Creationists insist the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Evolutionists and theistic evolutionists insist the earth is much older, about 4.5 billion years older. The disagreement over the age of the earth is just one part of a much larger debate about the origins of the universe and the formation of humanity. Why do some Christians make such a huge deal about the age of the earth? Does it really matter to Christianity if the earth is a few thousand, a few million or a few billion years old?
Many people are familiar with the basis for believing the earth is very old. Various techniques calculate the age of the earth from the amount of radioactive elements remaining rock. This process measures the difference between how much of a particular element (like Uranium) was originally in the rock and how much is present in that rock today. Because the rate of decay from a radioactive to a stable element is known an estimated age of the rock can be calculated. Calculations have yielded ages of rocks over 4 billion years.
Those who believe the earth is young base that conclusion on the historical information included in the Bible and the work of men like James Ussher. In the 1600’s Ussher, the Archbishop of the Anglican church in Ireland, used the Bible to create a detailed chronology of mankind. He added together the genealogies listed in Scritpure, calculated the length of time from Abraham to Moses and from the Exodus to the Babylonian captivity. He concluded the Biblical data showed that the earth was created 4,004 years before the birth of Jesus. Other Biblical scholars have examined Ussher’s chronology and the Biblical data. Though some have come up with different dates for creation (J.B. Lightfoot concluded the earth was created 3,929 years before Jesus), many have reached the conclusion that the Bible puts the creation of the earth approximately four thousand years before Jesus’ birth.
The question of the age of the earth cannot be answered in isolation from presuppositions and interpretations. None are unbiased observers. The presupposition that elements present in a rock today can be used to determine the age of the earth requires the scientist to presume the earth formed through natural processes without Divine intervention. The supposition of a Creator immediately affects the examiners ability to understand the results. For example, a Creator could have created rock with quantities of radioactive isotopes and stable elements that give the appearance of greater age. The presupposition that a Creator made everything opens the scientist to the possibility that the Creator revealed Himself to man in some way. Thus, a holy text, like the Bible or the Qoran, which claims to be the very words of the Creator gave much importance in considering the origins of the universe. How a person answers the age of the earth reflects a belief system, or at least, it reflects the influence of a belief system. The age of the earth matters because what one believes about the existence of a Creator matters.
To be continued . . .