As I write this post, our local newspaper has warned the community that spring floods on the Mississippi may be imminent. There was a large buildup of snow over the winter with no significant January thaw. The approach of warm weather, together with the possibility of spring rains, may set us up for flood conditions. This has happened before. Floods are sometimes caused by previous conditions building up over time.
In 1961 the publication of The Genesis Flood by theologian John C. Whitcomb (b. 1924) and hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris (1918-2006) was a monumental event whose causes had been building for many years. We may even describe its consequences as those of a flood for which some warning signs had been given. It effects are still with us today, half a century later. In the century prior to 1961 creationism discussions centered more on the incompatibility of evolutionary beliefs with the Christian worldview than the theme of recent creation in six 24-hour days just 6000 years ago. The evolution issue, after all, was more significantly connected with the implications of man’s supernatural creation in the image of God than with the subject of time frames.
Before launching into the specific discussion of Whitcomb and Morris’s volume The Genesis Flood, let’s return to theologian Bernard Ramm, author of The Christian View of Science and Scripture in 1955. Science historian Ronald Numbers recalls “Ramm was emerging as the leader of the ‘new evangelicals,’ who distinguished themselves by embracing ‘responsible’ scholarship and shunning belligerency.” However, Ramm indiscretely used the term “narrow bibliolatry” to describe the views of Bible literalists who believed in a recent creation and a world-wide Noahic flood. The Christians Ramm termed “narrow bibliolaters” instead saw themselves as defenders of the reliability of God’s word and the divine truth of Christianity’s message to man.
Ramm allied himself with members of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), even to the point of hosting one of their conventions. When a large number of Christian scientists in the ASA began to lean toward a liberalized view of creationism, including theistic evolution, the seeds of a vigorous revival of belief in flood geology and a young earth took root. The most conservative Christian spokesmen believed nothing less than faithfulness to Bible truth was at stake. A number of science faculty at Wheaton College were associated with the liberalized views of ASA members. Numbers even claimed that the ASA “at times resembled a Wheaton alumni association.”
Neo-evangelicalism had its origin during this time. It was a response to perceived excesses of fundamentalism including, of course, the rigid interpretive scriptural literalism which permitted only one interpretation of the events described in Genesis 1-2. Again, many Christians felt threatened by erosion of their cherished belief framework. Society was showing innovations as well. It was the era of the “Beat Generation,” the onset of Rock and Roll music, extreme tail fins on automobiles, and other innovations in our culture. Looking back, I now recall an avant-garde group of artists at Rutgers University. From one of them, I took a course in Art History and Appreciation. The evolving emphasis in the arts, even then, may have signaled broader changes many Christians would later find unpalatable. When such changes took place in the church, they were cause for alarm and a swift return to traditional, conservative viewpoints.
The Genesis Flood, therefore, was a reactionary response by Christians who saw themselves as defenders of orthodoxy and traditional Christianity. Their sincerity and devotion to God are not in question. With respect to our preparation to discuss issues with naturalistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, old earth creationists, young earth creationists, or any belief between or beyond these positions, we must commit to serious study of the evidence graciously provided by the Creator of our physical world. In addition, we must pray for the ability to interpret physical evidence and God’s word correctly. They cannot contradict one another.
Several upcoming posts will examine the last half-century’s (since 1961) discussion of the creationism issue in more depth.