The book, published in 1976, concluded that White was often mistaken about the world, and sometimes knowingly so. Before it was released, officials at Loma Linda, having learned of its conclusions, asked Numbers to leave. His work went over no better with his family. “My father was so humiliated that he took early retirement,” Numbers says, and although the two men eventually made their peace, for years, his father refused to be seen with him in public.
The best thing that came out of his critical scholarship, he says, was that the UW offered him a job. He moved to Madison in 1974 to join the university’s history of science department, the oldest of its kind in the country. Yet no one, including Numbers, imagined that creationism would become such a powerful modern force.
“There are wonderful statements from the time, people saying that we’re on the road to secularization and just mopping things up,” Numbers recalls, smiling. It was his own background that prompted him to continue gathering information on the issue, exploring it, wondering about where it was going.
He was also encouraged by David Lindberg, longtime chair of the department and a renowned scholar of science in the medieval period. Lindberg had a background similar to his colleague’s, having been raised by an evangelical minister father, and like Numbers, he found in history a subversive kind of truth, which led him to question his belief system.
“Historical study is corrosive,” says Lindberg, now a professor emeritus. “Once you start asking questions about why someone you’re studying believes something — whether it’s true, where it came from —if you’re honest, you end up asking the same questions of yourself.”