The entire edifice of Armstrongism is founded upon a false premise–or, rather, it is founded upon a whole series of false premises, but one is especially problematic for the belief system. No, I’m not talking about British Israelism. That fatal flaw has been dealt with elsewhere. What I’m referring to is the Creation myth of Armstrongism. Despite its valiant effort at evading destruction from the realm of geology (by embracing “Gap Theory”), Armstrongist Creationism still runs afoul of ironclad science.
In this two-part article, we will be covering this very fundamental doctrine of Armstrongism and discovering what fields such as paleontology, anthropology, and biology reveal about its veracity (or lack thereof). It will be necessary first to describe what Armstrongist Creationism is and how the claims it makes differ from those of more mainline forms of fundamentalist Creationism. In the second part, we will examine those claims in light of the scientific evidence that can be brought to bear on the question. And, finally, we will discuss the implications of this critical study for Armstrongism as a whole.
First, let’s take a quick tour through the history of Creationism. For this brief treatment, I will be relying primarily on my recollections from the definitive book by Ronald L. Numbers entitled The Creationists, but much of the information we will be covering can also be found here and here, among many other sources online.
In the Beginning…
Creationists basically divide into two camps: Young-Earth Creationism and Old-Earth Creationism. The reason for this split has to do with the conflict that arose between the Ussher chronology and the findings of the then new science of geology in the late 18th and early 19th Century. In 1658, Irish archbishop James Ussher had used the biblical record of lineages from Adam, the length of reign of kings, and cross-references to extrabiblical dating of events to settle upon October 23, 4004 BCE, at 6 p.m., as the beginning of Creation Week (author’s note: this can’t be right since the Millennium did not begin in 1995). It would be only about 100 years, however, before naturalists would begin to dismantle this popular delusion.
In 1779, precursor of Darwin and the Comte Du Buffon of France (though a more fitting title might be “Father of Evolution”), Georges-Louis Leclerc, used the cooling rate of iron to estimate a much more ancient Earth than Ussher’s chronology would allow. For this and other challenges to the delusional orthodoxy, Leclerc twice drew condemnations from the Faculty of Theology at the Sorbonne (sacrebleu!). Then, in 1785, James Hutton, a Scottish naturalist considered to be the first modern geologist, introduced the idea that the earth must be far older than 6,000 years in order to allow for the erosion of mountains and the sedimentation of new strata. Once popularized by geologist Charles Lyell in his 1830 work Principles of Geology, Hutton’s original paradigm of uniformitarianism successfully replaced the catastrophism that previously held sway. Uniformitarianism posited geological processes that were slow and continuous into the present, contradicting the catastrophic view that the earth was static and periodically altered by discrete events.
In response to these scientific upheavals of the Ussher chronology, many (including most geologists of the time) sought a new interpretation of scripture that would allow them to reconcile their faith with their naturalism. Enter Thomas Chalmers, mathematics professor, preacher, and founder of the Free Church of Scotland, whose writings circa 1833 popularized what would come to be known variously as “the Gap Theory“, Gap Creationism, Restoration Creationism, etc.
Followers of Armstrong would be wowed by this innovation 100 years and more later, but the insertion of an indeterminate gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 by way of a creative interpretation was actually the orthodox Christian view from 1917 (with the publication of the popular Scofield Reference Bible) to the return to dominance of Young-Earth Creationism in the 1960s (more on this in a moment). Far from being revealed to Armstrong (as he so often insinuated), “the Gap Theory” was in fact the invention and pet convenience of early 19th Century natural theology proponents, which eventually became standard only to fall out of favor just as Armstrong’s star was rising. One cannot help but wonder whether this timing was merely coincidence. Could it be that, as with British Israelism, Armstrong opportunistically scavenged Gap Creationism from society’s conceptual table while its proponents were fading sufficiently to go unnoticed by the suckers he targeted, allowing him to lay personal claim to ideas he hadn’t the wherewithal to synthesize himself? Seems pretty likely. All we can say for sure, though, is that this idea was hardly original with Armstrong. We will return to the topic of Armstrongism and Gap Creationism momentarily.
As for Gap Creationism’s proponents, it served them well. Natural theologians now had an alternative form of Creationism that granted them the incredibly ancient earth that geology demanded. But Restoration Creationism wasn’t the only game in town. Geologists were also instrumental in formulating Day-Age Creationism. This view postulates that the “days” of the Creation account in Genesis actually refer to geological ages. This form of Old-Earth Creationism not only allows for an ancient earth, but provides the bonus expediency of conforming more naturally to uniformitarianism.
But some saw the Devil’s work in all of this scientific dilution of their cherished Creation myth. These were the fledgling Fundamentalists–primarily Adventists (of whom Armstrong was a late and “heretical” disciple). They liked their beliefs about Creation the way I like my coffee: strong and murky. Not for them this liberal tinkering with the interpretation of Genesis to comply with observable reality (liberal bias, that pesky reality!). The Bible said the world was 6,000 years old and that settled it!
Unfortunately, this heretofore “easy” answer would prove unwieldy in a burgeoning age of science and reason. To remain relevant, the Fundamentalists would need something a bit more convincing…
Along Came an Adventist
We’ve described before how the Fundamentalist movement began as a reaction to higher criticism’s efforts to naturalize, as it were, the Bible. Such a commitment to reactionary literalism predisposed them to a premillennial interpretation of ostensible “prophetic” passages. Their literalism similarly led them to interpret Genesis in a straightforward way, yielding a timeline for Earth that repudiated uniformitarianism and reiterated the aforementioned Ussher chronology. One sect in particular would take a formative role within Fundamentalism that would forever mar the landscape of the science vs. Creationism debate by vaulting Young-Earth Creationism into prominence among the great bulk of conservative Christians–a holocaust of reason that persists to this day. Much of the blame, in fact, can be laid at the feet of one man: George McCready Price.
Price was a devout Adventist and strong proponent of Ellen G. White’s infamous, injury-inspired “visions”. Although Price vacillated between an old earth and a young earth, his writings would become the standard texts used by Young-Earth Creationists to propound a supposedly scientific basis for their version of the creation myth.
He may have been ambivalent about the age of the earth, but Price was loyal to a literal interpretation of the Creation Week story. He had an interesting reason for rejecting more creative and scientifically convenient schemes like Day-Age Creationism:
The Sabbath doctrine seemed to demand a literal creation week, for, as Price cogently argued, if a person “does not believe that there ever was a real Creation at some definite time in the past, how can we expect him to observe the Sabbath as a memorial of that event, which in his view never occurred?” Thus, in his opinion, “the very logic of their belief in the Sabbath as the divine memorial of a literal creation”…ruled out the popular notion of “creation on the installment plan,” that is, creative acts interspersed over millions of years, which Price regarded as a “burlesque” of creation. (Numbers, 87)
So, for Price, it wasn’t certain whether plants were created before the sun (as the Creation Week story has it–on a young earth interpretation), but he was damn well sure that the creative acts described in the story occurred over a literal, six-day period–because the Sabbath as a commanded memorial of Creation demanded it be so! That should sound familiar to anyone acquainted with Armstrong’s teachings on the subject. Science be damned, we must have our Sabbath doctrine unsoiled by fact!
But Price’s chosen adversary was not competing versions of his favored Creation myth; it was evolution. If he had to capitulate (several times) to the rock-solid science of an old geologic earth, he would not back down when it came to the age of life on its surface. That, he insisted, was 6,000 years young–and he defended this absurdity with a brand new pseudo-science called “flood geology”. Flood geology was Price’s attempt at finding “evidence” in geological strata that could be used to support the foregone conclusions that (1) a global flood had occurred in biblical times (i.e., before present times by some scientifically arbitrary figure less than 10,000 years, depending on who you ask) and (2) that this cataclysm accounts for the fossil record. Yes, that’s right: T-Rex and Noah were contemporaries! Here’s some documented proof (fun picture break! Cue circus music!):
Unsurprisingly, Price’s contemporaries in the scientific community did not take him seriously (but this did not stop his nonsense going viral):
Price’s voluminous writings against evolution, directed particularly at its geological foundations, spanned six decades but attracted little attention among orthodox scientists [sic!]. If he was noticed at all outside of creationist circles, it was for being one of the twentieth century’s most persistent scientific cranks, worthy of inclusion only in histories of pseudoscience, such as Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957). Gardner, one of the first critics to recognize Price’s historical significance, described him in the 1950s as being “the last and greatest of the anti-evolutionists.” The last he was not, but a strong case can be made that he was the greatest. (Numbers, 73)
The Ecneics of Flood Ygoloeg
Flood “geology” was developed in the early half of the 20th Century but did not begin to take the Fundamentalist world by storm until the early 1960s. During this development period, Price was joined by other proponents of “scientific” Creationism in tiny associations that would spring up to promote flood “geology”, only to quickly disintegrate or reform into different groups with similar goals. There were never any real geologists involved, of course; by this late stage in the game of science, that would have been absurd. These Creationists dabbled in geology for the purpose of confirming their supernatural beliefs, not for the purpose of doing science and following the evidence where it leads. The same way people who see faces in clouds are not doing meteorology, the flood “geologists” were not doing geology.
But a few individuals would be sent by these associations (on funds raised from their lay Creationist supporters) periodically to study real geology at legitimate educational institutions. Comically, this often resulted in the student either abandoning his beliefs about the flood (a fool made wise by persisting in his folly) or abandoning his studies (just a fool). Another way in which these associations would attempt to wrap themselves in a patina of legitimacy was to take geological field trips, during which members would go rambling through the countryside, visiting fossil beds, perusing rock strata, and abusing themselves with convenient but unscientific interpretations of what they thought they observed. These conjectures were added to the amalgam of such nonsense that the associations would pump out to the Creationist masses who received their pamphlets.
Over the years, flood “geologists” would debate the finer points of the mythological age of the earth, leading to many association-rending rifts among Gap Creationists, Day-Age Creationists and Young-Earth Creationists. The most reasonable of these men eventually abandoned strict Creationism altogether and adopted more science-based views like theistic evolution. The stalwarts carried on, fighting a war on two fronts: one against science and one against competing mythologies. But in 1961, a book was published that would turn the tide in favor of Young-Earth Creationism. That year, Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. produced the seminal The Genesis Flood, which drew heavily on Price’s earlier work on the subject and gave birth to the Creation Research Society in 1963, the same year Price died.
The rest, as they say, is history: Young-Earth Creationism has become the standard Creationist model, and Old-Earth Creationism (including Day-Age and Gap schemes) must content itself with filling an ever-shrinking niche filled by the only marginally stupid (by comparison with the vast majority of Creationists on the one hand, and the scientifically-minded minority on the other–I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine which of these groups is the intelligent and which is the excessively stupid).
Remember that all of this prevaricating on scientific questions was at its base an effort to shore up a theological account of the origin of life and the age of the earth, and, for Price in particular, a dodge of fact-based evolutionary arguments. It was not, as science properly is, a capitulation to the testimony of observed facts. Rather, so-called flood “geology”, like Creationism in general, begins with a foregone conclusion and then grudgingly attempts to “find” (imagine or manufacture) support for it. And that, of course, gets things exactly backwards–hence, “the ecneics of flood ygoloeg”.
But why do we state that Young-Earth Creationism is stupider than Old-Earth Creationism? And where does Armstrongism come down on this question?
Less Wrong, But Still Completely Wrong
As mentioned before, Armstrongism adheres to Gap Creationism, the belief that an ancient earth was restored (not initially created) in the Genesis account, and that the proposed 6,000 years of time between Adam and the present day is therefore not relevant to the age of the earth. Furthermore, under Armstrongism, the fossil record is allowed to reflect a prehistoric existence for life. Unfortunately, despite this apparent evasion/concession, Armstrongism is still forced (by its most central doctrine, no less–we’ll get to that later) to reject all of the relevant factual details discovered by science. That is to say, to be an Armstrongist is to be completely wrong–but less wrong than a Young-Earth Creationist, since the latter doesn’t reject mere details of scientific research, but entire principles (such as uniformitarianism), on the basis of a fastidiously contrived pseudo-scientific tradition.
Armstrongism isn’t sophisticated enough to be so wrong.
Here’s a little breakdown to illustrate what I mean:
- Flood “Geology” and Young-Earth Creationism (Most Wrong/Pseudoscience)
- Gap Creationism (Less Wrong, But Still Completely Wrong/Counterfactual Superstition)
- Day-Age Creationism/Progressive Creationism/Theistic Evolution (Not Completely Wrong/Factless Superstition that is More or Less Compatible with the Facts)
- Actual Science (Least Wrong/Just the Facts, Thanks!)
Whereas other Creationist traditions take the established facts seriously (for better or worse, as the case may be), the Armstrongist is enjoined to dismiss the Creationism vs. science controversy altogether by way of the appeal to Gap Creationism–as though that settled the matter. The flood “geologists”, on the other hand, were sophisticated enough (and, to be clear, that’s not saying much) to recognize there was an actual scientific problem here (and to make an attempt at overcoming it), but too stupidly obstinate to follow the evidence where it led (like Day-Age Creationists do).
But their arguments, since they are purported to be science, have that sheen of authority so beloved by all stripes of Fundamentalists–and so, Armstrongists couldn’t completely resist them. Notice how Numbers describes the relationship between Armstrongism and flood “geology”:
[Armstrongists], though often indebted to the scientific creationists for arguments and evidence, remained ambivalent toward flood geology and antagonistic toward its promoters, a feeling amply reciprocated. Duane T. Gish [of Creation Research Society fame] summed up the common attitude: “Of course, they don’t want anything to do with us, and we don’t want anything to do with them”… Although they at times relied heavily on the writings of creation scientists, the Armstrong people defended creationism primarily on biblical grounds, refusing to dilute “Biblical truth to satisfy scientists by equating it with scientific theory.” (Numbers, 316-317)
And so we see that Gap Creationism was like a hall pass excusing Armstrongism from the science course that the more studious (but stupid) flood “geology” stayed in and failed. But it’s high time now that we got this errant student back in its seat for a remedial lecture! (To be continued in Part Two: The Plain Truth about the 6,000-Year Plan of God…)