The Rise of Young-Earth Creationism (The Age of the Earth Part 7)

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6)

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.40 questions creation evolution

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

Cognitive Whiplash – What I’ve Been Reading (8)

I dare you to read Andrew Snelling’s Earth’s Catastrophic Past and Davis Young’s The Bible, Rocks and Time side by side. Both men are professional geologists, and both books exhibit the proficiency and expertise of their respective authors. Snelling’s two volume set argues for young-earth creationism and that Noah’s flood created the preponderance of the geological record. Young and his co-author, Ralph Stearley, present the case for an ancient earth and that Noah’s flood was a local phenomena. Snelling’s book is intended to be a successor to Whitcomb and Morris’ seminal work The Genesis Flood (1961). Young and Stearley’s book is a revision of Davis’ earlier Christianity and the Age of the Earth (1982). The two works together total over 1500 pages. I just finished both and I’m suffering from cognitive whiplash.

Snelling is thorough in his presentation. He realizes that he is arguing against the consensus view of the geological community and therefore must meticulously make his case. Davis and Stearley’s give more attention to the historical development of the debate about the age of the earth, but they also give methodical attention to the evidences for their position. Geological laymen (like me) will probably find the books to be a difficult slog. Both books attempt to make their respective cases via cumulative arguments—piling up one example after another. Again speaking as a non-geologist, for me reading them–at times–was like being pummeled to death with ping pong balls.

Snelling and Young often present the same geological data—the geological column of the Grand Canyon, the mid-Atlantic ridge, coral reefs, etc. But they almost always arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions.

What’s going on here? There are at least four possible explanations: (1) The postmodernists and deconstructionists are right–all meaning and truth is subjective and created by the reader. In this case the text is the geological column and the readers are the geologists. (2) At least one side is engaged in deliberate deceit. (3) Spiritual forces are at work. One side is blinded by the evil one while the other’s mind is divinely illuminated. Or (4) at least one side has an almost pathological inability to see the truth. These blind spots render them unable to see what should be obvious.

I don’t like any of the four above possibilities. I am open to another explanation. The postmodernist answer (1), is self-referentially contradictory. Deconstructionism may work as a descriptor but fails as a philosophy. As for explanation (2), there is nothing about Snelling or Davis that indicates either would be willing to deceive or be deliberately dishonest. As for (3), Christians have no doubt about spiritual warfare, and that spiritual battles occur in every avenue of human endeavor, and this includes the scientific realm. However, both Davis and Snelling (and the respective Christian communities they represent) affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their vocations as geologists. Both are servants of Christ. I am in no position to make a spiritual determination about either one. Of the four possible explanations, the phenomena of blind spots (4) is the most likely.

Explanation (4) is also the most optimistic, even if one or both sides seems to be intransigent. Here the community of faith can play a crucial role. If Davis and Snelling, and others who hold to their respective views, will meet, talk, and pray together; if they will allow other godly, concerned, and informed brethren to speak truth into their lives; if they will be humble enough to acknowledge their respective blind spots, then it will be possible for progress to be made and for some type of consensus to be achieved.

As it stands now, the dissonance between the two geologists and their respective books is so great that one has to wonder if they are looking at the same planet.

This post was cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com