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Creation  Volume 28Issue 2 Cover

Creation 28(2):33
March 2006

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The Genesis Flood: Fact or Fiction?
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Encyclopaedia Britannica: supporting a young earth!

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This is Plate XXXV in the 1771 Encyclopedia Britannica

This is Plate XXXV in the 1771 Encyclopædia Britannica. It is labelled: ‘Noah’s Ark, floating on the waters of the Deluge’.

Among those Christians who promote the idea that the earth is billions of years old, some claim that the concept of recent creation and a young earth is a modern phenomenon.1 Is this claim valid?

Dr Jonathan Sarfati, in his book Refuting Compromise, has shown conclusively that most of the early Church Fathers believed that the days cited in Genesis 1 were 24-hours long, and that the earth was young.2 But what did scientists believe, before the promotion of uniformitarian (i.e. long-age) ‘science’ by Lyell, Darwin, Huxley, and others in the 19th century?

Prior to then, it seems, scientists believed that the earth was only thousands of years old. At the same time, most people in Europe and North America had a Christian or biblical worldview.

How do we know? One way is by reference to the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the oldest English-language general encyclopedia, which was first published as a 3-volume set, in Scotland, in 1771.3

A young earth

Under the heading ‘Astronomy’ on page 493, the 1771 Encyclopædia Britannica has a table of world events that begins with the creation of the world in the year 0, i.e. at the beginning of creation, which they dated at 4007 years before Christ, as follows:

A Table of remarkable Eras and Events Year of the World Before Christ
1. The creation of the world 0 4007
2. The deluge, or Noah’s flood 1656 2351
3. The Assyrian monarchy founded by Nimrod 1831 2176
4. The Birth of Abraham 2008 1999
5. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 2110 1897
[Etc.]

… the most memorable was that called the universal deluge, or Noah's flood, which overflowed and destroyed the whole earth, and out of which only Noah, and those with him in the ark, escaped.—Encyclopædia Britannica

A worldwide Flood

Under the heading ‘Deluge’ on page 414, the 1771 Encyclopædia Britannica says: ‘… the most memorable was that called the universal deluge, or Noah’s flood, which overflowed and destroyed the whole earth, and out of which only Noah, and those with him in the ark, escaped.’

Notice that the scientific belief of 1771 was not only that Noah’s Flood did occur, but also that it was worldwide.

Conclusion

The concept of billions of years for the age of the earth was unknown to science (or to the church4) before the rise of uniformitarianism in the 19th century. This is strong evidence that modern long-age views of creation do not originate in Genesis, but are a misguided attempt by some Christian leaders to try to reconcile what God has said with the atheistic pronouncements of evolutionary ‘science’.

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References and notes

  1. For example, Hugh Ross says, ‘A majority of those who wrote on the subject rejected the concrete interpretation of the Genesis creation days as six consecutive twenty-four-hour periods,’ Creation and Time, Navpress, Colorado Springs, USA, p. 24, 1994. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, chapter 3, ‘The History of Interpretation of Genesis 1–11’, Master Books, Arkansas, USA, 2004. Return to text.
  3. The set contained 2,459 pages and 160 copperplate engravings. Encyclopædia Britannica has recently released a facsimile edition, on which this article is based. This first edition used old English spelling. For ease of reading, modern spellings are used in this article. Return to text.
  4. As is comprehensively documented in ref. 2, ‘[T]he vast majority of exegetes, from the early church fathers through the Reformers and up to the early 19th century, believed the creation days were 24 hours long. Even those who did not accept literal days erred in the opposite direction from Ross, by allegorizing the six days into an instant.’ Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Mark B., United States, 14 March 2012

Wahoo! Countering an argument from 1994 (Hugh Ross) with a text from 1771.

Harvey R., United States, 14 March 2012

very very interesting! sure would be nice/good/better/ God honoring if all the encyclopaedias still said the same. I'd love to get a copy of the 1771 encyclopaedia! May God continue to bless your work.

Rick J., United States, 14 March 2012

NBC National TV news reported March 13, 2012, that Encyclopædia Britannica will no longer produce the Encyclopedia. The publication of the 1771 set probably was for the purpose of generating revenue. I enjoyed this article.

Jonathan M., Canada, 14 March 2012

@Mark, how else would you answer a historical argument but with a historical document? Thank you for all the great research and resources.

Darrell Y., Australia, 16 March 2012

I'm so sick of history revisionists who try to assert their own statements and dogma onto history. Even my **secular** University lecturers say that pre-19 century, it was "common knowledge" that Noah's Flood was worldwide. Oh how deep the sleep the western Church is in! Our Lord, have Mercy!

Joe K., United States, 20 May 2012

I grew up in a very prejudiced area of the country in southwestern VA. When I came to know the Lord through my wife, CMI helped us understand that One Blood, as we read in Acts 17:26, promotes the truth that all humans have been created equal.

This is just another piece of evidence proving God's word to be true, and that going back to Genesis is the only true answer to the problem of racism!

Greg D., Australia, 16 August 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica has matured alongside science and denies a young-earth...

"The concentrations of isotopes that decay radioactively and of isotopes that are produced by radioactive decay provide scientists the information required to determine when meteorites and the planets formed. For example, the concentrations of rubidium-87 and the strontium-87 into which it decays, or those of samarium-147 and its decay product neodymium-143, indicate that the oldest meteorites formed some 4.56 billion years ago. Other isotope studies demonstrate that Earth formed within, at most, a few tens of millions of years after the birth of the Sun."

Earth. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/175962/Earth/242082/Accretion-of-the-early-Earth

You mislead yourselves and your readers? Good work :-)

Tas Walker responds

Hi Greg,

Did you read the first paragraph? You missed the point of the article, which began, "...some claim that the concept of recent creation and a young earth is a modern phenomenon."

Also, your use of the word 'science' needs to be qualified. This is a worldview issue and the west has seen a change of worldview, of their belief about history. This is why many scientists have changed their story about the past and Britannica has simply followed suit. I hope you keep reading the articles on the site.

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