One of the greatest hangups for people considering the Christian faith is that popular science promotes a certain theory of origins and a certain theory concerning the earth’s age and these theories do not seem to be corroborated by the text of Scripture. In fact, according to some, there doesn’t seem to be a need for a divine, intellectual Creator. Here, we are going to observe the creation story and ask whether or not any claim against it actually holds any validity whatsoever. The Creation story was the basis for the whole Law, and the Law was fulfilled in the person of Christ. The Creation story, then, is very important when considering the whole text of Scripture. Added to this, it is my favorite part of the story that Scripture tells. I might implore you to read Genesis 1-4 before continuing, here.
If age of the earth or theories concerning evolution are going to keep anyone from believing in the God of the Bible, then the Bible is going to have to be proven to give either an age for the earth or a process other than evolution by which God chose to bring about the existence of all creatures.
Age of the earth
In the Bible
An approximate age of the earth is found by Creationists1 to be around 6,000 years. This figure is found by tracing the genealogies in the Bible back to Adam and Eve, but this is the only way that this figure can be arrived at according to the text of Scripture. There are some problems with arriving at this as an accurate figure, though. First of all, Scripture seems to be vague on the amount of time that passed between the beginning and the first day of creation on the earth (Gen. 1-3). Secondly, we simply do not know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden. It seems to me that the only reason people have to count their age is because they are anticipating the end of life. There would have been no reason for Adam and Eve to anticipate the end of life if the world was perfect and death had not yet been earned. This, however, is only speculation. There does seem to be evidence that Adam and Eve were in the Garden for an extended period rather than only a short period. When we read Genesis 4, particularly verses 1 and 14-17, we see that by the time Cain murdered his brother there were not just other people on the earth, but other nations. Furthermore, we see that Cain was not classified specifically as Adam’s first-born son. Furthermore, we consider the command that God gave people while in the Garden, namely to multiply and fill the earth. In a perfect state, it seems unlikely that people would have been unable to fulfill God’s command. It is more likely that, even while in the Garden, Adam and Eve would have done what married people do and that nations would have had time to develop even while Adam and Eve were in the Garden. This requires much time before the Fall and, consequently, means that we cannot simply follow the genealogies back to find the specific age of the earth.
Added to this, when the Hebrew text (the original text of the Old Testament) is observed, the six days of creation are missing a definite article. This is also true in Exodus 20:11, when Moses recorded the Sabbath Day as a requirement for the Jews. The 6 days of creation can be translated two different ways, then. First, they could be translated as, “The first day, the second day, etc…” Or, they could be translated as, “One day, on a second day, etc…” In fact the only article is given for the seventh day and it was probably given to highlight the importance of the Sabbath Day or the Day of Rest. These translations, though they are both valid, have very different implication. One creates a necessity for a consecutive, literal 24 hour interpretation of the text. The other grants the opportunity to interpret the story in a non-consecutive manner, meaning Scripture is not precise on the exact timing of creation. Though it has been accepted historically as 6 literal and consecutive 24 hour periods, it just isn’t that exact in the text of Scripture. We also might learn that just because something is accepted by a group of people does not make it correct. It also does not make it incorrect.
The simply answer is this: We have no idea how old the earth is, how long creation took, how long people were in the Garden, and how many people were on the earth at certain times according to Scripture. This answer simply is not given.
In popular science
Most scientific models today posit that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old. This number is gathered by radiocarbon dating space rocks that have fallen to the earth from the Solar System. There are some reasons that we might question this figure as well. First of all, radiocarbon dating is inconsistent enough to question. I am not claiming here that radiocarbon dating is always a terrible method, but simply that there have been enough inconsistencies to question its reliability. The 4.5 billion year figure also does not take Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity or Quantum Theory into account. It has actually been discovered that objects with a greater mass have a greater gravitational pull on time. This means that there are some parts of the universe where time actually moves slower than it does in proximity to the earth. This makes it impossible to measure time across the distance of the universe and also makes it impossible to determine the rate of time at any moment in the past, especially the distant past.
Consequently, this means that any Big Bang model, beginning with one singularity at a near infinite density virtually stops any sort of discrete time. If time has no movement, then it is near impossible for any movement within time to develop. If our solar system is 4.5 billion years old and our universe much older, it is so miraculous that it would demand the existence of a Creator in the continuous realm of time to spread the mass of this singularity out enough that time could even be experienced. Age, then, is scientifically relative and nearly impossible to count in any regular or systematic way.
There is also a great darwinian bias that plagues popular science. Darwinian bias requires that people assign large spans of time because darwinian evolution requires time if it is in fact the process by which the many species were brought about. Because of this presupposition, popular science today looks for older ages rather than younger ages intentionally, which seems to be just a little closed minded.
Is the earth old or young?
Considering both of these viewpoints, then, we might ask how old the earth actually is. The simple answer: We do not and cannot know for sure. Anyone who claims differently on either side proves not to pursue genuine knowledge. Since Scripture is so vague on the subject, there is no claim that can cause us, or anyone else, to doubt the validity of the Christian worldview. Christians, then, are free to explore any claim while many scientists are forced to be closed minded because of their own preconditions.
In the Bible
Scripture states very clearly that it is God who created all things. As we examine the creation story again, we should remember that the language in the text is not as exact or precise as we might like it to be. Because the language is inexact or imprecise, there have been a few different interpretations of the Creation account. The first being a literal, consecutive (also known as a Young Earth) interpretation where God literally produced creatures out of nothing by speaking them into existence. Now, the Bible seems to be clear that in the beginning God created, which means at some point God brought a discrete world into existence when there was no discrete world that previously existed, but Scripture seems to indicate that God used materials that where already present as He made the earthly creatures. Secondly, there is a literary framework interpretation where the first three days parallel the second three days and the days are used simply as a structure by which to tell the creation story. In this view, the days are not seen as literal but intentionally structural in order that the story might be told in an understandable way. Third, there is the Day-Age theory, where each day of creation is said to represent a vast amount of time where these things were taking place. There is the Gap Theory, which posits gaps of time between the days. Not surprising, there are still more theories concerning the interpretation of the creation account. The primary observation I wish to make is that the Creation Account has not bound itself to a consecutive interpretation. Added to this, no specific processes are described within the Creation Account; only that God spoke and the result was creation.
The only thing that we can deduce from the Creation Account is that it was God who did the creating and He created human kind in His image in order to rule over the rest of creation as His representative. Perhaps this is the entire point of the creation story anyway. Again, a specific mode is never described or even referenced. If we are to read the account for what it is, we still have to speculate or make an educated guess as to the “how” of creation. If we hold a genuine biblical worldview, then, we are free to discover without fear.
In popular science
The most popular theories are within the realm of darwinian evolution. Here, we should not make the mistake of thinking that any legitimate scientist has claimed any darwinian process to be fact, for there are several theories even within this realm. The two most popular theories are the traditional (slow progress) and the punctuated theories. The traditional theory is still the theory being taught in most public schools and even in the university even though many, if not most modern naturalistic scientists have moved from the traditional view to the punctuated view. The punctuated view claims that a great number of years pass and then there is a relatively short period of time where species are going through evolutionary changes. This is followed by a long period where species are, again, not going through evolutionary change. This does not require the fossil evidence that the traditional view demands, and is much more difficult to observe (in fact it is impossible). If it cannot be observed, then it must always remain unproved and in the realm of speculation.
Creationism is another popular view held primarily by the Christian scholars at the Institute of Creation Research. In this view, kinds were directly created by God individually from one another. This view allows for speciation and changes within the genus. This, though, proves to have the same problems that the theories of evolution have, namely that the process cannot be observed. Thus, this theory must also remain in the realm of speculation.
There is, though, so much evidence (and I find this interesting) suggesting the presence of an intelligent creator, that prominent scientists like Richard Dawkins even say that we may have been seeded by some type of intelligent, extraterrestrial lifeforms. His presuppositions, though, lead him to say that these lifeforms would have themselves had to come about by some sort of darwinian means.
What was the mode of human origin?
If many theories of evolution still exist, then it has not been observed and, therefore, cannot be proven. Similarly the Bible does not speak of the mode of human origin. William Lane Craig, a prominent apologist, states approximately that if evolution were the mechanism by which the vast number of species were brought about, it would be so miraculous that it would require the existence of a creator. At the same time, if darwinian evolution is not the mechanism by which the vast number of species were brought about, the creation is so miraculous that it requires the existence of a creator. This means that neither God, nor His inspired word, can be disproved by any theory concerning human origin. In fact, every current origin argument demand the existence of a creator.
The simple application is this: God’s people are free to discover without fear. In fact, we are encouraged to discover more about God through what He has made. God’s existence has not and cannot be disproven by any theory concerning human origin or the age of the earth. If God cannot be proven or disproven by use of the scientific method, then the only way that we can know God is by His own revelation of Himself. As we discovered last time, it is more reasonable to believe the Bible than to not believe the Bible. The Bible claims to reveal God. Therefore, we are more reasonable to trust the Bible than to trust science or philosophy in order to know anything about God.
Remember to subscribe to this blog to keep up with this conversation in the coming weeks. The material for this series will be available for anyone to download and use once we finish the series at Eastside.
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. New York: Ballantine, 2013.
Ashton, John F., ed. In six days: why fifty 50 scientists choose to believe in creation. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2001.
Dawkins, Richard. The God delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
Expelled: no intelligence allowed. Directed by Ben Stein. United States: Eagle, 2008. DVD.
Yanofsky, Noson S. The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us. MIT Press, 2013.
Aardsma, Gerald. “Myths Regarding Radiocarbon Dating.” Institute for Creation Research.
1Creationist here refers specifically to a person holding a scientific presuppositional belief in a literal six day creation and in a young earth. Thus, not every Christian is a Creationist.