What I’ve Been Reading (6)–Creationism Is Evolving

We often forget to make the distinction between creation and creationism. Creation is a doctrine, and as such it is an unchangeable tenet to the Christian faith.  Creationism is an apologetic approach which attempts to integrate the doctrine of creation with the current understandings of the natural sciences.  As such creationism is always changing and subject to amendment. Ronald Numbers has provided us with an excellent history of creationism with his book, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Numbers’ father was a Seventh-Day Adventist evangelist who preached in tent revivals sermons such as “God’s Answer to Evolution: Are Men and Monkeys Relatives?” Numbers today appears to be agnostic, but he treats creationists with respect, and he writes as who was an insider to the creationist movement. Creationism indeed has evolved, and Christians need to be aware of the changes that have occurred over last 150 years. The Creationists makes several points of interest: 

1. Virtually all early fundamentalists and evangelicals held to an ancient earth. For example, B.B. Warfield, who coined the term “inerrancy”, held to theistic evolution. R.A. Torrey, who founded both Moody Bible Institute and BIOLA and who edited The Fundamentals (from which we get the term “fundamentalist”), held to the gap theory.  In a celebrated debate over the creation account in Genesis between two early fundamentalists, W. B. Riley and Harry Rimmer, neither advocated young-earth creationism. Even William Jennings Bryan, of the Scopes Monkey Trials fame, held to a day-age interpretation of Genesis One. 

2. Young-earth creationism (YEC) did not ascend to prominence until the early 1960’s with the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’ The Genesis Flood (1961). Prior to Whitcomb and Morris, the view that the proper interpretation of Genesis requires that the earth be less than 10,000 years old was advocated almost exclusively by Seventh-Day Adventists such as George McCready Price. Ellen G. White, founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, claimed to have received a vision in which she was carried back to the original week of creation. There, she said, God showed her that the original week was seven days like any other week.

3. Young-earth creationism (YEC) originally was called “scientific creationism.” Whitcomb and Morris argued that, when the evidence is examined in an unbiased manner, the case for a young earth is much more compelling than for an old earth.  Artifact number one was the claim that humans footprints were found along with dinosaurs tracks in the river bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas.  YEC advocates don’t make that claim about the tracks anymore, nor do they still use the label of “scientific creationism.”

The Creationists was published in 1992, so it doesn’t cover significant developments within creationism over the last 20 years.  Most notably, there is no discussion of Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis organization, nor is there anything about the rise of the Intelligent Design movement.  However, if one wants to know how the debate got to be where it is today then this book is an excellent place to start.

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  1. Paul Gould   •  

    Ken, thanks for the reference–this book sounds very interesting! I’m working on issues related to the doctrine of creation right now, and the distinction you point out above is very helpful to me! warmly, Paul

  2. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    You’re welcome,Paul. Always good to hear from you! kk

  3. GLW Johnson   •  

    When you decalre that Warfield held to theistic evolution do you do so because you have read extensively from his writings or are you going by second hand information, ie. the book by Mark Noll and David Livingstone? Also, exactly what do you mean by evolution? Fred Zaspel and myself have written on this and make the case that the interpretation of Warfield by Noll and Livingstone is fundamentally flawed. Warfield strongly affirmed the special creation of Adam and Eve and their historicity. His criticisms of Darwin would make the Biologos crowd red-faced with anger.

  4. Rob Mitchell   •  

    Dr. Keathley:
    As the graduate of another evangelical seminary (RTS) thanks for posting these points of interest. It is always helpful to interact with the opinions of our forebears in the community of faith, and always helpful to understand the historical antecedents of current movements in the church, especially in American evangelicalism which has largely and sadly become ahistorical in outlook.

  5. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    Rob, you’re welcome! You know the cliche about those who forget history….

  6. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    Hi GLW, my post is a review of a history book, so by definition I’m commenting on a secondary source. I’m not a Warfield scholar, but I have read a number of his essays, particularly in the 10-volume set of his works reprinted by Baker. From what I’ve gleaned, Warfield made a distinction between the notion of descent with modification and Darwinism as an anti-teleological metaphysic. He was open to Providence guiding the former while he rejected the latter. I don’t think that would make Darrel Falk red-faced with anger, but I would have to check to make sure.

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