Earth: Young and Old

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A fun topic of debate within Christianity is that between so-called young-earth and old-earth creationists. “Young earthers” hold to a more normative interpretation of verses such as Exodus 20:11: “… in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” A straightforward interpretation, combined with the data available in Genesis 1 and 2, would have to conclude that prior to those seven days (yes, normal days of 24 hour periods, even if the sun wasn’t there for the first three), no physical creation existed (at least not one that we would have any information). Polls of the American public consistently reveal that a large segment of the population believe, more or less, in the Biblical account of creation.[1] My understanding, however, is that laypeople more often share this viewpoint while educated pastors that fill pulpits in churches reject it. My first assignment I completed at Liberty Seminary was aimed at undermining a young earth view of creation, and my classmates seemed to accept the argument hook, line and sinker. Popular conservative Systematic Theologies, like Wayne Grudem’s, attack the young earth position, and European scholars can hardly comprehend why anyone would reject the secular model.

From a straightforward reading of the text it would be hard to generate the billions of years estimate for the age of the earth that secular science demands. The topic appears to be a bit more complicated concerning the age of the universe as Dr. Russell Humphreys has revealed in his seminal work, Starlight and Time.[2] Considering God created mankind on Earth’s Day Six (cf. Gen. 1:26-31), and a genealogy of that man’s offspring is related from him to Jesus (cf. Gen. 5; 1 Chron. 1; Lk. 3:23-38), there is simply no place to fit all the time suggested by modern secular models.[3]

A fun thought experiment from Charlie Clough is to imagine being plopped down in the middle of the Garden of Eden fifteen minutes after the creation of Adam. Everything within the creation is complete except God’s surgical manufacturing of Eve. Based on your observations of fully grown animals, fruit-bearing trees, water circulating in multiple rivers, the sun shining brightly in the sky, how old would you say the creation is at that point? Without a doubt it would have to be quite old: old enough for the animals to have been birthed (by parents who had parents who had parents, etc.), for the earth to develop, for trees to sprout and mature so that they could themselves bear fruit, for the sun to start its fusion and fission processes to produce all of its marvelous energy and on and on. In short, a Day Six observer would empirically be very deceived as to the age of the earth.  Now, imagine that you have accepted the secular philosophical underpinnings of modern science, which is that God has nothing to contribute to scientific discovery. I don’t know what the potassium argon age of the rocks were on Day Six, but just from deduction based on the available empirical data, the years would accumulate quickly!

It would take a considerable amount of calculation to hazard a guess as to the earth’s exact age from your Day Six observations, but without allowing any divine input, your hypothesis would be much closer to the current billions of years guesses than to one of less than a week. In order for the universe to get to where it is today, with all of its galaxies and planets and moons, not to mention at least one planet hosting sapient beings, would take a very large amount of time. Since we are here, we have obviously made it this far, though just barely. Humanity’s existence is “fresh out of the oven” in relation to the age of the universe. And because of the large amount of time needed for evolutionary processes to transpire, it can be said that humans have so recently evolved because they needed all of that time. Humans did not start the evolutionary process but we got here as fast as we could. If you reject God as being relevant to scientific enquiry, then you NEED billions of years in order for the universe to produce what it has. By way of analogy: when people obtain their driver’s licenses at sixteen years of age, they are thought of as young drivers because they have just reached the legal minimum age, but if you met a sixteen year old who had just learned to walk, you would think they were very old to have just learned what most people accomplish by age two. Just like a sixteen year old driver cannot be said to be an old driver, a universe that needs billions of years to allow for the evolution of man cannot be said to be old when man in his present form has only just arrived. In that sense, secular science and those who straightforwardly read their Bible both support a young earth, with “young” being relative to how much time you need.

Young earth creationists are those who accept the straightforward information available in the text of Scripture. Secular scientists are those who reject even the possibility of considering a Creator in their research. Both end up with extremely young earths in their own right: the God of the Bible can do whatever He wants in whatever time frame He wants, so creating the Earth in six days is perfectly reasonable from that perspective; the secular scientists must have a huge amount of time for the evolutionary process to have advanced as far as it has. The only group left is the Old Earth creationists, those who accept the general tenets of Christianity, but reject the Biblical data relating to the age of the earth in favor of the conclusions of those who reject Christianity. In that view, the world is old indeed. God, Who they will readily admit doesn’t need billions of years, and Who communicates that He didn’t use billions of years, nonetheless relied on long evolutionary processes to bring about the universe in its current form. The earth is extraordinarily old and for no apparent reason.

Does this mean the young earth creationists and their young earth evolutionists should form a coalition against the old earthers? Obviously not. Christians have much more in common with each other in terms of eternity than they do with non-Christians, and secondary issues such as the age of the creation are not reasons to break Christian fellowship. Still, what is gained by rejecting the data provided by God? If you were there on Day Six, your independent observations would never lead to considering a week old universe, but if God approached you and told you that was the case, what reason would you have to ignore Him?

[1] Frank Newport, “In. U.S., 42% Believe Creationist View of Human Origins,” 2 June 2014, Gallup.com. It is interesting to look at the precise wording of the question, “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years.” I would suspect that a large segment of these responders would hold seemingly contradictory viewpoints about the age of the earth, dinosaurs existing millions of years ago, etc.

 [2] Hopefully more scientists who are oriented to the Bible will expand on his research in the future.

 [3] There are perhaps a few holes in Adam’s genealogy but certainly not millions or billions of generations missing.

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