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Objecting to a biblical age for the earth

Published: 4 August 2012 (GMT+10)
NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Dr Laurence O. from the United Kingdom writes in response to our article Age of the earth, and CMI’s Dr Don Batten responds.

I am a PhD physicist and also a committed Christian. Having read your article I am shocked at the effort that has gone into defending what I consider to be a quite unreasonable position. Perhaps you have seen the Wikepedia website that discusses the age of the earth? There you will see that the earth has been aged by a large number of techniques, and the accuracy of the result (4.54 billion years) has been established to an uncertainty of 1%. The earliest estimates of the age of the earth were made before radioisotopes were discovered or the theory of evolution was thought of. These estimates (based on techniques such as the rate of cooling of an initially molten earth and the layering of rock strata) varied between 75,000 years and 96 million years. These would be underestimates because they did not take into account the heat produced by radioactive decay. To my knowledge, no scientist has produced a peer-reviewed paper that measures the age of the earth in thousands of years. The references you quote are negative in that they strive to find reasons why the accepted methods should not be believed rather than make a positive contribution to the problem of measuring the age of the earth.

It is remarkable to see the extent to which humans can go to justify a preconceived notion. We have seen Christians make a stand on unjustifiable grounds before; for example when they believed that the sun orbited the earth and that the earth was the centre of the universe. The assertion that the earth can be reliably dated at 6000 years by biblical genealogy alone, and in the face of modern science, is surely rather childish, and it undermines the authority of the same folks who are trying to spread the gospel of Christ.

I am a firm believer in evolution. Evolution is a process, not an alternative to God. It is the process whereby life has progressed since its creation. Understanding the development of life is no reason to disbelieve in its originator, so I see no basis for Christians to see the theory of evolution as a threat to their faith. The first verse of Genesis is clear and factual. It states: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. The following verses are an attempt to explain how it was done within the language and understanding of the time. It was not intended to be a scientific text for the present day. The same is true of the flood story where the intention was to convince of the power of God and his mercy. We do not need to believe that the flood covered the entire globe (it could not have because there is not enough water on the planet to do it), or that dinosaurs went into the ark (how did Noah catch two Tyranosaurus’s?) or that kangaroos went into the ark (Noah would have had a long trip to Australia and back?). We need to have a grown up view of the Bible and not to try to make God small enough to fit into a box of our own making. We must accept the conclusions of science that have come from the enquiring minds that God created within us.

Dr Laurence O.

CMI’s Dr Don Batten responds:

Dear Laurence,

Thanks for your comments.

It does appear that the only article you have looked at on creation.com is the one on the 101 evidences for the age of the earth. As a Christian PhD biologist who once believed in evolution and the billions of years story (see Harvesting real fruit), I can understand how you could be a bit nonplussed by our stand if you are not aware of the arguments. However, I plead with you to do some more research on our website to understand why we take the stand that we do. I believe if you love Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour (and therefore you will also respect the Bible as His Word) that you will find that we are not troglodytes and not illogical or unscientific and you could even find our arguments liberating (as many have, including scientists with PhDs in physics, such as Dr Jim Mason). There are many PhD physicists like Dr Mason who agree with us.

We are well aware of arguments for an old age of the earth, and the other arguments you allude to, but it is clear that you are not aware of the arguments from a biblical creation point of view. I have never been impressed by the argument from ‘consensus’ as a sound argument because again and again the consensus (which ‘peer review’ protects) proves to be wrong. Michael Crichton wrote about this spurious argument of consensus. Science advances when people dare to question the consensus, not when they follow it like sheep. You need to show where our arguments are wrong, not hide behind ‘peer review’.

You raise many arguments that have been answered in detail on creation.com, which has over 8,000 articles, including many in-depth ones, so I am not going to repeat all those answers (one of the conditions of commenting is that you have made an effort to see if your points have been already answered on creation.com; clearly you have not done this). Articles linked from the one you read explore further as to why the 4.54 billion years (±1%) is not what it seems. A good overview of the history of the specific ‘dating’ of the earth is Dr Tas Walker’s Review of The Dating Game: One Man’s Search for the Age of the Earth by Cherry Lewis. This alone should cause you to wonder about your confidence in this ‘consensus’ about this matter. Clearly, radiometric ‘dating’ is not an objective (rigorously scientific) process, but depends on a raft of assumptions. By the way, it is incorrect that the earth has been shown to be 4.54 billion years old by “a large number of techniques”. For more on radiometric dating: Radiometric dating Q&A.

and How old is the earth? - Dr. Jonathon Sarfati
“The earliest estimates of the age of the earth were made before radioisotopes were discovered or the theory of evolution was thought of.”

This is correct if Charles Darwin invented the idea of biological evolution, but it was thought of a long time before Darwin.

“These estimates (based on techniques such as the rate of cooling of an initially molten earth and the layering of rock strata) varied between 75,000 years and 96 million years.”

I wonder if you can see any assumptions (“preconceived notions”) that have to be made here to do this ‘dating’ and how they would affect the result? Note what the Bible says, that the earth was initially covered in water; it was not a molten blob (Genesis 1:2, 2 Peter 3:5). Does anyone know that the earth started as a molten blob? If it was covered in water to start with, then this ‘dating’ is worthless. As I pointed out in my article that has stimulated you to comment, all dating methods depend on assumptions about the history of the world (including the radio-isotope ones).

“The references you quote are negative in that they strive to find reasons why the accepted methods should not be believed rather than make a positive contribution to the problem of measuring the age of the earth.”

It is important to show that there is something seriously wrong with the widely accepted methods before anyone will consider an alternative, so I don’t see this as a valid criticism. You have to show that these criticisms are unsound, not just dismiss them because they are ‘negative’. But the list does include various ‘clocks’ that put upper limits to the age of the earth. And there are a number that give an actual estimate (such as the RATE research on helium and argon retention in zircons).

I will point you to some other key areas to begin to explore:

  • Why believing in evolution is not an option for a Christian: Creation: why it matters—If you are consistent in your rejection of the historicity of Genesis, then you also undermine the basis of the Gospel.
  • Creation compromises—why the various attempts to reinterpret the Bible to make it fit the secular view of the history of the world all fail.
  • Genesis: the Bible’s authors believed it was history (not just the first verse). There is a serious problem with your attempt to regard Genesis 1:1 as factual but the following verses with the details to be some sort of myth/camp-fire story. Undoubtedly you do this to fit in with the modern secular view of history, but that secular view does not regard Genesis 1:1 as factual either. If Genesis 1:2ff is some sort of ‘myth’, why should anyone believe Genesis 1:1 is factual?
  • Regarding the Flood, Jesus regarded it as a real event that “came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17). Was Jesus mistaken? The Apostle Peter also commented on it as a real historical event (2 Peter 3). See also: Genesis: Myth or History?

“It is remarkable to see the extent to which humans can go to justify a preconceived notion.”

Indeed so. The idea of the earth being old was not derived from data, but was a preconceived notion of opponents of the Bible like gentleman farmer James Hutton and lawyer Charles Lyell. Prior to their manipulation of data to fit their preconceived notions and its widespread acceptance, people from many nations believed the written historical records that put the earth’s history at less than 10,000 years.

Everything to do with historical interpretations is driven by presuppositions (preconceived notions) and the data does not ‘speak for itself’ but has to be interpreted in an existing framework of thinking (see “It’s not science”). For example: the completely unsupported conjecture that life made itself, or that the universe made itself via the big bang, or that the many incredible nano-machines made themselves (e.g., ATP synthase)—just physics and chemistry operating over eons of time (no intelligence allowed!). See more of the fundamental problems for biological evolution in 15 Questions for Evolutionists, which illustrate the uselessness of the ‘faith’ that flies as evolutionary science.

“I am a firm believer in evolution. Evolution is a process, not an alternative to God.”

Evolution is very much the process of how everything came to be without God. God is an unnecessary appendage to evolutionary thinking; that’s the whole point of it; to do away with the need for divine intervention. It is the atheists’ creation myth; that’s why atheists are so passionate about evolution (even forming organisations to defend it and protect it from criticism). As their ‘hero of the faith’ Richard Dawkins said, “Darwin enabled him to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” For atheists, evolution (everything made itself without the need for a Creator at any stage) is an axiom, a given. For them, evolution is all about God—all about dispensing with Him. Evolutionary philosopher of science, Michael Ruse admitted that evolution is an alternative religion to Christianity. It’s important for Christians to be aware of this connection so they won’t be hoodwinked or intimidated into thinking that this is a ‘science versus religion’ thing. As something that replaces and therefore opposes faith in Jesus Christ as Creator, Saviour and coming King, Christians should be opposing evolution, not accommodating it (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Christians who give ground on evolution to the atheists have eliminated one of the greatest apologetics tools there is, as per Romans 1:18ff. If evolution is true, then people do have an excuse because God’s attributes are not seen in creation (“evolution did it”).

As for our views impeding evangelism, see: Biblical creation impedes evangelism? We find again and again that Christians who give ground on evolution to the informed non-believer get ‘shot down’. We have seen this recently with Dawkins debating prominent church leaders. He makes the obvious point that no one should want to worship a god who was so cruel to use evolution as a means of creation. See: The god of evolution is diabolical. He refuses to debate anyone who is competent to go toe-to-toe with him on evolution because he knows that he already has a huge advantage in a debate with a theistic evolutionist. See Some questions for theistic evolutionists and ‘progressive creationists’. Philosophically, if you accept ‘scientific’ naturalism, the difference between what you believe and what an atheist believes is only that you have added an unnecessary hypothesis (God); see What all atheists have to believe.

The objections from the church of the day to the earth orbiting the sun arose not because of the Bible but because the science of the day had been taken captive by the prevailing philosophy of the day, which was Aristotelian/Ptolemaic (Greek/pagan), coming from the Jesuit academics. It is a lesson for theistic evolutionists to heed, to not make the Bible captive to the currently fashionable (pagan) evolutionary worldview (‘science’). See the real story of Galileo:

Your objections to the Flood (and many others) have been answered: Flood Q&A.

Your objection that we are putting God in a box of our own making is, I believe, misplaced. We are constraining our thinking to what God has told us in the Bible (which we can know from the well-established principles of hermeneutics). We strive not to make God fit anything of our own making; that is idolatry. Surely that is what God expects of us: to respect His revelation (the Bible) enough to believe what it says, rather than trying to make it fit the prevailing godless world-view of the day.

“We must accept the conclusions of science that have come from the enquiring minds that God created within us.”

If you are going to be consistent in applying this approach (hermeneutic) to what you believe in the Bible, you will believe nothing of the miracles, such as Lazarus rising from the dead (‘impossible’ according to your science) or even the resurrection of Jesus. Is this what it means to have a “grown up view of the Bible”?

I think I have given you enough to get you started. I hope you will make the effort, as I have to help you get going.

With kind regards,
Don Batten