The 100-year-old controversy concerning the age of man has been stimulated in recent years by the very early dates (such as 1,750,000 years ago) assigned to the remains of Zinjanthropus, presumably a form of early man. Zinjanthropus was uncovered by Louis B. Leakey in Olduvai Gorge, Tanganyika, in 1959.

Even after 1859, the date of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, discussion of an early age of man, stimulated by the discoveries of the Neanderthal finds in the late 1840s and the 1850s, was confined almost totally to limited academic circles. Darwin’s work made general evolution a public concern, but because he was silent about human origins the problem of man’s age as well as of his evolution was still not widely raised. It was not until the publication of The Antiquity of Man by Sir Charles Lyell in 1863 that this subject emerged into the limelight of popular discussion.

Although Lyell was reluctant to commit himself to definite dates, it was abundantly clear from his discussion that he envisioned a very considerable extension of the traditional biblical chronology, based largely on the work of Archbishop Ussher and found in the margins of many Bibles. Many Christians of conservative persuasion felt that Lyell’s views were an attack on the inerrancy and the historicity of Scripture. Other churchmen of more liberal persuasion did not view the disintegration of biblical chronology as a theological catastrophe. Thus a line, though not a sharp one, was drawn between conservative and liberal elements concerning an early date of man.

In the decades that followed the Antiquity of Man, archaeological and anthropological discoveries continued to give strong evidence for an earlier age of man than the traditional biblical ...

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