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

The Rise of the Big-Bang Hypothesis (Age of the Earth Part 6)

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

The 20th century will see the rise of two completely different paradigms for understanding the age of the earth: the big bang hypothesis and young-earth creationism. Actually, the time can be pinpointed even more closely. Both paradigms will ascend during the 1960’s.

In 1916 Albert Einstein presented a paper in which he applied his general theory of relativity to the universe as a whole. The results implied that the universe had a beginning—a conclusion that Einstein himself resisted. In the 1930’s, astronomer Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the universe appeared to be expanding. He noticed that the light from all neighboring galaxies is red-shifted, which indicates that those galaxies are rapidly moving away from us. The galaxies appear to be like dots on an expanding balloon. As the balloon fills with air, the surface becomes larger and the dots move farther and farther away from one another. Hubble concluded that something similar appears to be happening to all the galaxies. Evidence was building that the cosmos is not eternal. 40 questions creation evolution

In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered that the universe is bathed in faint, background radiation. This radiation indicated that there was a universal fiery explosion that was calculated to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago. For most astronomers and astrophysicists, Penzias and Wilson’s discovery provided the crucial evidence which confirmed the big bang hypothesis. From the 1960’s on, the big bang theory has been the reigning paradigm within the scientific community.

In his book, God and the Astronomers, Robert Jastrow recounts how most physicists and astronomers initially were hostile to the big bang theory. In fact, the expression “big bang” was a term of derision coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle, who remained a lifelong proponent of eternalism. Astronomer Arthur Eddington declared in 1931, “[T]he notion of a beginning is repugnant to me.” Chemist Walter Nernst argued that adherence to eternalism was necessary when he wrote, “To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundation of science.” Jastrow points out that such opposition was motivated by philosophical presuppositions rather than scientific evidence. He ends his book on the subject with the now well-known observation:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

Many who accept the big bang theory have not given up on eternalism. A number of cosmologists now suggest that our universe is part of a multiverse (i.e., reality is made up of an infinite number of universes, of which our universe is just one). We will look at the rise of young-earth creationism in the next post. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Eternalism and Darwinism (The Age of the Earth Part 5)

(For the discussion on Creation vs. Eternalism, see Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)

During the 19th-century, while Christians were dealing with the notion of an ancient earth, non-Christians explored the ramifications of an eternal universe. Eternalism played a crucial role in the arguments made for Darwinism by its early advocates. Darwinists conceded that the odds of something as complex as living beings coming about by random chance were extremely low, even minuscule. However, if the cosmos is eternal, then it does not matter how unlikely an event may be. Given an infinite amount of time, if an event has any possibility of happening at all—no matter how remote—then inevitably it will happen. In an everlasting universe it does not matter how many multiplied trillions of years it might take. Eventually every possible scenario will get its day. We are here; so obviously our existence is possible. Therefore, concluded the Darwinists, as absurdly improbable as it is, an eternal and infinite universe renders our evolution inevitable.40 questions creation evolution

19th century Germany would see some of the most vociferous advocates of Darwinism take eternalism to its logical conclusion. In his The Riddle of the Universe, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) would argue that an infinite and eternal world means that humanity must abandon the outmoded “ideals of God, freedom, and immortality.” Perhaps Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw most clearly where eternalism led. He argued for what he called “the eternal recurrence theorem.” An infinite universe does not just render our improbable existence inevitable. It means that we have occurred again and again in the past, and we will recur in the future ad infinitum.

“In infinity, at some moment or other, every possible combination must once have been realized; not only this, but it must once have been realized an infinite number of times. . . .If all possible combinations and relations of forces had not already been exhausted, then an infinity would must lie behind us. Now since infinite time must be assumed, no fresh possibility can exist and everything must have appeared already, and moreover an infinite number of times.”

We are caught in an endless loop. Life has no purpose, nor can it have any. Nietzsche embraced nihilism, the view that “life leads to nothing” and that existence is “useless, empty, and absurd.” However, discoveries and advances in physics and astronomy at the beginning of the next century would overturn both steady-state cosmology and eternalism. The 20th-century would welcome the “Big-Bang” hypothesis. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com