Old Earth/Young Earth

Is the earth 6,000 years old or over 4 billion? That is the question that has been dominating my study time this week. It is at the heart of any discussion of evolution or creation. In many ways the Bible only works if you take it literally and evolution only works if you have billions of years for things to evolve. So the age of the earth is at the heart of this debate.

And since it is so essential you can find people from all spectrum of science and religion with all manners of agendas and quite varied levels of craziness trying to defend their ideas of the origins of the world. I have been trying to wade through it all to find some real scholarship that at least acknowledges its bias even if it isn’t without bias.

In my readings I have discovered lots of new things (like a reason for your appendix) and have been trying to distill it all down into a few hour long lessons. The biggest struggle is to try to present information that some people are thirsty to hear, but others don’t care about, in a manner that isn’t intolerably boring. I don’t think I have found the balance yet, but maybe before tomorrow night I will.

7 thoughts on “Old Earth/Young Earth

  • July 13, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    Hey! I have been following your blog for a couple of months and this post popped out to me because I enjoy the conversation between science and Christianity. I hope that you take my questions in a conversational manner because I would enjoy exchanging ideas with you on this topic.

    1. Do you really believe "In many ways the Bible only works if you take it literally?" Do you read the whole Bible literally or only particular parts? I assume that you would read the Genesis Creation literally. If so then why? What would be lost if you didn’t read it literally?

    2. Do you really think that the age of the earth is at the heart of the issue for evolutionary theory and creationism debate? What about God? Isn’t God really the core issue for this debate?

    3. I would be interested to hear some of the bias arguments that you have come across on either side of the the evolution and creationism conversation.

    If we yield ourselves to reading the Scripture both in its historical context and Biblical context then with healthy fear through the guidance of the Spirit we can discern the theological implications of the text. And those implications don’t seem to be at odds with evolution. In Genesis, we profess theological convictions about the nature of reality. In evolutionary theory we confess empirical observations about the nature of reality. The two are not opposed but merely epistemological cohorts. However, the two must always be in conversation if we are to continue to seek truth.

    Let me know what you think.

  • July 13, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    Have you checked out Answers in Genesis? I’m still not sure exactly what to think about old vs young, but he does make a compelling argument in saying that there was no death before sin, therefore nothing could have died before mankind was around, therefore the idea that God made the Earth millions of years ago and guided evolution is false.

    I’m interested to hear what others have to say.


  • July 14, 2010 at 2:50 AM

    I think I lost someone’s comment in the approval process, I didn’t actually read it all, I just read enough to realize it wasn’t span and I thought I hit approve. If it was your comment please repost.

  • July 14, 2010 at 3:31 AM

    1) The Bible, like God, is something that you must take on faith, but by faith I see it as a literal history of the world. If not, then there is no way to determine what is literal history and what isn’t.

    When I say that in faith I take the Bible literally I mean that I take it as a history of God’s involvement in the world and that nothing that is presented in its pages can be false. That is different from saying that every command for the Israelites people is a command that we should follow today, but I must take the Bible as TRUTH or else it all sort of unravels. When I begin to say that God was just giving a poetic idea of how he made the world in Genesis then it isn’t a far step from saying that God was just writing an allegory about sacrifice when it comes to the Christ story.

    2) Yes, the main debate between Christians and non-Christians is always a matter of God. Someone who sees the world as a product of evolution is by nature presupposing that God doesn’t exist, and someone who see the world as God’s creation is presupposing that he did.

    But the age of the earth is vital because it determines whether or not the Bible is telling the truth. Evolution requires millions of years. The Biblical timeline requires a few thousand years.

    For a long time I thought that the Bible record didn’t contradict an old earth theory. After all 1000 years is like a day to God and all. In my head I just rationalized that there was something going on before Adam and Eve that we didn’t realize and that was where all these fossils and such appeared.

    The problem with that has to do with the Fall and sin. When Adam sinned the earth was broken. It wasn’t just the first couple that had problems, but the world as a whole. Sin enters the world and as a result death enters the world as well. But an old earth theory of the world assumes that there was death and decay for millions of years before that first sin.

    We see in the new testament the parallel between sin entering the world through one man and being atoned for by one man (Jesus). That doesn’t work the same if there was already death and decay in the world before Adam. (and yes I have read much of Answers in Genesis)

    There are lots of Christians who like to teach that there is proof of "Intelligent Design" in our universe and let that be enough. (For all practical purposes I think I was one up until recently). They like to speak of God making the big bang happen and being present in the billions of years that shaped our world into what it is today. But that view disregards the creation story of the Bible, and to a certain extent disregards the salvation narrative which begins with God making clothing of animal skins for Adam and Even (so that we get the first case of death because of sin).

    Trust me, just a few weeks ago I was a creation agnostic. I was content that God made the world and didn’t really care how it happened through billions of years or just a few thousand.

    But the more that I look at this issue I see that I can’t claim that I base my life off the word of God and then choose not to believe what it says. How can I believe that Jesus is God’s son and be willing to lay down my life for that belief, but not believe that God told us the truth when it comes to creation.

    I guess that is the heart of it for me. Either what the Bible says is TRUE really is true or it isn’t. The Bible doesn’t leave room for middle ground. There lots of theological discussions that we can have over why God does things the way that he does, but we can’t read Genesis and conclude that the Bible teaches anything other than a very young earth timeline. At the very least the Bible speaks of a very small amount of time that people have been around (even less than evolutionary theory).

    One more thing. I don’t want to claim that if someone takes a scientific view of the world’s creation then they can’t follow God and be a Christian. In fact I feel exactly the opposite. God meets people where they are and changes their heart and calls them to follow Him. That belief in God as father and in the atoning sacrifice of His sins is the key. After that our life with God here on earth will fluctuate just like any relationship, but for me, as I have walked with God I have learned in countless ways to trust Him and in what He says. Since God has always proved true for me, I choose to believe that His word is true as well.

    (OK, that got to rambling a bit there, sorry)

    3) I don’t have an extreme notions on hand because I didn’t tend to bookmark those sites. There were people who were so adamantly opposed to Intelligent Design that they refused to even discuss things with someone who brought up the idea of "what if" and there are lots of crazy Christians out there that blame Darwin for the sins of the world.

    I am soooo not good at apologetics. I think the main reason why is that following God for me has always been a paradox that I just chose to believe. When it comes to teaching my students I have one big goal in this lesson: You can believe in the Biblical account of creation without turning off your brain because there is more than one way to look at the evidence that we have for the origins of the world.

    In the end I hope that is something that they can take and eventually discover in their own lives the beauty of following a God who doesn’t always make sense, but who is always faithful.

  • July 14, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    Still struggling with what I am teaching tonight. I really want to present the debate without adding a great deal of my opinion. But that never works and is ultimately only a cop out. Hope things go better than I am feeling right now.

  • July 15, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Thanks for your reply. I am sorry that I was not more attentive to your post date in order to have a conversation before your lesson. I pray that God guided you in teaching the lesson and that your teens were captivated by God’s Creation.

    1.) If I am reading your reply correctly then I think that we hold some different positions on the definitions of "truth" and the doctrine of inspiration. I hold a soft epistemology in that I believe that humans may encounter truth and know it but that our words and imagination will never be able to "define" reality as it is. Therefore, faith is always needed when we talk about human knowledge.

    I hold that the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Scripture. It ensures the humanity of the person to stay intact (i.e. freedom is not diminished) while on the other hand God is inspiring the human to remember and write a true description of the revelation of God’s activity in the world. You wrote, "When I begin to say that God was just giving a poetic idea of how he made the world in Genesis then it isn’t a far step from saying that God was just writing an allegory about sacrifice when it comes to the Christ story." That seems to indicate that you believe that God in some way "dictates" or controls the human in remembering and writing the story.

    We also hold a slightly different position of the purpose of Scripture. It seems, that for you, Scripture must be true about all things (science, sociology, history, psychology, anthropology, art, etc.) And it seems that your qualifier of "true" is the modern definition of truth as a definitive description of reality as it is (correct me on this point if it is not your view of truth). I believe that Scripture is inerrant in revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation. What do you think?

    2.) I want to play devils advocate a little on this point:) You said "But an old earth theory of the world assumes that there was death and decay for millions of years before that first sin." On a literal interpretation of scripture I wonder, Why did Adam and Eve need to eat in the garden? Doesn’t eating assume the process of death and decay? Also, why did the plants produce seeds. Didn’t Paul write "Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies." Wouldn’t seeds indicate a reproductive system that includes decay? I know that this is picking but it is a problem that you run into with a literal reading of the text.

    Also, what do you do with the creation narratives of Genesis with a literal reading? Specifically how do you harmonize two creation stories (Gen. 1 and Gen. 2). Check out this series by Peter Enns on it:

    3.) I appreciate your openness to the reality of the conversation between evolution and creation. What God did to create is a mystery that we will not know in a definitive sense. But the essential piece for Christians is that we believe the Triune God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. It is hear that I think we join our hands and declare our commitment to the world as brothers in Christ. And at the end of the day, this is the thing that we need to keep in front of us. We are co-workers in God’s mission to redeem the world!

    Blessings to you.

  • July 16, 2010 at 3:32 AM

    Yeah, I think we have a different view of the inspiration of Scripture. I would hold to the view that everything presented in the text actually happened. In other words, even if it is something like the history of the world that God inspired Moses to write, it is on its face what happened. Of course the problem becomes how many different ways you can look at the simple language of the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an exact representation of what God wanted to write.

    With that being said, the Bible isn’t a history book, science book, or anything other than the story of God’s interaction with His people. It is a love story written by God to let us know who He is, what He has done, and what is expected of us if we are to follow Him. If God wanted to give us bullet points that answered all the questions of life he could have done that, but we would have missed out on the story, and it is in the story that we can discover the heart of God.

    As for the necessity of eating and seeds before the fall that is a much longer debate, but one that honestly I am honestly not researched enough to even approach. Honestly, I had no clue that there was such vehement debate among Christians on this subject. It wasn’t until I started looking for answer to teach my students that I found the constant web rebuttals that the separate Christian camps have been throwing back and forth at each other. It makes me shake my head to see some of the fighting.

    But I do have two thoughts, one that is a just a theological thought and one that is just silly. We will take them in reverse order.

    God created Adam and Eve so that they would need to eat because eating is amazingly fun and God liked them enough to give them the pleasure of food.

    The better thought has to do with seeds. I love the fact that the creator makes everything to reflect His nature, and in Genesis 1, the only thing that we know about the nature of God is that He is a creator, so what does he do? He makes everything so it will also create. Everything that God created (plants on up that is) are created to create.

    Anyway, I am taking a three day break from creation thoughts. I will get back to it on Monday and probably have a whole new idea that I will defend then.


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