As we noted earlier, most Christians, including evangelicals, accepted the view that the universe was millions and perhaps billions of years old. This is true up through the first half of the 20th century. R.A. Torrey (1856-1928), who helped to found both Moody Bible Institute and Biola University and who edited a series of books called The Fundamentals (from which we get the term “fundamentalist”), held to the gap theory. Even William Jennings Bryan, of the Scopes Monkey Trials fame, held to a day-age interpretation of Genesis One.
Two of the most ardent anti-evolutionists of the 20th century were W. B. Riley (1861-1947) and Harry Rimmer (1890-1952). Riley, editor of The Christian Fundamentalist and president of the Anti-Evolution League of America, held to the day-age position. Riley insisted that there was not “an intelligent fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing.” Rimmer, a self-educated layman and apologist known for his debating skills, held to the gap theory. In a celebrated series of debates, the two men argued for their respective positions with Rimmer generally considered to have been the victor.
Up until 1960, the view that the proper interpretation of Genesis requires that the earth be less than 10,000 years old was advocated almost exclusively by George McCready Price, an apologist for Seventh-Day Adventists. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the writings of their denomination’s founder, Ellen G. White, are divinely inspired and are to be treated as Scripture. White claimed she received a vision in which God carried her back to the original week of creation. There, she said, God showed her that the original week was seven days like any other week. Price worked tirelessly to defend White’s position as the only view that did not compromise biblical authority.
In 1961, John Whitcomb (1924-) and Henry Morris (1918-2006) published The Genesis Flood, which has sold over 300,000 copies and launched the modern creationist movement. Whitcomb and Morris argued that Ussher’s approach to determining the age of the universe was generally sound and that the universe must be less than 10,000 years old. Combining flood geology with the mature creation hypothesis, The Genesis Flood presented a compelling case for young-earth creationism. It would be difficult to exaggerate this book’s impact in shaping evangelical attitudes towards the question of the age of the earth. In many circles, adherence to a young earth is a point of orthodoxy.
As the earlier parts of this series demonstrates, the real debate has been between creation and eternalism, and it is a debate that continues. The big bang hypothesis gives strong support to the notion of the universe having a beginning. Some Christians welcome this development while others point out that the hypothesis also posits this beginning to have occurred over 13 billion years ago. Evangelicals are divided as to whether the big bang scenario can be reconciled with the Genesis creation account and subsequent genealogies. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)
Crossposted at www.theologyforthechurch.com