Henry Drummond

In part 1, I was discussing “The Last Word of Great Scientists on Evolution,” a 1925 antievolution pamphlet by J. J. Sims about which I have long been curious. The title is ambiguous: are the last words on evolution the final, conclusive, and binding verdict on evolution from the assembled host of great scientists, or their rattling deathbed croaks? Both, as it happens: Sims not only deploys the usual motley assemblage of putatively authoritative quotations but also relates not one but two deathbed recantations. The first, unsurprisingly, is Lady Hope’s story about Darwin. The second, which was unfamiliar to me, was a story about Henry Drummond (right; 1851–1897), the Scottish naturalist and Free Churchman whose The Ascent of Man (1894) was among the early influential versions of theistic evolutionism.

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Henry DrummondFor quite a while now, I have been on the lookout for “The Last Word of Great Scientists on Evolution,” a 1925 antievolution pamphlet by J. J. Sims. I was pleased, then, to find a copy recently. Sims was apparently a “World-Known Lecturer on ‘The Bible and Science’” as well as the author of “Pearls from the Deep,” “The History of Satan,” “We Drew the Fire,” etc., according to the title page. The pamphlet isn’t entirely unknown—writing in The American Mercury in 1928, Maynard Shipley took a swipe at it, and Ronald L. Numbers mentions it in a footnote in The Creationists (1992) on account of its “inconsistent” response to George McCready Price—but it’s not exactly famous, either. Nor is Sims, although later in 1925 he was serving as the Field Secretary of the Bryan Bible League, founded in memory of the fallen William Jennings Bryan.

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Warren Overton

When it comes to modern young-earth creationist literature, there is, to coin a phrase, no new thing under the sun. The same old long-ago-debunked claims appear and reappear. I couldn’t be more jaded if I were a greenish metamorphic silicate. So when a colleague in North Carolina offered to send a copy of Kent Hovind’s booklet Help! I’m Being Taught Evolution in My Earth Science Class! (2008), I was willing to take a look, but I wasn’t expecting to find anything interesting. How wrong I was! The foreword to the book is by a Warren Overton (above)—who identifies himself as a son of the judge, William R. Overton (1939–1987), who presided over the trial in McLean v. Arkansas, the 1982 case in which Arkansas’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act was found to be unconstitutional.

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Image of Darwin from The Book of Knowledge

The Butler Act, outlawing the teaching in Tennessee’s public schools of “any theory that denies the divine creation of man and teaches instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals,” became law on March 21, 1925. But it really wasn’t a matter of national interest until May 1925, when, in short order, John Thomas Scopes agreed to become the defendant in a case testing the law’s constitutionality, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow agreed to join the legal teams representing the prosecution and the defense (respectively), and Scopes was duly indicted. That was enough to kindle interest in the issue of teaching evolution around the country. And my choice of the particular verb “kindle” is deliberate.

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Charles DarwinIn early August 2016, NCSE reported on the results of the latest of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. Respondents were asked questions such as, “Is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?” (66% said yes: not so bad) and “Is the earth getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, or mostly because of natural patterns in the earth’s environment?” (46% of those who said yes to the previous question chose human activity: not so good). Interestingly, though, the researchers also asked, “What is the primary factor that has caused you to believe that temperatures on earth are increasing?” and “What is the primary factor that makes you believe that temperatures on earth are not increasing?” (all quoted from the questionnaire [PDF], questions 7, 9, 10, and 20).

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