Monday, January 12, 2009

From the Library: The New Diluvialism

For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

On December 5, 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Seventh-day Adventist science teacher and self-styled geologist George McCready Price dashed off an angry letter to fellow Adventist science teacher Harold W. Clark. Price had heard from a mutual friend that Clark had stopped using Price's book The New Geology in his classes at Pacific Union College. Price wrote,

...if you think that I am going to keep quiet when I see dangerous doctrines taught among Adventists, you have another guess coming.... I am simply asking you as a brother, and as an honest man, to tell me in some detail the grounds for your charge that my New Geology is "entirely inadequate in its handling of its problems." And until you do this, I intend to press my charges that you have been making statements about this book which you are afraid and ashamed to put down in black and white for me to see and examine.... How long do you think you are going to get by with this sort of thing?

What had gotten Price's nose so out of joint? During the thirties, Clark had used Price's book to teach his students that there was essentially no order to the fossil record, that the geologic column was a false invention intended to support the doctrine of evolution. After he was challenged by one of his own students, Clark spent a summer examining the field evidence for himself, and he came to the conclusion that there really was a regular and observable order to the fossil record that Price's understanding of geology simply denied.

After reading much of Price's work, I'm convinced that Price believed that his geological theories were inspired by the Spirit of Prophecy. Questioning Price's theories was therefore a heresy, and Price pressed the issue accordingly. His bitter conflict with Clark continued for years, coming to a head with the publication of Clark's The New Diluvialism in 1946.

Clark's self-published book laid out his theory of ecological zonation. According to Clark, the regular order to the fossil record could be explained on the basis of changes in elevation as the Flood waters rose and buried successive ecosystems. He illustrated his idea with his famous diagram, included as a foldout chart.

Though Clark maintained his belief in a recent creation and the global nature of the Flood, Price went after him with renewed bitterness. He had a small pamphlet printed and distributed accusing Clark of heresy. Subtly titled "Theories of Satanic Origin," the pamphlet drew criticism from not just Clark but also SDA church officials. SDA president Percy Christian wrote very diplomatically,

I cannot refrain from expressing the wish that what should have been a friendly and constructive criticism of scientific research should have to degenerate into acrimonious personal attacks. There should be some better way to resolve personal differences of opinion than by broadcasting personal attacks which can accomplish little good and must inevitably do much harm.

Despite all the nastiness from Price, Clark's book is a crucial milestone in creationist geology. It's the first time (I know of) that a creationist tried to account for the geologic column rather than refute it. Most creationist geologists today accept the column as a legitimate summary of geologic data (when separated from the unbiblical timescale associated with it). Many also reject Clark's elevational model of ecological zonation, but Kurt Wise has been developing a geographic model that places different critters in different parts of the earth rather than at different elevations.

I wish I could say that everyone was on board with the new way to look at the geologic column, but (as you probably know), that's not true. I also wish I could say that the modern dispute over the geologic column rises above the rancorous Price/Clark feud, but it does not often do so. I have hope for the future though, as much as I have hope for the future of creationist biology. There are a lot of exciting things happening behind the scenes that you rarely hear about, except on this blog.

In the meantime, if you hurry, you can get an original copy of this classic for only $9.50 right here. That's a great deal for a book that comes up rarely.

(The quotes above were taken from correspondence preserved in the Price and Numbers collections at the Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.)

Clark, H.W. 1946. The New Diluvialism. Science Publications, Angwin, CA.