4. APOLOGETICS: Pre-Adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion
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80 4 5 Apologetics Pre-Adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion A s the nineteenth century dawned, the sense that strategies needed to be developed to keep scientific findings and religious faith in tandem gripped more and more minds. Challenges from geology, ethnology, and philology, supplemented later by the yet more dramatic gauntlet thrown down by the Darwinians, encouraged the cultivation of harmonizing tactics. Among these the postulation of a pre-adamite world—sometimes inhabited by human or humanlike creatures, sometimes not—began to attract an increasing coterie of advocates . Pre-adamite vocabulary thus obtruded with increasing frequency into the dialogue between scientific theory and religious conviction. Some of these occurrences connected the pre-adamite device to matters of racial difference; others only touched on racial implications, though a later generation , as we will see, would muster their conjectures in the cause of supremacist politics. Either way, the suspicion spread that there was an ever-growing need to find ways of reading the Bible so as to accommodate the findings and speculations of science, and pre-adamite talk was one way of dealing with the problem. The very idea that had originated in skepticism and had provided sustenance to those radicals who sought to exploit the cracks beginning to appear in the canon was now beginning to be harnessed for the purpose of protecting the Bible from the results of infidel science. As Edward King announced at the very birth of the new century, interpreters of the Bible should “carefully avoid rashness” and “examine most inquisitively , what really is, or is not declared therein;—using exceeding great Apologetics: Pre-Adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion 81 caution that we may not be misled by any prejudices, and mistakes, however riveted, by long prescription, and timid allowance.”1 This declaration appeared in an addendum to the second edition of King’s Morsels of Criticism , which had first appeared in 1788, which was specifically dedicated to the task of showing, as its title page advertised, “the most perfect Consistency of Philosophical Discoveries, and of Historical Facts, with the Holy Scriptures.” In particular he was aware that the traditional story of universal human descent from Adam had “caused a great many stumbling-blocks to be laid in the way of those who wish to understand the Sacred Writings,” and he insisted that the received doctrine was “far from being really founded on Scripture.”2 His own course of action was to point out that the Genesis narrative housed two quite different creation stories, the first dealing with humankind in general, the second with an individual, Adam. This realization provided one of “many proofs and arguments that may be derived from the Holy Scriptures themselves, which tend to show . . . that the commonly received opinion, that all mankind are the sons of Adam . . . is directly contrary to what is contained there.”3 Such hermeneutic maneuvers opened up the possibility of there having been other inhabited regions of the earth at the time of the Mosaic story and thus removed any need to believe “that the Kongouro (for instance), or certain other strange animals of Africa, and of America, were in the ark with Noah.” It was the same with “very noxious animals . . . such as serpents, and toads, and most venomous snakes, of such kinds as have never been met with in Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria,—or indeed in any part of Asia.”4 The point of the whole exercise was to “take away at once all grounds of those taunting scoffs, and mockings of blasphemers, that have been the disgrace of all ages” and at the same time to “remove many of the difficulties of the natural historian .”5 In one way or another, then, pre-adamite speculations were increasingly evident in works that sought to retain harmony between science and scripture. Pre-Adamite Worlds During the early decades of the nineteenth century traditional understandings of the Mosaic cosmogony had come under increasing strain from the encounter with new geological data. An ever-expanding time frame put more and more pressure on standard chronologies of the earth, and a growing fascination with deep time fostered by visual representations of primitive life forms raised the public’s consciousness of a distant primeval world.6 82 adam’s ancestors Engravings and illustrations, together with the famed models of dinosaurs erected in Crystal Palace, which were opened to the public in 1854, raised in some minds the question of why so much history had elapsed...