The Genesis Flood, Tidal Wave of Change

Birth of the modern creationist movement

Paul Scharf July 9, 2010




The book that powered the modern creation movement was skipped over by several Christian publishers. When Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb sent their manuscript to one prominent publisher, they were told it was much too long. Perhaps the authors would consider cutting it down by half?

Only then did the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. of Phillipsburg, N.J., take up the project, releasing the book on Feb. 11, 1961. Now nearly 50 years later, it continues to impact Bible students around the world and across the generations.

Against the backdrop of the mid-20th century infatuation with naturalism and scientific truth, the authors articulated a dissenting position. At the time, a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood was scarcely being taught, other than by a few conservative Lutherans and Seventh-day Adventist theologians. Even within fundamentalism the prevailing views were the gap theory (the view that there can be a gap containing millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2) and the day-age theory (the view that each day of the creation week may represent vast ages of time).

“Sept. 3, 1953, was my first personal encounter with Henry Morris,” says John Whitcomb, who was in his third year teaching at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind., when he heard Morris present a paper on “The Deluge Theory of Geology” to the American Scientific Affiliation.

By that time, Morris was already a hero to Whitcomb, who had read Morris’s first book, That You Might Believe (Good News Publishing Co., 1946), after receiving a copy from Morris’s former pastor, Dick Seume. Though Whitcomb was raised an evolutionist and was teaching the standard gap theory, he was quite taken with Morris’s presentation on Flood geology.

“I feel that your conclusions are Scripturally valid, and therefore must be sustained by a fair examination of geologic evidence in time to come,” Whitcomb said in a letter to Morris, revealing a significant change of heart.

“I have adopted your views,” he told Morris, “and am presenting them to my class as preferable alternatives to the gap theory and the day-age theory.”

“He replied on Sept. 22,” Whitcomb says, looking back, “and that began a correspondence of over 200 letters as I prepared a doctoral dissertation on the Biblical doctrine of the Flood and we worked out the details of a coauthored volume.”

Indeed, a discussion of historic proportions was beginning to take shape when Morris wrote to Whitcomb on Dec. 5, 1953: “I am surely glad to learn you are planning to write your doctor’s dissertation on this subject. If I can be of any help in this, please let me know. I believe I mentioned to you that I am trying to write a book on the subject. Perhaps we can be of mutual help to each other from time to time.”

Whitcomb decided to survey professors in evangelical schools, asking them to describe their beliefs on Creation and the Flood. He reported the results in a letter to Morris, expressing disappointment in a lack of consensus from scholars who were “confused, very confused on these basic matters.”

Whitcomb also discovered some theologians had no time to waste on the issue. Bernard Ramm, whom conservatives respected for his Protestant Biblical Interpretation, had released The Christian View of Science and Scripture in 1954, in which he rejected a literal six-day interpretation of Genesis as being inconsistent with scientific evidence. In another letter to Morris, Whitcomb privately called it “a rallying point for the New Deism.” But there was no turning back for those who became known as the New Evangelicals. In 1956, Christian Life Magazine published “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” and called for a new movement with “a friendly attitude toward science.”

By 1957, Whitcomb had completed his doctoral thesis, and Morris agreed to make The Genesis Flood a joint project between them. Interestingly, the pair met personally on only two more occasions as they laboriously prepared their manuscripts and compared notes from a distance.

Whitcomb and Morris never expected their position to be warmly embraced by the uniformitarian geologists of the day. “We realize, of course, that modern scholarship will be impatient with [our] approach,” the authors said in their introduction. “Our conclusions must unavoidably be colored by our Biblical presuppositions, and this we plainly acknowledge.” And the presuppositions? “We accept as basic the doctrine of the verbal inerrancy of Scripture,” the authors said.

This starting point immediately alienated secular scientists who read the book—but it soon won over a generation of pastors and theologians who were tired of trying to accommodate their theology to the changing whims of science. This consistent implementation of Scripture was at the philosophical heart of the new book. As the authors put it, “We believe that a system founded squarely on full confidence in the Scriptures will be found ultimately to be much more satisfying than any other, in its power to correlate scientific data and to resolve problems and other apparent conflicts.”

Despite the initial warnings by publishers who refused the manuscript, the book was an immediate sales success. Since 1961, The Genesis Flood has gone through 48 printings and has been translated into German, Korean, Serbian, and Spanish. More than 300,000 copies are in print. (“For this, we offer profound praise to our God,” Whitcomb says.)

The book’s theological—and cultural—significance may even outweigh its status as a publishing success. Within two years after publication, like-minded scientists began meeting informally in a group that would become known as the Creation Research Society, organized around a doctrinal statement that embraced Morris and Whitcomb’s presuppositions about Scripture.

“The Lord used that book to start the modern creation movement; there is no doubt about it,” says Ken Ham, president and cofounder of Answers in Genesis, in AiG’s DVD The History and Impact of “The Genesis Flood.”

Since then, a vast array of creationist resources have been produced by publishers such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. Just one example is the two-volume set by geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation & the Flood (Institute for Creation Research, 2010), which is billed—with Dr. Whitcomb’s blessing—as an update to The Genesis Flood.

Whitcomb and Morris certainly built their thinking and ministries on the right foundation—that Christ is the creator of all things and His Word is the only text by which one can properly interpret His world, from history’s beginning to its end. Contemporary believers, with such a legacy behind them,have assurance that comes from building their lives on Scripture alone.

In this day of vast apostasy and turning from the Word of God, the message of The Genesis Flood is needed now more than ever. Christians have the opportunity to build higher upon this great foundation of understanding Biblical truth.

Looking to the future of the Creation movement, Whitcomb offers the following analysis: “Special revelation from God in the Bible is the solid foundation of the modern Creation movement. Christ, our Creator and Savior, emphasized the literal truth of Genesis concerning creation events (Matthew 19:4) and the worldwide flood in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37–39). Our God, of course, cannot lie or deceive us concerning the vital issue of ultimate origins. Creation took place in six days, not millions of years. Trillions of plants and animals were fossilized by the hydrodynamic forces of the Flood, not before human beings were created. This frame of reference is the dynamic of creation science, and the divinely provided key to unlock the marvels of Earth origins.”

Paul J. Scharf (MDiv, Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) has served as a pastor, Bible teacher, and journalist. He became John C. Whitcomb’s ministry assistant in 2003. Scharf, a freelance writer for Regular Baptist Press, has previously written biographical articles about Dr. Whitcomb for the Gospel Herald and Sunday School Times and for an anthology written in Whitcomb’s honor, Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth (Master Books, 2008).