Lutheran Witness Retro Flashback: “A Seminary For Monkeys” Revisited


by Rebekah Curtis

Poor Professor Garner. If only he’d been born 90 years later and female, he could have been a star. Instead, it takes three Google searches to pin down when he was born, starting from the information available in a February 19, 1918 issue of The Lutheran Witness titled “A Seminary For Monkeys.” Your humble Lutheran Witness (LW) explains how Prof. Garner spent some years of his life in a cage in Africa listening to apes converse and returned to these shores to open a seminary for gorillas and chimpanzees with the goal of expediting their evolutionary development. Jane Goodall’s besties didn’t get half the service of these simianarians!

That’s not all LW had to say about evolution that year. An April issue chortles over an anthropologist’s theory about the human face growing more wedge-shaped over time (how, wonders LW, did poor Caesar chew?). The tolerance of evolutionary theory among other Lutheran synods is noted and denounced. Most soberingly, several issues decry “Pan-Germanism” in the mother country. This view included the belief that Germans were the apex of the evolutionary process, and as such had every right to go on to do the things we now know all too well they did.

So it seems that LW readers haven’t evolved much on the matter of evolution. To be fair, neither have evolutionists. The piece on Prof. Garner’s monkey monkery opens with the charge that evolutionists have never been able to provide evidence for transitional organisms in the evolutionary process. They still haven’t. Another LW article critiqued a then-new theory that apes are a retrogression from a common ancestor with humans. While enabling an exciting array of conjectural insights, the theory itself was the result of nothing more than some poking at an old skull and some ironic creativity.

These tales sound exactly like a contemporary CNN science article, each of which describes how loads of money have been sunk into some scientist’s goofy hobby horse, documents a few measurements from the internal world of the experiment, and then speculates extravagantly to fit the results into the evolutionary narrative. By these means are we ignorami brought to an intellectually gratifying, if not satisfying, conclusion.

Lutherans were among the many people who weren’t falling for it in 1918. Why should we now? Or, as one of LW’s “Nonsense of Evolution” columns concluded:

Here endeth the lesson.

Let us stick to our Bible.

Rebekah Curtis is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Ill. 

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4 Responses to Lutheran Witness Retro Flashback: “A Seminary For Monkeys” Revisited

  1. August 8, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

    There is one thing that has convinced me of the futility of the evolutionary theory: ANY ape that I have ever polled on the subject, be it a chimpanzee, orangutan, baboon, or gorilla, has steadfastly refused to admit that they are even the most distant relative of humans!

  2. August 8, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    I think the tone is a bit to sarcastic for an official venue such as this. It doesn’t respectfully engage people with whom one may disagree. If a personal Facebook sight, it would be fine among friends, but here there needs to be a more evangelical tone. I hope that this is taken as constructive criticism.

  3. August 9, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    Dear editor,
    I want you to picture a scientist, let’s say a biologist who recently was baptized a Christian, reading this petty work. They are still trying to process all that it means to become a child of God, including the depth of love revealed to them in word and sacrament. They haven’t yet worked through issues like vocation or creation.

    Now they see this article and read it. Does the spirit point them to the hope they have in Christ Jesus? Or will it snuff a tender flame… It demeans and acts condescendingly to anyone inside or outside the church struggling with those issues they have been raised with, rather than shepherd them through them.

    Please be more careful in what is written and verbal published on our magazine. It is a work entrusted to you, to assist the church, not crush it.

  4. August 9, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Perhaps a more interesting and helpful use of the LW’s time would be to repost the old article. The preceding commentary is far too glib to deal with such a topic.

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