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.