The age of the earth and why it matters1
From time to time, we meet people who reject evolution and would call themselves ‘creationists’, but who, nevertheless, accept that the earth and its rocks are millions of years old. In some cases, they feel that identifying as ‘young earth creationists’ would cause them to appear foolish and that this would undermine the credibility of their Christian witness. In responding to this, I believe that it is a mistake to begin with science. Instead, I find a better approach is to talk about God, His nature and glory, His original, perfect creation and how this changed due to our sin. This helps people to see why an ancient earth cannot be reconciled with the Bible’s teaching.
The glory of God
God’s love, holiness, justice and wisdom are beyond telling. Such is His glory that anyone who actually saw Him might expect to die. When God’s goodness passed in front of Moses, God had to provide protection, placing him in a cleft in a rock and covering him with His hand (Exodus 33:19–23). In heaven, God is worshipped incessantly, day and night (Revelation 4:8). The worshippers prostrate themselves before Him proclaiming, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11, emphasis added).
From this we can conclude that the world that God originally made must have been something very special. Nothing but a Creation characterised by perfection, harmony, beauty and loveliness could have done justice to such a Creator. We can be sure of this because the Holy Spirit Himself testified that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). There would have been no disease, carnivory or death; and the wolf would have lived with the lamb as will be the case again one day, when Christ finally restores all things (Isaiah 11:6).
Needless to say, we don’t live in such a world today and, in the third chapter of Genesis, we are told why. Representing the whole of humanity, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and embraced evil. Consequently, God pronounced judgment: women would now give birth in pain, and food would be procured from the ground through painful toil (Genesis 3:16–17). At the same time, physical death entered the world: God said to Adam, “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Theologians refer to all this as the Fall. The creation fell due to our sin, and this is the Bible’s explanation for why the world is as it is today—why it’s now so full of terrible things like disease, suffering and death. This also explains why there are natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and why the animal kingdom is often predatory and violent.
The doctrine of ‘the Fall’ is very important because it enables Christians to answer atheists when they claim that there can’t be a good God as the Bible teaches because of all the suffering in the world. The Bible makes clear that such things were not part of God’s original creation and, therefore, He is not responsible for them; rather, man is. This answer only makes sense, however, if we accept the order of events taught in Genesis: An original perfect creation that God declared to be “very good” and which subsequently fell due to our sin. As soon as we place the fossil record before Adam, with all its testimony to a fallen world, we open the door to the charge that God is to blame for it.
When Adam disobeyed God, God cursed the ground and said, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Genesis 3:18), and Christ’s crown of thorns symbolised the cursed creation that He took upon Himself and redeemed. However, many assure us that fossilised thorns are found in rocks that are millions of years old. They say that these plants lived millions of years before man ever walked the earth—and therefore millions of years before anyone was around to sin. Well, did thorns come before or after sin? If we believe the Bible, they came after sin. If we believe what many tell us “science says”, then they came before sin. If so, then the Bible is wrong; and it matters because, if bad things existed before mankind sinned, isn’t God then responsible for them? And don’t atheists, then, have a point? Only by accepting biblical timescales and rejecting the view that the rocks are millions of years old can we safeguard the glory of God.
Many, however, don’t accept this and try to fit millions of years into the Bible. Some say that the days of creation were really long periods of time. Others say that there was a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Others put the gap between Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3. Still others argue that Genesis 1 is poetry and so can accommodate any view of the age of the earth. But why? Why do they argue in this way? I believe that, for many, the explanation is that they have been persuaded that ‘science’ is an unassailable authority and they have been persuaded that this unassailable authority has proven the world to be millions of years old. Hence they think that they must fit millions of years into the Bible somehow. But it’s surely bad theology. It must be because it puts the Fall before sin and makes God responsible for what is, in realty, the consequences of our disobedience.
The Bible should be its own interpreter
If we make Scripture the interpreter of Scripture we avoid all these problems. For example, in Exodus 20, God Himself confirms the correct understanding of Genesis 1. He said,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. … For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8–11).
Table 1 shows that there is a clear parallel between Genesis 1 and Exodus 20. Both are referring to the totality of creation, and Exodus 20 confirms that this took place in six ordinary 24 hour days.
Belief in a recent Creation is consistent with the teaching of Christ. In Mark 10:6 He said, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” Hence, Jesus put Adam and Eve at “the beginning” and not millions or billions of years after God had created the earth. The Apostle Paul taught the same. In Romans 1:20 he wrote, “For His [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world”. Here Paul makes clear that people have beheld God’s handiwork “since the creation of the world”, and again not millions or billions of years later. The writer to the Hebrews also put Adam’s Fall at the beginning. Arguing that Christ needed to die just once to obtain forgiveness of sins, he maintained that, otherwise, “He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 9:26, emphasis added).
What about science?
Science has shown the earth to be billions of years old only if we are selective about what evidence we accept and what we reject. It is true that a case can be made for an ancient earth from radiometric ‘dating’. However, one particular radiometric ‘dating’ method known as ‘carbon dating’ consistently indicates the earth to be young.2 In fact there are dozens of scientific observations supporting a belief in a recent creation.3 The discovery of preserved organic material in dinosaur fossils, for example, provides very strong evidence that these creatures roamed the earth just thousands of years ago.4
When scientific observations are contradictory, it is normal to conclude the science cannot provide the answer. However, when it comes to evolution and the age of the earth, many people do not do this. Instead, they filter the facts by the paradigm that asserts that ‘evolution is true’ and therefore ‘the earth must be very old’.
The age of the earth is not a side issue as the glory of God and the authority of the Bible are at stake. Scripture clearly teaches a recent creation and this view is not in conflict with science. Christians can stand on these on these truths and confidently proclaim the true Gospel of Christ.
References and notes
- Based on an article that first appeared in the CMI-UK/Europe Prayer News, October 2016. Return to text.
- Batten, D., ed., The Creation Answers Book, ch. 4, 3rd ed., Creation Book Publishers, USA, 2009; https://dl0.creation.com/articles/p055/c05583/chapter4.pdf. Return to text.
- Batten, D., Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe; creation.com/age-of-the-earth. Return to text.
- Smith, C., Dinosaur soft tissue: In seeming desperation, evolutionists turn to iron to preserve the idea of millions of years; creation.com/dinosaur-soft-tissue. Return to text.