William Jennings Bryan and the age of the Earth

This is part of my series on theologically conservative Christians who advocate some form of old-Earth creationism, which is the idea that there is no Biblical reason to question that the  Earth is billions of years old. Most of those I am highlighting in this series would hold to some sort of Biblical inerrancy.

In the early part of the twentieth century, there were few theologically conservative Christian scholars who held to young-Earth creationism, with its insistence that the Bible requires an Earth that is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. A prominent example of a Christian leader who advocated an old Earth was William Jennings Bryan, perhaps most famous today for his part in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.” Bryan was firmly opposed to biological evolution, but had no problem with the concept that the Earth is hundreds of millions of years old. Bryan was not a Biblical scholar—he was a politician and activist, having run for president of the United States on the Democratic ticket three times—but his views on Genesis were consistent with the best of Evangelical scholarship of the time.

Here is a court transcript of an exchange between Clarence Darrow (ACLU) and William Jennings Bryan:

Clarence Darrow [D]: ‘Mr Bryan, could you tell me how old the Earth is?’

William Jennings Bryan [B]: ‘No, sir, I couldn’t.’

[D]: ‘Could you come anywhere near it?’

[B]: ‘I wouldn’t attempt to. I could possibly come as near as the scientists do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess.’

[D]: ‘Does the statement, “The morning and the evening were the first day,” and “The morning and the evening were the second day,” mean anything to you?’

[B]: ‘I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four-hour day.’

[D]: ‘You do not?’

[B]: ‘No.’

[D]: ‘Then, when the Bible said, for instance, “and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day,” that does not necessarily mean twenty-four-hours?’

[B]: ‘I do not think it necessarily does.’ ‘I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the Earth in six days as in six years or in six million years or in 600 million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.’

[D]: ‘And they had the evening and the morning before that time for three days or three periods. All right, that settles it. Now, if you call those periods, they may have been a very long time.’

[B]: ‘They might have been.’

[D]: ‘The creation might have been going on for a very long time?’

[B]: ‘It might have continued for millions of years.’

Source: Reasons to Believe

Grace and Peace

2 thoughts on “William Jennings Bryan and the age of the Earth

  1. Pingback: Millions and billions of years - Page 7 - Christian Forums

  2. Pingback: Their Way or the Highway | Faith Seeking Understanding

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