Before Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, What Did Fundamentalists Object To?

Trains. Now you know.


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  • Omar Zellal


  • That’s very funny. But now that you raised the question, since prior to Darwin geologists were already saying that the earth was much older than 6,000 years, how were fundamentalists dealing with it?

    • Even evolution was not a problem for the original fundamentalists whose list of fundamentals are the source of the name. They came along after Darwin, but although they adamantly opposed higher criticism of the Bible, they did not list opposition to evolution as one of their fundamentals.

      So the short answer is that they opposed all the stuff I do for a living…and trains. 🙂

      • So prior to Darwin there were no Christian objections to an old earth?

        • Oh, there were, but for the most part, geologists prior to Darwin, when the evidence accumulated indicating an older Earth than previously thought, simply revised their viewpoint. It wasn’t made an axiom of the true believer to the extent that it would be later.

          • You’ve sparked my curiosity about this subject. Would you know of a good book or two about this period of time, regarding the interaction between Christian thought and the findings of geology?

          • The Bible, Rocks, and Time has, if I remember correctly, a good history of geology and thinking about the age of the Earth in the pre-modern era as well as more recently, among Christian geologists.

          • Thanks.

  • BB

    I actually heard a variation of the train quote referencing airplanes when I was a kid and the Internet when I was a pastor. Fundamentalists eventually embrace technology, about fifty years after the fact.

    Just think, in 20 more years they can start using DVD’s. 🙂

    • Brad Spencer

      There was a cartoon in the 1950’s or 1960’s by a college student in Texas (I’m pretty sure) in Texas that had a black-clad woman at an airport saying “Evil, Evil. Man was not meant to fly.”

  • Michael Roberts

    Personal advert. My book Evangelicals and Science  deals with it as well and covers fom 1730 to 20o7

  • sbh

    This  alleged quotation is funny, but only seems to go back to 1909 or so. It was supposed to be from a reply by a Lancaster PA school board refusing to allow a debate on the subject of railroads at a local school. In 1921 H. Frank Eshleman investigated the story and concluded:

    After taking up the matter and investigating it, we are convinced that it is fancy and fiction. The Minutes of the School Boards of Lancaster have been examined from their beginning many years before the date fixed by the above article as the time of the alleged incident and nothing appears at all thereon. Mr. Wm. Riddle who has written up the School History of Lancaster, and has gone through every bit of minutes and other voluminous data, in which are preserved carefully the whole history of the schools of Lancaster, declares that he found nothing at all in them referring to the subject of the railroad; and surely nothing so uncommon as the supposed action of the Board as set forth in the said item.

    Eshleman also noted that when the railroad threatened to bypass Lancaster the citizens had labored to make sure that it came through. “The citizens generally and the city government and its civil forces all worked for the railroad and it is inconceivable that the advance guard of enlightenment, the school authorities should have opposed it.” (Considering recent antics of school boards in Kansas and Pennsylvania I personally am less convinced of the truth of this proposition.) Esheman’s paper was published in Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Volume 25, page 108.

    • Brettongarcia

      This particular example may not be certain.  However, we know from the history of Luddites, and popular culture, many other such remarks were often made by many people, and in many sermons. 

      It was commonly said of the airplane, for example, that “if God had meant us to fly, he would have given us wings.”

      Such remarks can be found in hundreds of places.

      Not all minutes, by the way, are as absolutely accurate as they claim.  As anyone knows who has attended almost any meeting, and then read the minutes afterwards.

    • Thanks for digging into this so deeply!

  • Kyle Greenwood

    @Biblo. There are 4-5 essays in the Fundamentals (mentioned by James above) that directly relate to creation/evolution/age of earth. Orr and Warfield are open to the idea of so-called theistic evolution. Hague and Wright are opposed to it. It’s fascinating to read these side-by-side, since (as James rightly asserts) these papers formed the “fundamentals” of “fundamentalism.”

  • Randy25

    The irony here is that if there had been something in the Bible about not traveling more than 15 miles per hour, many here would have said God could not possibly have known that there would be trains.

  • Gamgokt

    What you supposed christian believers of evolution are saying is–God is not capable of writing or speaking the truth and that a sinful, unbeliever is.

    You do not have a God to serve because you have destroyed Him with your false beliefs.

    • False teachers always accuse others of being false teachers and claim that they themselves teach the truth. And so it is not enough for you to use such language. You also need to be right. And since you are misrepresenting my own stance, why would anyone think that you would rightly represent God’s perspective?

      • Gamgokt

         if you don’t believe Moses how will you believe Jesus? You have shown that you believe neither which means that you have no truth and if you have no truth you are a false teacher.

        • The ploy of placing yourself in the role of Jesus and accusing me as he is depicted as doing in the Gospel of John depends on a number of assumptions: that Jesus spoke as John depicts, that we know what Moses wrote, and that I disbelieve what we have good reason to think that Moses wrote. Feel free to actually address those things, if you are so inclined, because unless you do so, your ploy doesn’t work.

  • Ian

    But before Darwin there were no fundamentalists, since the Fundamentals weren’t written until 40 years after his death. 

    Now that’s a serious needle for fundies: that their self-important movement is less than 100 years old. Or perhaps phrase it as ‘a modern cult’ for added effect 🙂

  • cdbren

    Basically Darwin outlined Natural Selection, which does not “evolve” anything beyond what we find in a certain creature family. Evolution of the “from one kind to another” sense is not possible. Nature is purposless. It can’t see the future and plan accordingly by building complex genetic structures from the ground up. 

    All Darwin did was point out the way a species can adapt to differing environments using genetic information already present in their genes. 

    Also, there is no way to accurately measure the age of the earth/sun/universe. Unless someone has a crystal ball and can say exactly how everything formed. What they do is guess, based on the idea that things formed slowly through natural processes. (I am not saying the scientists findings are in error, just their suppositions.)

    God did not create Adam and Eve as infants and let them roll on to adulthood after 20 or so years. Neither did he create the universe and earth and let it roll on for millions of years until it was in working order.

    • Given that you are a proven charlatan (background here: ), it is not surprising that little in your comment is true.

      How do you know at what age Adam and Eve were created, even if one sets aside the problem of your assuming that the story is about historical people, and not about human existence in general?

      To say that one cannot deduce the age of the Earth from radiometric evidence, chalk beds, and various other evidence would only work if you were willing to give up all deductive inferences and reasoning, since the data clearly and consistently points to a date range. But since you make assertions about the past, you are clearly not willing to do so. And so you are selectively, hypocritically, dishonestly saying that deduction is inappropriate. What evil garbage you spout in your efforts to deceive!

      Evolution works with the variations that occur in populations naturally. So? What deceit did you intend to spin around that?

      Why can you not simply repent of your dishonesty and embrace the evidence from God’s creation?

    • rmwilliamsjr

      Evolution of the “from one kind to another” sense is not possible.

      perhaps you could share your definitions of “kind” and “species”.

    • Guest

       Actually nature can build complex creatures from single cells. You yourself are proof of that. You began as a single egg cell that fused with a sperm. Over nine months you grew from a single-celled organism to a tiny human being. This process is being repeated every day.

      The fossil record gives us many good snapshots of the process of creatures changing from one ‘kind’ to another. There’s a list of transitional fossils here:

      Scientists didn’t get the idea that things formed slowly through natural processess out of nowhere. Darwin was a christian when he started out. It was the evidence that convinced him of evolution’s truth. Same with the geologists who determine the age of the earth. They didn’t start by assuming the earth was old, they looked at the evidence and found it was.

      It is true that science makes the assumption that the laws of nature weren’t radically different in the past. That’s because you couldn’t do science if you assume the laws of nature can change all the time. You wouldn’t be able to get much done in engineering either, if you realy believe that at any moment the laws of physics could just shift on you.

      Dating methods depend on the laws of physics being constant. Here’s some reading material which explains why:

    • Brad Spencer

      The title of Darwin’s book was “On The Origin of Species.”

  • Rj Naef

    wow wonder what the people would think of the modern jets that carry people across the world at speeds of 500-700 mph?