Glenn Branch's picture

The Mysterious Mr. Moore, Part 2

In part 1, I related the prepublication history of Robert A. Moore’s “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark,” which originally appeared in Creation/Evolution 4:1 in 1983 and which, even thirty years later, is one of NCSE’s most frequently cited and used resources. Moore originally submitted “Arkeology: A New Science in Support of Creation?” over the transom to Creation/Evolution, and its then editor, Fred Edwords, was so pleased with it that he commissioned Moore to write a definitive exposé of the problems with the ark story as retailed by modern young-earth creationists. Edwords accepted Moore’s manuscript in May 1982, but it was so long that it was not clear to Edwords how to publish it. In September 1982, Edwords told Moore that he was still pondering the question; in October 1982, the manuscript returned from copyediting. Edwords explained, “your article would take about 47 pages in C/E if run straight.”

Although Edwords evidently considered the possibility of issuing “The Impossible Voyage” as a standalone publication, telling Moore, “I think there is a market for this item not only through C/E but the various freethinker societies,” and contemplating the idea of issuing it bound together with “Arkeology” as a preface, it was, at the end of the day, published as Creation/Evolution 4(1):1–47 in 1983—the whole of that issue. Later that year, Edwords told Moore—in a letter jokingly addressed to “Robert A. Moore, Arkxpert”—that his article “still gets praises everywhere I go.” It also garnered criticism. A subsequent issue of Creation/Evolution 4(3):39–48 contained letters praising and criticizing the article, including ones from the creationist (and geocentrist) R. G. Elmendorf and from the eminent biochemist Thomas H. Jukes (who had contributed [subscription required] his own mite of arkeology debunking in Nature in 1980).

On December 27, 1983, Moore had sent a letter to Edwords with his responses to the letters, which also appeared in Creation/Evolution 4(3). Although Moore then expressed interest in his December letter in writing further for Creation/Evolution—he mentioned as topics Apollo astronaut James Irwin’s unsuccessful quest for the Ark on Mount Ararat, which Edwords had been encouraging him to write about, and a critical discussion of Violet Cummings’s Has Anybody Really Seen Noah’s Ark? An Affirmative Definitive Report (1982), which he read the year it was published—that’s where the file of correspondence ends. Nothing by Moore appeared in Creation/Evolution again after the publication of the letters reacting to “The Impossible Voyage.” Edwords (who is now the national director of the United Coalition of Reason) recently commented by e-mail that Moore “disappeared into the ether from which he came.”

Who was Robert A. Moore? Neither of the about-the-author lines in his articles for Creation/Evolution reveals a lot about him: both describe him as “a writer on religious subjects, [who] has testified at hearings on church-state issues and is an experienced mountain climber (with no intention of joining any ark expedition).” He told Edwords that he was “not a biologist, geologist[,] or paleontologist,” but he had “studied religious fundamentalism extensively” and was himself an “ex-religious fanatic.” While he didn’t mention what he then did for a living, he told Edwords that his goal was to become a “free-lance writer specializing in religion.” He reviewed Lloyd R. Bailey’s Where is Noah’s Ark? (1978) in Skeptical Inquirer in 1979. In the correspondence, his address is listed as a post office box in Phoenix, Arizona; and he mentioned that he lived in Phoenix with his wife and two children.

The only other source of information about Moore I found was his autobiographical essay “From Pentecostal Christianity to Agnosticism,” published in Edward T. Babinski’s collection Leaving the Fold (1995), where he is described as the environmental director of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society (which supports “the study, appreciation, and preservation of natural arches and bridges”). There Moore relates that as a teenager he was converted to Pentecostalism, and in particular a sect called Message Believers, which regarded the minister William Branham (1909–1965) as a prophet. Since Branham deprecated higher education, Moore abandoned his plans of studying science in college and instead went to work for the post office. Apparently scholarly by inclination, he published a compilation of excerpts from Branham’s sermons. But he was disillusioned when he started to study Branham’s prophecies in detail.

Branham, according to Moore, “predicted that the ‘rapture of the church’ would occur no later than 1977, and that prior to that a series of major events would take place, among them the unification of all denominations under the umbrella of the World Council of Churches, the rise of the papacy to world hegemony, and the sinking of Los Angeles in an earthquake.” As Moore investigated the predictions for himself (studying California coastal geology in the process), he became disillusioned and left the Message Believers. Shattered by the experience, he was leery of joining a church again, and “embarked on an intense study of religion from every aspect. I delved into arch[a]eology, higher criticism, comparative mythology, philosophical theology, psychology, apologetics.” It was about then that he wrote “The Impossible Voyage.” His intellectual interests seem to have shifted thereafter to existentialism and environmentalism.

“The Impossible Voyage” itself, however, continues to be widely read, thirty years after its original publication. It is cited, for instance, in Philip Kitcher’s Living with Darwin (2007), Kenneth L. Feder’s Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology (2010), and Donald R. Prothero’s Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (2007)—and even recently on the blog of the estimable Annals of Improbable Research. And it is still a bête noire for creationists. The pseudonymous John Woodmorappe’s Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (1996), which is still regarded as the definitive young-earth creationist defense of the ark, for example, takes “The Impossible Voyage” as its main target: according to Glenn R. Morton’s 1996 review, “Judging by the number of citations, this book is far and away a reaction to...‘The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark,’...(130 citations). At every turn Moore’s name and ideas are being countered or attacked.”

Even without knowing a lot more about Moore’s life, I think that he provides a salutary example. Here is someone without any formal advanced education in biology, geology, paleontology, or (as far as the record shows) Ancient Near Eastern archaeology, with only a keen interest in the topic to spur him onward. But thanks to his extraordinary diligence—Edwords recalls, “He’d interviewed specialists at zoos, consulted scientific journals and other research materials, spent long hours at the library, learned more about animal defecation rates and volume than he’d ever wanted to know...”—coupled with a healthy dose of common sense and (to give Edwords the credit he deserves) the encouragement of and direction from a good editor, he produced a debunking work of enduring value. And if Moore could do it, more can do it: it’s not rocket surgery, after all. Go, and do thou likewise.