In the mid to late twentieth century, Christians sought to establish the young earth creationist (YEC) view against what they perceived as an unbiblical intrusion of modern science. Evangelical Christians galvanized many around YEC, but in recent times YEC’s influence has begun to wane: “For some time now,” Tim Challies wrote, “the weight of conviction within the Evangelical world has swung toward views that demand an old earth.”
The Age of the Earth in Academics
The doctrine of YEC has today become a third-tier doctrine while 50 years it might been a second or maybe even a first-tier doctrine for certain groups. Evidence of this is the recent debate at Trinity International University. The title of the event was Genesis and the Age of the Earth and Drs. Albert Mohler (YEC) and John Collins (Old Age Creationist / OEC) discussed the issue.
Mohler opened his talk by clarifying how the age of the earth is not a central issue to the faith (watch the talk here). He objected to the term “debate” in that setting because he felt the issue did not merit winning an argument at all costs. Mohler was simply discussing an important issue among friends. There seems to be widespread agreement that the age of the earth is tertiary or non-central point of doctrine among Christians. The impulse to press the doctrine of YEC in the 1950s-1980s has become gentle hum, with Answers in Genesis being an exception to the rule.
The Age of the Earth in Church Leadership
The most recent online discussion on the issue that I am aware of is between Tim Challies (YEC) and Justin Taylor (OEC). Challies wrote an article called Is Genesis History? Challies notes with muted hope that: “Yet there are still some, and perhaps it is even a quiet majority, who take the creation account in a literal way.” By literal, Challlies seems to mean historical, as that is that is the theme of his article.
Justin Taylor responded to the article on Twitter:
I can’t help but observe in Tim’s post, though, a continued confusion over key terms, e.g., taking Genesis “literally.”
— Justin Taylor (@between2worlds) February 3, 2017
An evidence of that is Tim treating “literally” as synonymous with “historical” and playing it against a “literary framework.”
— Justin Taylor (@between2worlds) February 3, 2017
He later reposted an article called Why I Would Like to See a Moratorium on Using the Word “Literal” When It Comes to Biblical Interpretation, and he basically sees a problem with using the word literal to describe the Genesis creation account. Taylor takes the position that the Bible does not teach on the age of the earth. It may be more accurate to say that Justin Taylor is an agnostic when it comes to the age of the earth and not an Old Age Creationist, but he certainly doubts the YEC’s argument that God created the earth in 6 twenty-four hour days.
The Age of the Earth in the Pew
The success of Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter suggest a large number of adherents to YEC in the USA, the “quiet majority.” At the same time, the US evangelical church is diverse. Leaders such as Tim Keller advocate for an OEC perspective (actually, theistic evolution), and so it stands to reason that many influenced by him would also hold this position.
In Canada, the situation is complicated because Canadians tend to avoid controversy. But one small (and therefore inconclusive) study demonstrated that 61% of Canadians believed in evolution. Alberta’s former education Gordon Dirks minister claimed to be an“Old Earth guy,” which proved controversial. Any position that advocates for creationism and not evolution is sure to be a problem among Canadians.
It seems on the basis of this very meagre set of evidence, that Canadians tend to believe in evolution more than their US neighbours. As a consequence, YEC is probably less popular here among parishioners than it is in the south. My experience confirms this. But I would like to repeat: Canadians often avoid controversy. So the quiet majority of Christians may be out there.
I just haven’t met them yet. I’d love to meet them (you?) though! Please comment here or elsewhere and let me know. I’d love to get a better understanding of how Christians in Canada think about creationism.
I am not sure where the discussion will go from here, but it is safe to assume that in Canada YEC will decline in popularity. The cultural and theological pressures of those who hold to YEC will slowly erode YEC proponents’ confidence. In the US, ministries like Answers in Genesis galvanize many against evolution and provide a sense of identity for YEC persons in the US. In that country, I suppose that YEC will continue to thrive for some time.
Note: for those who are curious, I understand the Genesis account to record God’s creation of the world and of Adam and Eve over a period of six days. I do not overlay a particular scientific theory over the Biblical text. I rather aim to understand what it communicates about God and his relationship to the world. The answer is that God is our creator and we are his creatures who are created in his image.