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Henry Morris dies


Henry Morris, the founder of the "creation science" movement, died on February 25, 2006, in Santee, California, at the age of 87. Speaking to The New York Times (March 4, 2006), NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described him as "the most important creationist of the 20th century, much more so than William Jennings Bryan." And the historian Edward J. Larson, whose Trial and Error is the definitive treatment of the legal history of the creationism/evolution controversy, told the Washington Post (March 1, 2006), "He had an enormous influence ... He literally set the terms of the debate for the second half of the 20th century."

Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1918, Morris graduated from Rice University in 1939 and earned a master's degree and a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering from the University of Minnesota. He taught engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southern Illinois University, and, beginning in 1957, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where he served as department chair. As early as 1946, with the publication of That You Might Believe (which he described as the first book "published since the Scopes trial in which a scientist from a secular university advocated recent special creation and a worldwide flood"), he was also attempting to establish creationism on a scientific basis.

With the theologian John C. Whitcomb, Morris wrote The Genesis Flood (1961), the catalyst for the modern creation science movement. Although the basic idea of flood geology was already presented by George McCready Price a generation earlier, The Genesis Flood succeeded in popularizing it among fundamentalist Christians, especially those with scientific and technical training. Subsequently, Morris was among the founders of the Creation Research Society, established in 1963, which sought to promote and publish research supporting scientific creationism.

In 1970, Morris retired from mainstream academia, even declining Auburn University's offer of a chair in civil engineering. Instead, he moved to California in order to establish the Creation Science Research Center, a creationist auxiliary to Tim LaHaye's new Christian Heritage College. After a split over tactics, the center was severed from the college; Morris reorganized what remained as the Institute for Creation Research. Morris served as the president of the ICR from 1970 to 1995, when his son John Morris succeeded him; he remained president emeritus of the ICR until his death.

At the ICR, Morris was a prolific writer, with such books as The Genesis Record, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, History of Modern Creationism, What is Creation Science? (coauthored with Gary E. Parker), and The Modern Creation Trilogy (coauthored with John Morris) to his credit. Perhaps most influential was Scientific Creationism, intended for use as a textbook; two versions were issued, a general edition and a public school edition, from which a chapter that "places the scientific evidence in its proper Biblical and theological context" was omitted.

In his ethnography God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World, the anthropologist Christopher P. Toumey wrote, "For most of the creationist activists in North Carolina, Henry Morris and his organization, the Institute for Creation Research, are the only important sources of creationist knowledge and belief. For information, they refer to Morris to lead them through Genesis and geochronology; for inspiration, they turn to Morris himself to steer them past doubt and difficulty. No other authority or influence matters nearly as much."

Although Toumey was writing in 1994, before the rise of the prominent young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis and the visibility of "intelligent design" creationism, Morris's influence is still widely felt. AiG's Ken Ham told The New York Times, "All of us in the modern creationism movement today would say we stand on his shoulders." And Paul Nelson, a Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times (March 3, 2006) as saying, "Ideas can die because there is just no one to think about them ... I love the fact that Dr. Morris kept alive dissent from Darwinian evolution."

While opposing the scientific bankruptcy of his views, Morris's opponents credited him with sincerity and cordiality. Brown University's Kenneth R. Miller told the Los Angeles Times, "I found Morris to be unfailingly polite, a real gentleman and a person who was a sincere and committed Christian." And NCSE's Scott also described him as gentlemanly to The New York Times, adding, "I feel that he was absolutely sincere about his convictions that the Bible was literally true and that science would support it and creation science was good science."