unclefrogy says

    thanks for pointing out such significant details. I am not surprised that there is this level of controversy between the believers. It is something we must not forget. It is one of the things that helped me to really question what I was being indoctrinated into believing.
    They are all heretics and find each other dangerously in error more dangerous than unbelievers and deserve eternal punishment for their errors if they do not recant their wrong beliefs and if history can be used a judge if given the power they all will force compliance with their favored beliefs by any means necessary .
    irrationality run amuck all ego beginning to end.
    uncle frogy

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    … this now-classic work … This unassuming scholar … that was to shake the very foundations of the evolution establishment …

    All this is true.

    Classic? Unassuming? Foundation-shaking?