From (theistic) evolution to creation
A tribute to Prof. J. Rendle-Short
When you walk into the university department of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, the portrait on the wall is that of a figure well-known in creation science circles in many parts of the world.
Dr T. John Rendle-Short, or ‘Prof’ as he is affectionately known by many, was Foundation Professor and Head of the Department of Child Health in the University of Queensland, Brisbane, a post he held for 24 years.
Though he has not actively taught for some years, his influence is still felt by this generation of medical students. His book A Synopsis of Children’s Diseases is still being used as a pediatric textbook at the University of Queensland Medical School at the time of writing.
His academic and clinical prowess earned for him the distinguished status of Professor Emeritus, which means he is, in effect, ‘Professor for Life’ of the University.
Yet Prof. Rendle-Short is one of the humblest Christian gentlemen one could meet. When talking on the creation/evolution issue, he is quick to say, ‘I am not a scientist’—even though in 1981 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services in medicine and infantile autism.
Prof had the inestimable advantage of being born into a Christian family with a long evangelical tradition. His father, Arthur Rendle Short (his father’s name was spelt without the hyphen), became professor of surgery in the University of Bristol, England. As well as impeccable surgical qualifications, he had the rare distinction of having degrees (high distinctions, with gold medals, from the University of London) in physiology and geology. Besides medical books, he wrote many books on Christian apologetics, with a special interest in creation and evolution. He was much in demand as a speaker in Brethren and InterVarsity Fellowship circles.
Of his father’s writings which promote theistic evolution, Prof says,
‘It must be understood that in England in the first decades of the 20th century, Darwin was triumphant. No thinking person seriously contemplated six-day creation or that the Flood really covered more than the then known world.’
It is little surprise therefore that John Rendle-Short himself was a theistic evolutionist for more than 40 years. He says,
‘I have every sympathy with those Christians of a past generation who felt compelled to try to find a way to cope with evolution. For them, there seemed to be very little choice—all the science they were told of pointed to evolution—the alleged long age of the earth, Piltdown man, and so on.’
From personal notes of his father’s which turned up years later, Prof discovered that the elder Rendle Short’s peace with evolutionary theory was always an uneasy one. The Fall in particular was an agonizing ‘impasse’ for him. Prof asks,
‘How could the Fall of man have brought sin and death into the world, if the fossils were showing a creation ‘groaning’ for millions of years before man? How could man be both a rising ape and a fallen image? These were agonizing questions for my father.’
It was a great encouragement to Prof to discover strong indications from his father’s private notes that as time went on, Arthur Rendle Short increasingly shifted toward belief in a six-day recent creation, although he made no written comment about the extent of the Flood.
Sadly, Piltdown man, a cleverly conceived hoax which seemed to have been a powerful influencing factor in Arthur Rendle Short’s acceptance of evolution, was only revealed as a fraud in December 1953, some two months after Prof’s father died.
For Prof himself, educated at Cambridge and brought up with his father’s writings, theistic evolution (or its variant, progressive creationism) was the natural direction for him to take. His odyssey to being chairman of one of the most effective creation science outreach ministries in the world was overseen by the Lord’s hand in countless ways, both large and small.
An encounter with the late Prof. Dr Arthur Wilder-Smith on a bus in Toronto was the starting point. Prof says,
‘Here was a man who had three earned science doctorates, who was a convinced believer in the literal truth of Genesis. When he told me this, I was flabbergasted.’
Later, God used other totally unexpected sources to further open his eyes to the enormous contradictions between evolution/long ages belief and the Gospel he had long held dear. A phrase he read on a lonely plane journey from England to Australia in the unlikely book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, concerning the word ‘God’ being related to the word ‘good’, was the catalyst. How could God, who was Himself perfect goodness, countenance the suffering and death of countless creatures for billions of years, and then proclaim His creation ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31)?
After many years wandering in the ‘wilderness’ of theistic evolution, Prof found it a great joy to be part of a ministry strengthening the Genesis foundations of Christianity. He was particularly thrilled at being instrumental in establishing Creation Science Foundation (UK) in his beloved mother country.
Prof. Rendle-Short is acutely aware of the harm done to Christianity by evolutionary compromises. Some years ago he met a pastor who, on finding that Prof was now a ‘full on’ creationist, reacted strongly. He said that many years ago, he had heard Prof espouse theistic evolution. This had started this pastor on a downhill road which, he exclaimed, ‘nearly destroyed my faith.’
The Rendle-Short name is well known to publishers of both medical and Christian works. For example, one medical publishing house has now had something written by either Prof or his father in print continuously for over 80 years!
Having discovered the crying need for Christians to ‘wake up’ to the power of the creation message, Prof has written a number of related books, including Man: Ape or Image? and Reasonable Christianity. His most recent work, Green Eye of the Storm, was published in 1998 by the Banner of Truth Trust, a UK Evangelical Christian publishing house. It deals with the impact of Darwinism on the lives of four British Christians in the 19th and 20th centuries. Philip Gosse F.R.S. (a scientist who is best remembered for his disastrous effort to counter Darwin by explaining fossils as created ‘ready made’), George Romanes F.R.S. (another scientist, who abandoned his Christianity on becoming a close personal friend of Darwin’s, but regained his faith in the last few months of his short life and was one of Darwin’s literary executors), Prof’s own father, and lastly John Rendle-Short (Prof) himself.
It is Prof’s fervent desire that, whether through this book or other means, many who have been tempted to compromise their faith through the ‘academically respectable’ belief in evolution/long ages, will turn back to the authority of the Bible, and its true account of the real history of the world.
A gold medallion, depicting Emeritus Professor John Rendle-Short, is presented each year to the medical student earning the highest marks in the final pediatric clinical examination of the University of Queensland, Australia. The students have their details engraved on the reverse.
Update: We are sorry to report that Prof. Rendle-Short died on 21 January 2010, aged 90.