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.]

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.

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