The Bible, Rocks, and Time: Christians and an Old Earth (Part 2)

| By and (guest author) and (guest author) on Reading the Book of Nature

Last week I introduced readers to an excellent book by Davis Young and Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth (2008), which I am excerpting this month in response to the opening of AIG’s Ark Encounter.  The first installment focused on creationist responses to modern natural history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  This week, the authors discuss creationist organizations, stressing their erroneous claims about natural history.  They also briefly critique evolutionary materialism.

Editorial policy for the excerpts is explained at the end of this post.

The Bible, Rocks, and Time, by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley (excerpts from pp. 159-162)

Reactionary Developments: Creationist Organizations

Also of great significance was the formation of creation-oriented organizations. The landscape has been littered with essentially one-man young-Earth creationist operations, such as Kent Hovind’s Creation Science Evangelism, Walt Brown’s Center for Scientific Creation and Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidence Museum. Of greater impact are organizations like Answers in Genesis (AIG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). With origins in Australia, AIG has featured writers and speakers like Ken Ham and Andrew Snelling and maintains a very active website. ICR was founded in 1970 by Henry Morris as the research arm of Christian Heritage College (now San Diego Christian College), but since 1981 it has been an autonomous graduate school devoted to the discovery of scientific support for a young Earth, a global Flood and other catastrophic interpretations of geology, and nonevolutionary explanations of the origins of organisms. ICR has regularly published a series, titled Acts & Facts, devoted to challenging standard geology and espousing young-Earth claims.

The Creation Research Society (CRS), founded in 1963, originally had a strong Missouri Synod Lutheran influence. Ronald Numbers has pointed out that one-third of the original charter membership came from the denomination, including biologists Walter Lammerts, Wilbert Rusch, John Klotz and Paul Zimmerman [The Creationists, p. 253]. Since 1964, the Creation Research Society has published a journal devoted to the espousal of catastrophism, Flood geology and a young Earth.

ABOVE (Ted notes): Creationists have made extensive use of tracts, pamphlets, and other small print publications for more than century. Perhaps no one was more heavily invested in anti-evolution pamphlets than Harry Rimmer, but many others have written them too, including the famous Baptist evangelist John R. Rice, editor of the fundamentalist magazine The Sword of the Lord and author the inimitably titled book, Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives & Women Preachers: Significant Questions for Honest Christian Women Settled by the Word of God (1941). For decades, Rice advised revivalists to preach against evolution—not to mention dancing, fraternal lodges, movies, cults, liquor, and adultery. It’s somehow appropriate that his tract, Evolution or the Bible—Which? (1963), has a bright red cover. Today I frequently encounter Chick tracts, especially the one shown here, Big Daddy? AIG and CRS still produce such media along with digitized versions. Photograph by Edward B. Davis.

The young-Earth creationist movement has made inroads into the homeschooling movement, and curricular materials commonly endorse young-Earth claims. Young-Earth creationism is frequently featured on Christian radio and television programs. Repeated efforts, almost inevitably unsuccessful, have been made by advocates of a young Earth to introduce their brand of creationism into public school instruction. In 1981, Arkansas passed a law mandating public schools to give “balanced treatment” to both creation science and evolution in science courses, but the law was declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Overton in the case of McClean v. Arkansas. A similar act favorable to creationism was adopted in Louisiana and then struck down in 1987 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard. [See Edward J. Larson, Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution, 3rd edition (2003).]

A significant development within the creationist movement was the establishment of the International Conference on Creationism held every fourth year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [Their proceedings are published by Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., of Pittsburgh.] Unlike most of the early creationist literature, many of the papers in the technical proceedings volumes published by the conference were marked by considerable scientific and mathematical sophistication. The movement has also been encouraged by the entrance of a handful of younger scholars with doctoral degrees in geology, a serious lack in the early days of creationism. The presence within the Flood geology movement of people with doctoral degrees like Leonard Brand, Arthur Chadwick, Stephen Austin, Kurt Wise, Andrew Snelling, Elaine Kennedy and Marcus Ross has not only lent greater scientific sophistication to the Flood geology movement but also has served as an internal check on some of the more egregious geologic errors in the writing of enthusiastic but ill-informed creationists. The publications of some of the more recent advocates of Flood geology such as Ariel Roth and Leonard Brand also have a much more irenic and moderate tone that provides a welcome contrast to the sarcastic, sometimes disrespectful tone and unwarrantedly dogmatic pronouncements of earlier creationists. Young-Earth creationists have, of course, continued to issue books and articles designed to convince people of the truth of a young Earth.

Ted notes: As Young and Stearley point out, today’s proponents of Flood geology are more sophisticated than their intellectual ancestors.  Some of them are also more willing to work with other opponents of evolution who do not accept their young-earth views.  For example, YEC geologist Marcus Ross collaborated with ID authors on a paper about the Cambrian explosion, which posited a design event of animal groups during the Cambrian and assumed an old-Earth timescale.  Although he was not consulted about the video, some of his work was used in the pro-ID DVD, Darwin’s Dilemma, which offers an old-earth creationist take on the Cambrian explosion.  (image source)

Despite the facts that young-Earth creationism has become considerably more sophisticated and that some of its proponents are much more geologically knowledgeable than were earlier advocates like Price or Morris, the claims advanced in favor of a young Earth or of Flood geology remain unacceptable to the scientific community. Thus their claims should also be unacceptable within the church, which, of all places ought to be committed to truth and reality—for the simple reason that the young-Earth creationist claims lack scientific credibility. They neither discredit evidence for an old Earth nor compel acceptance of a young Earth or a global Flood.

A factor contributing to the remarkably widespread acceptance of young-Earth creationism since the nineteenth century is the strong link geology has acquired with the theory of biological evolution by natural selection, extending not only to lower animals and plants but to the human race as well. [The close linkage of young-Earth creationism, Flood geology and anti-evolutionism has been amply demonstrated by Numbers, The Creationists]. The scientific, strictly biological conception of evolution, unfortunately has on occasion been transformed into an antireligious and anti-Christian philosophy by scientists and philosophers who are committed to or lean toward materialism [here the authors cited Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (1986) and The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (1971), Peter W. Atkins, The Creation (1981), and Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981).] The materialistic philosophies of these writers take human beings out of the realm of creatures who are accountable to the creator God and place them into a realm where they are subject only to blind, mechanical forces and inherited instincts. As a result of such popularizations, the scientific theory of biological development has become so closely identified with a materialistic worldview in the minds of many Christians, including young-Earth creationists, that they throw out the baby with the bathwater, calling not merely for the repudiation of materialism but also for the rejection of evolution as a legitimate scientific theory. The failure to give adequate recognition to the distinction between the scientific theory of biological evolution and the philosophy of materialistic evolutionism characterizes such works as Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (2004), Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (1999), and Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (1991).

Without question, any purely materialistic philosophy is hostile to Christianity and ought to be opposed by Christians. Christians should not, however, attempt to disprove a materialistic evolutionary theory by discrediting the antiquity of the Earth. Evolutionary materialism and the antiquity of the Earth are two distinct issues. If the vast antiquity of the Earth is amply demonstrated, one must still evaluate the data and theory of evolution on their own scientific merits. By way of example, Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, and C. John Collins, an Old Testament theologian, are both enthusiastic advocates of an old Earth who, nevertheless, ardently oppose biological evolution.

To summarize, in the face of the facts that the scientific community was virtually unanimous in accepting the vast antiquity of the Earth throughout the twentieth century right up to the present, and the geologic (and astronomical) evidence for such antiquity has continued to accumulate, significant segments of the Christian church have regressed by welcoming scientifically discredited ideas that include Flood geology and a very young Earth. For whatever reasons, acceptance of scientific findings prevails among academic theologians and the vast majority of Christian geologists, whereas acceptance of young-Earth creationism, anti-evolutionism and Flood geology prevails among pastors and lay Christians. Moreover, an astonishing number of Christian physicians and engineers are quite enthusiastic in their support of these discredited theories.

This state of affairs, in our judgment, reflects lack of appropriate geologic knowledge coupled with existence of tendencies to read Scripture in overly literalistic ways that fail to take into account the ancient Near Eastern cultural background of much Scripture and the primary pedagogical concern of the Bible. Our aim is to challenge readers, whether Christian or not, to see the weaknesses in a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 and to appreciate the force of divinely established geologic evidence for an extremely ancient Earth.

Looking Ahead

Next week, Young and Stearley present the rudiments of Flood geology and briefly evaluate it—readers who want to see a full refutation will need to buy the printed book.




Davis, Ted. "The Bible, Rocks, and Time: Christians and an Old Earth (Part 2)" N.p., 21 Jul. 2016. Web. 20 April 2018.


Davis, T. (2016, July 21). The Bible, Rocks, and Time: Christians and an Old Earth (Part 2)
Retrieved April 20, 2018, from /blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/the-bible-rocks-and-time-christians-and-an-old-earth-part-2

References & Credits

References and Credits

Excerpts from Davis Young and Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth (2008), copyright InterVarsity Press, are reproduced by permission of InterVarsity Press. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

Editorial Policy

Editing these excerpts involves removing the odd sentence or two (which I indicate by putting [SNIP] at the appropriate point), inserting annotations where warranted [enclosed in square brackets like this] to provide background, and moving footnotes into the main text or converting them into briefer bracketed phrases or embedded links. Images from the book have not been reproduced (owing to matters related to copyright); all images in these columns have been chosen by Ted Davis.

About the Authors

Davis A. Young (Ph.D., Brown University) is Professor of Geology Emeritus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His books include John Calvin and the Natural World, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extra-biblical Evidence, Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation and Science Held Hostage: What's Wrong with Creation Science and Evolutionism.

More posts by Davis Young

Ralph Stearley

Ralph Stearley is a paleontologist with broad interests in the history of life and in biogeography. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in geological sciences, with an emphasis on vertebrate paleontology. He is professor of geology at Calvin College, where he has taught since 1992. His published research has included work on marine invertebrate ecology and paleoecology in the northern Gulf of California; fluvial taphonomy; the systematics and evolution of salmonid fishes; Pleistocene mammalian biogeography; and zooarchaeology of fish remains from sites in Michigan and New Mexico. He was privileged to be able to co-author, with former Calvin College colleague Davis Young, The Bible, Rocks and Time, published by InterVarsity Press in 2008.

More posts by Ralph Stearley

Ted Davis

Ted Davis is Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. A former high school science teacher, Ted studied history and philosophy of science at Indiana University, where his mentor was the late Richard S. Westfall, author of the definitive biography of Isaac Newton. With the English historian Michael Hunter, Ted edited The Works of Robert Boyle, 14 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1999-2000), but his interests include the whole 2000-year interaction of Christianity and science. Author of dozens of scholarly articles and essays, Ted is one of few historians who have written extensively about both the Scientific Revolution and modern America. He and his wife Kathy enjoy theater, music, and traveling to new places.

More posts by Ted Davis