Last January, I wrote my first post about what I call the "degeneration doctrine" (the idea that humans have gotten dumber, smaller, and weaker since creation). At the time, I didn't know about the connections between that idea and the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church. I became aware that there was some connection as I wrote about Ellen G. White, Ben Carson, and Clifford Burdick. Yesterday as I was writing about Kent Hovind's adaptation of Millerite/Adventist prophetic charts, I stumbled upon the missing link between the prophecies of Ellen G. White and modern, non-SDA ideas about degeneration and Bible giants. It turns out that a single person transformed Ellen G. White's 19th century visions of the antediluvian world (which the vast majority of Christians do not accept as relevant to their faith) into a doctrine that has helped fuel a bitter war about science, faith, public policy, and education in this country. There may really be a single person upon whom we can lay much of the blame for YEC as well as the "giants" that come with it.
The name of that person is George McCready Price.
"Changes on the Earth’s Surface at the End of the Flood—The entire surface of the earth was changed at the flood. A third dreadful curse rested upon it in consequence of sin. As the water began to subside, the hills and mountains were surrounded by a vast, turbid sea. Everywhere were strewn the dead bodies of men and beasts. The Lord would not permit these to remain to decompose and pollute the air, therefore He made of the earth a vast burial ground. A violent wind which was caused to blow for the purpose of drying up the waters, moved them with great force, in some instances even carrying away the tops of the mountains and heaping up trees, rocks, and earth above the bodies of the dead. By the same means the silver and gold, the choice wood and precious stones, which had enriched and adorned the world before the flood, and which the inhabitants had idolized, were concealed from the sight and search of men, the violent action of the waters piling earth and rocks upon these treasures, and in some cases even forming mountains above them....
The earth presented an appearance of confusion and desolation impossible to describe. The mountains, once so beautiful in their perfect symmetry, had become broken and irregular. Stones, ledges, and ragged rocks were now scattered upon the surface of the earth. In many places hills and mountains had disappeared, leaving no trace where they once stood; and plains had given place to mountain ranges. These changes were more marked in some places than in others. Where once had been earth’s richest treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones, were seen the heaviest marks of the curse. And upon countries that were not inhabited, and those where there had been the least crime, the curse rested more lightly.
At this time immense forests were buried. These have since been changed to coal, forming the extensive coal beds that now exist, and also yielding large quantities of oil (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 107-8).
To support the details of Ellen White's visions, Price published a series of books resurrecting "flood geology" (the idea that geological features of the Earth, such as rock strata and fossils, can be better explained as the result of a cataclysmic global flood event than as a result of uniform processes of change acting over long periods of time). As far as I can tell, Price's books contain most of the elements and arguments (and misunderstandings, misconceptions, and misrepresentations) found in current discussions of of geology and the fossil record by YEC groups. You can read some of Price's books for yourself online: Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science (1902); Illogical Geology: The Weakest Point in the Evolutionary Theory (1906); Q.E.D.; Or, New Light on the Doctrine of Creation (1917); God's Two Books: Or Plain Facts about Evolution, Geology, and the Bible (1918); The New Geology (1923).
Ellen White's general ideas about degeneration are clearly expressed and presented by Price as expectations about the fossil record in Illogical Geology:
"The fossils, regarded as whole, invariably supply us with types larger of their kind and better developed in every way than their nearest modern representatives, whether of plants or animals.
This fact also is so well known that it needs no proof." (Illogical Geology, pg. 70)
"And in summing up this matter regarding the size and physical development of species, we must confess that we find in geology no indication of inherent progress upward. Variation there is and variation there has been, even "mutations" and "saltations," but with one voice do the rocks testify that the general results of such variation have not been upward. Rather must we confess as great biological law, that degeneration has marked the history of every living form." (Illogical Geology, pg. 73)
Curiously, despite his inclusion of "every living form," Price only very briefly applies the idea of degeneration directly to humans:
"But when, in addition to all this, we consider the fact that those human giants of the caves of Western Europe were contemporary with the animals mentioned above, and dis appeared along with them at this same time, while mountain masses in all parts of the world crowded with marine forms of the so-called "older" types positively cannot be separated in time from the others, it becomes as certain as any other ordinary scientific fact, like sunrise or sunset, that our once magnificently stocked world met with some sudden and awful catastrophe in the long ago" (Illogical Geology, pg. 84)
Price's allusion to "human giants" is almost certainly a reference to the remains of Neanderthals, which had been known from western Europe since the late 1820's and identified as a kind of human since the 1850's. In a section titled "Fossil Men," he does go into some discussion of human skeletons that appear to of Pliocene or Miocene age but it is the "modern" qualities of these fossils coupled with their position in supposedly ancient strata (therefore throwing a monkey wrench into the idea that the geological column shows an ordering of different forms of life through time) that is of interest to Price:
"But in this fact, if it be fact, that Man lived under the wholly strange and different conditions of "Pliocene" or perhaps "Miocene times," is THE VERY STRONGEST POSSlBLE ARGUMENT that can conceive of for the necessity of complete reconstruction of geological theory" (Illogical Geology, pg. 74 [emphasis in original])
If you think about it carefully, this is a sleight of hand by Price (one that is still repeated by YEC proponents today). If we are supposed to have degenerated from antediluvian humans, why should we expect the remains of pre-Flood humans to be of "modern" appearance and size? If those human remains were incorporated into the the rocks in which they are found at the time of the Flood (i.e., as casualties of the Flood), shouldn't they look like pre-Flood people?
Price was a tireless advocate of Flood geology for decades. His ideas and arguments gained traction with Biblical fundamentalists of other denominations, and in 1938 he and other Adventists formed the Deluge Geology Society (here's an interesting post about it). Members of the Deluge Geology Society (DGS) included Henry M. Morris, an Independent Baptist and one of the founders of the Institute for Creation Research (1972). What happens next once again brings giants to the forefront of YEC thought and connects the remaining dots between Ellen G. White's visions and the YEC Bible giants of today. The following is from Ronald L Numbers' (1992) book The Creationists:
"In 1943, the DGS began soliciting funds for "ACTUAL EXCAVATION" of reported sites, and . . . the two other society members who formed the Footprint Research Committee--Everet E. Beddoe, (1889-1977), an Adventist minister, and Clifford L. Burdick (b. 1894), a consulting geologist--presented "an extensive field report on fossil human footprints," accompanied by casts and photographs. Burdick, a graduate of the Seventh Day Baptist Milton College in Wisconsin, had embraced flood geology in the early 1920s, when as a recent convert to Seventh-day Adventism he had enrolled in an Adventist college to prepare for mission service and had there met Price. . . .
From the beginning the DGS treated the footprint project with a mixture of grandiosity and paranoia, fearful lest competitors steal their thunder or enemies thwart their work. . . .
Monetary need, however, ultimately overcame the fear of harassment, and in 1945 Allen, in an effort to secure financial backing for the project, publicly revealed the discovery of gigantic fossil footprints of humans far older than allowed by evolution, "thus at a single stroke defeating that theory." (pp 122-123)
I wrote about Burdick's (1950) article "When Giants Roamed the Earth" a few days ago. That article discussed the main "evidence" and rationale for giants upon which some Young Earth Creationists (such as Carl Baugh and Joe Taylor) still rely.
It appears to me that Young Earth Creationism in the early 20th century was largely limited to Seventh-Day Adventists before it "jumped the track" by virtue of the wider membership of the Deluge Geology Society. Baptists ran with it after that and have retained many of the elements -- such as flood geology, degeneration, and giants -- that were part of Ellen G. White's prophetic visions. I wonder how many of today's YEC advocates understand that their playbook was more-or-less written by a Seventh-Day Adventist committed to proving that Ellen White was right? It's fairly clear that Kent Hovind does, as he has practically modeled his career after Price's (complete with theatrical monetary wagers and fluffed up credentials) and surrounds himself with Millerite/Adventist regalia. The prophetic/apocalyptic concerns of the SDA church also appear to be present among many of today's believers in pre-Flood giants.
It's interesting that YEC interest in giants in America seems to have been completely divorced from the numerous accounts of "giant" skeletons being excavated from across the United States in the late 19th century. I would hesitate to say that the two weren't related in some way, but I haven't yet run across anything that establishes a direct connection (not from Ellen White, not from Price, etc.). It may be that there is some overlap in whatever contributed to the content of Ellen White's visions and the contemporary "giant craze." Perhaps, for example, both had something to do with the discussions of giants and degeneration that were present in general Christian publications in the early 1800's (e.g., Bible dictionaries).