Full Table of Contents  

(Editor's Note: The following material is from Chapter 6 of Beyond Creation Science. The chapter has been reformatted and modified for web access.)

Chapter 6 – Worlds Collide: Lyell vs. Darby

“The Liberalism/Fundamentalism Context”

The rise of young-earth creationism among conservative Christians is a part of the wider debate between liberalism and fundamentalism. Liberalism gained traction in mainline seminaries and churches as a direct result of the prevailing "higher criticism" popular in Europe during the second half of the 19th century. Liberals concluded that there is nothing supernatural about the Bible, so they denied divine inspiration. They also denied miracles such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus. Because of their bias against all things supernatural they also embraced Darwinian evolution.

 

The reaction against liberalism in America came to be known as fundamentalism, a term coined as a result of a 1909 manifesto edited by R.A. Torrey titled The Fundamentals. The movement defended the divine nature and inspiration of the Bible as well as miracles. In response to liberal claims, fundamentalists made literal Bible interpretation the central tenet of their theology. This strategy defended all biblical miracles against the new liberalism's inherent naturalism, but it also produced a key side-effect. Fundamentalism became synonymous with dispensational premillennialism because it championed a "literal" approach to prophecy. The last of the original five "fundamental" doctrines in Torrey's book was belief in "Christ's personal, pre-millennial and imminent second coming."

 

The "fundamentals" have become different for various groups of conservatives, but the liberal/fundamentalist controversy polarized the methods by which Christians came to interpret Genesis. The fundamentalist pre-commitment to literalism created the necessary conditions for a widespread acceptance of young-earth creationism. But that common explanation is only a broad outline to understand why young-earth creationism grew to dominate conservative views of Genesis. There is much more to the story. Dispensational premillennialism set the bulk of conservative, fundamentalist Christians in America onto a collision course with Lyell's old-earth geology.

 

The Dominant Old-Earth View

The battle between Lyell's geology and Darby's theology did not begin immediately. The Plymouth Brethren, founders of modern dispensational premillennialism, had no qualms over an ancient earth in the 19th century. This irked Henry Morris who wrote:

The smaller fundamentalist churches, such as the so-called Plymouth Brethren and various independent churches, for the most part retreated to the "gap theory," inserting the geological ages in an imaginary gap between the first two verses of Genesis.1 

The reason the 19th-century dispensationalists accepted an ancient earth is simple: the idea of an ancient earth was the dominant if not universal belief among Christians at the time, even long before Charles Darwin. Darby’s personal friend, Cyrus I. Scofield (1843-1921), later popularized dispensational premillennialism in America with the 1909 publication of his Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s study bible incorporated the gap theory of creation in a note on Genesis 1:

{without form and void} # Jer 4:23-27 Isa 24:1 45:18 clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting imitations which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angels. See # Eze 28:12-15 Isa 14:9-14 which certainly go beyond the kings of Tyre and Babylon.2 

Christians in the 19th century who did not accept the gap theory generally held to the day-age interpretation of the creation week.3  Mark Noll, Wheaton College's McManis Professor of Christian Thought, references this oddity in light of current views of creation held by conservatives:

Despite widespread impressions to the contrary, [young-earth] creationism was not a traditional belief of nineteenth-century conservative Protestants or even of early twentieth-century fundamentalists.4 

The widespread popularity of young-earth creationism today conceals the fact that very few believed in a literal six 24-hour-day creation of the universe and a young-earth from some time in the 1700s to a few decades ago. That explains why J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988), the stalwart Bible teacher whose messages beamed from millions of radios across America for much of the 20th century, could state his old-earth views quite plainly:

The first eleven chapters [of Genesis] cover a minimum time spans of two thousand years - actually, two thousand years plus. I feel that it is safe to say that they may cover several hundred thousand years. I believe this first section of Genesis can cover any time in the past that you may need to fit into your particular theory, and the chances are that you would come short of it even then.5 
Who created the universe? God did. He created it out of nothing. When? I don't know, and nobody else knows. Some men say one billion years ago, some say two billion, and now some say five billion. I personally suspect they are all pikers. I think God created it long before that.6 

Young-earth creationism is a modern development. It took time for the implications of Darby's new prophetic views to work their way back to the book of Genesis. The dominant old-earth creationist views of 18th and 19th-century Christians did not lose their status among Christians overnight.

 

At the time of the Scopes Trial in 1925 only a handful of Christians in America seriously believed our universe was merely a few thousand years old. William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), champion of young-earth creationists today, believed our earth and universe was millions, if not billions of years old. He recognized, as countless Christians before him, that the real enemy is atheistic Darwinism, not a conception of the age of the earth that exceeds 10,000 years. Noll sums up the situation at the time of the Scopes Trial:

Popular opponents of evolution in the 1920s, like William Jennings Bryan, had no difficulty accepting an ancient earth. Bryan, with an acuity that his patronizers rarely perceive, saw clearly that the greatest problem with evolution was not the practice of science but the metaphysical naturalism and consequent social Darwinism that scientific evolution was often called upon to justify.7 

Gary North, another historian who differs with Noll on many points, concedes that young-earth creationism was intellectually dead at the time of the Scopes Trial. He says:

[Bryan] was not a six-day creationist. Because, in 1922 there weren't any six-day creationists in the Protestant religion. There was only one guy anyone had heard of who held the position and that was a man by the name of George McCready Price.8 

Bryan's bitter opponent during the Scopes Trial, Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), thought he could capitalize on Bryan's well-known old-earth views. He assaulted Bryan with questions about his understanding of Genesis 1. Bryan responded with his famous statement, "The Rock of Ages is more important than the age of rocks."9  He believed the age of the earth to be irrelevant in the debate over evolution. Bryan's statement was not controversial at the time.

 

The only one who raised the issue of the age of the earth was George McCready Price (1870-1963). Henry Morris claims Price confronted Bryan about his old-earth views before the Scopes Trial. Morris writes:

Probably the most serious mistake made by Bryan on the stand was to insist repeatedly that he had implicit confidence in the infallibility of Scripture, but then to hedge on the geological question, relying on the day/age theory. He had been warned against this very thing by George McCready Price.10 

Morris goes on to imply that Bryan lost the case in the court of public opinion because of infidelity on this point. But who was George McCready Price and why did he defend young-earth creationism against all other conservative Christians in the early 20th century?

 

The Premillennial Source of Flood Geology

The reason goes all the way back to the Plymouth Brethren and the events of 1830. George McCready Price emphasized premillennialism and the imminent pre-tribulational rapture of the Church. As a devout Seventh Day Adventist, Price also promoted Sabbath-keeping, i.e., worshiping on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. The Adventists insisted on a literal 24-hour reading of the days of Genesis 1 in order to provide a theological defense for their strict Sabbatarian views. This, combined with a global view of the Genesis flood,11  led the Adventists to stand against every other Christian denomination with their young-earth creationist views of Genesis.

 

Adventist doctrine formed around the teachings of their chief prophetess, Ellen G. White (1827-1915), whom they considered to be divinely inspired. Much like Margaret Macdonald a few decades earlier, White had visions or trances where she would receive, ostensibly, God's revelation for the Adventist Church. Many of these trances were directly related to premillennial futurism of the sort the Plymouth Brethren introduced. However, White did not merely concern herself with visions of the rapture and second coming of Christ. She also spoke at great length about Genesis.

 

In one of these revelations, which occurred sometime before 1864, White offers her vision of the flood event:

 
Before the flood there were immense forests. The trees were many times larger than any trees which we now see... At the time of the flood these forests were torn up or broken down and buried in the earth. In some places large quantities of these immense trees were thrown together and covered with stones and earth by the commotions of the flood. They have since petrified and become coal, which accounts for the large coal beds which are now found. This coal has produced oil.12 

White's conception of the flood event matched her dispensational/premillennial views of prophecy. Noah's flood was a global cataclysmic event comparable to the supposed "imminent" great tribulation:

The bowels of the earth were the Lord's arsenal, from which he drew forth the weapons he employed in the destruction of the old world...   In the day of the Lord, just before the coming of Christ, God will send lightnings from Heaven in his wrath, which will unite with fire in the earth. The mountains will burn like a furnace, and will pour forth terrible streams of lava, destroying gardens and fields, villages and cities... The earth will be convulsed, and there will be dreadful eruptions and earthquakes everywhere. God will plague the wicked inhabitants of the earth until they are destroyed from off it.13 

White also suggests that true scientific investigation would reveal the empirical evidence for Noah's flood in geology: 

Geology has been thought to contradict the literal interpretation of the Mosaic record of the creation... It is true that remains found in the earth testify to the existence of men, animals, and plants much larger than any now known. These are regarded as proving the existence of vegetable and animal life prior to the time of the Mosaic record. But concerning these things Bible history furnishes ample explanation. Before the Flood the development of vegetable and animal life was immeasurably superior to that which has since been known. At the Flood the surface of the earth was broken up, marked changes took place, and in the re-formation of the earth's crust were preserved many evidences of the life previously existing. The vast forests buried in the earth at the time of the Flood, and since changed to coal, form the extensive coal fields, and yield the supplies of oil that minister to our comfort and convenience today. These things, as they are brought to light, are so many witnesses mutely testifying to the truth of the word of God.14 

George McCready Price forever put his mark upon the history of the Genesis debate when he set out to provide an academic defense for White's "inspired" visions. Noll explains:

 
Modern [young-earth] creationism arose, by contrast, from the efforts of earnest Seventh-day Adventists who wanted to show that the sacred writings of Adventist-founder Ellen G. White (who made much of a recent earth and the Noachian deluge) could provide a framework for studying the history of the earth. Especially important for this purpose was the Adventist theorist George McCready Price (1870-1963), who published a string of creationist works culminating in 1923 with The New Geology. That book argued that a "simple" or "literal" reading of early Genesis showed that God had created the world six to eight thousand years ago and had used the Flood to construct the planet's geological past.15 

Note how author Samuel Frost credits Adventism as the source of what has become the modern “conservative” view of Genesis:

 
My step-father, rest in peace, was a Seventh-Day Adventist. Say what you will about them (my dad was a godly man), their work on Genesis is unprecedented.16 

Bernard Ramm, a well-known Bible-Science author, had this to say about the situation in America as the 20th century unfolded:

 
Now we shall pass on to the great revival of flood geology in the twentieth century. This revival was carried on principally by the Seventh-Day Adventist apologists and was termed the new diluvialism or the new catastrophism to distinguish it from the older flood geology of Cuvier and Agassiz [theories of successive floods over the ancient past which explain geological layering]... One of the strangest developments of the early part of the twentieth century was that George McCready Price, a Seventh-Day Adventist with very limited professional training, became American fundamentalism's leading apologist in the domain of geology. Even this had a most peculiar quirk, because most fundamentalists accepted the gap theory as taught in The Scofield Bible, a theory which the Seventh-Day Adventists vigorously reject. At any rate, the influence of Price is staggering.17 

Covering the Tracks

John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry Morris initially attempted to hide the origin of the basic ideas and scientific arguments in their 1961 book, The Genesis Flood. They sensed denominational differences between Adventists and other evangelicals might reflect badly upon their view, so they did not want to acknowledge the intellectual source for their thesis. They obscured their source. Author Don Stoner explains:

The connection to Price and the Adventists worried Whitcomb and Morris. Unfortunately their actions reflected more concern with the outward appearance than with the substance. Fearing that Price's Adventist-tinted reputation might hinder the acceptance of The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb and Morris tried to avoid any visible connection with Price. Although they left the substance of their arguments unchanged, they removed nearly every mention of Price's name from their book. This irritated many of Price's friends who felt Whitcomb and Morris had not given him sufficient credit for the intellectual debt they owed him... The Genesis Flood, as it has been variously described, is essentially an "updated version" of Price's New Geology or a "reissue of G.M. Price's views brought up to date."18 

The basic theory of flood geology found in The Genesis Flood ultimately derives from the visions of Ellen G. White. Yet The Genesis Flood was presented to Christian conservatives as the first scholarly book on geological catastrophism. It became the foundation for the explosive growth of young-earth creationism since its publication in 1961. Although Price is mentioned a handful of times in the 500-page tome, never - not even once - did Whitcomb and Morris credit Price and the Adventists for the basic ideas of flood geology.

 

Morris later confessed to the role Price played in his views:

The most important Creationist writer in the first half-century, at least in my judgment, was a remarkable man by the name of George McCready Price (1870-1962).19 
I first encountered his name in one of Harry Rimmer's books... and thereupon looked up his book The New Geology in the library at Rice Institute, where I was teaching at the time. This was in early 1943 and it was a life-changing experience for me. I eventually acquired and read most of his other books as well.20 
Several other Adventist creationists published papers in The Naturalist and other Adventist publications, as noted in the following chapter. Although the influence of most of them was largely limited to their own denomination, some (especially Price) have contributed quite significantly to the foundations of the modern [young-earth] creationist revival.21 

Twenty-three years after the release of The Genesis Flood Morris apparently felt that he could reveal the role Price played in his work. By then American evangelicals had swallowed the theory hook, line, and sinker. They had swallowed something else, too: the same dispensational premillennialism at the heart of Adventism (which also undergirds Price and Morris' work) had grown to dominate virtually all of American evangelicalism. The first dispensational mega-seller after The Scofield Bible was Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970. This was the same year Morris' "Institute for Creation Research" opened its doors as the "Creation-Science Research Center."

 

Hugh Ross, a vocal opponent of young-earth creationism, explains the explosive growth of young-earth creationism during this period:

 
By 1980 nearly every American evangelical church and school had been strongly influenced by the young-universe creationist organizations and teachings... So pervasive has been the influence of such groups that their views on creation are thought to represent the doctrine of the entire community of Bible-believing Christians.22 

Ross' analysis omits any reference to the connection between premillennialism and the young-earth creationist movement. This oversight is understandable given the fact that Ross publicly endorses premillennialism. But there is no doubt that young-earth creationism and premillennialism grew to dominate the American Christian scene simultaneously.

 

There are a few evangelical leaders whose views are a reverse image of Ross' views. While Ross accepts premillennialism and rejects young-earth creationism, these leaders accept young-earth creationism and reject premillennialism. It is a curious fact that these evangelical leaders never made progress in convincing the vocal proponents of young-earth creationism to publicly renounce their prophetic views.23  Gary North, a noted postmillennial author, vented his frustration:

What has bothered me about the Creation Science movement for almost two decades is that its leaders will not admit that they have mixed together a particular view of eschatology that has nothing to do with the categories or content of physical science. They refuse to tell their followers, "This part of the essay is based on premillennialism, and the empirically verifiable facts of physical science don't have anything to do with it."24 

North tenaciously defends young-earth creationism, but objects to the prophetic views held by all the leading young-earth authors. What North and other anti-dispensationalists do not seem to consider is the possibility that dispensational premillennialism lies at the very heart of modern young-earth creationism. This lapse seems strange considering the fact that North fully understands who made The Genesis Flood a blockbuster success. Speaking of Whitcomb and Morris' famous book, he notes:

Moody Press turned down the manuscript because [The Genesis Flood] was hostile to age-day creationism. They said we won't publish it... Boy was Charles Craig happy. He was my publisher, too. Was he happy. First best-seller he ever had. He was now selling to Baptists. Who boy, there's money!25 

These were the same Baptists who had become dominated totally by dispensational premillennialism. That's why they loved The Genesis Flood.

 

Premillennialism Applied to Genesis

For George McCready Price, the issue was not only about a literal 24-hour reading of the creation days to justify Sabbatarianism. The issue in Genesis was much larger. His work on Genesis was interwoven with his own prophetic views. What he attempted with flood geology (what we now call young-earth creationism) was a self-conscious application of his premillennial beliefs back to Genesis. In 1922, before premillennialism rose to absolute dominance among American evangelicals, Price wrote:

The most timely truth for our day is a reform which will point this generation of evolutionists back to Creation, and to the worship of Him who made the heaven and earth. Other reforms in other days have been based upon various parts of the Bible here and there. The reform most needed in our day is one based on the first part of the Bible -and upon the last part also. For he who is looking for the return of his Lord, and for the imminent ushering in of the new heaven and earth, must necessarily believe in the record of the first part of the Bible which tells of the Creation of the earth. Surely it is useless to expect people to believe in the predictions given in the last chapters of the Bible, if they do not believe in the record of the events described in its first chapters.26 

Price probably never foresaw the smashing success his views would become in modern America. Today, conservatives generally accept his views of Genesis as well as his views of end-times prophecy. But what his statement makes clear is that everything in the Genesis debate goes back, one way or another, to 1830. Price consciously worked out the premillennial implications for Genesis.

 

When Lyell published his Geology there was virtually no Christian opposition to an ancient earth. Vocal Christians were some of the most eminent geologists of the day. As dispensational premillennialism grew in popularity and influence, it gradually developed a new approach to Genesis. Victory for the Plymouth Brethren's dispensational premillennialism meant that Lyell and the earlier geologists would inevitably become demonized as apostate. This is what the success of Darby's theology meant for the Genesis debate:

[M]ost flood geologists (in America at least) came from churches awaiting Christ's soon return to earth. And for Christians expecting the imminent end of the present age - whether premillennial Baptists and Adventists or amillennial Lutherans and Church of Christ members - Whitcomb and Morris offered a compelling view of earth history framed by symmetrical catastrophic events and connected by a common hermeneutic. "If you take Genesis literally," reasoned Morris, "you're more inclined to take Revelation literally."27 

Even atheistic evolutionists understand how modern young-earth creationism is a function of premillennial futurism. Michael Ruse, the popular Darwinist proponent from Harvard, writes:

For [George McCready] Price, this worldview was all bound up with the premillennialism of the Adventists. The flood at the beginning corresponds to the forthcoming Great Tribulation at the end.28 

The same could be said about the overwhelming majority of American Christian conservatives during the last few decades.

Premillennial Philosophy of History

Premillennialism also provided another motivation to reject modern geology and science. We believe the compelling reason why Whitcomb and Morris embraced Price's flood geology is rooted in their literalism, prophetic views, and over-arching philosophy of history. They viewed modern geology as anti-biblical because they saw "evil" uniformitarianism29  as proof of the arrival of the "last days" of planet Earth.

 

What biblical basis did they cite? Morris taught that 2 Peter 3 refers to cultural conditions made possible only by the rise of modern geology. He drew a link between Lyell's uniformitarianism and what Peter predicted regarding the last days scoffers described in 2 Peter 3:

The basis of this scoffing rejection of God's Word is their commitment to evolutionism. Since "all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation," they will say, therefore, "creation" is still being accomplished by these natural processes that "continue" in the present just as they have throughout the past... This prophecy [2 Peter 3:3-4] began to be fulfilled with the rise of the Lyell/Darwin evolutionary worldview in the mid-nineteenth century [emphasis ours]...30 

Morris, like Price and White before him, viewed modern scientific developments through his premillennial view of culture and society. From his prophetic viewpoint, modern science and culture are predestined to degenerate into apostasy during the "last days" before the rapture and second coming of Christ. Morris believed he lived in the last days and so he anticipated a great worldwide apostasy. Lyell's geological uniformitarianism fit the bill for Morris' view of Peter's prophecy.

 

American Christianity was not far behind. His message clicked with American audiences precisely because they shared his prophetic outlook and, therefore, his pessimism. J. Vernon McGee, the famous radio preacher, held to the common old-earth view for decades during his early radio career.31  He even openly mocked the suggestion that the date of creation was around 4000 BC: 

In our day there is so much misinformation in the minds of intelligent human beings. For example, before me is a clipping from a secular magazine from several years ago. It posed a question, then answered it. First, the question: "What, according to biblical records, is the date of the creation of the world?" Now listen to the answer that was given: "4004 b.c." How utterly ridiculous can one be?32 

But later in his career McGee came around to preach Morris' view:

The Genesis Flood not only answers the question of its being a universal flood rather than a local flood, but it also answers this question of uniformitarianism... I am not going into detail, except to point out that Peter makes it very clear that we should expect such scoffers. "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Peter 3:3-4). The scoffer has always been a uniformitarian, but you could not very well hold that position and accept the integrity of the Word of God at this particular point. This is very important to see.33 

Millions of conservative Christians in America heard this on their radio from the beloved J. Vernon McGee. McGee's book referenced above is a compilation of edited transcripts drawn from his radio sermons. This little book, which likely stretches over decades of McGee's preaching, is perhaps the finest demonstration of the total shift away from the dominant old-earth creationism once held in common by conservative Christians. This transformation in conservative Christian views of creation and science has taken place since the release of The Genesis Flood in 1961. McGee's 200 page book promotes the gap theory of creation across its pages. At the same time, McGee lauds the newly released book by Whitcomb & Morris:

What is the scientific, historical evidence for the Flood? I am not going to enter into this subject other than to mention one of the finest books on this subject which I can highly recommend. It is The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb... I assume there is an abundance of historical evidence for the Flood, and it is not necessary for me to go into it, as it has been answered in this very scholarly book.34 

Consider the profound confusion. McGee expounded his gap theory view (which accepted Lyell's geology and the old-earth time frame) and endorsed the new flood geology (which defined the geological column in terms of Noah's Flood and demands a recent creation) simultaneously. This chaos can be explained only by a rolling paradigm shift in the second half of the 20th century. McGee's old-earth views as a young Bible preacher eroded when the implications of premillennial futurism began to be applied back to Genesis. What McGee found compelling in Whitcomb and Morris' work was their shared premillennial philosophy (expressed in their common understanding of 2 Peter 3) worked back into history. Young-earth creationism's negative view of modern science is largely an effect of premillennial pessimism about the last days. Their analysis of modern old-earth science as "apostate" and "anti-Christ" fits with their cultural worldview.

 

The connection between young-earth creationism and futurist prophetic interpretation is not a coincidental agreement in the overall outline of premillennial futurism. It is not merely chance compatibility between Baptists and Adventists as fundamentalist allies. The connection is deeply rooted in the absolute dedication to a particular method of biblical interpretation, prophetic viewpoint, and philosophy of history. We think Noll is on the right track, but still only sees the tip of the issue when he writes:

A biblical literalism, gaining strength since the 1870s, has fueled both the intense concern for human origins and the end times. Literal readings of Genesis 1-3 find their counterpart in literal readings of Revelation 20 (with its description of the thousand-year reign of Christ).35 
There may be even more to connect the earlier spread of dispensationalism with the later popularity of creation science. Creationism could, in fact, be called scientific dispensationalism, for creation scientists carry the same attitude toward catastrophe and the sharp break between eras into their science that dispensationalists see in the Scriptures.36 

Dispensationalism eventually developed into a complete worldview in which modern young-earth creationism became a key component.

Premillennialism and Young-Earth Creationism

Morris wrote about his own futurist views in a 1983 book titled The Revelation Record. The real accomplishment along these lines, though, is when Morris combined his views on Genesis and prophecy in a remarkable 1991 book titled Creation and the Second Coming.37  The theme of that book can be found on the opening page of the foreword:

Why would a renowned creation scientist write a book on prophecy? The answer is that, while most such books focus solely on the future events, this one fits the future into God's program for original creation.38 

A few pages later Morris gave his testimony as a long-time, devoted dispensational premillennialist:

The signs have been increasing in clarity for many years now. I remember my grandmother quoting an evangelist she had heard talking about Mussolini and other supposed signs of that day, predicting that Christ would return in 1933. When the atomic bomb exploded in Japan in 1945, even though I knew better than to set dates for Christ's coming, I was certain His return was so near that I almost decided not to go to graduate school. I have kept a plaque reading PERHAPS TODAY! on my office wall for almost 50 years now, and have noted that the signs which seemed so obvious 50 years ago have continued to grow in intensity with each passing year. Surely the Lord is coming soon!39 

No doubt, many old-earth creationists wish Morris had acted consistently with his premillennial beliefs by dropping his educational pursuits. But here is where the issues we covered in Chapters 1 through 4 of this book are crucial. Speaking of Matthew 24:34-35, Morris writes:

In this striking prophecy, the words "this generation" has the emphasis of "that generation." That is, that generation - the one that sees the specific signs of His coming - will not completely pass away until He has returned to reign as King.
Now if the first sign was, as we have surmised, the first World War, then followed by all His other signs, His coming must indeed be very near - even at the doors! There are only a few people still living from that generation. I myself was born just a month before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Those who were old enough really to know about that first World War - "the beginning of sorrows" - would be at least in their eighties now. Thus, although we cannot be dogmatic, we could very well now be living in the very last days before the return of our Lord!40 

Morris is now dead having attained the ripe old age of 87. His system lives on in large measure because of the power futurism wields over American evangelicals. But how much longer can this generation hold out?

 

The Contemporary Dilemma

Others have argued against young-earth creationism from different angles to mixed success. Given this historical overview it is not hard to understand why young-earth creationism seems impervious to criticism from old-earth Christians. The reign of young-earth creationism is inescapably tied to the reign of futurism among American Christians. This truth could be stated just as accurately in reverse. The reign of futurism is tied to the reign of young-earth creationism. Consider this remarkable statement:

Eschatologies, in other words, implicate their holders in a wide range of stances, including views of human origins. Perhaps the statement would be just as true if it were reversed.41 

Old-earth creationists often wonder what it will take to bring about the demise of young-earth creationism which they believe, scientifically speaking, is no stronger than the proverbial house of cards. Nevertheless, its popularity remains astonishingly high among American evangelicals. Conservative Christians who dare to question young-earth creationism are commonly accused of evolutionary compromise, liberalism, humanism, unbelief, and even apostasy. Old-earth creationists ask themselves why young-earth creationism seems bullet-proof in the face of seemingly overwhelming physical evidence. Could the answer be that futurism predisposes Christians to young-earth creationism?

 

There is also a small but growing group of conservative evangelicals who believe New Testament prophecy is focused on first-century events in Rome and Judea. They also wonder what it will take to bring about the demise of dispensational premillennialism in America which has retreated from reasoned biblical defense of the view. These "preterists" note how futurism's popular defense and exposition has been reduced to the publication of a sprawling set of popular novels.

 

Preterists lament how Christians endure failed prophecy after failed prophecy. Futurists seem to never grow weary of speculating about the identity of the antichrist pasted (for the time being) upon the newest boogeyman in the headlines. Preterists ask why modern futurism seems bullet-proof in the face of any rational evaluation. Could the answer be that young-earth creationism predisposes Christians toward futurism? Or could it be that a wooden literalism, based on a modern understanding of the world, predisposes Christians to both young-earth creationism in Genesis and dispensationalism in prophecy?

 

The following pages of this book represent a multi-faceted investigation into these questions. This book is a comprehensive critique of young-earth creationism. As such it will include a dimension we have never seen incorporated as an argument against young-earth creationism. Our presentation will center on what we believe to be the central error of young-earth creationism - futurism.

 

We will argue against the three pillars of modern young-earth creationism from the perspective of a preterist view of New Testament prophecy. We believe that preterism offers a refutation of: (1) the belief that the Genesis flood was global; (2) the belief that no biological death existed before the fall; and (3) the belief that Genesis 1 is a literal record of God's creation of the physical universe over six 24-hour days.

 

Our goal is to convince you that any critique of modern young-earth creationism that assumes prophetic futurism will be ineffective over the long run. In like manner, any critique of modern futurism that assumes young-earth creationism will also be just as ineffective. Only a holistic approach to the Bible from Genesis to Revelation can provide a coherent alternative to the popularity of young-earth creationism on one side of the Bible and dispensational premillennialism on the other. In the end, they will stand or fall together.


1  Morris, History of Modern Creationism, p. 38.

2  Scofield Reference Notes (1917) Gen. 1:2.

3  The gap theory and other old-earth creationist views are discussed in Appendix C.

4  Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 188.

5  J. Vernon McGee, Genesis Chapters 1-15, "Thru the Bible Commentary Series," Volume 1 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), pp. xliii-xliv.

6  Ibid., p. 59.

7  Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 189.

8  From Gary North's recorded presentation, The Scopes Trial and the Great Turning Point: 1925-1975, delivered at American Vision's 2006 "Creation to Revelation" conference. These recordings are available through http://www.americanvision.org/.

9  Available online at http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/notable_leaders/index.shtml#bryan (2007).

10  Morris, History of Modern Creationism, p. 66.

11  We offer an in depth look at the subject of Noah's flood in Chapters 7-10.

12  Ellen G. White, Facts of Faith, in Connection with the History of Holy Men of Old (Battle Creek: Steam Press, 1864), p. 75-76. The full text is available online at http://egwdatabase.whiteestate.org/ under the listing Spiritual Gifts - Volume 3, Chapter VIII.

13  Ibid.

14  Ellen G. White, Education (1903). The full text is available online at http://egwdatabase.whiteestate.org/ under the listing Education, Chapter 14.

15  Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 189.

16  PretCosmos List Message 6303.

17  Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) pp. 124-125.

18  Don Stoner, A New Look at an Old Earth: Resolving the Conflict Between Bible & Science (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1985, 1997), pp.126-127.

19  Henry Morris, History of Modern Creationism, p. 79.

20  Ibid., p. 80.

21  Ibid., p. 83.

22  Hugh Ross, Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994), p. 36.

23  Young-earth opponents of dispensationalism continue to imply that dispensational premillennialism is unrelated baggage the majority of young-earth creationists bring to the study of Genesis.

24  Gary North, Letter to ICE subscribers dated May 19, 2001. North explained his criticisms of Morris' views in Is the World Running Down?: Crisis in the Christian Worldview (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1988).

25  From Gary North's recorded presentation, Out of the Shadows: 1976-2006, delivered at American Vision's 2006 "Creation to Revelation" conference. These recordings are available from http://www.americanvision.org/.

26  George McCready Price, "Science and Religion in a Nutshell" (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1923), p. 13 as quoted in Noll, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 194.

27  Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (New York: Knopf, 1992), p. 339.

28  Michael Ruse, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 239.

29  Uniformitarianism is the view that the processes we observe today in nature are similar to the processes that have always occurred.

30  Morris, Creation and the Second Coming, pp. 6-7.

31  McGee believed in the gap theory. He rejected evolution and yet had no problem with a millions-of-years-old earth. For example, he writes: "When Adam was told to replenish the earth, we assume that there had been living creatures - I don't know what to call them - before Adam. They apparently were living creatures of God's creation; anything I could say beyond that would be pure speculation." McGee, Genesis Chapters 1-15, p. 144. McGee's book is filled with statements like this. The most obvious can be found on pp. xliii, 55-60, 113, and 117.

32  McGee, Genesis Chapters 1-15, p. 58.

33  Ibid., pp.134-135.

34  Ibid., p. 133. On the last page of the book, at the very end of the bibliography, is this note: "For additional material on creation, the Flood, and science, write to: Institute for Creation Research, P.O. Box 2667, El Cajon, California 92021."

35  Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 194.

36  Ibid., p. 195.

37  Prophecy guru Tim LaHaye gives a glowing recommendation for this book on the back cover. He says, "This is a well-written, carefully reasoned and easy to understand presentation of an event all Christians should know thoroughly... I could hardly lay it down."

38  Morris, Creation and the Second Coming, p. v.

39  Ibid., p. 4.

40  Ibid., p. 183.

41  Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 195.

 

 


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Click here for more interesting discussion on the history and development of dispensational literalism. This article shows how dispensational literalism impacted Bible interpretation for virtually all Christian conservatives:
...Dispensationalists, on the other hand, believed that the problem was that liberals had stopped interpreting the Bible literally... So, the solution was simple: an emphasis on the literal interpretation of Scripture would protect against further defections to liberalism.
 
The disagreement arose when this hermeneutic of literalism began to interpret God’s promises to Israel. This, of course, resulted in Dispensationalism’s unique take on the distinction between Israel and the Church and their resulting eschatology, Dispensational Premillenialism. Realizing that this theological perspective was not in conformity with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, prominent dispensationalists began to advocate a revision of the standards. (Believe it or not, Dallas employed almost an exclusively Presbyterian faculty in its early years; notably, Chafer and Walvoord were Presbyterians in the beginning. [p. 217-18])
 
Do you see the problem? Two different groups of conservative Presbyterian Christians were advocating two mutually exclusive ways to prevent a liberal takeover of their denominations: one insisted on holding to the Westminster Standards; another insisted on a “literal” hermeneutic for biblical interpretation that would demand a revision of the Standards...
 
 
 
"My step-father, rest in peace, was a Seventh Day Adventist.  Say what you will about them (my dad was a godly man), their work on Genesis is unprecedented."
 
-Samuel Frost


 
"Supporters and foes alike regarded Dr. Morris as the 'father of modern creation science' or sometimes, more waggishly, as the 'Darwin of the creationist movement'"...
 
"In 1970, Dr. Morris moved to San Diego, where he was a co-founder of Christian Heritage College with Tim LaHaye, a co-author of the apocalyptic "Left Behind" series of novels." 
 
by Mark Noll
 
"In the domain of religion and science, decisions, actions, attitudes, practices, and conflicts of the present moment require careful assessment for what they mean now and how they may affect the future... (p.1)
 
Evangelical biblical interpretation also leaned strongly toward the literal...
 
This bent toward literal interpretation also owed a great deal to the popularity of dispensational premillennialism. That interpretive scheme exerted special influence through the many prophecy gatherings run on the model of the Niagara Conference and through the notes of the widely distributed Scofield Reference Bible, which was first published in 1909. Literal interpretation of biblical prophecy about the end of the world, and especially of the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, was easy to link with literal interpretation of biblical accounts of the origin of the world, especially as given in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Moreover, literal interpretation of the outer portions of Scripture seemed to many evangelicals only a natural extension of—and sturdy protection for—literal interpretation of the Bible’s central account of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Thus, a complex web of assumptions and practices led to the wide spread belief that the norm for interpreting all of Scripture as God’s life-giving revelation is strongly supported by literal interpretations of the first and last parts of the Bible." [emphasis ours] (p.10)
 
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