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Flimzy, in his answer here points out that

Historically, Jewish and Christian scholars have not considered the creation account to mean a 6 literal day creation. The earliest scholars to even address the issue (around 13 B.C) believed that God instantaneously created everything, and that the 6 days were purely figurative of order and completeness.5

and gives the source for this information. Yet, today, the view that the Genesis account is literal (Young Earth Creationism) is widespread. Given that the early church seems not to have taken the Genesis account literally, when and why did the modern YEC movement gain such a following among Christians, especially in America? Is there a specific event or set of events that prompted this shift, or was it a gradual process over time?

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I would question several of the assumptions in this question. The core question is a good one, but I'm probably not that unusual in not knowing a single Young-Earth-Creationist personally. –  jkerian Apr 18 '13 at 20:17
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I would say it has been popular for roughly 6,000 years. :) –  Narnian Apr 18 '13 at 20:18
    
@jkerian: Well, I myself used to be a YEC (in a YEC family), and my friends' families in my home area are almost all YEC. Then again, my home is in the Bible Belt. Besides, correcting assumptions is one of the functions of an answer, when appropriate. –  El'endia Starman Apr 18 '13 at 20:25
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This is a bit like asking "When did God being the Creator become widespread?" It was sort of taken as the common sense interpretation until it was challenged by skeptics, at which point "fundamentalists" spoke up to correct the liberal syncretists. That doesn't imply the view is recent -- just that the challenges were. –  Jas 3.1 Apr 19 '13 at 2:03
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I assume, based on your quick acceptance of Bruce's answer that you're specifically looking for when did the modern YEC movement begin, as opposed to when did people first widely hold YEC views. There's a pretty big difference. The modern YEC movement is a rejection of the "scientific" rejection of the original YEC literal interpretation of the Genesis accounts. The literal interpretation of Genesis far predates Christianity. The modern movement is merely a reaction to the rejection of the original literal interpretation. –  David Stratton Apr 19 '13 at 3:59
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Young earth creationism (YEC) holds that the creation of the universe took place (a) approximately 6000 years ago, and (b) lasted exactly six days.

Pre-Scientific Views

The first part, a 6000-year-old universe, was a common belief among Christians and Jews until the advent of modern geology in the 18th century. Many Christians over the centuries have attempted to use the Bible's chronologies to calculate the age of the universe. The best known of these was Bishop James Ussher, who published a chronology in 1650 stating that the universe was created on October 23, 4004 BC.

The second part, a literal six days, is of more recent origin. Ancient Christians generally held that creation happened instantaneously or that the days were either unspecified periods or represented 1000 years each.

The early reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin sought to discern the plain meaning of the text, and promoted belief in a 6000-year-old earth and a six-day creation. When Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was published, Luther and Calvin argued that a geocentric universe was the Biblical view.

Within about two generations Copernicus' views won the day, and the Bible's references to a geocentric earth were ignored. The 6000-year-old earth remained a popular belief until the 18th century, when Scottish scientist James Hutton published Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe, laying the groundwork for modern geology, including the geologic time scale. Studies of rock strata convinced most scientists that the earth was much older than had been previously thought. By the 19th century, estimates of the age of the earth were in the millions of years. Most Christians at the time were prepared to accept the conclusions of geologists.

But then Ellen G White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventist movement, claimed that God had showed her visions of the creation of the universe and that it had literally happened in six days. (sources: 1 2 3)

Modern Young-Earth Creationism

The first attempt to give YEC a scientific footing was in 1906 when Adventist George McCready Price published a book titled Illogical Geology: The Weakest Point in the Evolution Theory in which he advanced the idea that geological strata were produced by Noah's flood. Though he had no formal training in geology, Price claimed to have "firsthand knowledge of field geology" due to having traveled extensively. Price's views were not taken seriously among geologists, and was not influential even among evangelical Christians for half a century.

In the 1950s, the seeds of the modern YEC movement were planted in reaction to two events. In 1954 evangelical theologian Bernard Ramm published The Christian View of Science and Scripture, which sought to reconcile scripture and modern science. Five years later, 1959 saw worldwide recognition of the centennial anniversary of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

In response, hydraulic engineer Henry Morris (who acknowledge Price's influence) teamed with John Whitcomb, a Bible teacher who had studied some geology in college, to write The Genesis Flood which was published in 1961. The Genesis Flood brought Price's flood geology to mainstream evangelicals and kickstarted the creation science movement.

So YEC in its modern form—as an alternative to mainstream science—started to become popular in the 1960s, although its roots stretch back a little more than a century.

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This is a terrible answer, and is very incorrect. I am astonished that it was accepted so quickly. I look forward to some better scholarship in future answers, as a 6-day creation has always been the reading by Jews and Christians alike (save the late-coming allegorists, of course), and there are numerous sources dating back thousands of years prior to yours to confirm it. Sheesh a simple Google-search would show that. –  Jas 3.1 Apr 19 '13 at 1:54
    
@Jas3.1: I've edited my answer to account for historical views similar to YEC. The distinct characteristic of YEC that makes it different from these historical views (as I see it) is the attempt to dress it up in scientific language. –  Bruce Alderman Apr 19 '13 at 14:50
    
Thank you for your edits. I removed my down-vote. It is much better now, but still rather biased. Regarding your comment, one could easily say that the distinct characteristics of the Theory of Evolution that makes it different from historical paganism is the attempt to dress it up in scientific language. A YEC such as myself would respond in the same way that you would to that statement: We do not "attempt to dress it up in scientific language" -- we have reviewed the evidence and concluded that science supports YEC, as does Scripture. –  Jas 3.1 Apr 19 '13 at 17:08
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@Jas3.1 Well, we could argue about that all day, but the question was about the modern YEC movement which, contrary to ancient young-earth beliefs, goes against the mainstream science of the day. –  Bruce Alderman Apr 19 '13 at 17:50
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