The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

12 George McCready Price

Andrew White monumental History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom was published in 1896. By "theology," White meant the doctrines of Christian conservatives who believe the Bible to be literally true in its history, and therefore an infallible guide on all questions where science and the Scriptures come in conflict.

A few decades later, the battle for a broader interpretation of the Bible --one that would allow the ancient writers to be wrong on scientific topics-- seemed to have been won. At least it seemed won in mainstream churches. Fundamentalism became a minority viewpoint, confined largely to southern churches whose members and clergy were poorly educated, to Pentecostal denominations, and to such fundamentalist sects as Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventism.

Then, a few decades later, an amazing thing happened. The liberal churches began to decline in attendance, while the fundamentalist churches began to grow. Even students in secular colleges were caught up in the trend. As we all know, the great fundamentalist-evangelical resurgence (the two groups are hard to distinguish) is still on the upswing and rapidly gaining political clout. Fundamentalist pressures on politicians in several states have led to bitter court battles over the teaching of evolution in schools and colleges. Major publishers of science textbooks, motivated by nothing higher than making money, found it necessary to water down references to evolution as a "fact" and to present it, if at all, as unconfirmed theory. Even President Reagan went on record as favoring the teaching of creationism in public schools. If any sociologist predicted this revival of fundamentalist theology in America, I am not aware of it. Indeed, predictions were just the reverse--that fundamentalism was dying.

Lessons learned from the famous "monkey trial" in Dayton, where William Jennings Bryan came off as a seedy ignoramus in his clashes with Clarence Darrow, have vanished in the wind so far as fundamentalist leaders are concerned. During the trial Bryan relied heavily on the work of America's top creationist of the day, George McCready Price ( 1870-1963). There were,

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