In pondering how many people think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, it’s worth remembering a key and often-ignored fact about creationism: Much creationism isn’t “young-earth” creationism.
It’s easy to get hung up on the young-earthers, since they’re so vocal and have such great visuals. Young-earth creationists mount expeditions to find Noah’s Ark. They build “museums” and put saddles on Triceratops. They work out the logistics of how Noah and his kids could run the universe’s biggest floating zoo through a year-long flood, feeding a pair of every animal (seven pairs of the clean animals) and disposing of their excrement.
But young-earth creationism only came to prominence in the 1960s, with the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood. The first generation of creationists in the early 20th century were mostly old-earth creationists of some variety. William Jennings Bryan didn’t adopt the narrow Biblical reading (absurdly called “literal”) that requires a 6,000-year-old earth, and it was his antievolution crusade in the 1920s that shifted creationism from being a theological curiosity into a mass movement. The theological conservatives commissioned to write the essays in The Fundamentals, the books commissioned in 1909 which created the term “fundamentalism,” mostly argued for an old earth, and many didn’t even set themselves against evolution. A handful of young-earth authors in that generation (especially George McCready Price, whose Seventh Day Adventism set him apart from the other creationists of his day) laid a foundation for Henry Morris’s later success, but largely labored in obscurity compared to their colleagues who were debating how to reconcile the age of the earth with the Genesis creation account. The major divisions were, and remain today: