The Development of Creation Science

Follow the journey of creation scientists from humble beginnings to the opening of The Creation Museum.


| September 2016



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The goal of The Creation Museum is to scientifically demonstrate that the universe was created less than ten thousand years ago by a Judeo-Christian God.

Photo by Fotolia/high_resolution

Righting America at the Creation Museum (John Hopkins University Press, 2016) by Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr. takes the reader on a tour of The Creation Museum without ever leaving the comforts of home. The museum offers exhibits on Judeo-Christian topics ranging from the Garden of Eden to the modern temptations of the present. In this excerpt from the introduction the Trollingers explain how the museum came to be and the history of creation science. 

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Interestingly, when people in the early twenty-first century use the word “creationism,” they generally do not mean the “creationism” of William Jennings Bryan and other early fundamentalists. That is to say, what passes as “creationism” in much of fundamentalism and evangelicalism has changed. Oddly enough, this change has its origins far outside American evangelicalism and fundamentalism, in Seventh-day Adventism (SDA). In 1864 Ellen C. White, prophet and (along with her husband, James) SDA founder, had a vision in which she witnessed God’s creation of the world in six days (God rested on the seventh, an important point for the fledgling organization because of its focus on the importance of the seventh day as the Sabbath). Not only did White confirm that the Earth was approximately six thousand years old, but she declared that Noah’s Flood had reconfigured the Earth’s surface and produced the fossil record. No one outside of Adventism seems to have attended to White’s proclamations regarding the creation of the Earth until the early twentieth century, when SDA convert George McCready Price embarked on a writing career devoted to explaining and publicizing White’s pronouncements. In books such as Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science (1902), The Fundamentals of Geology (1916), and (most important) The New Geology (1923), Price attacked evolution while providing the “scientific” evidence for an understanding of the Earth’s past that confirmed Ellen White’s vision of a catastrophic global flood. As Price saw it, his “flood geology” not only explained the fossil record but also resolved all questions raised by modern science about the Genesis account of creation.

At the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan referred to Price as one of two scientists he respected when it came to the history of the Earth. But Bryan and almost all early fundamentalists were old Earth creationists who had made their peace with mainstream geology. They either interpreted the days in Genesis 1 as allowing for a gap of time between the creative act of Genesis 1:1 and the remainder of the creation process, or they understood the word “day” as not a day of twenty-four hours, but as an “age,” that is, a large but unspecified amount of time. Bryan held to the latter “day-age” understanding of Genesis, a point he made clear at the trial under Clarence Darrow’s interrogation.

Bryan’s betrayal (which is how Price understood it) notwithstanding, Price’s flood geology made inroads among American fundamentalists in the first few decades after the Scopes trial. Then, in 1961, John C. Whitcomb Jr., a theologian and professor of Old Testament at Grace Seminary in Indiana, joined forces with Henry M. Morris, a PhD in hydraulic engineering and chair of the civil engineering department at Virginia Tech, to write The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Borrowing heavily from Price (while significantly downplaying their indebtedness to this Seventh-day Adventist, in order not to alienate their fundamentalist and evangelical audience), Morris and Whitcomb claimed — as indicated in the book’s title — a “twofold purpose” for The Genesis Flood. First, convinced as they were of the “complete divine inspiration,” “verbal inerrancy,” and “perspicuity of Scripture,” they sought “to ascertain exactly what the Scriptures say concerning the Flood and related topics.” Second, they sought to delineate the “scientific implications of the Biblical record of the Flood, seeking if possible to orient the data of these sciences within this Biblical framework.” In 489 pages they made their case: the Bible asserts that Noah’s Flood, a global event, lasted one year; science confirms that this global flood produced the geological strata that can be seen today; ergo, Morris and Whitcomb demolished the case for evolution and an old Earth. While all of this did little more than reiterate Price’s flood geology (albeit reworked for an evangelical and fundamentalist audience), Whitcomb and Morris did go beyond the Adventists in one important detail: they claimed that God created not simply the Earth in six twenty-four hour days, but, instead, the entire universe, which “must have had an ‘appearance of age’ at the moment of creation.”

Morris and Whitcomb produced one of the most important books in twentieth-century American religious history. Like the Scofield Reference Bible before it, The Genesis Flood and the ideas it promoted swept through conservative Protestantism with extraordinary speed. Vast numbers of American evangelicals and fundamentalists enthusiastically accepted the notion that a commitment to reading the Bible “literally” necessarily required a commitment to a six twenty-four-hour day creation; they were reinforced in their commitment by the apparent scientific apparatus of The Genesis Flood (which was replete with footnotes, photographs, and even the occasional mathematical equation). A host of organizations popped up to spread the young Earth creationist word throughout the United States and beyond. Among the most important were two organizations with which Morris had direct ties: the Creation Research Society (CRS), established in 1963, and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), founded in 1972. While these organizations conducted very little in the way of scientific “research,” they argued that “creation science,” a legitimate endeavor, deserved equal status with evolutionary science.