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Creationism:  Contradictory Commitments of Rationalism
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Ronald L Numbers
The Creationists (NY:  Borzoi/Alfred Knopf, 1992.  458p.)

Now available in a later edition

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Ronald Numbers provides an unusual historical perspective on the social phenomenon of Creationism.  Creationism takes on a religious character, or uses religion categories for dealing with the questions.

He provides a historical and philosophical analysis of the Creationist Movement, which still attempts to oppose the teaching of Evolution and Natural Selection.  It does so on religious grounds or motivations, but poses its arguments in the terminology and categories of empirical science.

The author's introduction provides a good historical perspective from which to begin the investigation.  Numbers indicates that there has been a rise in interest and aggressiveness of the formal Creationist movement since the 1960s.  It is notable that the Creationist movement is largely an American phenomenon, though some following has been gained in the UK in recent years.

The questions are basically limited to the North American Anglo-Saxon cultural sphere.  Numbers provides a balanced and detailed analysis that reconstructs the story through themes and personalities.  He deals admirably with the social and legal aspects.  His level-headed, analytical and tone tries to portray the full personalities and reasoning of each individual and group dealt with.

The Scopes Trial
Any discussion about evolution in America always gravitates around the Scopes trial in Tennessee.  One real revelation appears here that is rarely if ever mentioned in most references to the Scopes trial.  Numbers lays out in dramatic and amusing detail why this whole thing got started anyway.  What became the Scopes Trial media circus was never about the opposition of religion and science, faith and atheism or even primarily about evolution and creation.

The whole idea that led to the flashy lawsuit about teaching evolution actually started as a fund-raising gambit by the town of Dayton, Tennessee, to attract business to the sleepy mountain town through a sensational trial.  The whole thing was set up ahead of time.

Numbers brings to life the planning sessions and agreement that led to the formal law suit.  Both sides were involved in setting up the drama play by play.  Young biology teacher John Scopes agreed to play the part of the fall guy, paid for his part.  Scopes became a major player in what became a national dramatic fiasco that spun out of control for everyone involved.

Flambouyant Fundamentalist preacher, lawyer and former Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan agreed to join the prosecution team.  Bryan could use the national publicity, in support of a possible additional run for the presidency.  His presence would add prestige to the State Prosecutor's case.

The prosecutor's office agreed to let Bryan join to assist the prosecution, so they would benefit from the national attention Jennings' name would draw for the trial and the town.

But the county fair trial blew up into a national media circus with negative repercussions for the city of Dayton and the State of Tennessee.  Numbers' detailed research and analysis of this is an amazing value!

One very helpful aspect is that Numbers compares the real story with the popular movie portrayal that skews and changes important aspects but has stuck in the popular mind as the common reference point for most people.  This is an enlightening and informative story.  The Scopes trial was an early example of a prodigious American media propaganda circus.

Not much good can come form such motives and such productions, where the whole general public is manipulated emotionally and unscrupulous secondary propagandists in later generations distort aspects of the event for their own deceitful and nefarious purposes.

Broader View
But the Scopes Trial, while an emotional attention-getter in the discussion of evolution and faith, is only one stage of the story.  Numbers skillfully tells every nuance of the broad-ranging story of Creationism as a social movement.

It will be enlightening to many when Numbers unravels the Enlightenment Rationalism that drives Creationism, supposedly based on a purely biblical foundation.

Creationist Humanism
Proponents of biblical integrity and authority will appreciate the author's skillful exposé of the humanist base of Creationist rasoning.  It will be enlightening to many when Numbers unravels the Enlightenment Rationalism that drives Creationism.  Proponents of Creationism commonly declare that they are defending a biblical perspective, arguing on a purely biblical foundation.

In reality they conduct the argument in the arena of Rationalist reductionism used by materialistic science.  They reduce the biblical dynamic texts to the status of a factual catalogue of abstract and objective facts.  Creationism is one version of the same Rationalism they complain about.

Competing Versions
Numbers does a great job of sorting out the streams of Creationist thought and the radically different approaches to a supposedly common commitment.  He details the fragmented community of Creationism, and the variations that have gained acceptance at certain times.

The movement was rife with dissention and divisions and he documents this all very well.  It will be enlightening to those really interested in the facts of the matter.  Also disappointing is the related infighting between competing versions and the compromises made by all parties to maintain dominance and supremacy in the creationist movement.

Many current advocates of a point of view they know by the name of "Creationism" will be puzzled, amazed or disillusioned when they learn all the variety of beliefs that have been held by various leaders of the Creationist movement.

The intrigue and power plays, politics and finances of the movement comprises the tawdry reality at ground level that will embarrass some readers, as Numbers' research takes us beyond the romance and myth of the movement among its modern followers.

Numbers very helpfully places the movement and each participant in their social and historical context, as well as their educational and religious placement in the positions of the day.

On the positive side, perhaps, readers will be better able to understand how the various doctrines within the movement called Creationism developed and evolved through their interaction with various segments of society and politics.  Numbers develops a rich portrait of this important but unfocused cultural movement of Creationsism.

This is very helpful on that broader scene, providing solid clear information and a non-judgemental presentation of events and personalities as they actually interacted in this cultural drama in the United States.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Darwin and God Different Domains of Reality
[TXT] Creation or Creationism?
[PDF] Faith, Science and Technology
[TXT] Genetics Out of Africa
[review] Mapping Human Origins
[review] Our Genetic Journey

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First reading notes written 19 November 2010
Developed and Reviewed on Amazon 31 January 2011
This version developed and posted on OJTR 31 March 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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