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Creation 28(2):33, March 2006

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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$rsquo;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’.

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.

Helpful Resources

Evidence for a young world
by Dr Russell Humphreys
US $0.60
Soft Cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover