Tales from the Archives part 1: “So, things are normal.”

I will occasionally post things from the archives, with minimal explanation or point, sometimes. Here’s a fun one recently.

In the early 1970s, when evolution/creationism was raging at BYU, one professor wrote somewhat dryly to a friend elsewhere. 

“Reid Bankhead is making the natives restless again; passing out his manual on anti-evolutionary thought. I attended his lecture Wednesday and he showed a filmstrip about catastrophism. He said that ‘uniformitarianism and evolution are synonyms and are concepts of the devil.’ I think the filmstrip comes from the Creation Research Society.

So, in a word, things are normal at BYU.”

 Reid E. Bankhead (1919-2003) had received training in Civil Engineering at Utah state, then a MA at BYU, writing “A Study of the Meaning of the Terms Inspiration and Revelation as Used in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” Bankhead taught in RelEd from 1948-1985, where he became one of the main Constitutional conservative, anti-evolution, “the biologists are communists” group in Religious Education. Indeed, while Bankhead had written several works on the Book of Mormon,  he also compiled a pamphlet which eventually grew to about 40 pages, featuring LDS authorities as well as Christian fundamentalists. Even when instructed not to, he distributed that pamphlet on campus by the thousands.

The “filmstrip” he showed may have been “Cataclysm from Space, 2800BC:The Cause of the Genesis Flood.” (That’s a YouTube link.)

The author, Donald W. Patten (obituary), a geographer, wrote such books as

  • The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch;
  • Catastrophism and the Old Testament: The Mars-Earth Conflicts and
  • The Mars -Earth Wars: the Destruction of Lucifers Planet 2020

For more on Patten, see The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovksy and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. Bankhead et. al were also fans of Velikovsky… who is quoted in the 1980 Institute Manual.

Why do I think this might have been the filmstrip? Because I have other archival material in which Bankhead and a colleague brag about being the ones to introduce Patten’s work to BYU. This nameless (for now) colleague boasted in a letter to Bankhead,

Between Emanuel Velikovsky and Donald Patten, the universal flood [and a young earth] is an established fact. Velikovksy’s data are so voluminous and Patten’s theory is so airtight that I think only the ignorant and the liars can reject it.

There is also tantalizing third-hand material in the archives that Ezra Taft Benson wanted Cataclysm from Space used in Seminaries and Institutes. I can’t confirm that at this point in time, but it wouldn’t be out of place, as Bankhead and his colleague often consulted for Elder Benson who was strongly anti-evolution.

Thus the wry ending of the biologists note. “So, in a word, things are normal at BYU.”

(To be clear, things at BYU have changed since then, for the better.)

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2 thoughts on “Tales from the Archives part 1: “So, things are normal.”

  1. We had the same problem at BYU in the 60s. On the last day of Economics 401 taught by Dick Wirthlin (later a GA), he let down his hair and had us in stitches. He joked about some the of religion profs — definitely stories about Glenn Pearson and probably Bankhead, too. He mentioned that while doing his PhD in economics at Berkeley he found a copy of Skousen’s “The Naked Communist” in the Berkeley library — it was in the biology section.


  2. It would be an interesting exercise to trace the links, if any, between this and the so-called “Universal Model” touted by the Heartlander movement. I guess it means we will always have some iteration of retrenched thinking among us; in 50 years, there will be another ill-informed reactionary crackpot assertion (because theory is the wrong word) and another Ben Spackman to deal with it.


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