Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Meaning of “Biblical Literalism”

From the excellent "Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist";

Although the focus is on the idea of how to interpret the creation narratives in a literal, yet textually faithful fashion, Moritz, in quite concise language, points out the glaring origin of modern young-earth creationism and how different it was from the understanding of biblical literalism of the day:

Even more recently, such as at the time of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), the actual face of biblical literalism was quite different than one might expect—especially if one has in mind young earth creationism with its insistence upon a 10,000 year old recently-created earth and its focus on ‘‘flood geology’’. Around the time of the Scopes trial in the early twentieth century, there is no record of any biblical literalists within normative Christianity who interpreted the Bible as claiming a recent creation in six 24-hour days or that Noah’s flood had anything to do with how one should interpret the record of global stratigraphy. Indeed, literalists at that time saw Noah’s flood as a local phenomenon and ‘‘even the most literalistic Bible believers accepted the antiquity of life on Earth as revealed in the paleontological record.’’ The one exception to this general rule was the Seventh Day Adventists—a sect of Millerites who, after 1844 (and disillusioned by Christ’s failure to return), regrouped under the leadership and supernatural visions of the teenage prophetess Ellen G. White—a charismatic young woman ‘‘whose pronouncements Adventists placed on par with the Bible’’. White and her Seventh Day Adventist followers harbored no doubts about the correct reading of the early chapters of Genesis because in a trancelike vision White was ‘‘carried back to the creation’’ by God himself, ‘‘and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six [24 hour] days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week.’’ White likewise saw that during Noah’s flood, God created all the various geological layers of sediment and fossils by burying the organic debris and causing ‘‘a powerful wind to pass over the Earth...in some instances carrying away the tops of mountains like mighty avalanches...burying the dead bodies with trees, stones, and earth.’’ Thus, from the divine dreams of Ellen White young earth creationism was born and, ironically, it was conceived in stark opposition to the reigning biblical literalism of the day.
Most young earth creationists that I know are, I believe, unaware of this information. How, or if it would change their Christian walk is unclear. It is instructive to read Ron Numbers' The Creationists to see how dominant the Adventists were in the formation of modern-day young earth creationism.

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