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Hiding in Plain Sight: Creationists and Anticommunist Politics, Part 1 | Righting America

by Carl Weinberg

Today’s post comes from Dr. Carl R. Weinberg. Weinberg is Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is the author of Labor, Loyalty, and Rebellion: Southwestern Illinois Coal Miners and World War I (Southern Illinois University Press). He is completing a book manuscript entitled Red Dynamite: Creationism and Anticommunism in Modern America.

On November 7, 1917, one hundred years ago today, workers and soldiers loyal to the Bolshevik Party seized power in Petrograd, Russia and established the first workers’ republic in world history. What does that have to do with the history behind the Answers in Genesis (AiG) Creation Museum? Far more than you might think. To understand why, it will help to consider an AiG fundraising letter I received this past May from Ken Ham, (published online as “Exposing the Connection: How Evolution Impacts Morality”).  Since I have spent a number of years researching creationism—which explains why I’m on the AiG mailing list—I’ve learned something about what makes creationists tick. But I recognize that most evolution-minded people have trouble understanding why anyone in the twenty-first century would continue to believe that God created humans in the last ten thousand years.  Their eyes glaze over (or their heads explode) when creationists go on about the alleged faults of radiometric dating or the Biblical “evidences” that humans and dinosaurs lived happily together in the Garden of Eden before Adam bit into that apple.  As young people are wont to ask these days, “Seriously?”

Ken Ham’s letter helps answer that nagging question. It is a remarkably open and honest acknowledgement of why evolution really matters to creationists. And it has little to do with biology or geology. For all the millions of dollars that Ham and his colleagues have spent on scientific-ish museum exhibits, films, and books, their main concern is not “molecules to man.” What AiG really cares about is social evolution: how morality and power relations change over time. In his letter, Ham explains that when people are taught that life arose and evolved through only natural processes, without a creator God, they are deprived of a solid moral code based on God’s authority. This allows for a morality that evolves. For Ham, it is evolving in a downward direction. As evidence, he points to the growing opposition to “Christian morality, such as marriage being one man and one woman and abortion being murder.”  To boost his own authority, Ham notes that the late Dr. Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), AiG’s predecessor, “had also been writing about this connection between evolution and morality in most of his early books.” Ham is right about Morris. Which brings us back to the Bolsheviks.

To find a systematic materialist worldview arguing that morality changes over time, as society and power relations change, look no further than Marxism. Although we have been misled for decades into thinking that only capitalist robber barons like John D. Rockefeller made use of Darwin for political purposes, left-wing social Darwinism was deeper and more widespread.1 The tradition started with Marx and Engels—big fans of Darwin’s achievement—and continued through the pre–World War I Socialist parties of the Second International and into the international communist movement inaugurated in Petrograd a century ago.2 Lenin and Trotsky, and their followers in the U.S., led a public campaign that elevated Marxist-Darwinism to a high level.  Even as the murderous Stalinist regime later presided over the destruction of Soviet genetics, they did it in the name of proper evolutionism.3 In the early years, the Bolsheviks also began to overturn traditional power relations—between landlords and peasants, between employers and workers, between oppressor and oppressed nationalities, but also between men and women. Under the new regime—before many policies were reversed under Stalin—abortion was legalized; marriage and divorce became civil, not church, procedures; and economic opportunities began to open up for women.4 One would therefore expect that antievolutionists, and their broader milieu of Christian fundamentalists, would take notice. And they did.

If you read Henry Morris’s works written in the decades before Ken Ham started his creationist career in 1975, you’ll find that he consistently took aim at a range of worldviews that allowed for social and moral evolutionism. But communism took the cake. From That You Might Believe (1946) to the young-earth creationist blockbuster co-authored with John C. Whitcomb, Jr. The Genesis Flood (1961) to restatements of his thesis in Twilight of Evolution (1963), Evolution’s Troubled Waters (1974), and Evolution in Turmoil (1982), Morris indicted Marxism above all for pulling the rug from under a God-centered system of morality. As Morris and Whitcomb put it in The Genesis Flood in a section tellingly titled, “The Importance of the Question,” atheistic evolutionism formed “the backbone of the whole scientific structure of Communistic philosophy.” There were other “man-centered philosophies,” they wrote. But “Communism is the most dangerous and widespread philosophy opposing Christianity today.”5

When Morris started writing in this vein in 1946, he was standing on a decades-long creationist anticommunist tradition. One of its earliest exponents was George McCready Price (1870–1963). A Canadian-born creationist geologist, Seventh-day Adventist, and godfather of young-earth creationism, Price wrote about the combined moral dangers of socialism, communism, and evolutionism in a series of works in the 1910s and 20s.6 For Price, a key Biblical passage for understanding the immoral political and social consequences of evolutionary thinking was Matthew 7:15, in which Jesus warned about trees that bore “evil fruit.” In The Predicament of Evolution (1925), Price wrote about those fruits in alarming terms: “Marxian Socialism and the radical criticism of the Bible, though arising first in point of time, are now proceeding hand in hand with the doctrine of organic evolution to break down all those ideas of morality, all those concepts of the sacredness of marriage and of private property, upon which Occidental civilization has been built during the past thousand years.”7 For its criminal consequences—for encouraging a profound challenge to both gender and property relations—Price labeled evolution “Red Dynamite,” from which my book takes its title.

Indiana-born William Bell Riley was singing a similar tune. Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, central leader of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, and founder of the Northwestern Bible College, Riley was, outside of William Jennings Bryan, the leading antievolutionist of the 1920s.8 He paid little attention to biology—he was far more concerned about evolutionary social science textbooks.  They were dangerous, Riley explained to his flock, because they built a bridge that enabled an invasion of “Soviet propaganda.” The infusion of communist ideas would lead to the “overthrow of the State.” America would become like Russia: “infidelity, mental and moral; rapine, plunder, robbery—these will be universal.”9 Riley’s indictment of Soviet Russia drew on widely reprinted fake news stories alleging that the Bolshevik government had nationalized the nation’s women and set up a Bureau of Free Love to distribute them equally among the male population.10

And with the next post, we will bring the anticommunist creationism back to Ken Ham and AiG.


1Kampourakis, eds, Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 139–46.

2Mark Pittenger, American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870–1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993).

3Nikolai Krementsov, “Darwinism, Marxism, and genetics in the Soviet Union,” in Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 215–46.

4Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (IU Press, 1997).

5John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1961), 444.

6Carl R. Weinberg, “Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits: Evolution, Eschatology, and the Anticommunist Politics of George McCready Price,” Church History 83 (September 2014): 684–722.

7George McCready Price, The Predicament of Evolution (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1925). The full text of the book is available online at: http://www.creationism.org/books/price/PredicmtEvol/.

8William Vance Trollinger, God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).

9“Evolution or Sovietizing the State Through Its Schools,” in William Bell Riley, Inspiration or Evolution (Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, 1926; 2nd ed.), 109–10.

10Julia L. Mickenberg, “Suffragettes and Soviets: American Feminists and the Specter of Revolutionary Russia,” JAH 100 (March 2014): 1043; “Bolshevism Bared by R. E. Simmons,” New York Times, February 18, 1919, 4.