Friday, July 16, 2010

Evolution of Creationism

Creationism issues have occupied well over half of our blog space since the beginning of 2010. The history of the origins discussion within the church has been spotlighted. For better or for worse, creationists of every persuasion are fond of supporting their beliefs by citing what their forebears thought. In the early days of the scientific revolution, church scholars believed the earth was only a few thousand years old. Around 1750 there began to be scientific rumblings that the earth was much older than 6000 years.

From the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries, most scientists, including many who were well known for their traditional Christian beliefs, came to recognize that the earth was not young, but rather, of great antiquity. This realization rested on increasingly sophisticated, careful study and interpretation of the earth’s geological record.

Christian concerns from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century centered more on the belief that molecules to man evolution eroded belief in the reality of God’s creative acts, particularly of the creation of man in God’s image. During this time period there were discoveries such as radiometric dating and advances in cosmology which strengthened acceptance of old earth, even among Christians. Doubts about the age of the earth and belief in flood geology as theological sticking points were somewhat peripheral matters.

The latter half of the 20th century, continuing into the 21st, witnessed a stunning rise to prominence of belief in young earth, 24-hour, consecutive days of creation, and a recent, global flood. It is based on the belief that this is the only interpretation of Genesis 1-2 allowable, scientific evidence notwithstanding. Over 40% of the population of the United States identifies with this view. In the evangelical and fundamentalist church population, the percentage is much higher.

As I have prepared these blog posts, I have attempted to recall events and circumstances of church life prior to the landmark arrival of John C. Whitcomb and Henry H. Morris onto the evangelical/fundamentalist scene with their publication of The Genesis Flood. My personal experience has been combined with my research into the characteristics of the pre-1961 landscape. The writings of George McCready Price in the 1920s and 1930s gradually set the stage for the young earth creationist movement.

As a teenager growing up during the Korean War, I do not recall time frames of creation or flood geology being significant discussion topics in the church. My recollection puts Moody Bible Institute’s Sermons from Science films as popular features in gospel preaching churches back then, along with youth and adult evangelism rallies. I view the Moody Science Films as one of the original “intelligent design” promotions within the church community. This occurred even before the marvelous discovery of DNA structure in 1953, and the subsequent unlocking of the genetic code during the 1960s.

The misunderstandings between young earth and old earth believers, and the ridicule from scientists heaped upon creationists in our day, was not part of the landscape in the 1950s. Today, the term “creationist” connotes a belief in a 6000 year old earth, 24-hour creation days, and a recent, global flood.

The term “creationist” has been co-opted by the young earth community of Christians. I prefer the definition offered by Mark Noll, religion historian, in his award-winning volume The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: “The word creationism by rights should define a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomena of the natural world.” This definition overcomes the problem of a singular, narrow definition which allows only one interpretation of the language of Genesis 1-2.