The young earth versus old earth debate is not just a dispute between a secular and Christian worldview; the issue is a toxic division in the Christian community itself. There is a clear disconnect in the church’s view on origin. Some might argue it is postmodernism creeping into the church encouraging Christians to try to make the old earth evolution story fit the Christian story. Others might say Christians lose credibility and respect among the scientific community when they discredit observable research, causing young people to fall away.
There is disagreement on the importance of the age of the earth. Stephen Meyer, Christian founder of the main organization behind intelligent design research, believes it is of secondary importance and the first issue is the reality of God (Klinghoffer, 2014). Meyer holds an old earth view, but says someone can believe the earth is young and still see evidence of intelligent design. Meyer works with Lee Strobel, Christian apologist and author, at Case for Creation conferences. Meyer said they noticed that when people clearly see a winning and affirming argument for faith, they suddenly relax about the unanswered theological questions:
“What people are really looking for is an affirmation of the core tenants of their faith and their apologetic arguments in a world of secular science. There was an Adam and there was a real Fall. The question of when it happened does not have much at stake. The church is looking for truth, a truth that transforms and is persuasive” (Meyer, Sproul, & Horton, 2014).
Other Christian scientists say there is a lot at stake when Christians accept billions of years and that questioning the Bible from the very start poses a huge problem. Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, says the age of the earth may not be a salvation issue, but it is an authority issue (Ham, Chaffey, Edwards, & Mortenson, 2013). According to Mortenson (2017), “It’s theism that’s at stake. That is the target of the secularists and naturalists. If they can do away with creation, they can do away with Christianity and theism. God defined a day in [Genesis 1] verse five.” Ham believes doubting young earth creationism is a Christian compromise:
“If doubt begins with the first chapter and book of the Bible, the Bible is easily rejected as perfect and irrefutable, and the Church is easier to leave. From my observation time is a very easy way to cover the glory and majesty of God’s creation” (Ham, Chaffey, Edwards, & Mortenson, 2013).
Not every scientific theory is compatible with God’s Word, and natural revelation provides limited insight into truth, according to Psalm 19:7-8. However, Romans 1:20 says God reveals himself through nature. Historically, the Catholic Church’s Biblical interpretations have been corrected with improved understanding of natural revelation, such as the negated geocentric worldview (McMullin, 2005). The Catholic Church has since accepted the misconceptions. R.C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier Ministries said:
“I think we can learn from nonbelieving scientists, but I believe all truth is God’s truth. If something can be shown in the Bible without question and someone gives me a theory based on natural revelation that contradicts it, I will stand with God’s Word. Both spheres are God’s spheres of revelation and both truths must be compatible. If they are in conflict, somebody is wrong. It may be the theologian or it may be the science because we are fallible human beings interpreting infallible revelation.”
The young earth view holds that the Genesis record should be read as a historical narrative. Often cited on a young earth side is Psalm 11:3, “If the foundation be destroyed, what shall a righteous man do?” Many believe questioning the first chapter of the first book of the Bible is questioning the groundwork of the Gospel. The age of earth is calculated at about 6,000 to 10,000 years old from the genealogies of Adam to Abraham, and from Abraham to now (Mortenson, 2011). According to the Genesis record, God created Adam on the sixth day. Most Christian and secular scholars agree on this point, totaling the dates between Adam and Abraham from Genesis 5 and 11 to about 2,000 years (Grigg, 2003, p. 13-15). In addition, in Exodus 20, God gives the establishment of a workweek. He says, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth.” This verse parallels man’s week to God’s creation week. God gives a commandment to the Israelites to work six days and rest on the seventh, because He created in six days.
Archbishop James Ussher lists the calculations of 32 chronologists’ age of the earth based on the Bible. The average date is 4045 B.C., dating the earth to about 6,000 years (1658). Descendants of Noah were scattered after the Tower of Babel incident. Cultural discrepancies could be expected in calculating the age of the earth, however, many cultures’ calculations range close to Ussher’s, including: Israel and Judea, India, Babylon, Vatican, Samaria, Mayan, Spain, Egypt, Persia and Germany (Young, 1996).
Old earth defenders believe Genesis is poetic and no chronological information is given (Morris & Morris, 1989). Christian geologist Davis Young defends the day-age theory, arguing that the seventh age of rest from creation is still going on, yet he accepts creationism (Morris & Morris, 1989, p. 9-11). Since the seventh day does not end with, “and the morning and the evening were the seventh day,” like the first six days in Genesis 1, Young believes in overlapping creation days, perhaps lasting over 15 billion years each (Morris & Morris, p. 12). In contrast, Morris (1989) points out that the verbs, “rested,” “completed” and “finished” in Genesis 2:2-3 are past tense, so since it already happened we cannot be living in the seventh age. Young admits that the literal six-day Biblical interpretation is the most reasonable and legitimate, but his reason for rejecting it, along with the flood geology, is based on geological research, not Biblical (Morris & Morris 1989). David Snoke believes the Bible is without flaw and that the old earth view is a valid, conservative and orthodox interpretation. Snoke (2006) says Christians “should not be so quick to dismiss the day age argument and decide the old earth view is liberal.”
In the first chapters of Genesis, the Hebrew word for “day” that is used over 2,300 times in the Old Testament is “yom” (Neyman, 2005). According to Neyman (2005), it is not always translated as an ordinary 24-hour day, just as words have multiple meanings in English; context determines the meanings. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (1980), “[Yom] can denote: 1. the period of light (as contrasted with the period of darkness), 2. the period of 24 hours, 3. a general vague ‘time,’ 4. a ‘point of time.’” There are 67 instances where the word “yom” is translated into the English word for time (E.g. Genesis 4:3, Deuteronomy 10:10, 1 Kings 11:42), and there are eight instances “yom” is used to denote an “age” (Genesis 18:11, Joshua 23:1, Zechariah 8:4) (Neyman, 2005). However, in all the scriptural instances, about 400 total, that “yom” precedes a number as it does in Genesis 1, it refers to a 24-hour day (Menton, 2017). Essentially, any time the Old Testament mentions a number followed by “day,” such as 400 days or 6 days, it is interpreted as a single 24- hour period. The only time this type of context is questioned is in Genesis 1.
Many Christians refuse to accept the idea that God created a universe that was
dying. According to Ham (2014) believing in billions of years means believing in bloodshed before the Fall and blaming God for death and bloodshed. In Genesis 1, God says his creations were good, and Romans 5:12 says man brought sin into the world. There was no disease or death until God cursed the ground in Genesis 3, and animals and humans were originally vegetarians until God permitted meat eating after the flood in Genesis 9. When one looks at animals today, there are sharks and alligators devouring each other and sometimes people. The old earth view says the fossil record, which has evidence of brain tumors, cancer and animals eating each other, was laid down billions of years before man (Ham, 2014). In his article, “Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople,” Timothy Keller addresses the danger of assuming death before the Fall of man:
“One of the greatest barriers to belief in God is the problem of suffering and evil in the world. Why, people ask, did God create a world in which violence, pain and death are endemic? The answer of traditional theology is—he didn’t. He created a good world but also gave human beings free will, and through their disobedience and ‘Fall’, death and suffering came into the world. The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution” (2010).
Public school textbooks, secular museums, documentaries on television and secular professors are in unison teaching an old earth argument: 15 million years ago a big bang started the universe, stars formed 10 billion years ago, the sun 5 billion years ago and man developed from ape-like creatures over millions of years (Ham, Chaffey, Edwards, & Mortenson, 2013, p. 8). Christian scientist Brad Harrub (2011) rejects an old earth and the day age theory. He refers to Genesis 1 that says plants were created on day three, and insects weren’t created until day six. If these days were ages, it would be very difficult for plant life to survive because plants need bees to pollinate. Without animals, plants do not produce new roots and have limited ability for nutrient absorption (Lambers, 2005).
Another reason one might reject an old earth view is the population rate. According to Keene (1995), population is doubling every 35 years. If there were two humans in the beginning, and the population doubled every 35 years for one million years, the total is 10^5,000 (Harrub, 2011). This total accounts for disease, famine and war. Harrub (2011) says it has been estimated that the entire universe can hold a population of 10^100, and regarding a young earth creationist view, he says, “If there were two humans in the beginning 6,000 years ago, the calculation arrives at 8.34 billion people. We currently have just under 7 billion. The global flood that sent population back to eight could explain the discrepancy.”
The scientific evidence is telling of both an old and young earth view; one can make the scientific evidence fit either argument. I tend to take a young earth view on the age of the earth. I Corinthians 14:33 says God is not the author of confusion. I believe God will answer those who ask Him to reveal the truth. Moses was not an astronomer, Peter was not a paleontologist and Christians do not have to have a doctorate to understand the Word of God. The Bible is infallible and the Gospel is cross-cultural, timeless and understandable to all. Christians have a duty to search the Scriptures daily and stand ready to give an answer. He reveals truth, and all truth is His truth.
Anderson, B: Old-Earth, Young-Earth Creationist Models
Ham, K., Chaffey, T., Edwards, B., & Mortenson, T.: (2013) Six days: the age of the Earth and the decline of the church.
Harrub, B. (2011): Evidence for a Young Earth – Convicted
Keller, T. (2010). Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople (Rep.)
Ken Ham on the Age of the Earth [Interview by K. Ham](2014, January 28)
Klinghoffer, D. (2014). Stephen Meyer’s Dangerous Idea: Counsels Theistic Evolutionists and Others to “Do Their Homework” on the Design Question
Lambers, H., & Colmer, T. D. (2005). Root physiology: From gene to function. Dordrecht: Springer; McMullin, E. (2005). The church and Galileo; Menton, D. (2017). What a Difference a Day Makes!
Meyer, S., Horton, M., & Sproul, R. (2014). Should Christians Divide over the Age of the Earth? [Interview];
Morris, H. M., & Morris, J. (1989). Science, scripture, and the young earth: an answer to current attacks on the Biblical doctrines of recent creation and the global flood
Mortenson, T. (2007) Why Shouldn’t Christians Accept Millions of Years?
Mortenson, T. (2011). Young-Earth Creationist View Summarized And Defended
Neyman, G. (2005). Old Earth Creation Science; Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (1996), referring to William Hales, A New Analysis of Chronology and Geography, History and Prophecy, vol. 1 (1830), p. 210
Russell Grigg, “Meeting the Ancestors,” Creation, pp. 13–15;
Snoke, D. (2006). Biblical Case for an Old Earth
Ussher, J. (1658). The Annals of the World