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What Difference Can a Book Make? The Impact and Influence of the Genesis Flood

  • Michael Wagner,
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Books are important tools, or at least they can be. Many people consider the reading of books to be simply another form of entertainment, such as watching television or listening to music. Certainly many books published these days have no other purpose than entertainment, but serious books can fulfill a much more significant role. Indeed, historically certain books have had dramatic impacts on the thinking of whole societies. Consider, for example, Charles Darwin's book, "The Origin of Species," published in 1859. The theory of evolution first popularized by this book has dominated the thinking of "educated" people around the world for over a hundred years. Hardly anyone reads that book any more, but the movement it helped to spawn continues unabated. It was like a match that started an inferno that is still raging.

Of course, some books have positive rather than negative results. The Bible comes to mind immediately, but it is in a class entirely of its own because it is the infallible, inspired Word of God. Often the books written by men that do have positive results are those that explain and defend the truths found in the Bible. John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" has instructed countless people in biblical truth for centuries, and continues to stand as a benchmark of orthodox Reformed theology. Other examples of influential books could be mentioned, but the point should be clear enough: books are important tools for human beings; they play a key role in the transmission of information from one generation to another, or in the communication and spread of new ideas, as well as other important tasks.

To some degree a parallel can be drawn between the influence of Darwin's book in sparking the rise of evolution, and another book, "The Genesis Flood," in sparking the development of the modern creationist movement. The term "creationism" refers to the view that the earth and all life-forms on it were supernaturally created by God, rather than the evolutionary view that the earth and its life-forms came into existence through natural materialistic forces. While there have been Christians who accepted the Bible's account of creation all along, even in spite of the dominance of the theory of evolution, the articulation of this view was largely muted and ineffective until the publication of "The Genesis Flood" in 1961. The influence of that book and the development of the creationist movement is described by Henry M. Morris in the "History of Modern Creationism" (Santee, CA: Institute for Creation Research, second edition, 1993).

To a large degree, the Bible was widely seen as a supernatural book in Western societies until the publication of "The Origin of Species." Within a relatively short time, however, evolution became the dominant view of the scientific community. Evolution clearly undercut the integrity of the Bible since it advocated a view of origins dramatically in conflict with the first chapters of Genesis. Most church leaders and theologians of that time tried to incorporate the theory of evolution into their own theology. As Morris puts it, "Instead of standing on the plain, clear teaching of the Word of God, which they professed to believe and were paid to uphold, they allowed these evolutionary scientists, who had no real scientific proof of evolution at all, to stampede them into either a compromising pietism or overt religious liberalism (p. 42)."

The spread of evolution aided and abetted the spread of theological
liberalism throughout Western societies. The Bible was no longer seen as a supernatural book. For liberals, it contained some worthy ethical teachings, but much of its content was now viewed as mythical. The Genesis account was just an ancient myth about the origin of man. Even among many theological conservatives, the spread of evolutionary theory led to a reinterpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. The two most prominent reinterpretations were the "day-age theory" (i.e., each of the six days of creation in Genesis chapter one is a long geological period) and the "gap theory" (i.e., there is a large period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 during which billions of years lapsed). "Although many rank-and-file Christians and their pastors remained true to the Bible and Biblical creationism, most of the theological leadership in the seminaries and major churches, as well as officials in the denominational hierarchies, felt they were intellectually required to incorporate
evolutionism into their theologies and Biblical exegesis (p. 60)."

These "rank-and-file Christians" maintained a degree of political influence in some southern American states. Tennessee passed a law against the teaching of evolution in public schools, and a teacher named John Scopes was charged with violating this law. The famous (or infamous) "Scopes Trial" of 1925 was a widely publicized show-down between creationism and evolutionism, with the creationist view being publicly derided by the media as foolish and lacking any merit. The outcome of the case was presented as a total defeat for the creationist side. "One of the most disappointing aspects of the Scopes trial was its intimidating effect on Christians. Multitudes of nominal Christians capitulated to theistic evolution, and even those who retained their belief in creation retreated from the arena of conflict (p. 74)."

hroughout the first half of the twentieth century there were always some creationist scientists and theologians, but they were few and far between. Their books were largely ignored, and their influence was negligible. An organization of evangelical Christian scientists was formed in 1941, the American Scientific Affiliation, but according to Morris, the view of origins it came to hold was theistic evolution.

In 1959 a major celebration was held for the hundredth anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species." This was the high water mark of evolutionism. As Morris puts it, "The year 1959 -- the Darwinian Centennial Year -- seemed to mark the zenith of evolution's ascendancy. . . . Even the American Scientific Affiliation, the one organization presuming to speak for Bible-believing Christians in the field of science, had capitulated to theistic evolutionism and almost all Christian colleges and seminaries were going along with these Christian intellectuals. The few that still rejected theistic evolutionism were either teaching progressive creationism or ignoring the issue via the gap theory (p. 163)."

However, by this time two conservative evangelicals were beginning work on a book they hoped would demonstrate the scientific case for 6-day creationism, Prof. Henry Morris, Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Prof. John Whitcomb of Grace Theological Seminary. They began collaborating on the book at the end of 1957, but did not get a manuscript completed until 1960. Before publication, this manuscript was reviewed by 21 scientists, 9 theologians, and 2 grammarians (p. 173). Originally, Morris and Whitcomb hoped to have the book published by Moody Press, the publishing arm of Moody Bible Institute, a conservative evangelical college. However, the editors at Moody Press began losing their enthusiasm for the book. They wanted the manuscript to be dramatically shortened, and "they let it be known they didn't agree with our 'literal-day' view of the Genesis creation week (p. 173)." Then the editors indicated that there would be a significant delay before the book was published. At this point an OPC minister found a more appropriate publisher for the book. "One of the reviewers had been Rev. Rousas J. Rushdoony, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church pastor in California. He was quite enthusiastic about the book and wanted us to get it published in its entirety as soon as possible (p. 173)." Rushdoony was a friend of Charles Craig who owned the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, and he urged Morris and Whitcomb to have Craig publish the book. Craig was also enthusiastic about the book, and thus "The Genesis Flood" was published by Presbyterian and Reformed early in 1961.

The publishing of any particular book is not necessarily an important event, but in this case it was. "The Genesis Flood" became the catalyst for the modern creationist movement. In the words of Walter Lang, a Lutheran minister and long-time creation advocate, "What really sparked the modern Creationist movement was the publication in 1961 of the book titled The Genesis Flood (p. 245)." Within a short time after its release, the book was widely known within the Christian community. It was reviewed in numerous Christian periodicals, although many of the reviews were critical. Both Morris and Whitcomb were suddenly in heavy demand as speakers, and their presentations helped to extend the impact of their 6-day creationist views. Morris recalls that "people were both reading and hearing the theme of 'The Genesis Flood' in many places, both likely and unlikely. Many different denominations were being affected, as well as many interdenominational groups, and even many groups on secular campuses. . . . Thus was the modern creationist revival beginning< to get under way (p. 181)."

Of course, there were some creationist organizations before 1961, but they were generally small and few in number. However, after 1961 many new creationist organizations were formed. An academic scientific organization, the Creation Research Society, was formed in 1963 by scientists who had reviewed the manuscript of "The Genesis Flood." A few years later, the Institute for Creation Research was formed to conduct research to validate scientific creationism, to publish the results, and to offer speakers on creationism. Other organizations have also formed and become active, in many countries around the world -- all of this largely due to the publication of one book.

To a notable degree, the evolution movement was launched by the publication of a book, "The Origin of Species." Perhaps it's especially appropriate that the most aggressive response to evolution, the modern creationist movement, was also largely launched by a single book, "The Genesis Flood."

  • Michael Wagner

Michael Wagner is a home schooling father, an independent researcher and writer, and the author of Christian Citizenship Guide: Christianity and Canadian Political Life. He has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Alberta and lives in Edmonton with his wife and eleven children.

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