Today among conservative evangelicals there is a concerted effort to defend the “biblical” position that the earth is young. Growing up in fundamentalist Baptist circles, I like many others, simply assumed this was the Bible’s clear teaching. I also assumed that this was the historic position of the church.
There are plenty of good arguments for young earth creationism (YEC) as it is known today. These arguments have persuaded a majority of evangelicals that this is the Bible’s teaching and the position to stand for.
But has support for a young-earth position always been this widespread? Judging from the last 200 years, the answer appears to be a decided no. Today, that support is weakening and authors Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker have recently given us a book to help evangelical Christians sort through this question and the wider creation-evolution controversy. In their book, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution, Keathley and Rooker point out that the young earth position took center stage only in the last 50 years.
Before I provide an excerpt with their comments, I do want to speak briefly about this helpful book. I appreciate the openness each author has in carefully laying out the evidence (good and bad) for the various positions that evangelicals hold. One of the authors favors young earth creationism, and another leans toward the old earth view. But both take pains to speak charitably of the other positions and honestly about the difficulties of his own view. Their irenic candor and careful grappling with the major positions, is what makes this book such a joy to read. A full review of this book will come later, but for now, I wanted to offer this excerpt for your reading and possible discussion.
Here is an excerpt related to the origins of today’s young-earth creationism. I should note that unlike some other works which point out the history behind the YEC position, this book does not malign that view and in pointing out the history it does, is not using the “guilt by association” tactic either.
The Rise of Young-Earth Creationism
As we noted earlier, most Christians, including evangelicals, accepted the view that the universe was millions and perhaps billions of years old. [My comment: he is speaking of Christians in the 18th and 19th Centuries.] This is true up through the first half of the twentieth 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 1.
Two of the most ardent anti-evolutionists of the twentieth 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.
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 he 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 toward the question of the age of the earth. In many circles, adherence to a young earth is a point of orthodoxy. (p. 187-188)
When I first learned this, I was amazed. It freed me to rethink the matter from a new light. If good Christian leaders like R.A. Torrey, B.B. Warfield and the like could uphold direct creationism yet allow for an old earth, perhaps the matter is not such a do-or-die point. This doesn’t speak to the acceptance of evolution or a rejection of a historical Adam. The book’s authors do draw some clear lines in the sand, but when it comes to the age of the universe, that is a matter on which they agree to charitably disagree. May more of us follow this approach to the controversy. The age of the earth need not be a slippery slope, and good Christians are found on both sides of this debate.
Check out the book’s detail page at Kregel.com, where you can find an excerpt. Or pick up a copy at any of the following retailers:
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Kregel Academic for review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a positive review.