Was Thornwell a Theistic Evolutionist?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Bill Duncan, Mar 4, 2019.

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  1. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    I recently heard a pastor say, while teaching on the WSC Q. 10, that Thornwell, Dabney, and most Southern Presbyterians were Theistic Evolutionists. Without going down the forbidden road that leads to issues of Slavery, can anyone direct me me to any of Thornwell's "Collected Writings" where I might see this view in him specifically. I do not see how Theistic Evolution can square with his positions taught in his lectures on Creation and Man in volume 1.
  2. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Young-earth creationism just wasn't much of a position until fundamentalism took hold in the 20th century. Nor was theistic evolution. I can't think of a single reference to the Southern Presbyterians or old Princeton or any of the giants of the era who doubted an historical Adam or fall. General and special revelation were permitted to shine light on questions in all of reality.
  3. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    Exactly as Jean said, there wasn't really much Young Earth Creationism as it exists today until after Thornwell. You can see a post here where I give more details, but I recommend reading the book I mentioned at the top, The Creationists by Ronald Numbers, to learn more. It's the best treatment of the topic I've found: https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/hart-on-machen-and-evolution.97438/#post-1190689

    That said, according to the PCA report on creation, I'm not sure that pastor was correct. The Southern Presbyterians tended to be more against evolution and some ways to defend an old earth than the Princetonians/early OPC and the Free Church of Scotland. The PCA report on creation is a great history of the related issues from a Presbyterian perspective. I've quoted a couple of relevant sections, but if you're interested, I would read the report in full:


    Read more here: http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html
  4. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I'm not sure Dabney was any type of evolutionist; see his book on the Sensualistic Philosophy. Age of earth, different question as above already given.
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  5. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    @Bill Duncan

    I know of no evidence to support the claim that Thornwell, Dabney, et al. held to or taught TE. The James Woodrow kerfuffle at Columbia Seminary in the 1880s demonstrates that this was the first time that such had been significantly taught in the PCUS.

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  6. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Sometimes, young earth advocates will lump together everyone who takes a different position. So they might call someone who allows for an older earth an evolutionist, even though that label is incorrect. I wonder if, maybe, the pastor you heard made that slip.
  7. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, Dabney specifically opposed Lyellian geology, which posited geological uniformitarianism and thus an Old Earth. He wasn't a defender of a Young Earth perhaps in the modern sense, but he opposed the principles on which Theistic Evolutionists, including the Northern Presbyterians, accepted an Old Earth.
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  8. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for confirming this Jean. Thornwell says likewise that up until his day he knew of no doubting of divine creation.
    I did read someone surmised that Thornwell sanctioned Woodrows beliefs but he only came to Columbia the year before Thornwell died and there was not evidence of him promoting evolution during his early years there. Thanks Alan.
  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Dabney was anti-evolution. Sensualistic Philosophy and his Systematic Theology are very clear on that.
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  10. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    There's a huge difference between the modern BioLogos evolutionists and those in the 19th-century PCUS who affirmed creation but questioned how much the Bible revealed about how God created.

    In German liberalism, you had those who saw Darwinism as a means to further distance themselves from a theistic God who sovereignly sustains the universe moment by moment. I'm not familiar with the gentlemen of the Carolinas and Georgia interacting with such philosophy.
  11. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    I keep hearing a trend.... what about YEC would these men reject. I don’t believe YEC should become a doctrine or religion in itself. But the framework seems fairly legit from a faithful, biblical perspective. I think it gets a bad rap. I look at it this way, is what that is revealed as literal in the Bible, wholly disproven by science?. I think a reasonable YEC is merely taking what the Bible claims to be a literal truth as a literal truth... and leaving the rest open, not to defy the laws of God’s creation. There is a great deal of special revelation that we have historical clues to but cannot see in effect today. Like everything of and around Lord Jesus and His earthly ministry.
  12. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree. Often that seems to have hindered Meredith Kline's reputation. I think this is where this man was going when he went down the trail with Thornwell. I think you could read into some of what Thornwell said and detect some Day-Age thinking, or at least read it into his words. Far how ever from TE.
  13. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I'm glad Dabney's Sensualistic Philosophy was mentioned several times. That was the first thing I thought of too. He had very good foresight on where culture would go with evolution teaching.
  14. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    Not trying to derail the thread, but I hadn’t heard that before. Ussher’s chronology essentially posits a YEC... was it kind of forgotten - or at least inconsequential - until fundamentalists rescued it from obscurity?
  15. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I think the point is, though others can correct me if I'm wrong, that YEC was not clearly defined in counter-distinction to evolutionary theories until the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, not that literal views of creation were absent from the church - not unlike how until the Church Councils and the Trinitarian controversies, the church hadn't used the words Trinity, fusis, thelema, hypostasis, etc much in their writings, but they still believed in the substance of Trinitarian orthodoxy.
  16. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I thought I had posted this to PB sometime (I'm saying that a lot to myself lately) and discovered it was to another discussion group, back in 2000! Any way,

    Dr. [Samuel] Miller [1769-1850], professor of church history and theology at Princeton] defends a global deluge and champions a young earth in the book that earned him his literary reputation, which was one of his first and the largest it seems of his numerous publications, "A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century. containing a sketch of the revolutions and improvements in Science, Arts, and Literature, during that period" (NY:1803, 2 vols). On pages 156-189 he reviews the geological literature of the century. Miller writes (1.184; 188-189):
    "But although there has been, in modern times, as appears from the foregoing pages, a wonderful variety of fanciful productions, under the name of geological theories, we are by no means to imagine that little has been usefully done in this department of natural history. Amidst all the splendid rubbish with which it has been incumbered, some precious treasures have been brought to light. Amidst the speculations which have 'darkened counsel,' large additions have been made to our knowledge of this important subject. These may be summed up in the following particulars.Finally, the researches of modern geologists have given abundant confirmation to the sacred history, not only with respect to the general 'deluge,' but also with regard to the 'age' of the earth. Early in the century, and, indeed, until within a few years, several geological phenomena were considered, by superficial inquirers, as indicating that the creation of the globe we inhabit was an event much more remote than the sacred history represents it; and some theorists even went so far as to profess a belief that it existed from eternity. These opinions were kept in countenance only as long as geology was in its infancy. Every successive step which has been lately taken in the improvement of this science has served to show their fallacy. The investigations of the latest and most accurate philosophers have afforded proof little short of demonstration, that the earth, a least in its present form, cannot have existed longer than appears from the Mosaic account; the absolute falsehood of many positive assertions, and specious inferences, hostile to the scripture chronology, has been evinced; and thence has arisen a new presumptive argument in support of the authenticity of that Volume, which contains the most ancient, and the most precious of all records."​

    How quickly the tide changed in the 19th century.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2019
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