Laelaps

For H.A. Reid, the secretary of the State Academy of Sciences in Des Moines, Iowa, evolution and Creation fit perfectly together. Writing in the Kansas City Review of Science and Industry in 1881, Reid echoed the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson that it was impossible to look at the natural world and not see evidence for some kind of Creator;

The very nature and constitution of the human mind is such, that no man can talk or even think about his own existence and that of the visible world of objects around him, without assuming, even though he may deny it in words, the idea and the fact of a Great First Cause — or, as Herbert Spencer now phrases it, “the inscrutable universal power.” I, therefore, maintain that a real atheist is a phenomenal impossibility; the existence of God is simply an eternal fact– but men’s ideas about God are various and changeful.

I know of quite a few people who embody the “phenomenal impossibility” that Reid alludes to, and his attempt to cast everyone as a believer in “inscrutable universal power” (only making a division between those who accept it and those that publicly deny it) is a ham-fisted, at best. Nevertheless, at least he lays his assumptions out in full view, his preconditions molding the way in which Reid proceeds to try and meld the fossil record and a 6-day creation week together. Pulling at frayed ends with all his might Reid uses the Great Chain of Being to make his case. Although he calls it the “Synoptic Calendar of Creation,” the idea of progress from chaotic, lifeless matter to spiritual beings is abundantly clear;

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The above schedule, followed from the bottom upward, shows the order of creational progress, each “kingdom ” being evolved or created out of not only the last preceding one, but doubtless in some measure from all the preceding — not that “the spiritual kingdom ” is thus produced, in all that it comprehends, but that the ” spiritual man,” after he has become cognizant of God and spiritual things, still dwells in the flesh for a time, and is therefore a “connecting link”between the animal kingdom and the spiritual kingdom; or, the animal form of man walking the earth, but the angel consciousness more or less developed within his soul. This is the natural philosophy of that sentiment,

“I want to be an angel, and with the angels stand,”

and others like it, so common in our church and Sunday school hymn books.

As has too-often been the case, evolution is confused with progress towards an end-point, trends in the fossil record or supposed evolutionary history documenting the Ascent of humanity. There seemed to be no other way to marry the two disparate and conflicting systems to each other. Reid did have another trick, though. The growing amount of evidence connecting reptiles and birds, from the reptilian characters of Archaeopteryx to bipedal dinosaurs, could no longer be denied. Although the magnificent birds soared above the heads of the lowly dinosaurs, mired in “oozy slime,” there could be little doubt that they were relatives. How did this accord with the “Mosaic” account of Creation as told in Genesis?

The fact that dinosaurs were envisioned by some as being giant, swamp-bound monsters during this time gave Reid a way out. The Genesis narrative was clear that birds were created on the 5th day, the same day as the great whales and other “moving creatures of the water” (within which Reid lumped non-avian dinosaurs). If mammals (including humans) appeared on the next day, representing the “Age of Mammals,” then the 5th must have been the “Age of Reptiles”;

Vegetation had been created before this, or on the third “day” so called, and land animals appear the next or sixth ” day,” corresponding to the ” Age of Mammals;” so that there can be no mistaking the fact that the Bible writer definitely groups the water animals, including fishes, amphibians and reptiles, together with flying creatures and birds, in one creational period or epoch, just as modern science does.

(This schedule, it is worth noting, significantly differs from the current young-earth creationist interpretation of when dinosaurs were created. According to the current YEC dogma dinosaurs appeared on day 6 alongside Adam & Eve, Tyrannosaurus munching on coconuts and Triceratops obliging dino-back rides to the naked couple. Reid interpreted the creation “days” as long periods of time, but it is still worth noting the difference.)

Reid’s short commentary shares much in common with popular Christian apologetics. Science is seen as confirming what had already been recorded in the Bible, almost as if it was fulfilling prophecy with researchers confirming theological truth via non-theological methodology. (Although this is not unique to Christianity; I’ve been accosted by Muslim street-preachers telling me that their holy book predicted a number of scientific discoveries, as well.) Reid’s system crumbles under close scrutiny and in the light of our present understanding is entirely shattered, but I do find it an interesting example of trying to reconcile science & religion before the formulation of “Flood geology” that mutated into creationism as we now know it.