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)

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Young-earth and Old-earth Views on the Impact of Adam’s Fall

My previous two posts surveyed the answers given by evangelicals to two questions: 1) did animal death exist before the fall of Adam and Eve?, and 2) what was the impact of Adam’s fall on the rest of Creation? This post will look more closely at two answers provided for the second question—namely, those given by young-earth creationists (YEC) and by old-earth creationists (OEC).40 questions creation evolution

Young-earth Creationists (YEC): Adam’s Fall Introduced Death and Corruption
When Adam was cursed, all Creation was cursed with him. This is the position universally held by YEC proponents. They perceive the original sin as producing three effects: all animals were placed under a curse, the environment became hostile, and humans were cursed with spiritual and physical death.

First, YEC advocates argue that the curse placed upon the serpent (Gen 3:14-15) was applied to all animals. Passages such as Rom 5, Rom 8, and 1 Cor 15 teach that Adam’s sin affected all Creation. This means that all creatures, prior to the Fall, were vegetarian (Gen 1:29-30). This would include animals that presently are predators or parasites. They contend that all predators were originally intended to be vegetarian.

Second, the environment became hostile, as illustrated by the biblical text with the introduction of thorns and thistles (Gen 3:18). Earlier YEC proponents, such as Whitcomb and Morris, equated the second law of thermodynamics with the Curse. The second law, or entropy, is the principle that all things run down or tend to disorder. In practical terms, this means that things left to themselves fall apart. However, evidences of entropy—such as rivers (Gen 2:10-14)—existed prior to the Fall, so the view has few advocates today. Current YEC proponents suggest a number of means by which the world became cruel and adversarial. Perhaps certain natural laws were altered or removed. Some imperfections could be the result of changes in habitat or behavior. Biological effects could be the result of genetic alterations (which might be a significant contributor to the declining life spans recorded in Gen 4). They also suggest that God created all life forms with latent mechanisms which kicked in when the Fall occurred.

The third effect of the Curse was that humans were subjected to death (Gen 2:17; 3:19). Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, are condemned to physically die. The evils of “death, disease, struggle for survival, poison, thorns, and carnivory” were the consequence of the original sin.

Old-earth Creationists (OEC): Adam’s Fall Changed the Nature of Death

OEC proponents generally challenge the YEC position with three criticisms. First, they argue that, concerning the Rom 5, Rom 8, and 1 Cor 15 passages, Paul teaches that Adam’s sin affected all humanity—not all creation. Second, some OEC adherents contend that YEC advocates fail to appreciate the eternal nature of God’s ultimate plan. However, the third and main critique OEC advocates make against the YEC position is that it seems to turn the Fall into a second creation. So, from the OEC perspective, what effect did the Fall have on Creation?

The first person affected by the curse was Satan (Gen 3:14-15). Though God addressed the serpent, he was directly speaking to the spirit who inhabited the snake—Lucifer. The language of humiliation is used: he would be forced to crawl, eat dust, and be crushed under foot. These are all signs of defeat and dishonor. The curse did not apply to the serpent or to animal life as a whole. Instead it applied to Satan. Nor does the biblical account teach that the snake lost it legs in the Fall. The snake was already legless. Rather, like the rainbow (Gen 9:12-16), a preexisting thing took on new significance.

Second, the curse affected Eve. She would experience increased pain in childbirth (“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Gen 3:16a ESV. Incidentally, since her pain is said to be increased this indicates that pain was already present). In addition, her relationship to her husband would be distorted (Gen 3:16b).

The third person affected was Adam. He had been given the task of managing the earth. Now the task becomes difficult (Gen 3:17-19a). The text speaks of God cursing the ground. God does not address the ground directly, because it was not directly cursed. It was indirectly cursed in the sense that the man who was given stewardship over the earth had been cursed. Adam is sentenced to death (Gen 3:19b). God had warned that the penalty for disobedience was death (Gen 2:17), and now the punishment was meted out upon him and his posterity (Rom 5:12). OEC proponent David Snoke argues, “Animals do not have eternity in their hearts. Is it therefore a great evil if they die? The Bible does not say it is evil if the animals die; it says it is a great evil if people die like animals.” Adam is expelled from the Garden, and he no longer has it as his command center. The nature of the earth did not change, nor the task itself. What changed was Adam’s ability to perform the task. OEC proponents argue that the curse changed Adam.

The next post will focus on two additional views: those who hold to Adam’s fall as a cosmic-federal event, and those who hold to evolutionary creationism. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

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