Ronald Numbers died peacefully at his home in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 24, at the age of 81.
According to his obituary, the historian of science grew up in a strict Seventh-Day Adventist household in the U.S. and Jamaica. He had little exposure to the secular world until he entered Florida State University. After teaching at Loma Linda University and publishing a book on church founder Ellen G. White, he was criticized by church leadership and forced to leave his post. His deeply personal journey from faith to agnosticism allowed him unique perspectives on the complexities of religion and science, informing his prodigious scholarship for the remainder of his life, the obituary stated.
In 1982, his services were requested for both sides in a Louisiana creation-evolution trial. Ultimately, he joined the side of the ACLU that ultimately lost the case and creationism was allowed to be taught in public schools.
In religion and science circles, Numbers is well-known for his award-winning book, “The Creationists,” which offers an in-depth history of the controversy over evolution in some church denominations. When the book was published in 1991, a Gallup poll had found that 47% of Americans, including one quarter of college graduates believed that God created man in his present form within the last 10,000 years.
“Rather than finding clerics arrayed in simple opposition to scientists, we discover conflicts of a different sort: psychological, as creationists struggled to reconcile the apparently conflicting claims of science and Scripture; and social, as they quarreled with one another over competing scientific and biblical interpretations or contested the boundaries of science and religion with evolutionists in courthouses, legislative halls, and school board rooms,” he wrote in a revised intro to the book.
In 2013, Numbers retired from the University of Wisconsin after almost 40 years at the school where he was the William Coleman Professor of the History of Science and Medicine.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.