Historically, Creationists tended to fall into two broad categories, those who subscribe to the Day-Age theory (the idea that the days in Genesis 1 represent ages of indeterminate length, not 24 hour periods) or the Gap theory (the idea that between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 was an indeterminate gap, but the days were 24-hour periods).

At least up until WWII, these were the predominant Creationists views, with the idea of a young earth being vehemently attacked even by some Fundamentalists and Creationists.

Advocates of [creation science] read the first chapters of Genesis in a way that allows for no life on earth before Eden and no death before the fall.
Until the last few decades most creationists would have regarded such notions as unnecessarily extreme. By the late nineteenth century even the most conservative Christian apologists readily conceded that the Bible allowed for an ancient earth and pre-Edenic life. With few exceptions, they accommodated the findings of historical geology either by interpreting the days of Genesis 1 to represent vast ages in the history of the earth or by separating a creation "in the beginning" from a much later Edenic creation in six literal days.
-- Introduction to The Creationists, 2nd Edition, 2006, by Ronald L Numbers, p.7

Jump to 2016, and the theory of a literal 6-day creation has become very popular, and is certainly the most talked-about of the creationist theories. In comparison, the Gap and Day-Age theories get much less attention, even being considered heresy (or nearly so) by some literal 6-Day creationists.

What accounts for this change in attitude, and when did it occur?

  • 1
    What about claims for today? YEC are certainly the loudest right now but are they really a clear majority? I know of several theologians that at the least have no issue with day-age. I think the problem is a distinction you don't make which is day-age creationism or theistic evolution day-age. The day age that is considered heresy now is the evolutionary variety. Not the one held in 19th century or that Martin Luther even spoke about.
    – Joshua
    Apr 24, 2016 at 23:19
  • My guess would be that they're both exegetically weak, scientifically flawed from both the secular and stricter YEC perspectives, and those who would have been attracted to them now go for the much more reasonable framework interpretation.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 25, 2016 at 1:53
  • 1
    @curiousdannii: That may be a good guess, but when and how did that "realization" come about?
    – Flimzy
    May 11, 2016 at 21:15
  • 1
    @Joshua: I'm not asking about theistic evolution; I'm asking about the various brands of Creationism. Prior to WWII, the idea of 6 literal creation days was considered an absurdity among Creationists. Now it's quite popular. What changed and why?
    – Flimzy
    May 11, 2016 at 21:17
  • 2
    @Flimzy right, I'm saying answers would do well to recognize how theistic evolution has in a way usurped the day age creationism. If you bring up day age theory, in my experience, most people assume theistic Evolution. Thus the disappearance of pure day age creationism may be linked to this perception. Even if that was not the case at the turn of the 20th century. Also I flat-out disagree with your statement about pre-World War 2. Maybe from 1800s until WW2, but not prior in a sense that includes all of Christian history prior.
    – Joshua
    May 11, 2016 at 21:37

4 Answers 4


First of all, the dispute has definitely been around for a long time. Here is a link defending an allegorical day interpretation. It references Origen (not a saint) and St. Augustine:


I also seem to remember St. Augustine musing about there being no sun or moon on the first day of creation, so what was the meaning of "day". I think it's somewhere later in Confessions when he is meditating on the nature of time.

And here is a link using the writings of St. Basil to defend a literal day period for creation.


The debate clearly existed in the church pretty early on, but it was never accepted as grounds to accuse someone of being a heretic, no councils of the church mention the dispute is what I mean (that I know of).

As for our current state, I think Ross Douthat's book Bad Religion does a good job of addressing this. So I'll sort of paraphrase him and hopefully not oversimplify too much.

In chapter 1 Mr. Douthat points to 2 major movements within Protestant Christianity at the beginning of the 20th century: modernists/accomodationists who want to change the church's doctrines to be more palatable to skeptics and fundamentalists who want to preserve the church's beliefs. Modernists were willing to challenge the inspiration of the scriptures, virgin birth, reality of the miracles of Christ, and even the resurrection and incarnation. Fundamentalists insisted on preserving all these doctrines and that you had to believe these these things to be Christian. The picture given is that some, or most, fundamentalists became overzealous in their defense and strayed into an error of their own by insisting on literal interpretations simply to oppose whatever modern theory they felt threatened them and condemn Christians who entertained them.

He specifically points to the 1920's as when the terms "Evangelical" and "Fundamental" became associated with strict biblical literalism. This decade is when the biblical literalists in Tennessee took the issue to court and attempted to ban evolution from school textbooks and lost.

However, even orthodox Protestants weren't anywhere near uniformly "fundamentalist" in this sense. Some more specific information comes in chapter 4 of the book. In the 40's Fuller Theological Seminary required its students and faculty to affirm that the Bible was as "exact a guide to geology and biology as it was to the history of salvation". However in the 60's the position of most of the faculty and students shifted to limited inerrancy, meaning that the Bible was only inerrant in the realm of theology. 2 professors even published a book with the thesis that the rigid understanding of inerrancy was invented in the 17th century. This triggered a dispute which resulted in the "International Council on Biblical Inerrancy" which defended a strict position, but with allowances. J.I. Packer (supporter of strict inerrancy) is quoted at the council as saying:

I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture ... but exegetically I cannot see that anything Scripture says, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or another ... Scripture was given to reveal God, not to address scientific issues in scientific terms

So Mr. Douthat concludes that even though inerrancy was upheld in the 70's its implications were reinterpreted to allow for non-literal understandings and truths.

I suppose that his view can be summarized as fundamentalism rising to answer (badly) the challenges of modern scientific skepticism and liberalism. He even labels fundamentalists as anti-intellectual in some cases.

-- Edit, remove stuff about Galileo, cuz Wtrmute is probably right.

I'm not sure I'd point to the 20th century as when fundamentalism kicked off, you can probably read lots of church history and find disputes between those who could be termed "fundamentalists" or "liberals" and you may find yourself on one side or another depending on the context.

I would say the currently the literal trend seems to be subsiding. Just the other day my Evangelical friend (who listens to way too many podcasts) noted how allegorical interpretations are becoming more popular. You could even point to Rob Bell as an example of an Evangelical pastor who has some very allegorical (and probably heretical) interpretations.

A real answer to this question probably involves a whole big study of 2000 years of Christianity. I don't necessarily think taking creation as a literal 6 days is bad, but I think that Genesis has some much deeper spiritual meaning that will be missed if it is simply used as a beating stick for more liberal Christians.

  • Upvote for the lack of sun or earth to count days. I wonder who else among the doctors of the Church held the opinion that counting day and time with heavenly bodies is a human thing, not a God thing. May 12, 2016 at 4:28
  • 2
    I just want to comment that the issue with Galileo was a lot more complex than simply "condemned because he didn't fit literalist interpretations." The problem was mostly that he put words of the Pope in a character deliberately characterised as stupid in one of his dialogues, and they got mad over that. Regardless, the whole controversy is too complex to go over in a comment, so I'll stop here.
    – Wtrmute
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:21
  • Augustine was a young earth creationist. He thought creation could have been instantaneous, not that creation could have taken millions of years. In the City of God Augustine states the earth is only thousands of years old, in contrast to the atheists of his time like the Epicureans and Stoics who believed the universe was eternal.
    – yters
    Feb 2, 2023 at 7:36
  • Does anyone still consider Rob Bell an evangelical? Aside from Rob Bell, and even then only sometimes? Feb 3, 2023 at 9:43
  • @AncientGiantPottedPlant - Probably not. Much has changed since I read his book Velvet Elvis back in the day. But these days perhaps you could instead point to how well received Jordan Peterson's biblical lectures were by lots of Evangelicals. And he is essentially following an allegorical method. I think a lot of Evangelicals are now much more open to allegory (3 senses of meaning in scripture) as a way to appreciate the Bible more fully. So long as the meaning is being investigated instead of escaped.
    – Ian
    Feb 3, 2023 at 19:03

Firstly I want address some of your basis for the question,

Creationists themselves would strongly challenge the claim that Young Earth Creationism has only recently become popular, see here:




Also consider that James Ussher at least as early as the 17th Century attempted to calculate the age of the earth and came to a value < 10,000 years:


Now as far as your question is concerned,

I would challenge the claim that Young Earth Creationism is even today the popular view of Genesis:





"Table 1 demonstrates that of Americans in the 12 largest Christian denominations, 89.6% belong to churches that support evolution education!"

At best I see creationism being treated as a rather uncomfortable topic with most Christians, even if they believe it, preferring to not talk about it. Of course this is just personal experience.

The more specific you go, the less popular a 'literal 6 day interpretation of Genesis' becomes.

The most likely reason that Young earth creationists get the 'most' attention would be that they are in the most direct opposition to orthodox scientific consensus and are almost exclusively regarded as being on the fringe of science (indeed most secular proponents consider creationism patently unscientific, even anti-science or pseudoscience).


The reason that it may seem as if YEC was not discussed prior to the 20th (or 19th) centuries is because it may not have been considered a problem. Why would early church fathers and other Christian thinkers engage in a rigorous examination of the age of the earth if no one was really challenging the idea? It's hard to get evidence for a claim like this though because... well, if noone was talking about it, then we wouldn't have any evidence.

Here I think it is a case of absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Another reason that creationism may appear to have gained traction post-WWII is that many of the Creation organisations that we're familiar with were only established in the 20th century.

Organisations such as Creation Ministries International, Answers in Genesis, Creation Research, Institute for Creation Research, have resulted in a more formal distinction between Young Earth Creationists and other flavours of Genesis interpretation.

See here also:


"In 1977, the first official creationist organisation in Australia was commenced-the Creation Science Association (CSA) of Adelaide, South Australia."



In 1961, Dr. Morris and Old Testament expert Dr. John C. Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood, the book that was widely acknowledged even by prominent evolutionary paleontologist Stephen J. Gould as "the founding document of the creationist movement."

This does not necessarily mean it has only risen to popularity in the 20th century. These organisations were established to formally challenge the rising tide of evolutionary biology in secular science since it was popularised by Darwin in the 19th century and then re emerged as the Modern evolutionary synthesis with the work of early 20th century statisticians such as Fisher and Haldane.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantitative_genetics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Fisher

In light of the above sources mentioned, it seems reasonable to conclude that the evolution/creation debate in general has become a popular topic in lieu of the rise of the 'modern evolutionary synthesis' and 'strict YEC' at around about the same time:

Dobzhansky, Th. 1951. Genetics and the Origin of Species, 3rd Ed. Columbia University Press, New York.


By merging the traditions of Darwin and Mendel

The last part of your question regarding how DA and TE are being considered heresy (or nearly so) by some literal 6-Day creationists

It's important to note that prominent organizations like CMI are emphatic that

Christians can still be saved despite believing in it [evolution]


However, they make their arguments based on a few main points, here are some examples:

  • Jesus (according to them) affirmed the historicity of a literal 6-day creation
  • Fundamental to evolution is that it is an unguided process (which is true!)
  • Genesis (according to YEC) is blatantly clear on the literal 6-days


In conclusion,

YEC came to the spotlight around the same time (or shortly after) the modern evolutionary synthesis was formulated, which makes sense.

YEC gets the most attention because it is the most extreme opposition to orthodox evolutionary biology.

YEC does not consider other flavours of Genesis interpretation 'heresy', however they do strongly criticize their views and defend a plain reading of Genesis.

I hope this provides some insight.

  • This doesn't answer the question. And in fact,it seems to entirely miss the point of the question. 1) Creationists themselves would strongly challenge the claim that Young Earth Creationism is a 'new idea' -- That's not at all what the question says. The question is asking about the two most popular views, which were Young-Earth, and Day-Age theory, and asks when and why the former became more popular, not when it was first formulated...
    – Flimzy
    Mar 20, 2017 at 7:22
  • (cont)... 2) I would challenge the claim that Young Earth Creationism is the popular view of Genesis -- This is also irrelevant to the question. I'm not asking what is popular (or right), but when YE became more popular than DA, irrespective of all other (more popular) views.
    – Flimzy
    Mar 20, 2017 at 7:22
  • The last half of your answer does seem to address the question, but only barely. The most likely reason... and The reason that it may seem ... it may not have been ... feel like guesses and personal opinions.
    – Flimzy
    Mar 20, 2017 at 7:25
  • 1
    Do you have any evidence that DA is as or more popular than YE, and that YE just gets more attention for the reasons you state? Or is that just a guess? Do you have any evidence that YE was not considered a problem prior to WWII, but was after?
    – Flimzy
    Mar 20, 2017 at 7:27
  • Sorry if my answer wasn't as clear as it could've been. I think you made some assertions that aren't true, so I was clarifying that they don't necessarily hold, namely: - That YEC has become recently popular - That YEC is today 'very popular' As a result I provided some references that explain why it may appear popular. i.e. it gets a lot of attention. I hope this helps. If there's anything else you would like me to clarify. Mar 22, 2017 at 2:43

6 day creationism was in retreat for 100 years from the publication of Origin of Species in November 1859 until the publication of another book in 1961.

For that 100 years many Christians, even some of the most conservative, such as Arthur W. Pink, were interpreting Genesis in the light of "science". A.W. Pink believed in the Gap Theory, which had been promoted by Thomas Chalmers in the 1800s, who also, in other respects, was a conservative evangelical.

Young Earth Creationism gained something of a renaissance with the publication of "The Genesis Flood" by Dr John Whitcomb and Henry Morris in 1961. This book was a best seller amongst evangelicals, being reprinted 28 times in the subsequent 25 years, and put literal views of Genesis 1-6 back on the front foot.

I think a look at publication "The Genesis Flood" is the place to start when looking for reasons for the modern YEC phenomena.

The other cause of the modern YEC movement is that Genesis 1 and 2 cannot be easily accommodated with either the Gap Theory, the Day-Age Theory, or Theistic Evolution. What I mean is that these opposing theories have weak Biblical support, no support, or are actually contradicted by the plain reading of Genesis 1 & 2. I think I have been through phases when I have sought refuge in each of them, only finding that each one in turn is simply not sustainable if you also want to take scripture seriously.

The modern YEC movement now is sustained by a virtual flood of books (if you pardon the phrase) which undermine evolutionary theory, some by evangelicals, some by Roman Catholics (Michael Behe), some by agnostics (Michael Denton) "Evolution - a Theory in Crisis". Personal favourites are "Bone of Contention" by Sylvia Baker, "Signature of the Cell" by Stephen Meyer, and "Darwin on Trial" by Phillip Johnson.

I suppose the best known YEC advocate today would be Ken Ham. Ken would disagree with "The Genesis Flood", Appendix 2, which is at pains to point out that the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 are not literal father-to-son genealogies but contain gaps. The upshot of this is that Ken Ham would say we can know that the Universe was created about 4000 BC whereas The Genesis Flood does not, and cannot, offer a fixed date for the creation. The Genesis Flood satisfies itself with the observation that the early human civilisations, and the earliest writing we know of (Sumerian) are on a time frame more in harmony with the Bible than with evolutionary theory's millions of years.

The Genesis Flood finishes with:-

"It would seem to us that even the allowance of 5,000 years between the Flood and Abraham stretches Genesis 11 almost to the breaking point. The time has come when those who take the testimony of God's infallible Word with seriousness should begin to look with favor upon the efforts of those who are examining and exposing the unwarranted assumptions and false presuppositions of uniformitarianism as it applies to the dating of early man."

In that Abraham was born, according to the Bible, 2169 BC, and in that the authors had earlier argued there were not many thousands of years between the Creation and the Flood, it can be seen by this closing statement that the authors were arguing that, even though the universe is not Ken Ham's (or Archbishop Ussher's) 6,000 years old, it is still less than 12,000 years old.


When and why did the modern literal 6-Day creation theory become popular?

We can't say for certain, as we don't know if God revealed the contents of Genesis 1 immediately on Day 6, or if He didn't reveal it at all until Moses wrote it down. However, many have contended that the tonal shift partway through Genesis represents a transition between recording what had previously been oral tradition to events of which Moses had more direct knowledge. In any case, however, there is every indication that Jews from the time of Moses onward believed in a six-day Creation, and that this view was naturally taken up by early Christians.

It's also worth noting that Peter explicitly refers to Creation and the Flood as historical events (2 Peter 3:5-6).

The contention that six-day Creation is a modern view is simply false. We can see that it was, and to some extent continues to be, the prevalent view among Jews:

It remained popular among early Christians, though it would significantly give way to the view six days somehow "limited" God, and that God created everything fully formed in an instant:

This trend was reversed around the Reformation, with Luther and Calvin in particular arguing for six literal days. This, of course, does not match the original contention:

The Day-Age theory or the Gap theory[,] at least up until WWII, [...] were the predominant Creationists views.

While I do not believe such views were unheard-of, a more careful study shows that it is only after Uniformitarianism started to take hold (circa 1800 AD) that increasing numbers of Christians began to reinterpret Genesis 2-11 as something other than plain history.

One might also consider how any alternative view is supposed to be reconciled with God Himself saying "for in six days the Lᴏʀᴅ made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them" (Exodus 20:11).

As for what accounts for its resurgence... as another answer noted, Morris' "The Genesis Flood" was a major factor. More generally, strict Uniformitarianism has been in retreat as it is demonstrated over and over that Catastrophism is a more likely explanation for many phenomena, and as good science has uncovered many flaws and inconsistencies in Uniformitarian claims.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .