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Pseudonyms:
A Long, Honorable Tradition

John Woodmorappe
MA Geology, BA Geology

© 2002 by John Woodmorappe.  All Rights Reserved. 

wing to the fact that some creationist writers have used or reputedly still use pen names,  various anti-creationists have attempted to take advantage of the public’s usual  unfamiliarity with this practice by raising a hullabaloo over it.  This anti-creationist innuendo has ranged from vague insinuations of creationist impropriety to the most lurid and fantastic accounts of imagined creationist motivations behind the use of pseudonyms.

Writing under a pen name is, by no stretch of the imagination, some kind of recently invented nefarious creationist practice:

Fictitious names have been adopted by writers from the earliest historic times in nearly all countries, whether of a political, religious, or scientific character... [emphasis added] [1]

Among non-western cultures, the Chinese, for example, have a long tradition of pseudonymous writing.[2]  In striking contrast to the knee-jerk reactions of some anti-creationists, pseudonymous writing cannot be categorically demonized:

The reasons which lead writers to adopt a pseudonym or similar disguise of identity are surely as various as human nature itself, and may well defy classification.[3]

Scripture does not forbid the performance of fictitious behaviors if they are based on legitimate and honorable motives.  Examples of these include David feigning insanity to avoid capture (1 Samuel 21:10-15), and Nicodemus not being spurned by our Lord (John 3:2) despite his coming to Him at night in order to intentionally conceal an interest in Him.  In these instances (and others[4]), God-fearing men and women were compelled towards otherwise “morally imperfect” conduct by their concerning for the Creator’s honor, or a perception of impending human injustice in the absence of such conduct on their part.

Creationist scholars who write pseudonymously are in good company.  Tens of thousands of writers who have used pen names can be readily identified,[5] and this only scratches the surface.  For example, the WORLDCAT library catalogue returns over 1,800 titles for just the key word “pseudonyms.”  I have yet to see anti-creationists get all excited over the multitudes of noncreationist writers who have used pen names—in many cases numerous pen names per individual.  This includes the 18th century French infidel, Francois Marie Arouet, whose best-known pen name was Voltaire.  What anti-creationist infidel will accuse him of being dishonest for doing so?

A contemporary example is provided by the late Carl Sagan—an ardent evolutionist and atheist.  He used the pseudonym “Mr. X” to advocate marijuana use.[6]  Consider some facts.  He was already a tenured professor and a darling of the humanists.  Furthermore, marijuana advocacy was neither unusual nor particularly condemned in academia.  So what anti-creationist will accuse Carl Sagan of being dishonest or cowardly for using a pen name?

Many creationist writers, living as they do in a hostile evolutionary-dominated academia, choose to write in both evolutionist and creationist journals under different names.  Contrary to anti-creationist charges, there is nothing underhanded about such a plurality of identities:

Writers use pen names for many other reasons, the most frequent being to differentiate between the kinds of books they write, to preserve their anonymity or to keep separate their vocation and avocation. [emphasis added] [7]

Common sense alone dictates that a creationist writing in evolutionary journals will almost always have to write from an evolutionary perspective (i.e., as if s/he were an evolutionist).  Few things are as ludicrous as the claim that creationists who practice this must therefore actually believe in evolution.  Then again, common sense is not always so common, least of all among anti-creationists.

Writing under a fictitious name has significance far beyond that of author preference.  In a recent case, the United States Supreme Court upheld anonymous and pseudonymous writing as nothing less than a fundamental right of expression:

‘Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.’  Talley v. California (1960).  Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names.  Despite readers’ curiosity and the public’s interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose her true identity.  The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible.  Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry.  Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.[8]

Of course, the court does not defend pseudonymous writing when it is done for the purpose of defamatory writing.  Nothing in creationist writings is even remotely defamatory:  Just because anti-creationists don’t like its content or its style does not make it so.  In fact, the anti-creationists would do well to clean their own house of their vile and scurrilous pronouncements.  Finally, according to the same US Supreme Court decision, the potential abuse of pseudonymous writing in no way diminishes its high standing:

Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, [anti-creationists, listen to this!] but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent.  Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.  It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation-and their ideas from suppression-at the hand of an intolerant society.  The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct.  But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.[9]

There is little doubt that anti-creationists will continue to try to make something out of nothing by casting aspersions on creationists who are said to write under pen names.  The rest of us, by contrast, can rationally approach this subject and appreciate its time-honored role in the world of literature of whatever type.  This is especially true of expression from a controversial viewpoint, which is certainly true of scientific creationist publications.



Notes

[1] Haynes, J. E. Pseudonyms of Authors.  New York: Privately published, 1882.  Reprinted 1969 by Gale Research Company, Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan, USA.   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[2] Shu, A. C. W. Modern Chinese Authors: A List of Pseudonyms.  East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1969.   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[3] Horden, J. ed., Halkett and Laing’s (1475-1640) A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications in the English Language.  Harlow and London: Longman Group Limited, 1980.   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[4] See, for example, the conduct of Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12, Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20, and Rahab in Joshua 2   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[5] Sharp, H. S. Handbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames, Second supplement.  Privately published, 1982.  There exists an earlier first supplement, and a two volume original 1972 work of the same title.   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[6] US:Wire:Biographer: Sagan Smoked Marijuana. http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v99/n882/a01.html   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[7] Clarke, J. F. Pseudonyms.  Nashville, New York: Thomas Nelson Inc. Publishers, 1977.   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[8] United States Supreme Court. No. 93-986.  Joseph McIntyre, executor of estate of Margaret McIntyre, deceased, Petitioner v. Ohio Elections Commission.  April 19, 1995.  In The Supreme Court Yearbook, 1994-1995, K. Jost, Editor, Washington, D. C.: Congressional Quarterly Incorporated, 1995.   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[9] Ibid, p. 123.   [RETURN TO TEXT]



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