Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism


The Protestant consensus since the time of the Reformation has been that the physical universe and its history are real, not illusory. As God’s creation, the physical world conveys genuine information about the Creator and can serve to inform our interpretations of the Bible. Therefore, when geologists (many of them devout Christians) in the early 1800’s found that the rock layers showed the earth to be far older than the 6000 years derived from a literal reading of Genesis, Bible-believing Christians did not ignore, suppress, or lie about these findings. Rather, they adjusted their interpretation of the relevant Bible passages away from a simplistic literal reading, just as they had done 200 years earlier with the verses that depicted a stationary earth. Through about 1960, nearly all Christians, including conservative Old Testament scholars and most fundamentalists, were comfortable with interpretations of Genesis which accommodated an earth that was many millions of years old.

Today’s young earth creationism is based on “Flood geology”.  Flood geology, which teaches that most sedimentary rock layers were deposited in a single global Flood about 2500 B.C., was developed in its modern form in the early twentieth century by Seventh-day Adventist George M. Price to conform to visions of a six-day creation reported by Adventist prophetess Ellen White. Despite being advised by geologists that it was incorrect, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris took over Price’s Flood geology and repackaged it in The Genesis Flood (1961), which rapidly became dogma among conservative Protestants. Like White, Whitcomb and Morris assumed their interpretation of the Bible was infallible, which justified ignoring and distorting any scientific findings which did not agree with their Flood geology.

Thus, modern young earth creationism did not develop from improved Bible exegesis or new geological findings. Rather, it derives from extra-biblical revelation or assumptions, and scientific claims known at the time to be false. This approach is at odds with the historic Christian understanding of God’s works and God’s Word.



Varieties of Creationism

Advice from a Former Young Earth Creationist

Christian Views on Genesis and Creation Through 1800

       Sources on the Recent History of Creationism

       The Church Fathers on the Days of Creation

Geologists Discover an Old Earth

       Consistent Fossil Order Worldwide Indicates Evolution

       Thrust Faulting and “Out of Order” Rock Layers

Is Earth’s History an Illusion?

       The “Appearance of Age” Hypothesis

       God’s Self-Revelation in Nature

The Scholarly Fundamentalists, 1880-1920

Populist Fundamentalism and the Age of the Earth

From Failed Prophecy to Failed Science: Adventist Prophetess Drives the Revival of Diluvian Geology

       William Miller and the Great Disappointment

       Seventh-Day Adventism and Visionary Ellen White

       Ellen White’s Teachings on Creation

       George McCready Price, Flood Geology, and Thrust Faults

Ferment in the Fifties: The American Scientific Affiliation and Bernard Ramm

       The Evolution of the American Scientific Affiliation

       Bernard Ramm’s Manifesto

The Genesis of The Genesis Flood

       John Whitcomb Responds to Ramm’s Challenge

       Henry Morris Provides Scientific Horsepower

The Genesis Flood: The Book That Changed Everything

       Whitcomb and Morris Conceal the George McCready Price Connection

Bad Science and Bad Theology in The Genesis Flood

       The Lewis Overthrust According to Whitcomb and Morris

       Evaluating the Case Against Overthrusts

       More Bad Science by Henry Morris

       The Fundamental Error in The Genesis Flood: Bible Interpretation

       What Is the Bible About?



Varieties of Creationism

Creationism is the belief that the universe, and maybe life and individual life-forms, originated from specific acts of divine creation. The three main creationist views within modern Christianity are young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and evolutionary creationism. These approaches vary in how much they accept the results of modern science.

Young earth (YE) creationism is perhaps the most controversial position. In its modern Flood Geology form, YE creationism teaches that the earth and its life-forms were created about 6000 years ago, and that most sedimentary rock layers were deposited in a single, year-long global Flood.  It holds that the scientific community is broadly mistaken in its understanding of geology, astronomy and biology.

Science educators in the U.S. and U.K. are alarmed at attempts by young earth proponents to have their views taught in schools, especially schools funded with public money. Evangelical Christians are dismayed at how YE creationism is a barrier keeping educated people from considering the gospel. Blogger Rebecca Trotter wrote:

I have been upset for years over “biblical creationism” because of the bad fruit it produces…It keeps people from knowing God.  Creationism breeds lies and liars.  It trashes the church’s testimony.  No one sees Christians denying the reality of creation and is inspired to follow God.  It keeps people hanging onto a simplistic, immature view of God as a genie who goes “poof” and makes things happen.  It puts God on our timeline and not His own.  Having to wait on God makes much more sense when you consider that God normally works over the course of billions of years and not minutes and hours.  Creationism discredits holy scripture by trying to make it into a history book rather than the record of the revelation of God to his people.  When we insist that scripture says something that is obviously untrue, people will no longer see any reason to take it seriously.

Advice from a Former Young Earth Creationist

Despite denunciations by scientists, theologians, and laymen, YE creationism maintains a firm hold in the U.S., and has spread widely elsewhere.  Promotional organizations like Answers in Genesis convince their followers that YE creationism is consistent with the physical evidence as well with scripture. In a series of articles last year on the Panda’s Thumb web site, former YE creationist David MacMillan explained the thought patterns which “allow creationists to maintain their beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary “. In his final article,  MacMillan addressed the question, “How do you reach creationists?” Here is his response:

Be patient. I do not think I would have ever made the switch if not for all the people who painstakingly pointed out my errors over and over, and forced me to look at the evidence for myself. It might seem futile, but you can make a difference.

Know your enemy. And your enemy is not the person you’re talking to. Your enemy is the fundamentalist worldview telling the person how they are allowed to think. Understand how it works; understand where the beliefs and rhetoric are coming from. Ask questions…

Know your role. You’re the teacher. Understand the evidence and the arguments… Real science displaces pseudoscience: tell a man about science and he might trust your authority, but teach a man how science works and he won’t need your authority at all. Do your best to instill confidence in the scientific process apart from the question of origins.

Stick to the facts…As I stated before, creationism botches literary and biblical criticism just as badly as it botches science. Don’t ever make the mistake of attacking a creationist’s faith; if you do so, you’re simply reinforcing their misconception that evolution is synonymous with atheism. Read the explanations given by theistic evolutionists. Ask questions like, “How do you know your interpretation of the Bible is correct? How do you know that Genesis should be treated as chronological narrative? How would the original audience have understood it? Why wasn’t your interpretation a majority view throughout Christian history?” Be prepared to explain the history of creationism.

His recommendations all seem reasonable. His final admonition here is: “Be prepared to explain the history of creationism.” In MacMillan’s own journey, this issue was pivotal:

Then I started learning about the history of creationism, and that’s where things started to crack. I learned that the age of the earth had never been a dividing issue in Christianity, not until Morris and Whitcomb plagiarized flood geology from the Seventh Day Adventists in the 1960s.

This observation got me interested in following up on the development of young earth creationism, to see what was suspect in the history of Flood geology.

Christian Views on Genesis and Creation Through 1800

Sources on the Recent History of Creationism

YE creationist Henry Morris published A History of Modern Creationism in 1984. The definitive study of the recent history of creationism is The Creationists, a heavily foot-noted tome by Ronald Numbers. The original edition was published in 1992, and is now available on Google Books.  This is the edition of The Creationists which will be cited here. An expanded version, including material on the “Intelligent Design” movement, was published in 2006.

A short, accessible treatment of the development of creationism was published in 2012 by David Montgomery in GSA Today. Historian of science Ted Davis has published a number of articles on Biologos dealing with different approaches to science and the Bible. His essay “Science Falsely So Called: Fundamentalism and Science” is particularly pertinent to understanding the recent history of creationism.

The Church Fathers on the Days of Creation

If the lifetimes of Bible characters are projected backwards in time from known historical events, one arrives at a date around 4000 B.C. for the creation of the world. From antiquity through the dawn of the modern era there was no particular impetus for objecting to that general timeframe for creation. Thus, the early church fathers generally accepted a young earth. There was, however, diversity of views on how literally to take the creation story.

Many early Christian writers saw the creation Days as regular 24-hour days, but there were a number of significant exceptions. Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 AD) and Augustine (c. 400) believed the world was created in a single instant, not in six literal days. Ted Davis notes:

For Clement, everything was “created together in thought,” and since “all things [were] originated together from one essence by one power,” the six days could not be taken literally. (Stromata, Book 6, Chapter 16)

The instantaneous view was advanced especially by the most important Western theologian of the first millennium, Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who wrote a work (in multiple versions) called On the Literal Meaning of Genesis (ca. 391). Influenced by Ecclesiasticus 18:1, he taught that in the beginning God made matter and all material things simultaneously. “Those who cannot understand the meaning of the text, He created all things together, cannot arrive at the meaning of Scripture unless the narrative proceeds slowly step by step.” Some things were created to unfold in time, growing from “seeds” placed in the creation by God, but they were all part of the original conception that was brought into material existence in a single creative event. However, to aid our poor understanding, God told us about it in the pattern of six days. Augustine called the creation days “dies ineffables” (unknowable days), so majestic and profound that we cannot think of them in merely human terms as ordinary days. They indicate logical order, not temporal order, and must be interpreted subtly.

Drawing on Psalm 90:4 (“The day of the Lord is a thousand years”), Cyprian saw each creation Day as a 1000 year, not 24-hour period ( “The first seven days in the divine arrangement contain seven thousand years”  –   Treatises 11:11, c. 250 A.D.) For Origen Genesis 1 was entirely figurative, not literal: “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally” [The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16. c.  225 A.D].

Geologists Discover an Old Earth

European thinkers in the late 1700s attempted to understand the surface geological features in terms of a global flood. However, this diluvianism was abandoned in the face of new geological discoveries. Systematic studies of rock formations in Europe made it plain to practically every honest observer that the earth was far older than a few thousand years, and that there was no trace of a recent world-wide flood. One such formation was the angular unconformity in Scotland which is exposed at Siccar Point:

Angular Unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland. Siccar Point, Scotland (Photo: Wikipedia “Hutton’s Unconformity”)

Angular Unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland. Siccar Point, Scotland (Photo: Wikipedia “Hutton’s Unconformity”)

We have explained elsewhere why this set of rock layers cannot be explained by deposition in a single recent Flood (“Unconformities” Showed Geologists By 1800 That The Earth Was Very Old).

Deborah and Loren Haarsma described eight other lines of observational evidence that led “virtually all practicing geologists, including Christian geologists” by 1840 to believe “that the earth must be at least millions of years old.”

Davis Young noted that by 1840, on the basis of observations like these, geologists had realized that the features of the earth were incompatible with Noah’s global Flood:

As long ago as 1834 the great Christian geologist and ordained minister Adam Sedgwick charged the authors of the “Mosaic Geology” of this day with having committed “the folly and the sin of dogmatizing on matters they have not personally examined, and, at the utmost, know only second-hand – of pretending to teach mankind on points where they themselves are uninstructed.”   And a year later, Christian geologist and theologian Edward Hitchcock wrote that diluvianism “has been abandoned by all practical geologists.”  [from “The Discovery of Terrestrial History”, in Portraits of Creation (1990)]

This was not a matter of godless scientists imposing their conclusions on devout Christians – it was often devout Christians who were gathering and assessing the geological data and finding themselves forced to conclude that it all pointed to an old earth. As a result of these findings, between 1860 and 1960 almost no Protestant Christians (conservative or liberal) believed in a young earth. Davis notes, “Strict literalism of this sort, in which a long pre-human natural history is flatly rejected on biblical grounds, mostly disappeared in America before the Civil War, surviving mainly among the Seventh-day Adventists and a few other groups on the fringes of Protestantism, only to be revived a century later with the rapid rise of scientific creationism.”

Consistent Fossil Order Worldwide Indicates Evolution

Early canal-builders and geologists made systematic observations of the fossils embedded in various rock layers. They discovered that there was a consistent order in which some of these fossils appeared. This order is indicative of the relative age of these fossil species, since younger sediments are always deposited atop older, existing sediments.

Fossil order in rocks

For instance, for the order of fossils shown above, we might find specific sets of layers exemplified in the three rock formations below. Not all fossils appear in every layer, but the sequence is consistent. Often the same sequence can be observed in widely separated locales, indicating that this “faunal succession” was not the result of some local hydrological sorting or ecological zones, but held true all over the world.

Examples of Fossil order

Sometimes the fossils appear in the usual order, but some middle layers, representing perhaps millions of years, are missing:

Unconformity with fossil layers

Although all the layers may appear flat, with smooth interfaces, closer inspection usually reveals evidence of an erosional surface at the missing layers (e.g. here, between layers B and F). This indicates that, after the lower layers were deposited, they were lifted out of the waters, such that net erosion rather than deposition took place, and then many years later this region again subsided below water level to receive a new round of sediment. See “Unconformities Showed Geologists By 1800 That The Earth Was Very Old” for more discussion of missing rock layers.

Fossils which have a wide geographic distribution but a relatively short time of appearance in the rocks are called “index fossils”, since they are useful in determining the relative ages of the rocks in which they occur:

These index fossils were all sea creatures, so there is no question of the more fleet-footed clams getting buried in higher rock layers because they ran to higher ground as the Flood-waters rose. At all levels there are fossils of animals that are big and small, skinny and fat, so this sequence is not a result of hydrodynamic sorting during one big Flood. Rather, the order of their world-wide appearance in the rock layers reflects their temporal appearance, then disappearance, across the times of deposition in the sedimentary rocks in which they are found. As noted earlier in this section, geologists had many reasons to believe that these deposition times extended over millions of years.

Perhaps as the ages rolled by God miraculously created species after species, maybe one species every ten years for the past half-billion years, as previous species died off.  Scientific thought, however, seeks to understand natural phenomena in terms of regular physical laws, instead of positing a constant stream of miracles. If one species could develop (evolve) into a different species through natural means, this would explain the appearance of so many new species over the ages without endless special interventions.

Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in 1859, offered a mechanism to explain the already-observed faunal succession in the rocks. He proposed that heritable variations, which were associated with improved survival and reproductive success, could promote changes in a population over time, enough to eventually develop a new species.

The case for evolution was strengthened by the fact that a given species in the fossil record is often quite similar to the species that come before it and after it. As Darwin acknowledged, the known fossil record does not supply a complete picture of every transition between species. For small evolutionary steps, such as from one species to the next, typically no transitional forms are found. However, there are often a number of known intermediate forms which bridge between large phylogenetic groupings such as orders and classes. For instance, a number of fossil fish with amphibian-like features, and amphibians with fish-like features have been found dating to about the time of the fish-to-amphibian transition. An excellent series of intermediate fossils also exist for the reptile-to-mammal transition. See Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils for more on transitional fossils. The “Cambrian explosion”, where many animal phyla appear for the first time, is discussed in Darwin’s_Doubt.

Thrust Faulting and “Out of Order” Rock Layers

Some sections of the earth’s crust undergo massive stretching, which can result in the rupture of a crustal plate and the formation of a new ocean (e.g. the Atlantic) in the gap. Other sections of the crust undergo immense compression. This typically results in a combination of folding of rock layers, and of thrusting one set of rocks over atop a different set of rocks. This combination of folding and thrusting is what pushes mountain ranges miles into the air.

A fault is a planar fracture in a volume of rock where relative motion has taken place. Fault systems are known to run for hundreds of miles (e.g. the San Andreas Fault in California). The type of fault associated with thrusting is called a thrust fault. In the middle of a fault there is usually some ground-up rock, called gouge, which can act as a lubricant to facilitate the fault motion. This gouge layer is often surprisingly thin.  The Earth Story  notes, “The thickness of gouge, that is, the thickness within the moving part of a fault, has little meaning for the importance of the fault itself. Some very thin fault zones are capable of moving rocks over an immense distance: thrust faults with tens of kilometer of displacement sometimes have centimeter-scale zones of gouge; an entire tectonic plate can be moved about on a zone sometimes less than a meter thick.” Much faulting that today is exposed at the surface originally took place deep beneath the earth’s surface, where high pressure water can be present in the fault and can further lubricate its motion.

Thrust faults are widely found in mountain ranges, including the Appalachians and the Alps, and there are many currently active (moving, measurable) thrust faults worldwide.    For instance, the Indian crustal plate has shoved hundreds of miles in a 1500-mile-long arc under what is now the Tibetan plateau of the Eurasian plate, and continues to move northward at a rate of several inches per year. As these two plates mash together, the Himalayas grow measurably higher by about 2 inches (5 cm) every year through folding and thrusting. The recent tragic earthquake in Nepal is a result of this crustal compression and thrust faulting. The figure below shows that the scale of the thrust faulting (“MBT”, MCT”) in the Himalayas runs to hundreds of miles of displacement (50 km=36 mi):

Simplified cross-section of the north-western Himalaya showing the main tectonic units and structural elements by Dèzes (1999). Labeling is in French. 50 km=36 mi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_the_Himalaya

Simplified cross-section of the north-western Himalaya showing the main tectonic units and structural elements by Dèzes (1999). Labeling is in French. 50 km=36 mi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_the_Himalaya

In terms of our cartoons of fossil layers A through H, a thrust fault might result in this arrangement:

Thrust Fault Layers

Here, the older layers A-B have been shoved atop layers F-G. The thrust fault is at the interface of layers A and G. Note that these layers are not in a completely random order. The usual A-through-H order is preserved, except for the plane of the thrust fault, where one set of layers was shoved atop another set of layers in an understandable movement. There is nothing here that would cast doubt on the integrity of the A-through-H fossil ordering.

There is a belt of thrusting that extends all along the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to Mexico. As noted below, this geology has played a key role in the history of creationism. The on-line documentation for a university lecture by Harmon D. Maher on thrust faulting includes informative graphics such as this, which shows the complex nature of the Montana thrust fault system:

Cross section through the Montana fold-thrust belt showing its thin-skinned character with the basal Black Canyon detachment, a foreland dipping duplex and the structural window created by the Moors Mountain Thrust Fault. From USGS, reproduced by Harmon D. Maher in lecture on thrust faulting  http://maps.unomaha.edu/Maher/GEOL3300/week13/f%26tbelt.html . This is a snip of the left half of the drawing in Maher’s lecture.

Cross section through the Montana fold-thrust belt showing its thin-skinned character with the basal Black Canyon detachment, a foreland dipping duplex and the structural window created by the Moors Mountain Thrust Fault. From USGS, reproduced by Harmon D. Maher in lecture on thrust faulting http://maps.unomaha.edu/Maher/GEOL3300/week13/f%26tbelt.html . This is a snip of the left half of the drawing in Maher’s lecture.

Is Earth’s History an Illusion?

The “Appearance of Age” Hypothesis

An attempt to maintain the literal Genesis story while acknowledging the evidence of age in the rocks was made by Philip Henry Gosse in his 1857 book Omphalos. There he argued that for God to create a functional world, the elements in that world must look as if they had existed for some time. Adam and Eve would have hair, fingernails, and navels (omphalos is the Greek word for “navel”), and the earth’s surface would have mountains and valleys. Today’s YE creationists invoke this appearance of age concept to explain the fact that we can see stars that are millions of light-years away: God instantly created both the distant stars and all the intervening starlight on Genesis Day Four, 6000 years ago.

This appearance-of-age concept seems at first like a tidy way to sidestep all the seeming conflict between Genesis and science. However, this approach was never widely embraced. One problem is that the that observations of rocks and stars show not just old-looking objects, but a whole detailed, interlocking history of events dating back billions of years to the Big Bang. The folded, metamorphosed Appalachian geology looks as if a huge mountain range of solid rock was thrust up and slowly eroded down over the course of millions of years;  the fossil record shows a succession of species over the past half-billion years, as if they developed via evolution. The human genome contains many chunks of DNA that look as if they were injected by viruses millions of years in the past; chimpanzees share some of these same retrovirus sequences with us, making it look as if humans and chimps had a common ancestor. It would be as though Adam was created, not only with a belly-button, but with memories of a boyhood filled with activities, and with the scars and artifacts to match those false memories.

Also, the deception here would have to extend well past the initial “week” of creation. God would also have to erase all marks of a world-engulfing Flood which killed all but eight humans and most terrestrial species and scoured the crust of the earth. This global cover-up would entail reworking all the surface rock layers to remove traces of the Flood, rejiggering the human genome to make it look as if the human race did not go through such a severe population bottleneck; transporting a bunch of marsupial mammals to Australia to make it look as if they evolved in place on that isolated continent, etc., etc. It makes God the author of deception on such a cosmic scale that we are left not knowing what is real. Maybe the whole universe, including our underlined Bibles, and us with our scars and our memories of things that never really happened, was created just last Thursday – with the apparent age viewpoint, you cannot tell. Rabbi Natan Slifkin commented in his Challenge of Creation that with this approach:

God essentially created two conflicting accounts of Creation: one in nature, and one in the Torah. [But then] how can it be determined which is the real story, and which is the fake designed to mislead us? One could equally propose that it is nature which presents the real story, and that the Torah was devised by God to test us with a fake history!      One has to be able to rely on God’s truthfulness if religion is to function.

God’s Self-Revelation in Nature

Another drawback of the apparent age hypothesis, in which the rock layers are a gigantic hoax, is that it runs counter to the thought that undergirded the rise of science in Christian Europe. Most of the earliest modern scientists were devout theists, who believed that they were learning of God’s ways as they studied His creation.  They believed that God revealed Himself through the Book of his works as well as through the Book of His words (i.e. the Bible). Thus, pioneering astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote that God “wants to be recognized from the book of Nature”, and that in examining the physical world “we observe to some extent the goodness and wisdom of the Creator.”

This understanding of God’s self-revelation in nature was drawn from both Old and New Testaments, as discussed in A Survey of Biblical Natural Theology. The power and skill of the Creator are evident from the size and complexity of the universe; other divine aspects such as justice are not necessarily displayed in nature. The Psalmist declares:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. [Psalm 19:1-6 NIV]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star  - - The image is from the European Space Agency, using the Hubble Space Telescope. It is listed as the LH 95 star forming region of the Large Magellanic Cloud

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star – – The image is from the European Space Agency, using the Hubble Space Telescope. It is listed as the LH 95 star forming region of the Large Magellanic Cloud

The apostle Paul claims that characteristics of the invisible God can be inferred from the visible creation:  “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” [Rom. 1:19-20 NIV] In appealing to eye-witness testimony to the resurrected Christ (I Cor. 15:5-7), Paul implies that past events as understood by humans are a genuine record of God’s activities on earth; history is not an illusion.

Francis Bacon, who defined the modern scientific method, described this two-books  approach: “There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error; first, the volume of the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power.” In The Advancement of Learning (1605) Bacon wrote:

Let no man … think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together.

The Christian thinkers of the early 1800s followed Bacon’s advice to “not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together”. Thus, when the physical evidence of the age of the earth contradicted their literal interpretation of Scripture, they did not try to suppress or distort those findings. Rather, they realized that their interpretation of Genesis was likely incorrect. As Davis Young notes, “Because the Christian naturalists of the era were unafraid of God-given evidence, they recognized that extrabiblical information provided a splendid opportunity for closer investigation of the biblical text in order to clear up earlier mistakes in interpretation.”

Two Christian architects of modern science. Left: Sir Francis Bacon, c. 1618 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon       Right: Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Giusto Sustermans    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

Two Christian architects of modern science. Left: Sir Francis Bacon, c. 1618 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon Right: Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Giusto Sustermans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

Presumably they had learned something from the Galileo fiasco. It had only been 200 years since the Roman Catholic church banned Galileo’s teachings that the earth moved around the sun. Galileo’s findings contradicted the literal, obvious meaning of Biblical passages such as Psalm 104:5 (“He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved”),  as well as I Chron. 16:30, Isa. 66:1, Eccl.1:5, and Josh. 10:13. According to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1615),   “…to affirm that the sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and the earth revolves swiftly around the sun is a dangerous thing, not only irritating the theologians and philosophers, but injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.”  Galileo did not dispute that the literal teaching of the Bible was of a stationary earth; he just argued that we need to take a non-literal interpretation, in order to remove the apparent conflict with science. As he put it, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

The Protestants of that era appeared to be less prone than Catholics to suppress scientific findings on the basis of dogma. The reformer John Calvin wrote that in the Genesis creation narrative God accommodated the story to the limited understanding of common people, rather than giving a scientifically precise account. “He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere” – – meaning, the Bible was not written for the purpose of telling us about the physical universe. In Calvin’s view, the way to understand the stars and the planets in a God-honoring manner was to go scientifically study them, not to rely on inferences from Biblical statements:

Astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend… For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honored who have expended useful labor on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise. [Commentary on Gen. 1:6].

In the past century the Catholic magisterium has been far ahead of conservative Protestants in coming to grips with the advances of science (“The Pope Speaks on Creation and Evolution”).   Even in Galileo’s time, however, the Roman church used natural observations to aid in Bible interpretation. Cardinal Bellermine wrote that he would be willing to consider a non-literal interpretation of the passages on the fixed earth if the physical evidence for a moving earth was strong enough. His objection to Galileo’s model was not merely that it imperiled the traditional understanding of the Bible, but that it had not been conclusively proven:

I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun is in the center of the universe and that the sun does not go around the earth but the earth goes around the sun, then it would be necessary to be careful in explaining the Scriptures that seemed contrary. We should rather have to say that we do not understand them than to say that something is false. But I do not think there is any such demonstration, since none has been shown me.

At that time, the quality of evidence for a moving earth was something like the evidence today for evolution: the theory explained the vast majority of observations, but there were some serious questions that remained unanswered. For instance, if the earth really swings millions of miles around the sun every twelve months, we should find a different viewing angle towards a given star in July than in January. Astronomers in the 1600s looked for this parallax effect but did not detect it. Most scientists of the day were content to leave this effect unexplained, since Galileo’s model made sense out of so many other observations. (Because the stars are very far away from earth, the seasonal shift in viewing angle is so small that astronomers were unable to measure it until the 1800s, using improved instruments.)

The Scholarly Fundamentalists, 1880-1920

Bible-believing Protestants at the end of the nineteenth century became alarmed over widespread denial of historic Christian doctrines by liberal clergymen and theology professors. Also, the German “higher criticism”, which portrayed the Bible as an erroneous collection of merely human documents, began spilling over into the English-speaking world. A number of conservative scholars addressed these issues, providing rationales for trusting in the Bible and holding to orthodox doctrines. California businessman Lyman Stewart and his brother Milton provided funds for collecting and publishing a set of essays defending conservative Protestant beliefs.

The Fundamentals: A Testimony To the Truth, a set of 90 essays in twelve volumes, was published from 1910 to 1915 and distributed without charge to thousands of clergymen, professors of theology, missionaries, and other Christian workers. The authors included professors such as B. B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary and James Orr of the University of Glasgow, G. Campbell Morgan (president of Cheshunt College in Cambridge and pastor of Westminster Chapel in London), R. A. Torrey (graduate of Yale University and Yale Divinity School, with further studies at Leipzig and Erlangen Universities), prominent jurist Philip Mauro, and other Christian intellectuals of the day. Adherents to The Fundamentals later became known as “fundamentalists”.

Populist Fundamentalism and the Age of the Earth

The early 1920’s saw several shifts within fundamentalism. The early scholarly emphasis was replaced by a more populist tone, and ultimately an anti-intellectual attitude. Before 1920, there was little interest in attacking evolution. In fact, several of the authors of The Fundamentals were comfortable with (God-directed) macro-evolution of the lower animals. From 1920 onward, combatting the teaching of evolution in the public schools became a crusade, culminating in the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tennessee. Evolutionary thinking was blamed for a whole range of ungodly trends in society.

In the 1920’s, fundamentalists attempted to gain control of the major Protestant denominations. These attempts failed, leaving the mainline churches in the hands of the modernists and moderates. With the mainstream Christian and secular cultures seemingly hostile and impregnable, the fundamentalists after 1930 to some extent withdrew and formed their own network of colleges and Bible institutes. While the early leadership had been provided largely by scholars from the northeast U.S., the fundamentalist center of gravity by the 1930’s shifted definitively to the southern Bible belt.

What did these stalwart defenders of the Bible believe about creation? Almost to a man, they rejected the young earth perspective. They did not find a recent creation in six 24-hour days to be a necessary interpretation of Genesis. W.B. Riley, editor of The Christian Fundamentalist and president of the Anti-Evolution League of America, stated 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” [The Creationists, p. 45]. Riley, William Jennings Bryan, and many of the more educated fundamentalists held to the “progressive creation” form of old earth creationism. In this view, the creative acts of God were spread out over millions of years. Noah’s Flood is seen as localized to somewhere in the Middle East.  In some variants, the six creation Days of Genesis 1 are correlated with specific epochs of geological history. This “day-age” approach is espoused today by Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe ministry.

The form of old earth creationism which became more popular among fundamentalists was the “gap” theory. This approach proposes a very long time period between Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”), which marked the initial creation of the earth, and 1:2 (“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”). After the initial creation (Gen 1:1), a long time passed, which may have involved the creation and extinction of different kinds of beings; this age was brought to an end by some primeval rebellion, resulting in the destruction and desolation of the earth’s surface, leaving it “formless and empty” (Gen 1:2). Genesis 1:3 and onward tells of the rehabilitation of the earth and the creation of today’s species, including humans, in a relatively recent literal six-day re-creation.

Gap creationism was popularized by Thomas Chalmers at the University of Edinburgh and was held by early nineteenth century Christian geologists such as William Buckland and Edward Hitchcock. It became enormously influential in early and mid-twentieth century American conservative Protestantism after being promoted in the notes of the Schofield Reference Bible. Adherents included Charles Spurgeon, R. A. Torrey, Oral Roberts, Harry Rimmer, Jimmy Swaggart, Donald Grey Barnhouse, and Finis Dake (who also published an annotated Bible). In 1954, Bernard Ramm (The Christian View of Science and Scripture) noted that the gap approach was taken at that time by many fundamentalists to be the only possible faithful interpretation of Genesis:

The gap theory has become the standard interpretation throughout hyper-orthodoxy, appearing in an endless stream of books, booklets, Bible studies, and periodical articles. In fact, it has become so sacrosanct with some that to question it is equivalent to tampering with Sacred Scripture or to manifest modernistic leanings.

From Failed Prophecy to Failed Science: Adventist Prophetess Drives the Revival of Diluvian Geology

William Miller and the Great Disappointment

The old-earth (day-age or gap theory) consensus among conservative Protestants was abruptly shattered by the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood. Its authors, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, taught a “Flood geology”, in which most of the sedimentary rock layers were laid down in a single world-wide Noahic Flood about 2500 B.C., some 1500 years after the creation of the universe c. 4000 B.C. Their version of young earth creationism was heavily promoted by the authors and by related organizations, and within a decade became the standard worldview among fundamentalists.

Where did this Flood geology come from? The story begins in upstate New York with a farmer named William Miller. In the early nineteenth century, this area was a hotbed of reform movements, utopian communities, and religious enthusiasm and innovation. This is where Mormonism (Joseph Smith) and American Spiritualism (the Fox sisters) arose. And this is where Miller, a Baptist layman living near the Vermont border, pored over his Bible and calculated the time of Christ’s return.

William Miller (1782-1849), whose 1844 estimate of the Second Coming spawned many branches of Adventism.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Miller_(preacher)

William Miller (1782-1849), whose 1844 estimate of the Second Coming spawned many branches of Adventism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Miller_(preacher)

Miller based his calculation on Daniel 8:14, “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Starting with a royal decree in 457 B.C. to rebuild Jerusalem, and reckoning each prophetic day to be a year, he estimated that, “that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.” Apparently it did not strike him odd that with a simple calculation from an Old Testament verse he was able determine the date of the Second Coming, even though Jesus had declared this date was not known by any man, any angel, or even by Jesus himself (cf. Mark 13:32).

After Miller started publicizing his conclusions in 1831, they generated increasing attention. If indeed the world was about to end in a few short years, hardly anything else mattered. Something like 100,000 people, mainly in northeast U.S. but with adherents worldwide, were swept up in the excitement.

March 21, 1844 came and went uneventfully. Because Miller had acknowledged some imprecision in starting dates and calendar changes, the faithful were not unduly discouraged. The “Millerites” eventually decided that October 22, 1844 must be the actual date of Christ’s Second Advent. Thousands gathered to keep vigil that day and that night, many dressed in white robes. The chagrin they felt when October 23 dawned like any other day is known as the “Great Disappointment.”

After this fizzle, most of Miller’s followers apparently went back to their old churches and rebuilt their lives. Many others, however, had become so invested in the Adventist movement that they could not give it up. Various Millerite groups made divergent attempts to rationalize the non-apocalypse of October 22. This led to the formation of many different sects. Here is a diagram of some of the churches and movements in the nineteenth century spawned by Millerism:

The development of branches of Adventism in the 19th century  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventism

The development of branches of Adventism in the 19th century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventism

The reach of Miller’s Adventism extends even further than depicted here. It helped shift American Christian eschatological expectations from post-millennialism (which is optimistic about the spread of Christian faith and culture in the world before Christ’s return) to a more pessimistic pre-millennialism, which is fixated on a coming war in the Middle East. The Jehovah’s Witnesses (current worldwide membership 15-20 million) emerged from Charles Taze Russell’s Bible Student movement. The Branch Davidians, who came to a fiery end in the government siege of their Waco compound in 1993, were an offshoot of an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists.

Seventh-Day Adventism and Visionary Ellen White

The group that became the Seventh-day Adventists explained the absence of visible manifestations on October 22 by stating that Christ did indeed come and cleanse a sanctuary (per Daniel 8:14) on that day, but this sanctuary was in heaven, not on earth. This group continued to maintain an expectation of Christ’s return to earth, and embraced the keeping of the Sabbath on Saturday (the seventh day of the week).

This movement was held together in part by James White’s publication of the periodicals The Present Truth, and later the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. The Seventh-day Adventist church was formally organized in 1863.

James White’s wife, Ellen G. White (1827-1915), became accepted as a prophetic voice in the Seventh-day Adventist movement. She went into trances for extended periods, where she reported seeing visions of God and of future events, and receiving direct communications from Jesus and angels. Later medical investigations note that her symptoms were consistent with fits of temporal lobe epilepsy, possibly linked to a childhood blow to the head that left her in a coma for three weeks.

Ellen White was a prolific writer, authoring more than 40 books and 5000 articles. Critics poke fun at her Victorian dire warnings on self-abuse, and her statements on creation and geology are wildly inaccurate. That said, most of her teachings seem reasonable and consistent with Scripture, and were offered out of pure motives. She played a role in steering Adventism back to orthodoxy on the Trinity.  She honored the Bible, stood against racism, promoted sound education, and was far ahead of her time in advocating healthy eating habits and other proactive health care.

In recent decades, most Seventh-day Adventists have backed away from absolute fealty to White’s every statement, while continuing to draw from the best of the traditions she promoted.  The Adventist church maintains an emphasis on wholeness and health, operates a large network of schools and hospitals, and is accepted as a regular Protestant denomination.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, her writings were considered by most Seventh-day Adventists to be authoritative revelation from God, on a par with the Bible. White did not claim that everything she wrote was inspired, but she vigorously defended the authenticity of her prophetic visions and revelations, with statements such as these:

“I speak that which I have seen, and which I know to be true.”

“”I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision–the precious rays of light shining from the throne.”

“God is either teaching His church, reproving their wrongs and strengthening their faith, or He is not. This work is of God, or it is not. God does nothing in partnership with Satan. My work… bears the stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy. There is no halfway work in the matter. The Testimonies are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil.”

“I testify the things which I have seen, the things which I have heard, the things which my hands have handled of the Word of life. And this testimony I know to be of the Father and the Son. We have seen and do testify that the power of the Holy Ghost has accompanied the presentation of the truth, warning with pen and voice, and giving the messages in their order. To deny this work would be to deny the Holy Ghost, and would place us in that company who have departed from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits.”

Ellen White’s Teachings on Creation

White’s Adventist beliefs on the Sabbath were tied to a literal six-day creation. In her mind, this absolutely ruled out vast ages for the creation. To teach long ages for creation is “infidelity in its most insidious and hence most dangerous form”:

 But the assumption that the events of the first week required thousands upon thousands of years, strikes directly at the foundation of the fourth commandment. It represents the Creator as commanding men to observe the week of literal days in commemoration of vast, indefinite periods. This is unlike His method of dealing with His creatures. It makes indefinite and obscure that which He has made very plain. It is infidelity in its most insidious and hence most dangerous form; its real character is so disguised that it is held and taught by many who profess to believe the Bible.    [E. White, The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 112]

Given her convictions, it is perhaps not surprising that she reported a divine vision in which she was “carried back to the creation and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week.”  [Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, Page 90 ]

White reported further direct divine revelation on what transpired after Noah’s Flood. The ground was littered with carcasses of all the drowned humans and animals. Because God did not them to decompose there and pollute the atmosphere, He wanted them buried. He accomplished this by sending a mighty wind that sloshed the waters around so violently that the dirt and stones were displaced enough to bury the dead bodies. In the process, the surface of the earth was greatly reshaped:

He caused a powerful wind to pass over the earth for the purpose of drying up the waters, which moved them with great force—in some instances carrying away the tops of mountains like mighty avalanches, forming huge hills and high mountains where there were none to be seen before, and burying the dead bodies with trees, stones, and earth. These mountains and hills increased in size and became more irregular in shape by collection of stones, ledges, trees, and earth which were driven upon and around them.   [Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, Page 78]

Before the Flood there were immense forests of trees many times larger than today’s trees. These trees were torn up and buried during the Flood, and turned into coal, some of which turned into oil; God causes the subterranean coal and oil to ignite, which makes for “earthquakes, volcanoes and fiery issues”:

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. God causes large quantities of coal and oil to ignite and burn. Rocks are intensely heated, limestone is burned, and iron ore melted. Water and fire under the surface of the earth meet. The action of water upon the limestone adds fury to the intense heat, and causes earthquakes, volcanoes and fiery issues. [Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, Page 78]

The likely origin of coal from buried vegetation was already known in White’s day; the rest of this is fanciful fiction. Oil comes from marine sediments, not from trees or coal. Volcanoes are eruptions of molten rock from hot zones in the lower crust of the earth, with normally no connection to underground fires of coal or oil. White seems to have stirred into her vision the common observation that calcined limestone (i.e. lime, an ingredient in mortar or cement) gets hot when water is added to it.

White stated that all the corpses buried in the earth should serve as evidence of the biblical Flood, to “establish the faith of men in inspired history”. [Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, Page 95-96 ] When scientists did actually examine the fossils in the rocks, their conclusions were the opposite of what she proposed. Geologists looked very hard, and could find no evidence of a universal Flood, or of a recent creation. What they did find was a clear history of a series of inundations and erosions over millions of years, with a progression of differing fossil types over that time period supporting evolution.

In response to these “infidel” conclusions, White claimed that God revealed to her that the geological history of the earth is “incomprehensible” to human investigators (i.e. scientists) who seek to understand it in terms of natural principles:

I have been shown that without Bible history, geology can prove nothing. Relics found in the earth do give evidence of a state of things differing in many respects from the present. But the time of their existence, and how long a period these things have been in the earth, are only to be understood by Bible history. It may be innocent to conjecture beyond Bible history, if our suppositions do not contradict the facts found in the sacred Scriptures. But when men leave the word of God in regard to the history of creation, and seek to account for God’s creative works upon natural principles, they are upon a boundless ocean of uncertainty. Just how God accomplished the work of creation in six literal days he has never revealed to mortals. His creative works are just as incomprehensible as his existence. [Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, Page 93]

White’s posturing here (“God spoke to me; to question me is to defy God”) is a typical cult leader power-play. Furthermore, her claim that natural history is opaque to human investigation is in direct opposition to the historic Protestant view that geological history is real because God is not a deceiver, and that He purposed to reveal Himself in the Book of His works as well as in the Book of His Word.

George McCready Price, Flood Geology, and Thrust Faults

Although many of Ellen White’s statements about the creation and the Flood are at odds with physical reality, her prophetic status forced other Seventh-day Adventists to a literal application of the Genesis story. It was certainly White’s writings that drove Canadian-born Adventist George McCready Price to seek a way to rationalize the rock layers in a manner that was consistent with a recent six-day creation. Price acknowledged that he was guided by White’s “revealing word pictures of the Edenic beginning of the world, of the fall and the world apostasy, and of the flood”, with Flood-burial of animals and plants producing the fossils.

Starting about 1900, Price formally proposed that the fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks were laid down in Noah’s flood. He recognized that he had to come to terms with the observations by geologists that a regular sequence of fossilized plant and animal species could be observed in the rock layers around the world. Evolutionists readily explained this faunal succession in the rocks as reflecting the actual temporal appearance and extinction of these species over the millions of years of geologic history. Price’s initial proposal was that the observed sequence of fossils resulted, not from temporal succession, but from various aspects of the Flood event that sorted out different types of corpses, including differential mortality and hydrological sorting. The “smaller and more helpless animals” would be drowned first, with their burial locations being determined by the densities of their bodies, while the faster-running “larger animals and man would flee to the hill-tops” and be buried later.

Later, Price simply denied the existence of a regular order of fossils in the rocks. He ended up staking his whole system of thought on the observation of “out-of-order” rock layers in certain locations, especially the Lewis Overthrust in Montana and Alberta. This is part of great thrust belt system runs nearly the whole length of the Rocky Mountains. In the Lewis Overthrust, hundreds of square miles of rocks dated by their fossils as “old” (Precambrian, about 1 billion years old) rest atop rocks whose fossils are supposedly younger (400 million years and younger). Normally, of course, one finds older fossils below, not above, younger fossils. Geologists interpreted the Lewis formation as a case where the older layers had been pushed up and over onto the younger layers by compressive forces.

Price, however, had no formal geology training or experience. He read on the subject extensively, not to actually understand reality, but rather to conjure up some explanation that was consistent with a recent creation and a global Flood. Not understanding fault systems in general, Price simply could not believe that many square miles of thick rock could have ever slid across other rocks.  He was probably misled by reading some descriptions of the Lewis fault zone which minimized the deformations there.  Also, the zone of fracturing and folding at a fault is sometimes narrow, and easily overlooked by the untrained eye.

The diagram below illustrates why practicing scientists could tell that the Lewis formation involved a massive thrusting movement. This is a section in Montana, south of Glacier National Park. The formations appearing on this diagram are listed at the bottom, in order from highest (most recent) to lowest (oldest). Devonian rocks (Du) are about 400 million years old, and Cambrian rocks (Cu) are about 500 million years old. These rocks are classified as “Devonian” or “Cambrian” on the basis of the index fossils found in them; the ages of Devonian and Cambrian sedimentary rocks in general have been determined by radioactive dating of igneous rocks that have been found in association with these sedimentary layers in various parts of the world. The formations whose abbreviations start with “Y” (e.g. Ygr, Ym) are Precambrian, on the order of a billion years old.

Section of the Lewis and Eldorado Thrust Faults. Green circle marks surface exposure of Lewis fault. Red and blue arrows mark surface exposures and subsurface orientation of a consistent set of rock layers on both sides of the Lewis fault. From “The Lewis Thrust Fault and Related Structures in the Disturbed Belt, Northwestern Montana”, by Melville R. Mudge and Robert L. Earhart (1980). http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1174/report.pdf .     Arrows and circle added.

Section of the Lewis and Eldorado Thrust Faults. Green circle marks surface exposure of Lewis fault. Red and blue arrows mark surface exposures and subsurface orientation of a consistent set of rock layers on both sides of the Lewis fault.
From “The Lewis Thrust Fault and Related Structures in the Disturbed Belt, Northwestern Montana”, by Melville R. Mudge and Robert L. Earhart (1980). http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1174/report.pdf . Arrows and circle added.

In the immediate zone of the fault exposure (green circle on the diagram), one of the Precambrian formations (here, the Mount Shields Formation, Yms) is found resting atop some Devonian rocks (approximately 400 million years old).This is an example of “out-of-order” layering, with nominally older rocks sitting above younger rocks. Price claimed that the Precambrian rocks were directly deposited as ocean sediments, during Noah’s Flood, on top of the post-Cambrian rocks.

Consideration of the whole picture, however, makes it obvious that this is a case of thrusting. There is a huge, identical super-set of tilted rock layers that occur on both sides of the Lewis fault. These layers run from the from Precambrian or Proterozoic formations (e.g. Yh Helena Formation, Ysn Snowslip Formation, etc.) up to Cambrian and Devonian formations at the surface. These formations on the left side of the Lewis fault are marked with red arrows, and on the right side of the fault with blue arrows. The geometry of these layers makes it clear that the reason why the Yms Mount Shields rocks are sitting on top of the Du Devonian rocks within the green circle is that a huge section of these layers (where the red arrows are) got shoved from the left atop another section (marked by blue arrows) of this same super-set.

The Flood geology interpretation of all this would be that the detailed sequence of layers on the right (blue arrows) were deposited from the Flood waters from specific sediments (clays, sands, limy animal skeletons, etc.). Note that each of the many formations shown (Yh, Ysn, Ysh,…,Cu, Du) contains a number of distinct sub-levels, so there are actually hundreds of identifiable rock layers involved. Then, an erosional surface was formed at the plane of what geologists call the Lewis Thrust. Then, as the Flood raged on, hundreds of more sedimentary layers were deposited (red arrows) which exactly mimic in type and sequence all the layers which compose the ten or so formations laid down earlier.

This is not credible. One feature which makes it completely impossible is that a number of these formations (e.g. Garnet Range, McNamara, Bonner) are composed largely of quartzite. Quartzite forms when sandstone is deeply buried and subjected to intense heat and compression long enough to cement the sand grains together. It is a very hard and non-porous stone, preferred over granite in kitchen countertops because it does not absorb stains. The 4500 years since Noah’s Flood is not enough time to bury these sediments, fold them as shown, cook them to quartzite and other hard rocks, then erode thousands of feet of solid rock down the to present surface contour.

Another strike against Flood geology is the existence of hundreds of feet (meters) of limestones (e.g. here with the Helena formation) in the middle of other sedimentary strata. Thick layers of limestones form as the skeletons of mainly microscopic marine creatures slowly rain to the ocean bottom over many years in relatively calm waters; they could not form suddenly in the midst of Noahic torrents that were scouring the continents and rapidly depositing thousands of feet of mud and sand.

On the other hand, thrust faulting readily accounts for the existing rock layers in Montana. The large-scale fold in the left hand layers is evidence of the massive compressive forces in the crust here, and the Lewis fault shows the signs (local folding and breakage) that movement has taken place along it.

Professional geologists tried to educate Price, noting that thrust faults could be observed even in Precambrian rocks which had essentially no fossils, but he didn’t want to hear it. No matter the evidence, he just chose to disbelieve that massive thrusting could ever occur. He dismissed all claims of large-scale thrust faulting anywhere as ad hoc attempts to cover up instances of out-of-order fossils.

Having ruled out thrusting, Price insisted that the upper “Precambrian” layers in Montana had been deposited (as ocean sediments) conformably on the lower layers. In Price’s mind, therefore, the Lewis formation disproved the existence of ANY regular succession of fossils in the rock layers. He wrote (The Fundamentals of Geology, 1913), “I don’t know what would convince the world, in this evidence here in Alberta and Montana is insufficient.”

In a breathtaking extrapolation from his (mis)understanding of the Lewis Overthrust, Price proclaimed a new law of geology: “ANY KIND OF FOSSILIFEROUS ROCK MAY OCCUR CONFORMABLY ON ANY KIND OF FOSSILIFEROUS ROCK, OLD OR YOUNG”. Since the arguments for evolution at the time were largely based on the faunal succession in the fossils, Price believed that he had, with this law, swept away nearly all the evidence for evolution.

Price and a few supporters tried for decades to promote his views through various organizations, but despite repeated recruiting efforts they could not find a single professionally-trained geologist to support them. Fundamentalists lauded Price’s efforts and valued him as an ally against evolution, but until about 1960 his Flood geology made only modest headway against the dominant gap theory and progressive creationism.

Ferment in the Fifties: The American Scientific Affiliation and Bernard Ramm

The Evolution of the American Scientific Affiliation

A group of American scientists who were evangelical Christians founded the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) in 1941. The intent was to provide a forum where Christians could discuss the various issues where science interacted with faith, and to produce and share accurate information in this area. Members were required to possess a degree in a scientific field, and to subscribe to a general statement which stated that the Bible is inspired by God, and is an unerring guide to faith and conduct. Their interest was in the whole faith-science arena, not just in creation, and they did not specify any particular position on interpreting the Genesis narrative.

As men of science, the leading ASA members could see that Price’s Flood geology was unrealistic, and it was denounced as such from 1948 onward. The “gap” theory was also seen to provide a poor match to the physical evidence. The ASA leaders were mainly old earth creationists of the progressive creation (e.g. day-age) variety.

In the 1940’s nearly all ASA members opposed evolution, and the ASA planned to produce a book which would refute Darwinism in time for the 1959 centennial of Darwin’s Origin of Species. In the 1950’s, however, key ASA members became better acquainted with evidence that convinced them that some significant amount of macro-evolution had in fact taken place over the geologic ages. When the ASA published its long-awaited volume on evolution in 1959, the tone of the book was distinctly accepting towards theistic evolution, to the dismay of the more conservative members.

Bernard Ramm’s Manifesto

Bernard Ramm, a professor of philosophy at Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, published The Christian View of Science and Scripture in 1954. This became the most talked-about creationist book of the decade. As a young man, Ramm had subscribed to the gap theory of creation, like millions of other readers of the Schofield Bible. Eventually he realized the shortcomings of the gap theory and also of Flood geology, but he maintained a firm belief in the inspiration of the Bible. Ramm thought deeply about faith and science issues, earning various degrees, including a PhD in philosophy.

In The Christian View of Science and Scripture  Ramm analyzed the process by which Biblical Christianity during the nineteenth century moved in the universities from a central role to a place of near-total irrelevance. Much of this was due to secular factors, but part of the blame lay with the lack of a viable philosophy of science among the Christians.

In the book’s preface, Ramm distinguished two traditions in Bible and science. The “ignoble tradition” has “used arguments and procedures not in the better traditions of established scholarship”. The “noble” approach “is the tradition of the great and learned evangelical Christians who have been patient, genuine, and kind and who have taken great care to learn the facts of science and Scripture.” Unfortunately, “the noble tradition which was in ascendancy in the closing years of the nineteenth century has not been the major tradition in evangelicalism in the twentieth century. A narrow bibliolatry, the product not of faith but of fear, buried the noble tradition.” Ramm hoped to “call evangelicalism back to the noble tradition”.

Ramm used the term “hyperorthodoxy” to describe the fundamentalist approach that creates disharmony. This hyperorthodoxy is “far more rigid and dogmatic than Scripture itself”, and “makes the words of God and the work of God clash”. The key error driving this approach is the failure to differentiate interpretation from inspiration and revelation.  We can all agree that Genesis 1 is inspired revelation, but that does not tell us how it should be interpreted, i.e. what it should mean to us today. The opinion that Genesis account was intended to teach that the creation actually occurred in six 24-hour days is a fallible, human opinion, not to be confused with the divine revelation itself.

Ramm argued for a local, rather than universal Flood. He saw Genesis 1 as depicting six days when God revealed six aspects of His creation activities; the timing of these activities might well have been spread out over millions of years.  He claimed that the Bible was given for the purpose of revealing truths about God, not for teaching science. Ramm noted that “the language of the Bible with reference to natural things is popular, pre-scientific and non-postulational”.  Also,   “…the Holy Spirit conveyed infallibly true theological doctrines in the cultural mold and terms of the days of the Bible writers, and did not give to the writers the secrets of modern science. It is a misunderstanding of the nature of inspiration to seek such secrets in various verses of the Bible.”

Although Ramm himself did not fully embrace evolution, he acknowledged that “men whose orthodoxy is unimpeachable have accepted some form of theistic evolution or at least were tolerant toward evolution theistically conceived.” His interpretive approach left ample room for a new generation of Christians to engage fearlessly with the full range of the sciences, including evolutionary biology.

The Christian View of Science and Scripture quickly became controversial and polarizing.  This was an era when the new “evangelicals” were starting to define themselves as distinct from the belligerent, often ill-informed fundamentalists who had made Christianity untenable for many educated Americans. Evangelicals such as Billy Graham sought to present the core aspects of the gospel, what C. S. Lewis called “mere” Christianity, with minimal distraction from side issues or cultural baggage. Thus, they welcomed Ramm’s book as an approach that could allow science-literate Americans and Europeans to consider the claims of Christ.

On the other side, fundamentalists did not appreciate being characterized as ignoble, hyper-orthodox bibliolaters, and were appalled at Ramm’s apparent concessions to modernism. They pointed to The Christian View of Science and Scripture as a warning of what can happen if a rigorous literal interpretation is abandoned or if Christians try to incorporate any “uniformitarian” geology into their approach to Genesis.

The Genesis of The Genesis Flood

John Whitcomb Responds to Ramm’s Challenge

Among these incensed traditionalists was John Whitcomb. In the early 1950’s Whitcomb was pursuing graduate studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana. He believed that Christians should lay aside any effort to harmonize the scriptures with the findings of modern science. Rather they should take the bible as literally and simplistically as possible, as the only reliable guide to reality.  If at any point the scientists disagreed with the literal interpretation, the scientists must be wrong. Period.

His doctoral thesis was largely an attack on Ramm’s work. Whitcomb defended the biblical necessity for a recent six-day creation and for a global flood which killed all humans and terrestrial animals apart from those preserved in Noah’s ark.  Whitcomb had become convinced that George McCready Price’s Flood geology was the correct approach to explaining the physical evidence. Whitcomb wanted to publish his work so as to counter Ramm’s influence, but he realized his thesis would be more persuasive if he could add more scientific content.

Henry Morris Provides Scientific Horsepower

Whitcomb tried to recruit a number of conservative Protestants with scientific training to join him in this enterprise, but they declined for various reasons. When Wheaton College geology professor Douglas Block read Whitcomb’s manuscript, he was dismayed. He got in his car and drove from Wheaton, Illinois to visit Whitcomb in Indiana and personally explain to him why Flood geology was incorrect. Whitcomb, however, did not want to hear about any science which contradicted his views on Genesis and the Flood. [see The Creationists, p. 190].

At length Whitcomb persuaded Henry M. Morris to sign on as co-author. Morris was at the time a professor of hydraulics at Virginia Tech, who had long been active in apologetics from a YE creationist perspective. It was Morris who had introduced Whitcomb to Flood geology at an ASA meeting in 1953. Prior to that, Whitcomb had been a gap theory man.

Morris produced pages and pages of material which presented a model for understanding the rock strata in terms of a single Flood, and which also described supposedly fatal problems in mainstream uniformitarian geology. Morris’s contribution eventually comprised more than two-thirds of the final book and defined the essence of young earth creationism from that time forward.  Morris would go on to ever-greater heights within the YE creationist movement, earning the title of “the father of modern creation science.”

The Genesis Flood: The Book That Changed Everything

Early edition of The Genesis Flood, as offered on www.amazon.com.

Early edition of The Genesis Flood, as offered on http://www.amazon.com.

When The Genesis Flood finally appeared in 1961, it was an impressive work. Some 500 pages long, it had scholarly footnotes on nearly every page, illustrations, and two indices.  Its publication was a cultural watershed event. It became wildly popular among conservative Protestants, going through 29 printings and selling more than 200,000 copies in its first 25 years.

Flood geology quickly swept aside the gap approach among fundamentalists, as creation research organizations sprang up to support and popularize Morris’s vision. From about 1970 onward, the Flood geology form of YE creationism has become the standard position among fundamentalists and the more conservative evangelicals. Polls show something like 20-40% of all Americans believe the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago. That translates into a high percentage of American evangelical Christians as being YE creationists. Evangelical missionaries have spread YE creationism throughout the world. Here is a lament from a missionary in the former Soviet Union, written in 1997: http://paleo.cc/paluxy/joshzorn.htm

The worst aspect of YECS [Young Earth Creation Science] teaching is that it creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church. .. How many have chosen to give up their faith altogether rather than to accept scientific nonsense or a major reinterpretation of Scripture?…How much have we sinned against Christian brothers holding another opinion by naming them “dangerous” and “compromisers”? … missionaries and evangelists need to get materials expressing other viewpoints translated to oppose the virtual monopoly YECS teaching has overseas. As I write this paper, I see YECS literature becoming more and more widely distributed in the growing churches in my corner of the former Soviet Union. We are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make the job of world evangelism even harder than it is already.

The Genesis Flood offered a scientific case for retaining the simplest literal sense of the Genesis story; the beast of evolution had been slain at last. Thus energized, American fundamentalists emerged from their isolation and began pushing to have YE creationism presented in public schools. This was the opening wedge of conservative Christian political activism which continues to this day.

Because of all the seemingly scientific material in The Genesis Flood, claiming to explain the observed phenomena more consistently than did mainstream geology, Morris and his followers termed his approach “scientific creationism” or “creation science”. In a series of landmark cases, however, the courts found Flood geology to be religion, not science, and thus ineligible for public school curricula.

Today, organizations like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International continue to spread the gospel of Flood geology, and The Genesis Flood retains its appeal. By 2011, the book had sold 300,000 copies in 48 printings and had been translated into German, Korean, Serbian and Spanish. [ Paul J. Scharf, “The Genesis Flood, Tidal Wave of Change,” Baptist Bulletin (July 2010), as referenced in Wikipedia “The Genesis Flood“]

Whitcomb and Morris Conceal the George McCready Price Connection

The scientific framework of The Genesis Flood was taken straight from George McCready Price’s works. Much later (History of Modern Creationism, 1984) Morris would acknowledge this, describing his first reading in 1943 of Price’s The New Geology as “a life-changing experience for me”.

Whitcomb and Morris agreed, however, to conceal this connection from readers of The Genesis Flood. As Whitcomb wrote to Morris (Jan. 24, 1959; see The Creationists, p. 198), “For many people our position would be somewhat discredited by the fact that ‘Price and Seventh-Day Adventism’ (the title of one of the sections in that chapter) play such a prominent role in its support. My suggestion would be to supply for the book a fairly complete annotated bibliography of twentieth-century works advocating Flood-geology, without so much as a mention of the denominational affiliation of the various authors.”

Accordingly, Whitcomb and Morris scrubbed Price out of their book nearly completely. They made no mention of Price in their description of the development of geological thinking with respect to the Flood, mentioning him only briefly in connection with overthrust rock layers.

Bad Science and Bad Theology in The Genesis Flood

The Lewis Overthrust According to Whitcomb and Morris

Like his mentor George McCready Price, Morris laid great stress on trying to show that key out-of-order formations were not true overthrusts, but rather resulted from plain, continuous deposition of sediments during the Flood. Again, if these formations were proven to be simple continuous sedimentary deposits, that would smash the evolutionists’ claim for a general faunal succession in the sedimentary strata.

Morris devoted some 20 pages in The Genesis Flood (TGF) to attacking thrust faulting, with (like Price) an emphasis on the Lewis Overthrust.  Morris focused particularly on a section of the Lewis fault in Montana’s Glacier National Park, a figure of which is shown below.

As noted earlier, the Lewis fault is part of a great thrust belt system that runs the length of the Rockies, and there are obvious factors which demonstrate massive overthrusting did in fact occur. This drawing shows how the Precambrian layers of the Livingstone and Lewis ranges were forced atop younger Cretaceous rocks. Erosion has worn away parts of the upper Precambrian layers, so the Precambrian (Altyn limestone) Chief Mountain stands isolated at the front of the thrust. There is a lot of folding and crushing among the rocks towards the left side of this diagram, which bear witness to the intense compressional forces involved.

Whitcomb and Morris, however, provided their readers a forceful case for rejecting this view of these formations. Their claims included:

Claim (1). The interface (i.e. the supposed fault) between the older and younger layers looks flat and undisturbed (conformal). This claim is supported, for instance, by this quote from two geologists:

“Ross and Rezak say: ‘Most visitors, especially those who stay on the roads, get the impression that the Belt strata are undisturbed and lie almost as flat today as they did when deposited in the sea which vanished so many years ago'” [TGF p. 187].

Claim (2). The underlying Cretaceous shales are not very disturbed:

…”The Cretaceous shales are bent sharply to the east in a number of places, but with this exception have suffered little by the sliding of the limestone over them, and their comparatively undisturbed condition seems hardly compatible with the extreme faulting which was necessary to bring them into their present position.” [ TGF p. 187, quoting J. Kulp, who was quoting a 1886 report of the Canadian Geological Survey].

Claim (3). Another difficulty with massive overthrusting is that “it should have produced a large mass of broken rock in front of it and on the sides. But this has not been found.” A quote from Ross and Rezak is included in support of this claim. [TGF, pp. 188-189].

Claim (4). The isolated Chief Mountain is presented as problematic. It rests “conformably on Cretaceous shales”. Also, “On top of the mountain are found no remnants of Cretaceous shales as might be supposed but only a few granitic boulders.”

Claim (5).  In many places a close examination of the fault by Dr. Walter Lammerts found no sign of the grinding and deformation which would be expected if one huge, heavy mass of rock slid atop another. “Careful study of the various locations showed no evidence of any grinding or sliding action or slicken-sides such as one would expect to find on the hypothesis of a vast overthrust.” A photograph by Lammerts (TGF Figure 17) illustrated the horizontal, undisturbed interface.

Claim (6). Further from Lammerts: “Another amazing fact was the occurrence of two four-inch layers of Altyn limestone intercalated with Cretaceous shale…Likewise careful study of these intercalactions showed not the slightest evidence of abrasive action such as one would expect to find if these were shoved forward in between layers of shale as the overthrust theory demands.” [TGF pp. 190-191, quoting personal communication from W. Lammerts]. These “amazing” intercalations were illustrated with a photo by Lammerts [TGF, Fig.18].

Claim (7).  The physics of rock deformation and material integrity would not allow such massive lateral motion without completely shattering the rocks. If some thrusting did occur, it would have to be during or just after the Flood, when the sedimentary layers were still moist and soft.

Claim (8).  Even if some thrust fault motion (e.g. a few inches or feet) occurred with hard rock layers (as evidenced by some abraded surfaces at the fault interface), truly long-range motion (miles or kilometers) would result in much more deformation and fractioning than is currently visible.

Evaluating the Case Against Overthrusts

For most the readers of The Genesis Flood the set of claims above constituted a compelling case that the Lewis formation was not a gigantic overthrust, but was instead a simple, continuous sedimentary feature. This would mean that mainstream, uniformitarian geology is bankrupt, with Flood geology giving a better explanation for the observed rock strata.

How accurate are these 8 claims regarding the Lewis fault?  We will take a closer look at each of them, aided by John Solum’s article “Thrust Faults” on the TalkOrigins Archive.

Re Claim (1):  The full quote from Ross and Rezak (1959 p. 420) is as follows, with the portion cited by Whitcomb and Morris shown in bold:

Most visitors, especially those who stay on the roads, get the impression that the Belt strata are undisturbed and lie almost as flat today as they did when deposited in the sea which vanished so many million years ago. Actually, they are folded, and in certain zones they are intensely so. From points on or near the trails in the park it is possible to observe places where the beds of the Belt series, as revealed in outcrops on ridges, cliffs, and canyon walls, are folded and crumpled almost as intricately as the softer younger strata in the mountains south of the park and in the Great Plains adjoining the park to the east.”

First, Whitcomb and Morris omitted the word “millions” from phrase “the sea which vanished so many million years ago,” since it did not fit their view that the earth is not millions of years old. It is explicit dishonesty not to mark an omission within a direct quote with an ellipsis (“…”).

Second, Whitcomb and Morris cherry-picked the part of this quote which describes the inaccurate, superficial impression (“the Belt strata are undisturbed”) that a visitor would obtain viewing the formations at a distance; this creates the impression that Ross and Rezak agree that the Lewis strata are undisturbed.   Meanwhile, Whitcomb and Morris omitted the text which describes the actual state of the rocks: “Actually, they are folded, and in certain places they are intensely so…the beds of the Belt series, as revealed in outcrops on ridges, cliffs, and canyon walls, are folded and crumpled”. That is implicit dishonesty.

Re Claim (2):  The quote from the 1886 Canadian Geological Survey opining that the depth of deformation in the lower shales is less than expected was written in 1886. Since then we have developed more understanding of faulting. As noted above at The Earth Story  a relatively narrow zone of pulverized and deformed rock can sustain extended movement of a thrust fault. This 1886 report did observe that “The Cretaceous shales are bent sharply to the east in a number of places”, which is exactly what thrust fault movement to the east would produce.

Re Claim (3): This claim was that massive overthrusting “should have produced a large mass of broken rock in front of it and on the sides. But this has not been found.” A quote from Ross and Rezak was included in support of this claim.  Solum shows that this is another case of quote-butchering – Ross and Rezak were noting that IF the leading edge of the thrust slab had emerged onto open ground in the course of the thrusting, THEN the slab there should have broken up into rubble. The absence of this rubble simply confirms that the fault plane in the vicinity of what is now exposed at surface was deeply buried at the time of the fault movement. There was nothing in the full Ross and Rezak quote that would raise questions as to whether massive thrusting motion had occurred along the Lewis fault.

Re Claim (4):  The isolated Chief Mountain was presented as problematic, resting “conformably on Cretaceous shales”. Also, “On top of the mountain are found no remnants of Cretaceous shales as might be supposed but only a few granitic boulders.”

First, there is no reason to expect “remnants of Cretaceous shales” atop Chief Mountain, if Chief Mountain is part of an overthrust atop the shales.

Second, Chief Mountain does not rest “conformably” on the underlying shales. It has all the marks of having been shoved to its current location. One of the early investigations of Chief Mountain was conducted by Bailey Willis in 1902. Willis describes Chief Mountain as follows:

The detailed structure of the Algonkian mass above the Lewis overthrust is sometimes chaotic when considered in the small, yet simple when observed in the large. The chaotic structure is best exhibited in Chief mountain, where the lower massive member of the Altyn limestone is crushed (reference to figure omitted). The fractures divide the masses irregularly into blocks of all angular shapes varying from a few inches to 25 feet on a side. . .The base of massive Altyn limestone is traversed by minor thrusts which are often subparallel to bedding, so far as it can be made out. These thrusts dip 30 degrees and occupy a zone about 1,000 feet thick above the Lewis major thrust. They are limited above by an upper major thrust which is at the base of nearly horizontal thin-bedded limestones, constituting the upper member of the Altyn formation.

All this fracturing and additional thrust faulting is consistent with massive thrusting of the Chief Mountain block, not with a recent gentle sedimentary deposition atop the Cretaceous underlayer. Note that this information from 1902 was available to George McCready Price as well as to Whitcomb and Morris, but they ignored it because it did not fit their script.

Re Claims (5) and (6): Observations and photos by Walter Lammerts of a completely undisturbed interface, and intercalation.

It turns out that these photos are not of the actual Lewis fault. Lammerts was a botanist, not a geologist. He took those photographs during a vacation trip in 1956, relying on a park ranger to locate the fault line on Chief Mountain.  In 1962 Lammerts revisited Chief Mountain in the company of two Seventh-day Adventists, Richard Ritland and P. Edgar Hare. Ritland and Hare each had Ph. D.’s in geological science. Numbers described their trip and its aftermath, documenting his account with an interview with Ritland and correspondence by Lammerts:

On the morning of July 5, 1962, Lammerts met Ritland and Hare at Glacier National Park as planned. Together the men hiked up to the overthrust area at the south rim of the park, where the contact line between Precambrian and Cretaceous can be seen for miles. To Ritland and Hare, the evidence of overthrusting, especially signs of grooving and scouring, was “overwhelmingly clear”. Lammerts, though appreciative of his young companions’ scientific approach to the problem, found himself more confused than convinced. He thought it especially puzzling that Ritland and Hare seemed “so anxious to prove that Price was wrong and that this wrong order formation was really the result of overthrusting.” As he descended the mountain, Lammerts appeared “badly shaken.” Not only had he just gone on record in The Genesis Flood as discounting the evidence for overthrusting, but, as Ritland and Hare pointed out, the supporting photographs he had given Whitcomb and Morris were of rocks two hundred feet above the contact line. Besides, he had an article in press at Christianity Today in which he described the thrust faults in Glacier National Park as “purely imaginary.”

His initial reaction was to correct the piece in Christianity Today in light of what he had seen, but he eventually decided there was sufficient ambiguity to justify publishing what he had originally written. This decision “badly disillusioned” Ritland, who was further chagrined when he read Lammert’s description of him as a Harvard-trained Ph. D. who agreed with Price that “most” of the sedimentary rocks had resulted from Noah’s flood.   [The Creationists, pp. 218-219]

Thus, these photos in The Genesis Flood were not of the Lewis fault at all, but were taken at a location some 200 feet above it. The reality is that there is ample evidence of deformation at the immediate thrust fault zone. This indicates that the layers did indeed slide past each other as solid rock formations to assume their present positions. Solum provides a number of photos of the Lewis fault zone, noting, “Figures 6-11 demonstrate the all the classic indicators of fault motion; intense fracturing, brecciation, polish surfaces, and slickenlines, can be found along the Lewis thrust.” His Figure 7, for instance, shows intense deformation of the rocks underlying the fault plane:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/lewis/lewis2.jpg A close-up of the thrust fault plane for the Lewis Overthrust. The rocks underlying the fault plane are intensely deformed.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/lewis/lewis2.jpg A close-up of the thrust fault plane for the Lewis Overthrust. The rocks underlying the fault plane are intensely deformed.

Re Claim (7): if some thrusting did occur, it would have to be during or just after the Flood, when the sedimentary layers were still moist and soft, not with hardened rock  layers.  Solum explains why this assertion is incorrect. Morris was a hydraulic engineer, and did not understand modern geophysics.

Re Claim (8): even if some thrust fault motion occurred with hard rock layers ,  long-range motion would result in much more deformation and fractioning than is currently visible.   The reason Morris made this claim is that even he had to admit that in at least some spots there was evidence (e.g. abrasion and fracturing at the fault) that the massive rock overlayers had in fact slid over the lower layers. He complains that there should be more fracturing than there is. Again, Morris had no expertise in geology and did not understand that a relatively narrow zone of powdered gouge, once established, can support extensive fault motion.

Kurt Wise earned a Harvard PhD in paleontology. He is a YE creationist. He has been dubbed “The honest creationist”, since he refuses to shrink from honest treatment of the evidence, no matter how hard it is for him to reconcile that evidence with a young earth and a universal Flood. His 1986 assessment of the Lewis fault: “The existence of an inverted section in a thrust belt region with slickensides, dragfolds, and sheared rubble along the unconformity leaves no reasonable doubt that the Lewis Overthrust is in fact a result of overthrusting.” [The Creationists, p.281]

In sum, all of these eight points against the Lewis Overthrust are bogus, but only someone who had the motivation and opportunity to seek out the opinion of a professional geologist would know this. Thus, Whitcomb and Morris practiced deception on their non-expert readership.

The case for massive overthrusting is clearest in sections of the Lewis fault where the same sequence of rock layers (Precambrian and later) are exposed on both sides of the fault. This was discussed above in connection with Price’s errors on overthrusts, where we showed a section of the Lewis fault somewhat south of Glacier National Park. Whitcomb and Morris avoid exposing their readers to this awkwardness by confining their attention to the Glacier Park segment where the Precambrian sequence appears only on one side of the fault. This again demonstrates that Whitcomb and Morris had no interest in dealing fully and honestly with the relevant information, but only in propagandizing for their viewpoint. It is also worth noting that now, using via seismic signals and measurements from space, we can actually measure massive thrust faulting occurring in various places in the world, so there is no doubt that thick sections of the earth’s crust do in fact get pushed atop other sections.

You might think that anyone who had read Solum’s TalkOrigins article exposing The Genesis Flood’s falsehoods regarding the Lewis Overthrust would have to concede that this formation really is a massive overthrust. If that is what you thought, you would be mistaken. The psychology of YE creationists is such that they are simply unable to acknowledge the facts which prove their view to be incorrect. For example, CreationWiki, the self-styled “Encyclopedia of Creation Science”, has an entry disputing Solum’s TalkOrigins article. The CreationWiki piece botches a few of Solum’s points, ignores the rest, and calls on a 1974 Creation Research Society Quarterly article by Clifford Burdick to prove that there are portions of the Lewis fault that show no signs of motion or disturbance. This is the same Clifford Burdick whom even many creationists have acknowledged to be unreliable, after he mistakenly promoted co-existent human/dinosaur tracks and mistakenly claimed to have found modern-day pollen within ancient Grand Canyon rocks [cf. The Creationists, pp. 259-268].

More Bad Science by Henry Morris

In The Genesis Flood Whitcomb and Morris included many other claims of the failure of mainstream geology. All these claims were based on false or incomplete information and all have been long since refuted, but many still circulate in the YE creationist community. For example, below is shown the first 17 out of entries in a table by Henry Morris of supposedly contradictory estimates of the age of the earth according to “uniformitarian” geology:

First 17 out of 70 entries in a table by Henry Morris; See  https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/evidences-for-a-young-earth/

First 17 out of 70 entries in a table by Henry Morris; See

See Evidences for a Young Earth, for more details on these issues. For instance, the claims that there is too much helium in the atmosphere for an old earth, and too little salt in the ocean, were made in The Genesis Flood and in subsequent books and presentations by Henry Morris. These two claims were refuted by the mid-1990s, but were still listed by YE creationist Ken Ham in his 2014 debate with Bill Nye as evidences for a young earth.

The most amusing claim for me in The Genesis Flood was its assertion that Flood geology would be a better framework for discovering oil deposits than mainstream old earth geology: “It is surely obvious that the evolutionary concept of historical geology is of little practical value in their discovery and exploitation” [TGF, p.438], and “In this most important…of all geological disciplines, the principle of uniformity has proved impotent.” [TGF, p.431]. A casual reading in modern petroleum geology will find today’s hard-nosed, results-oriented oilmen successfully employing the full range of old-earth “uniformitarian” geology (e.g. concepts like index fossils) to understand rock deposition scenarios which provide guidance in the finding of oil.

The long discussion above on thrust faulting demonstrates how tedious it can be to refute a single YE creationist claim, and how unrewarding it is to do so: hard-core YE creationists will typically refuse to concede a point, no matter what facts are brought forth by practicing scientists. On rare occasions YE creation proponents will drop a claim, but then they make up some new, equally unrealistic assertion to replace it. The net effect is that they wear down their opponents by their invincible ignorance, and they maintain a stable of dozens of claims (all false) that they trot out to convince their audience that YE creationism has a strong scientific case.

The Fundamental Error in The Genesis Flood: Bible Interpretation

In the preface to the sixth printing, Whitcomb and Morris candidly reveal the basis of their thinking:

We believe that the Bible, as the verbally inspired and completely inerrant Word of God, gives us a true framework of historical and scientific interpretation, as well as of so-called religious truth. This framework is one of special creation of all things, complete and perfect in the beginning, followed by the introduction of a universal principle of decay and death into the world after man’s sin, culminating in a worldwide cataclysmic destruction of the “world that then was” by the Genesis Flood. We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context…the real issue is not the correctness of the interpretation of various details of the geological data, but simply what God has revealed in His Word concerning these matters.

On this telling, the authors KNOW that the earth was recently created, that decay and death only entered the world following Adam’s apple, and all terrestrial life was drowned apart from the humans and animals on Noah’s ark. Knowing this to be the case, they feel justified in distorting or ignoring whatever physical evidence points to an old earth – they KNOW that old-earth evidence must be invalid, so they need give it no credence: “We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context.”

Their fundamental mistake is ASSUMING that a verbally inspired, infallible Word of God must always be correct in its statements concerning the physical world. This assumption drives the whole agenda of The Genesis Flood, and it is simply wrong.  Ironically, Whitcomb and Morris make the very mistake that Ramm warned against: believing their interpretation of the infallible Bible to be infallible, and thus above any correction from the physical world.

Various examples can be adduced which demonstrate that Scriptural statements about the physical world, which were appropriate and meaningful for the original audience, can be incorrect according to modern knowledge. To take a simple example, Jesus taught:

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” [Mark 4:30-32 NIV].

The literal statement here is that the mustard seed is the “smallest of all seeds on earth”. The mustard seed was indeed the smallest seed that ancient Galilean farmers were familiar with, so this was a useful illustration for that audience for the growth of the kingdom from tiny beginnings. Modern naturalists have found other plant seeds which smaller than the mustard seed. If a Bible literalist were truly consistent, he should respond, “I don’t care what those godless scientists say, Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed, and that’s that. This is the infallible Word of God, so every statement regarding the natural world must be correct.” This would be to make the same mistake, of course, that Bible literalists make with Genesis 1. Most Christians understand that this parable was not really intended to teach horticultural facts; to obsess over whether Jesus taught “error” here would be to entirely miss the point of the passage.

We noted above that the plain, literal meanings of a number of verses depict an unmoving earth and a moving sun (e.g. “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” Ps. 104:5;  “…The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” I Chron. 16:30). Astronomical observations eventually led Christians to conclude that the verses that speak of a stationary earth and a moving sun were not intended to be teaching science.  Today some fundamentalists try to claim that these verses were not really teaching a stationary earth. But that is how nearly all Christians understood these verses, until science forced a reinterpretation.

As further evidence that the literal meaning of these verses is geocentric, there is a group of “stationary earth” creationists whose hermeneutical approach is essentially identical to the young earth creationists, publishing books such as Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right. On the web site of the “Association for Biblical Astronomy” we read:

This site is devoted to the historical relationship between the Bible and astronomy. It assumes that whenever the two are at variance, it is always astronomy—that is, our “reading” of the “Book of Nature,” not our reading of the Holy Bible—that is wrong. History bears consistent witness to the truth of that stance. In the case for Geocentricity, for instance, every experiment designed to measure the speed of the earth through space has always returned a speed of zero, just as the Bible claimed all along.

This position on the motion of the earth (“Believe the Bible, ignore the scientists; the evidence actually supports the literal Bible position”) is essentially identical to the position of Martin Luther on the firmament, and today’s young earth creationists on the timeline of creation.

The Jewish and Christian consensus for two thousand years was that the “firmament” which separated the liquid (not vaporous) waters above the sky from the liquid ocean waters (Gen 1:6-7) was a solid dome. It was “hard as a mirror of cast bronze” (Job 37:18).  The sun, moon, and stars were “set into” this firmament (Gen 1:14-17), and the birds flew “across the face of” it, not within it.  The great flood of Noah was sourced in part by the opening of windows or floodgates in the heavens (Gen 7:11), allowing the waters above to pour through. These floodgates were closed (Gen 8:2) at the end of the Flood to stop the waters from pouring down, indicating those waters are still up there. (For more on this see Was the “Expanse” Overhead in Genesis 1 a Solid Dome? )

Firmament on Day 4

Luther vigorously defended this traditional, literal interpretation against the natural philosophers of his day who would “wickedly deny” the existence of liquid waters above the heavenly dome:

Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.

Luther’s stand on the firmament is like of today’s fundamentalists on a literal Adam and a six 24-hour day creation: “the Bible says it, I believe it, phooey on the scientists, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me is wicked or presumptuous”. Nowadays we modify our translations of Genesis 1 to obscure this literal sense of the Hebrew, but that is only because the scientists have convinced us that the sky is a limitless vacuum, not a solid dome.

All these examples where the plain, literal meaning of Bible passages must be set aside due to modern science demonstrate that Whitcomb and Morris are utterly mistaken in their assertion that the Bible gives us a “true framework of … scientific interpretation.” The Bible does not do that, never claimed to do that, and could not possibly do that if it were to be an effective means of communication to an ancient people with a pre-scientific world view.

What Is the Bible About?

In their mistaken commitment to literalism, Whitcomb and Morris overlook and minimize what the Bible does claim for itself.  The clearest teaching of the Bible on the Bible is found in II Timothy 3:15-17:

from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

Let’s look at the wording here: “wise for salvation”, “faith in Jesus Christ”, “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” This is all about doctrine and morals; nothing about geology or biology. Those who try to extend the range of the Bible’s authority to geology and biology are imposing their own fallible opinion, which we demonstrated above to be untenable.

Dogged adherence to a literal interpretation seems like an admirable position, standing against attacks by infidels on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Unfortunately it is based on ignorance of the nature of the Bible, and is simply incorrect. YE creationists fail to take into account two factors:

(1) The Bible’s subject matter has nothing to do with physical science. Jesus said that the function of the Old Testament was to testify about him and his saving work (John 5:40; Luke 24:44). Peter (I Pet 1: 10-12) wrote that prophets spoke of the sufferings and glory of Christ. This is all about spiritual revelation which could not be deduced from natural observations. There is nothing here about authoritatively teaching geology or biology. This is a biblical view of the Bible’s intent, which differs from some evangelical statements about inerrancy which mistakenly over-extend the Bible’s sphere of authority into general science or history.

(2) We must recognize that the ancient Israelites had existing notions of the physical universe, and that God accommodated His revelation to the science of that day. Paul Seely’s Inerrant Wisdom (1987) explores in depth this divine accommodation, and exposes the fallacies involved in literal inerrancy.

People in the Near East in the time of Moses “knew” that the earth was immovably fastened to its foundations, the sky overhead was a solid dome, and animals reproduced strictly after their kind (no evolution). God could have corrected this ancient science, but chose not to. This was not a mistake or “error.” Rather, God wisely and graciously accommodated His spiritual revelation to the existing physical understanding, in order to facilitate communication of vital spiritual and relational concepts such as God’s wisdom, beneficence and sovereignty, and man’s responsibilities. It would have been pointless and confusing if the Israelites had been given a creation account in terms of today’s science (Big Bang, supernovae, plate tectonics, dinosaurs, etc.).

We need to understand the physical aspect of the ancient worldview, without taking it to be authoritative, in the same way that we do not endorse slavery even though the Bible treats it as normative and do not require veils on women despite Paul’s direct command (I Cor. 11:3-16). It’s just part of the broader task of translating the Bible from its original language and setting.

Bible-believing Christians have a number of understandable concerns about letting go of a literal interpretation of Genesis. These include a fear of a slippery slope towards denial of all Scriptural truths, including the Resurrection; questions about how Jesus and Paul viewed Genesis; and wondering if Christ’s redemption makes sense apart from a literal Fall. These concerns are addressed here and (regarding Adam and the Fall) here.


We have shown that modern Flood geology sprang from Adventist George McCready Price’s drive to accommodate the “visions” of prophetess Ellen White. She claimed to have been transported back in time to witness a six-day creation and Noah’s Flood.

A cornerstone of Price’s system was the denial of massive overthrusts, such as the Lewis Overthrust in Montana. By denying the existence of overthrusts, Price believed he had refuted modern (old-earth) geology and evolution. The physical evidence shows, however, that large-scale thrusting did occur there, similar to similar large-scale thrusting of rock layers that is occurring today in the Himalayas.

Flood geology was popularized in the late twentieth century via The Genesis Flood, written by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris. They based their geology on Price’s work, but concealed that Adventist connection from their readers. Their treatment of the Lewis Overthrust perpetuated Price’s errors. Like Price, Whitcomb and Morris refused to acknowledge what professional geologists presented to them. Instead, they distorted and ignored the physical evidence, and relied on mistaken information supplied by creationist Walter Lammerts.

The hermeneutical approach of Whitcomb and Morris also in large measure parallels Ellen White’s teachings. White claimed to have divine insight that the Genesis story must be taken as literally true. On that basis, she condemned any scientific investigations which led to conclusions counter to her opinion.

Like White, the starting place of Whitcomb and Morris was an insistence that their view on Bible interpretation was indisputably correct. They thus felt justified in ignoring or distorting any scientific discoveries which did not fit their viewpoint. This is every bit as arrogant and divorced from reality as White’s approach, and is at variance with historic Protestantism. The reformed Christians of the 17th-19th centuries humbly acknowledged the potential fallibility of their interpretation of the Bible, and so they welcomed the input from God’s works to correct their understanding of God’s Word.


About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
This entry was posted in Age of Earth, Bible Interpretation, Fossils, Natural Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism

  1. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:

    This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,


    Instruct people in the straightforward teachings of Jesus. Discourage them from considering mythological teachings and speculative interpretations of scripture. Discourage fellow believers from being concerned with genealogies. Such devotion builds up wrong thinking, improper considerations of times, and promotes pride in pedigree. Have nothing to do with it, but be a good steward of the faith of God.


    Specifically, the overriding goal and objective is to walk in love. Ensure your love flows from your heart, a heart that is pure, with no deceit, a conscience that is clear, never refusing truth, never rejecting facts, and show forth your faith. Confirm your true faith showing it with works that help, build up, and show mercy.


    Our brother provides an excellent resource here. Worth your study.

  2. Reblogged this on Primate's Progress and commented:
    Long but worth it. See in particular the section “Advice from a Former Young Earth Creationist”. This post exposes Young Earth Creationism as a 20th-century heresy, with sinful disregard for reality. It also considers from the inside (as I cannot) the claims Creationists make based on Christian faith, and dismantles them. Compare my own posts Biblical literalism as blasphemy https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/biblical-literalism/ and Anti-Creationists need to think about tactics https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/anti-creationists-need-to-think-about-tactics/, extensive writings by the geologist historian priest Michael Roberts, at Peddling and Scaling https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/taking-darwin-and-creation-seriously/ and elsewhere, and Numbers’ detailed scholarly analysis http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674023390 of Creationism.

  3. One wonders sometimes who the ‘false teachers’ within Christianity warned of in the Bible might be (and which of these might be false teaching – lying about creation to ‘prove’ ‘biblical creationism’ or claiming that the Bible ‘teaches’ a very very old Earth). The former lies about reality (assuming it to be an illusion or ‘wrongly interpreted by anti-god scientists). The latter is perhaps pushing ‘bad’ theology (but non-Christians might be persuaded to become by bad theology whilst being turned off by science denial). What a dilemma.
    And I can’t helping that the modern ‘young Earth’ thing is partly a fundamentalist attempt to ‘stuff’ evolutionary thinking (and redefine ‘science’).

  4. Holding The Line In Florida says:

    Excellent. Thanks for the detailed history. It will help in the battle against ignorance!

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  6. Pingback: “Big Daddy” Chick Tract: The Most Widely-Distributed Anti-Evolution Publication | Letters to Creationists

  7. Pingback: Why are some Christians Young Earth Creationists? | Letters to Creationists

  8. Ted Lewis says:

    Your presentation of the facts regarding creation and an old earth are desperately needed in today’s debate on the age of the earth! However, I believe one can hold to a literal interpretation of scripture and still believe in an old earth. Your statement that “The Bible’s subject matter has nothing to do with physical science” I believe is not quite accurate. Paul states in Romans chapter 1, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” Thus Paul believed that the physical world provided evidence about who and what God is. It also indicates that God utilizes the physical universe to provide evidence of who He is so that we are without excuse, David said in Psalms 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” Peter said in II Peter 3, “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” The literal interpretation of this verse is that the original creation of the heavens and the earth (of old Genesis 1:1) because of Lucifer’s sin was destroyed by flood, and the earth became “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) This is valid proof of what is called “The Gap Theory” which in reality is “The Gap Fact”, and supports both the literal interpretation of the scriptures, and the scientifically proven old age of the earth and the universe.

  9. Pingback: A Creationist Speaker Comes to Town | Letters to Creationists

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