Sunday, February 26, 2006

Henry Morris: R.I.P.

Henry Morris passed away yesterday at the age of 87. He was the founding father of modern creationism.

Before the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961, by a Reformed publishing house, Evangelicalism has settled into a cozy détente with the scientific establishment. Over at Princeton seminary, once the intellectual flagship of American Evangelicalism, William Henry Green made room for the New Geology while Warfield was a theistic evolutionist. When the torch passed to Westminster, E. J. Young was a day/age man.

The concordist position received its classic exposition in The Christian View of Science & Scripture, by Bernard Ramm.

We nowadays regard young-earth creationism as a defining feature of fundamentalism, but if you thumb through editions of the Scofield Bible you will see that this was not always so.

The Genesis Flood was coauthored by Morris and Whitcomb. It was a natural collaboration. If you’re going to write a book in defense of the flood, it makes sense to have a hydrologist as well as an OT scholar on board.

Even so, the exegesis was sometimes precarious while the science was pretty rickety.

The impact of the book was primarily psychological. It marked a confrontational rather than conciliatory approach.

Depending on your outlook, this was either a refreshing change or else a PR disaster. Many professing Christians find creationism to be a ball-and-chain. They try so hard to garner the respect of the scientific community and forge a rapprochement between faith and science, only to have their diplomatic efforts scuttled by guilty associations.

Yet in some ways, concordism was always a holding action, waiting to fall apart. For there is, hermeneutically speaking, a fundamental tension between the grammatico-historical method and modern science.

In concordism, you reinterpret Scripture consistent with the very latest scientific theorizing. But according to the grammatico-historical method, you interpret Scripture consistent with original intent.

The better credentialed the OT scholar, the less likely he will be to harmonize Scripture with modern science. For the OT must be allowed to speak in its own voice, and not dub the latest scientific fad.

So this isn’t a conflict between untutored literalists and the educated classes. Sending a nice fundamentalist boy to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago is actually a rather good recipe if you with to intensify the tension between the prescientific outlook of Scripture and the scientific worldview.

Moreover, higher education in the sciences can, ironically enough, result in a concordist reversal. For if you study the philosophy of science, that will acquaint you with the antirealist tradition, stretching all the way back to Platonic distinction between the natural and the mathematical sciences—wherein the latter merely “save the phenomena.”

Furthermore, it’s been fifteen years since Alvin Plantinga had the impertinence to say that this is ultimately a conflict between competing worldviews, a genuine rather than a merely apparent conflict, over methodological naturalism.

So a collision course, one more than one level, was always in the offing. It patiently awaited a tipping point to trigger the current process of realignment.

I receive a monthly update from ICR, and to judge by that, creationism seems to have stalled. At least, I don’t see any significant original research coming out of ICR.

One reason may be that creationism is a very interdisciplinary field with a very limited talent pool to draw upon.

It may also be that there are severe limitations on our ability to reconstruct the past in any detail with any degree of certainty.

At the moment, the future fortunes of the creationist movement primarily rest upon the sturdy, but lonely shoulders of Kurt Wise.

In the meantime, the intellectual momentum has shifted decisively to the Intelligent Design movement.

There are several reasons for this:

i) It is less ambitious than creationism.

ii) It is less sectarian than creationism.

iii) It has more intellectual talent.

It remains to be seen how far this will go. At the moment it seems to suffer from conflicting demands on its time: the need to do original research while getting the message out. In terms of time-management, it’s hard to be both a researcher and a popularizer.

In a way, ID is the new concordism, displacing the old concordism. It strikes a mediating position between creationism and secularism. With creationism, it generally opposes evolutionary biology; with secularism, it generally supports modern cosmology.

Ironically, its bitterest enemies issue, not from the secular science establishment, but from the old guard of theistic evolution.


  1. Man, Morris lived for a long time. God bless his ministry.

  2. And Don Knotts also died the same weekend. All the actors I watched growing up are dying. Also all the preachers and teachers I grew up with, such as Adian Rogers. I'm starting to feel OLD!!

  3. On the subject of ICR.

    The RATE project looks to me to be a least a START in the right direction. The claimed evidences of faster radioactive decay in the past needs to stand up to the challenges of;

    (1) alternative conventional explanations, if any.
    (2) addressing the problems caused by faster decay in historical times (radiation effects on living beings, effects of increased heat, etc.)
    (3) predicting other phenomena that we should look for, that conventional geology forbids, if it is to be other that an ad hoc theory to fit the evidence of radioactive decay into a young earth scenario.
    (4) a sound theorecical basis for physics allowing increased decay.

    Point 3 is a sticking point with me. After years of smoke and mirrors and hand-waving throwing up doubts about radioactive decay, young earth creationism (YEC)is finally admitting that the evidence for full series decay chains is compelling. For conventional physics, this means BILLIOBS of years.

    Yes, Robert Gebtry's work on "orphan" haloes (from short- lived Polonium isotopes, with no evidence of the parent isotopes) is very interesting. But the same crystals also contain haloes showing the whole series from Uranium down to the final daughter elements. A good theory MUST explain both, and also make other testable predictions, if rapid decay is to be something other than a only a way to fit YEC to scientific data.

    YEC is also proposing "continental zip" (Baumgartner's papers at ICC) to explain the evidence for large scale movements of continental plates. Again, they need to make predictions that conventional geology would not(or forbid, even better!) to have a serious scientific theory. And, please, please, they need to start to address the HARD questions critics have brought up. Don't dismiss Glenn Morton, for example, as some "heretic" just because he graduated from ICR, but no longer accepts YEC. His questions, and those of other critics, need to be answered.

  4. That's Robert Gentry. For some reason (old age?) I keep typing "b" for "n".

  5. Steve,
    Dr. Wise's collegue at Bryan's College Dr. Todd Wood is also very good at what he does. As far as ICR stagnation, I think they have very interesting projects in the pipeline:


    3)YEC has never had doubts about radioactive decay, the issue has always been the claim that it "had to" be uniform over all time and that we could reliably predict the initial conditions.

    For the most part YEC and conventional physics have not been at odds, it is when people take the conditions of today to then argue that "yesterday" had to be a certain way, (inconsistent with the YEC interpretation of the Bible) that fights in the street broke out.

    Next, if you want to say that a lot of what ICR has done does not reach the level of science, then I think you would be hardpressed to call a lot of what the secular counterpart to them in this particular area, as being science either.

    Lastly, the question of scientific anti-realism vs. scientific realism comes up, which reduces down to being able to know if/when you have a true theory. As an anti-realist, I do not think it is possible to ever know if your theory is actually true and the only reliable judge is if able to use a theory to get the results that one wants.

  6. I find most ID and even Creationist arguments to seemingly faulter on the age of Earth and elements discussion. It was in my opinion the "nail in the coffin" for young Earth creation until someone mentioned to me the fact that Adam was created "with apparent age." This idea reopened the possibility, for me at least, of a young Earth view and I have since adopted it on the basis that Scripture seems to demand a literal Genesis account. I'd like to read how folks who take an old earth, theistic evolution or other theory explain how "in Adam all die" and "until sin... no death" passages relate.

  7. What's the scoop on Hugh Ross? I've found his writings very compelling, and don't understand the extreme hostility they have provoked among young-earth creationists. Interested in view of "Triablogue" founders.