RE: Full disclosure (was Grand Canyon Tears America Apart )

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Jan 22 2004 - 21:00:54 EST

It is my overwhelming impression, from many years of reading theology,
natural history, and cosmology written between the 1540s and the 1840s, that
the large majority of Christian thinkers in most of that period (much less
so, admittedly, once we get past the 1780s and 90s) believed either
implicitly or explicitly in an earth and universe that were more or less
6000 years old. Quite a few, among them as Newton or Burnet, hedged on the
literal interpretation of each day of creation, esp the first three days
prior to the sun's creation--this is of course an old conundrum, having been
pondered by various patristic writers. But they generally did not think
that those days were really long, not like the "day-age" advocates of the
mid-19th century. Whether or not a given thinker adopted something like the
"gap" view is not always clear; Michael Roberts thinks that more of them did
than I think, but some of them apparently did. How long that gap was, I
can't say, but I don't see much of that happening myself. Boyle, e.g.,
expressly confessed a 6,000-year old creation.

As for the flood, beliefs like Woodward's (that the flood produced the
fossiliferous rocks) were also fairly common. Presumably, then, quite a few
people held something like what we today call YEC, at least they held to the
young earth and the flood producing fossils. Of course they did not couple
this with attacks on dating methods (they didn't exist, by and large),
claims about the second law of thermodynamics and the fall (the second law
didn't exist), or claims about dinosaurs on the ark (dinosaurs were
unknown). Above all, however, they recognized that there was very little if
any real science to the contrary.

That's what changed in the early 19th century. Genuine science supported an
"old" earth (ie, far older than humanity) and a "progressionist" reading of
the fossil record--indeed it's no simple matter to speak of the fossil
record prior to this time. Fossils were widely known, but little understood
and there was no sense of the development of things.

After the early to mid-19th century, with few exceptions you don't find
serious theologians or scientists maintaining the "young" part or the
"flood" part. That's what Ron Numbers is getting at, as best I can tell.
What you do find, is Ellen White thinking that way (like many folks still
did at mid-century, if they weren't learned in science or theology); then
Price sprucing it up and publicizing it in the early and mid-20th century.
It's unclear, incidnetally, how much the fundamentalists bought the young
earth/flood stuff prior to Morris & Whitcomb; however they ate up Price's
antievolutionism. The Sunday School Times (circulation between 60-100k)
published Price a couple dozen times in the 20s, even the staid Princeton
Review gave him some space.

The full YEC package was not obviously popular, however, until the 1970s or
perhaps slightly earlier.

So, YEC or something like it dominated from the 1600s to the late 1700s,
then became the province of amateurs; only after the "professional"
creationists of the present day came on the scence, did it return to
popularity. You don't find much of it in between, except in the low press
which isn't much studied now so we don't know how widely read it was. But
serious literature just didn't go for it until recently (if one could say
that serious literature goes for it today, but I hope I'm clear in meaning

Received on Thu Jan 22 21:01:20 2004

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