restricted access 8. SHADOWS: The Continuing Legacy of Pre-Adamite Discourse
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201 8 5 Shadows The Continuing Legacy of Pre-Adamite Discourse hile pre-adamism as a species of theologicalanthropology reached its heyday during the second half of the nineteenth century, it would be mistaken to think that it has since then become entirely extinct. To the contrary. It has continued to thrive in certain distinct ecological niches. To be sure, the idea only had purchase for those among whom the notion of a historic Adam retained some significance , religiously or scientifically. But this very fact points to a profound irony. Conceived in heterodoxy and fostered in profanity, the pre-adamites have come to reside among religious conservatives and fundamentalists. And yet the theory’s versatility to perform different functions has remained a characteristic feature of the scheme. For some it has continued to be employed within an antievolutionary framework; for others, both Protestant and Catholic, it has enabled rapprochement with Darwinian biology and allowed for an evolutionary rereading of the Mosaic narrative; for still others its virulent racial potential remains attractive, and it has been recast as a pillar in the edifice of certain branches of contemporary white nationalism. In what follows we chart something of the way pre-adamism’s shadow thus continues to fall on questions of human origins up to the present day. Pre-Adamism and Antievolutionism During the early decades of the twentieth century supporters of pre-adamism were to be found among those suspicious of evolution’s metaphysics W 202 adam’s ancestors and concerned about the direction Darwinism seemed to be heading. Indeed , there is evidence of its survival among some of those considered to have played a critical role in the genesis of modern fundamentalism. One of the most remarkable, albeit terse, expressions of support for the theory in its traditionally nonevolutionary guise among the fathers of this party is to be found in the writings of Reuben A. Torrey (1856–1928). Torrey was, in many respects, a fundamentalist par excellence.1 He had served his time as one of D. L. Moody’s foremost chiefs of staff and took on editorial management of the last two volumes of The Fundamentals—a set of theological statements resisting modernizing impulses in theology. Whatever the revivalist overtones of the movement he found himself spearheading, Torrey’s intellectual roots in the cultural ethos of the New England tradition committed him to a firm belief in the mutual reinforcement of science and scripture. He accordingly applauded James Dana’s concordist reading of Genesis, an understandable enthusiasm, perhaps, given the fact that he had studied under Dana at Yale. And while he did not find it possible to negotiate a similar accommodation of scripture to Darwinian biology, though he acknowledged it was possible to be an evolutionist and still accept biblical infallibility,2 he welcomed the pre-adamite as a peacemaker between biblical religion and archaeological science. Predictably, he claimed to have found the pre-adamite within the pages of Genesis, but he was delighted nonetheless that his discovery should match scientific findings so well. Certainly, Torrey’s observations were, as I have indicated, exceedingly brief. Nevertheless, he plainly stated that “all verses after the first verse of Genesis I seem rather to refer to a refitting of the world that had been created , and had afterwards been plunged into chaos by the sin of some preAdamic race, to be the abode of the present race that inhabits it, the Adamic race.” And again: “It should be said further that it may be that these ancient civilizations which are being discovered in the vicinity of Nineveh and elsewhere may be the remains of the pre-Adamic race already mentioned . . . No one need have the least fear of any discoveries that the archeologists may make; for if it should be found that there were early civilizations thousands of years before Christ, it would not come into conflict whatever with what the Bible really teaches about the antiquity of man, the Adamic race.”3 A much more sustained defense of anti-Darwinian pre-adamism in the early twentieth century is to be found in the writings of Sir Ambrose Fleming (1849–1945), fellow of the Royal Society, president of the Victoria Institute , first president of the Evolution Protest Movement, and for forty-one years professor of electrical technology at University College London4 (fig. Shadows: The Continuing Legacy of Pre-Adamite Discourse 203 25). During a distinguished career he made pioneering contributions to the development of the telephone, radio, and television...