A person’s belief of the age of the earth reflects a belief system. Priority is given to either the claims of science or the claims of the Bible. The age of the earth matters for the Christian because of what the Bible says about the origin of the earth, of humanity and of suffering. If the Bible is not historically accurate about the age of the earth then it’s reliability regarding the sin of man is suspect.
The inclusion of a long period of time before the creation week recorded in Genesis 1 does great damage to the literal reading of Genesis 1-3. An earth populated with animals for millions of years before the creation week presents significant theological problems concerning death, decay and destruction. If the fossil record is the record of an ancient earth that existed before Adam and Eve, then death and disease were common before the events recorded in Genesis 3. If death existed before sin, then death is not the punishment of sin. If suffering existed before the creation of man, then suffering is not a consequence of sin.
If the earth is millions or billions of years old, there is much in earth’s history that is not revealed in the Bible. While the Bible never attempts to present a full history of all mankind- it does not contain the history of China, Greenland or South America the Bible does present a history of the origin of the world, the formation of humans and the spread of sin. If the Bible leaves out huge gulfs of time, there is abundant space to question the reliability of the Bible for understanding the nature of humanity. If the historical record of the Bible has major gaps, then that calls into question the BIble as a valid historical record. This matters because sin, salvation and the promises of God are connected to a historical context. Jesus is a historical figure whose history is traced from person to person all the way back to a historical Adam. If the Bible is not reliable as a history book, does it present an accurate historical picture of Jesus?
This question matters because it shapes how a person reads the Bible. If the Bible is a reliable historical record, then great weight will be placed upon its genealogies and historical markers. If the Bible is not to be read literally, or if its history is a series of homilies intended to teach spiritual truths, then the chronological data in the Bible will have little importance in the discussion of the age of the earth. This question matters because the inclusion of millions of years into the history of man undermines the reliability of the Bible when it discusses the origins of sin and suffering. If the Bible cannot be trusted as an accurate historical record of the earliest days of man, can it be trusted when it discusses Abraham and Moses, Israel, Babylon, the Roman Empire, the apostles or Jesus? If the Bible does not present in Genesis an accurate, literal record of the history of the world, when does it begin to do so? If the Bible is not trustworthy to teach of how man sinned, how can it be trustworthy to teach how man is saved?
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 . . .
One of the major issues facing the church today is the debate over the creation of the universe. Much of this conflict centers around whether or not the earth was created by God in a span of six days less than ten thousand years ago. Sometimes this discussion focuses on the existence of a real, historical figure named Adam who was the first human being and the paternal ancestor of all other humans.
In order to be saved does someone have to believe Adam existed? This is no trivial question. The existence of Adam has a direct relation to the story of creation and is applied to key teachings about salvation. Believing in the existence of a historical Adam is not in the same category as believing Gideon led 300 Israelites in successful battle against 135,000 Midianites.
The Bible does not teach that a positive confession of six day creationism or the existence of a historical Adam is necessary for a person to be saved. One can be saved without having given great thought to the genuineness of the existence of Adam.
What about one who denies the existence of a historical Adam? The one who believes God used evolution to create all things is not necessarily excluded from salvation. One may believe Adam is an allegorical character used in the Bible to teach of the awfulness of sin. One may believe that Adam and Eve were the first hominids to be given a soul. One may believe Adam is pure myth and still be saved. However, major theological problems arise when a person denies the existence of a literal Adam and a literal, recent creation.
Romans 5 says that “by one man that sin entered into the world.” The Bible traces the guilt of humanity back to Adam. Because of Adam’s sin all humanity is condemned in sin. If Adam did not exist as described in Genesis the entrance of sin into the world has no explanation. The common sinfulness of all mankind has no basis. If Adam is not a real, historical figure the Biblical truth of sin is undermined.
Adam is a picture of Jesus. (Romans 5:14) Adam pictures Jesus in this way: he acted as the representative for all humanity. In 1 Corinthians 15 the saving work of Jesus is shown to be directly related to the condemning deed of Adam. Just as by Adam’s sin were all men made sinners and brought under the consequences of sin so by Jesus’ death and resurrection all those in Christ are made righteous and given life. If all men were not actually in Adam then the death and resurrection of Jesus is insufficient to redeem all men.
Jesus is the last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45) Like the first Adam Jesus stands in the place of all humanity. He is able to be mankind’s substitute who suffers the punishment of sin in place of men because He is the physical descendant of Adam and shares the same humanity as all mankind. If there is no literal Adam the doctrines of man’s sin and Jesus’ substitutionary atonement are compromised.
The flood of Noah and its immediate aftermath is described in Genesis chapters six through nine. Those familiar with the story know that God determined to destroy every man and beast on the earth with a flood. Noah and his immediate family were the only humans to be saved from destruction. God instructed Noah to build a large boat in which his family and two of every animal kind (That’s not a typo. Two of every animal kind, not two of every kind of animal.) were to be saved. Noah built the ark, the heavens opened, the earth flooded and the earth was buried under the waters. A year later Noah opened the door and everyone ventured out into a very different earth. From the Middle Eastern mountains of Ararat man and animals spread across the world.
This raises many specific questions about how plants and animals could spread to every corner of the globe. How the animals spread from the Middle East across the European, African and Asian continents is easy to understand. Since a land bridge existed between Russia and Alaska it is easy to see how wildlife could reach the American continents. Australia is separated from the rest of the continents and poses a more difficult challenge.
In Genesis 10 the Bible tells a little bit about the dispersal of humanity but says nothing about the spread of plants and animals. The Bible says nothing about the continent of Australia. Does this prove the Bible is unreliable in guiding our understanding of the earth’s history? Of course not. No Christian believes the Bible teaches about every subject. Those who uphold the authority of the Bible believe that when the Bible does speak about a subject everything it says is accurate.
Starting with the premise that the Bible’s description of world events is accurate then an explanation can be formed that provides a reasonable means for kangaroos to hop to Australia. In Genesis 8:17 God commanded Noah to bring all the animals out of the ark, “that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth”. God intended for wildlife to spread and multiply across the entire world. He worked in the world to fill the entire globe with all manner of wildlife.
But what about the kangaroos? How did they get to Australia? Some have suggested that animals floated to Australia on large rafts of plants and trees. The flood waters would not have buried all every piece of refuse torn up during the flood. Possibly large rafts of logs and debris were floating on the oceans of the world. Such rafts would have helped transport animals to more remote places. Others have suggested that man brought animals to Australia with him when he colonized the continent. These are both plausible suggestions, but another one seems most reasonable.
The cataclysm of the flood caused significant changes in the atmosphere and the ocean waters. These changes resulted in the ice age. During the ice age huge quantities of water were trapped in the ice sheets lowering ocean levels and exposing significant land bridges. One such bridge would have extended from southeast Asia to northern Australia and provided a thoroughfare for kangaroos to hop to Australia. While this may not be what happened, it gives a plausible explanation that lines up with what the Bible teaches. The presence of kangaroos down under does not undermine the Bible. God worked through natural mechanisms to spread animals across the globe even the funny animals of Australia.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
The famous opening line of the Bible summarizes God’s creation of the universe. The first two chapters of Genesis record the creation of everything. Genesis 1 describes the creation of light, dry land, oceans, plants, the sun, the moon, stars, fish, birds, animals and mankind.
Genesis 2 tells of God’s seventh day rest from the creation work. The second chapter then goes on to describe how God formed Adam out of dirt, planted a garden in Eden, placed Adam in the garden, instructed Adam to name the animals and then made Eve.
The differences between Genesis 1 and 2 form the basis of claims that Genesis contains two separate and different creation accounts. The perceived contradictions between the two chapters are presented as evidence that Scriptures is not a reliable historical record. How do Christians, especially those who believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, explain the problems between these two chapters?
Like many supposed contradictions in the Bible the problems of Genesis 1 and 2 are not problems at all. The differences between the first two chapter of Genesis are not contradictions. Genesis 1 provides the overview of all of God’s creative work. Genesis 2 focuses on God’s work to create man and a suitable habitation for mankind. Genesis 2 adds detail to the record of man’s creation.
At this point a reader may object that Genesis 2 says God caused the trees to grow after He made Adam. Genesis 2:8 answers the objection. “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden.” The trees growing in Genesis 2 are only the trees in the Garden of Eden not all trees on earth. God planted the garden by causing specific trees to grow out of the ground where He wanted them to grow. God could have made the garden by transplanting trees from other places on earth. He did not. The trees He desired to be in the garden of Eden He commanded to spring up in their proper place. God’s creating trees in the Garden of Eden on the sixth day does not contradict the Genesis 1 description of God creating plant life on day three.
What about when Genesis 2 says that God made the animals and birds after He made Adam? Genesis 1 says all the flying creatures were made on the fifth day of creation, and it says God made the animals before He made man. How could that be true if they were created after Adam? In the King James Version Genesis 2:18-19 is translated, “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air.” At first glance it looks like Genesis 2 is describing consecutive events: God made Adam, and then God put him in the garden, and then God said it is not good for man to be alone , and then God formed the birds and beasts. This is not the case. The word translated formed is expressing an action that had occurred in the past. Genesis does not say, “And then God formed every beast of the field.” Genesis says, “And God had formed every beast of the field . . .” The action had already occurred before God created Adam. God brought the already created animals to Adam for him to name.
Genesis does not contain two creation different accounts. Genesis 1 and 2 complement one another by providing additional details about what God has done. The creation account gives the wide angle view of the whole work of creation and then zooms in to describe specific events surrounding the creation of man.
The question of the age of the earth is a huge point of disagreement between Creationists and Evolutionists and between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists. The battle is easy to describe. Young earth creationists believe the earth is thousands of years old. Evolutionists and Old Earth Creationists believe the earth is billions of years old.
The differences about the age of the earth are so large no possible compromise can be reached. For example, neither side would be willing to admit the earth is 1 million years old.
The young earth creationist view believes Genesis is an accurate historical record. As a result the description of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is a correct account of the beginning of all things. God created the earth, the universe and everything that exists in six days (also called six solar days, six 24 hour days and six literal days).
Because Genesis is a real history of the world the age of the earth can be estimated by a simple process of addition. Adam was created in year 0, lived 130 years and had a son named Seth. Seth lived 105 years and had a son named Enos. Enos had a son and so forth. The generations after Adam are recorded in Genesis 5 up to the time of Noah. By adding up the ages of the men when they had a son and then adding in the age of Noah at the time of the flood the reader discovers there was a span of 1,656 years between creation and Noah’s flood.
After the flood the same process of addition can be followed. Based upon Genesis 11 the reader discovers that Abraham was born about 390 years after the flood. A definite year for Abraham’s birth cannot be determined because the Bible does not say exactly how old Abraham’s father was when Abraham was born.
The same process of addition can be applied throughout the Old Testament. By piecing together various genealogies the length of time between creation and the birth of Jesus is determined to be approximately four thousand years. Since this is the year 2016 the age of the earth can be estimated to be a little over 6,000 years.
Some legitimate questions have been raised about the genealogies. Some of the genealogies possibly have gaps of several generations between one name and the next. Instead of them being all father-son, some maybe grandfather -grandson. If there are gaps in the genealogies then the age of the earth would be increased possibly by as much as several thousand years.
Because the Old Testament is an accurate account of the history of humanity, most young earth creationists accept the age of the earth to be between six and ten thousand years old.
A literal reading of the book of Genesis results in the conclusion that God created everything over the course of one week. Using the Biblical record of births and deaths the week of creation has been dated as occurring about 4,000 BC. While there may be some room in the Biblical record for some additional years, most conservative theologians conclude the Bible indicates the age of the universe is less than 10,000 years old.
Scientists have developed multiple methods for determining the age of fossils on earth which show the earth is millions, even billions, of years old. The most familiar of these methods is carbon dating. Carbon dating routinely returns ages for fossils several times older than the Biblical age of the earth. Doesn’t this prove the Bible, and especially the book of Genesis, is wrong about the ancient history of earth?
Carbon dating is the process of measuring the decay of carbon in organic material. All living organisms contain a carbon isotope known as Carbon-14. Carbon-14 is naturally unstable and at death it begins to decay down to Nitrogen-14. This process takes place at a known rate and is calculated in terms of half-life. The half life is the amount of time it takes for half the atoms to decay. The half-life remains constant no matter how many atoms are involved. The half life of Carbon-14 is 5,730 years. If an organism died with ten Carbon-14 atoms in 5,730 years half will remain and 5 Nitrogen-1 atoms will exist in their place. In another 5,730 years, 2 1/2 Carbon-14 atoms (yes, I know you can’t have half a C-14, this is just an illustration) will remain and there will now be 7 1/2 Nitrogen-14 atoms. Scientists measure the amount of C-14 remaining in an object and are able to develop an estimate for when the organism died.
Think of a large hour glass in which it is known exactly how many grains of sand fall from the top to the bottom each second. By counting the grains of sand remaining in the top the observer can tell how long ago the hourglass was turned over.
The process sounds simple enough, especially in a very simplified explanation like this one. Carbon dating, and all similar dating methods, have serious problems. Carbon dating has been repeatedly shown to produce inconsistent results. The same object tested multiple times has resulted in widely different dates. Also, tests of modern artifacts in which the date of the organisms death was known have produced results off tens of by thousands of years.
The biggest problem will all decay based dating methods is the assumptions made. Carbon dating assumes the amount of Carbon-14 present in the organism at death. The amount of Carbon-14 present at the death of a fossilized organism cannot be known for certain because no scientist was there to take an initial measurement. While the assumptions may be very plausible scientists do not know the amount of Carbon-14 present in an organism at its death.
If the imaginary hourglass had less sand in the top than was assumed then the measured time interval be greater because of the error in the initial assumption.
Carbon dating sounds like a very scientific and accurate way of determining when a fossil died. Christians are tempted to believe the organism lived many thousands of years ago because smart men have worked out an ingenious and complex method of measuring time.
Carbon dating does not measure time. Carbon dating is a very accurate way of measuring how much carbon and nitrogen isotopes are contained in a particular specimens at the time of testing. The time measurement is speculation based on certain assumptions whose validity cannot be tested or proven. Don’t let smart sounding words shake your confidence in God’s Word.