A reader recently asked me, in a rather confrontational way, what I believed about the age of the earth. Because I did not want this website to become involved in unnecessary controversy, I answered his question truthfully, but not fully, that I am agnostic on the issue ― I don’t know the age of the earth. On further reflection, I have decided that the question deserves a more complete answer even at the risk of offending someone. There is no short explanation of how I arrived at that answer, but I have cut the explanation down to the bare minimum in the paragraphs below, so if you are interested in the question, please read on.
The issue of the age of the earth, in itself, is of little significance. What difference to our daily lives does it make if the earth is six thousand, or four billion years old? These issues that have become entangled with it are of supreme importance however: the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic creation account versus Pantheistic, and atheistic-naturalistic cosmology, and stemming from those diverse cosmological sources arise all the issues of human life ― the nature of man, of God, of human relations, of law and government. I will return to those issues later.
Unfortunately the age of the earth has become a major, and public, battleground between not only contending ideologies, but individuals and groups who have made careers stoking this controversy. The conflicting contentions of the partisans have caused a polarization to positions that may not be supported by facts. It is to one of those issues that I am addressing the following comments.
Some people may have the impression that a true Bible believing Christian has to be a “Young Earth Creationist” (holding the view that the six days of creation in Genesis are literal 24 hour periods, and the total age of the earth is about six thousand years based upon the computations of Bishop Usher). That impression simply is not true. I am a born again sinner saved by the grace of God through the blood of Christ Bible thumping Fundamentalist, and still, I believe those “days” are not intended to be taken as literal days, and the earth is much older than six thousand years. My views fall closer to, but not necessarily fully within, the “Old Earth Creationist” camp, which generally accepts the latest ‘scientific’ findings on the age of the earth. Many, and I suspect most, Christians, hold some such views on the age of the earth, but the vehemence of the Young Earthers’ battles with professional atheists obscures that fact. And I fully understand, and sympathize with those who admire the Young Earth champions, even though I can’t agree with them.
You may wonder why I am so sympathetic with something I don’t believe in. It is precisely because of the havoc wreaked upon the world by those professional atheists who have engineered an illusion of incompatibility between science and the Christian faith, and the resulting destruction of our society, of human value, human life, sound education, and assault upon personal freedom endowed by our Creator. For generations now, our Christian culture has, in general, meekly accepted their abuse. Now comes the Young Earthers with the pugnacious temerity to challenge the atheistic orthodoxy of government, academia, and media ― hooray for them! But 24 hour creation “days” is not the hill to die on, and I would not want seekers after the Christian faith to be dissuaded by this false impression, so please consider the following brief observations.
1. A Young Earth cosmology was never a criterion of the Christian faith. Many of the early church fathers, some who died for the faith, held views contrary to that. The fundamental creeds of the church are silent on that issue; they deal with belief in the nature and mission of Jesus the Christ. A diversity of opinion on the issue of the Genesis ‘day’ has always been accepted in the church, and it should be today. I am demonstrating that Christian freedom right now.
2. Perhaps more to the real point of the concern ― it would be wrong to assume that being ‘liberal’ rather than ‘literal’ on the creation days implies any lack of support for true Biblical doctrines such as creation by God of the cosmos, of the fall of man, and of the redemption by Christ.
I have not forgotten the origin of mankind―special creation or natural evolution? Evolution, let’s be specific: Darwinian origin of species by natural selection of random mutations, is considered to depend upon vast amounts of time for its credibility, hence much of the opposition to an old earth. Age is not the issue here however. Darwinism’s only real support isn’t found in science, but in religion; in the rebellion of man against God, and man’s delusional attempts to hide from God, as described in Genesis. In thousands of years or trillions of years Darwinist Evolution is a fantasy, one denied by the fossil record and by modern biological discoveries (despite the outrageous lies of its proponents). I won’t try to prove that assertion here, I am merely suggesting that Evolution should be taken off the table in the age of the earth argument. I will have few words more to say about the creation of mankind later, and for those who do want to pursue the truth about Darwin’s speculation, I make a few recommendations in a post-script.
3. As a Bible believer, I am committed to faith in its message, and I find that it does not command a literal six day creation, or a young earth. The Hebrew word translated as ‘day’ is used in several ways even in the creation account; for a 24 hour earth rotational cycle, for the daylight portion of the cycle, and for an indefinite period of time related to some particular event. There are many other such words used in different ways in different contexts throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, as there are in most, if not all, languages. Insistence upon understanding Genesis days only as 24 hour periods is purely arbitrary.
4. Furthermore, if we assume that the writer of the book of Genesis is logical and factual, which I do, then a 24 hour day creates many unnecessary inconsistencies in the text (not to mention with the geological record). For instance, the sun, apparently, was not created until the fourth day. I am at a loss to understand 24 hour days without the sun; both as light giver and gravitational center of the solar system.
It would be naive to assume that the writer of Genesis, with or without divine inspiration, was so ignorant that he didn’t understand the rising and setting of the sun as denoting ‘day’. The Bible, in fact, displays surprising understanding of natural processes, for instance, in Ecclesiastes 1:7 we see the hydrologic cycle described: All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. We see that bit of science paired with a complex metaphorical comment on life in the next verse: All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The text and the very grammatical structure of the book reveals a highly advanced culture, intellectually, if not in technology. We must look beyond these obvious seeming contradictions to understand it.
5. We have two great impediments to solving the riddle of the creation ‘day’. We have to remember that Genesis was written thousands of years ago in a largely alien language and culture. Beyond that it was either dictated by some angelic being of whom we know nothing, or was copied from some older source of which we also know nothing.
The second impediment is far greater than the distance in language and culture, it is the distance between God and man. Man is a prisoner of the Fourth Dimension ―Time; God is not. One of the cardinal attributes of God is that, as Creator, He stands outside the physical universe and time itself. Timelessness is beyond my understanding, and any who say they understand it are either liars or fools, and probably both. A precise technical explanation of the Creation act, even to modern science would be pointless, so we can expect only a very abridged account.
6. If these ‘days’ are not to be taken ‘literally’ as of 24 hour periods, then what are the alternative views consistent with belief in the true revelation of the Bible? There are many theories on that subject, too many and too complicated for this short commentary, so I will touch upon them only in a brief and general way.
There is the suggestion that the days were not meant to refer to sequential time periods at all, but some other organizing principle; several have been suggested.
A more popular view of the Creation account is as allegory. That view is held by many Christians in broad and not well defined terms. To understand that, we must separate allegory from myth; they are not the same. An allegory expresses truth, one might say it universalizes a truth. We seldom think of them as such, but the parables of Jesus are allegories: the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the sower and the four types of soil. These are all stories expressing truths, put in a form people can understand.
Then too, there is the fact that only God was present at the Creation, and if God is outside time, the whole creation was, from God’s perspective, (for lack of better terminology) instantaneous and simultaneous. In which case, the time periods would be artificial constructs to explain the creation in simple, human terms.
I cannot conceive of the acts of these ‘days’ being fully independent and consecutive, as a literal reading seems to make them, so ‘simultaneous’ seems to me to be a key ingredient, perhaps with the completion or milestone of some act being memorialized in each ‘day’.
Making the proper distinction between literal, allegorical, and…well, simply not understood is a challenge, but we must take the things we are sure of, and not let our journey be stymied by what we don’t understand.
7. Are there any arguments for an old earth within the Genesis account? Yes, I think so, one that comports perfectly with the geological record. I will delve briefly into that now.
The first command given to mankind (Gn. 2:28) is “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it”. It is God’s stated purpose to create a people for himself. So how did He go about it? Did He create six billion humans instantly? Well, no… and then again, yes, depending upon one’s perspective. To God, it was an instantaneous creation; to mankind, no. But the point is this, God accomplished his will through a process; natural procreation. The same can be said for “every living creature” (before the creation of man); “God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” Genesis 1:22. Any process takes time, some more than others.
So what other processes might God have set in motion that would give some hint of time? God knew the needs of his creation, and supplied us abundantly with balanced gravitational and centrifugal forces, sunshine, air, water; all of which required process. But there are other needs more in my line as an old geologist.
God knew that mankind, and the rest of the animal creation would need food. Genesis 2:5 reveals that there were plants before there was man “to till the ground”. So God had provided soil for his creation also. Very little grows on dry land without soil. But soil is the result of a geologic process. We can truthfully declare that God can instantly create soil out of nothing because God can do anything. But does that negate the necessity of a time consuming process? Surely we can balance that apparent discrepancy with the understanding that to God it was instantaneous, and man was not there to time it.
God knew that mankind would need energy resources beyond that supplied by the Sun. He also knew that the forests and fields would eventually be destroyed by the rising demand for fuel. So He has used time to provide us with vast forests, or at least their carbonized energy resources, stacked up, awaiting man’s need, and intelligence and ingenuity to develop. I think God is proud of his creation as they discover and use his bounteous provision to ‘subdue’ the earth. But the provision of coal resources required process, and process requires time.
Likewise with tools. Man was designed with the intelligence, ingenuity, and curiosity to need evermore, and ever more complex tools. His first simple tools were made of flint, or chert. Flint, at least the most widely used type, requires a lengthy process of weathering rock, concentration of silica in seabed sediments, crystallization into a mineral/rock, uplift and erosion so it would be available to primitive man. It is the same with iron ore, and the other metals and industrial minerals up to and including the ‘rare earth’ metals in such demand by the advanced technology required to supply the needs of billions of people; they all needed process and time.
Just a brief mention here about the origin of man. I believe in the special creation of mankind as God’s highest creation, but I see no substantive difference in special creation and the directed evolution of the human genome. As I said earlier, evolution by natural selection of random mutations is nonsense suitable only to hide from the truth of God’s legitimate authority as creator. If we concede that God uses time consuming processes to accomplish His will, then I can imagine the development of the human genome as a logical process of building upon, by divine intervention, the developing genetic code according His design. I am not wedded to that idea, but until some better explanation comes along is suits the purpose of satisfying my intellectual curiosity.
So here we have, at least to my mind, a Biblical justification for an old earth; time was needed for the accomplishment of God’s purpose. I don’t know how old earth is, but certainly much older than a few thousand years. I doubt the precise accuracy of some of the old earth models, including the ones accepted by most Old Earth Creationists. The Young Earthers have pointed out many problems with the models, and many of the “constants” I was taught, like atomic decay rates, and the speed of light in a vacuum, are being found not to be so constant after all. So I will remain an agnostic on the age of the earth, and I find that no problem at all either in my faith or my life.
Finally, I want to return briefly to the serious implications of those issues entangled with the age of the earth, and the veracity of the Biblical creation account. What are we as human beings? I have thought a great deal about that and written about it in other venues. The following quote is from my website warcomestogodshouse.com. It recounts the opinion of a supposedly great scientist and certain enemy of Christianity:
I want to take just a brief look at what a new edition hails as
“THE SEMINAL WORK OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY ON ITS 75TH ANNIVERSARY…” (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, frontispiece). I am sad to say there is some truth to that boast, such ideals precede Freud however. Let us pick out only two parts of this remarkable work.
First, Freud’s rejection of the traditional family relationship, which I will pass over with the brief quote: “Only the weaklings have submitted to such an extensive encroachment upon their sexual freedom…” (Freud p-95). That hardly needs explanation, but perhaps a moment of reflection might be in order on what that philosophy means to the principal building block of society – the family.
Of the second, we will take only a somewhat longer look. This is Freud’s judgment on the Biblical injunction, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. Freud did a lengthy introspective discussion of this concept and found it to be an impossible demand, as impossible as “Love thy enemy” – for it was ultimately the same thing. Man’s only possible relationship, by nature, is enemy. To men, as Freud saw it, “…their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sex object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homino lupus” (i.e. Man is a wolf to man). (Freud, p-104)
This description of the nature of man could have been penned by an old-time Lutheran preacher. But with them, such a nature is the result of the fall, not biological determinism, and men are redeemable and able through spiritual renewal to overcome their depraved natures. Not so in Freud’s view. It was, in Freud’s opinion, the attempt to follow such biologically absurd precepts as ‘Love thy neighbor’ that lead men to the mental anguish, psychoses, and insanity modern man suffers. Furthermore, “…anyone who follows such a precept in present-day civilization only puts himself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the person who disregards it.” (Freud, p-151)
Freud is right, of course, in his analysis of “natural man”. The ability to love your fellow man, even your enemy, comes from the old time religion. When one believes, really believes in the power and promises of God, then the envy, lust, fear and anger that breed hatred fade into insignificance. Faith, hope, and love (“charity” in the KJV) are the important things St. Paul advises us, and the greatest of these is love. I would add, the culmination of these is love. Faith gives us hope of joy beyond our wildest imagination. That hope frees us for love. Freud never discovered that.
Freud is much more complicated than pictured here, but this is an accurate tally of his bottom line on the nature (the biologically determined character) of man. What constraints are placed upon this nature are for the practical necessity of forming a community only, not for the sake of following some received moral code.
Are we simply biologically determined, or is there more to us? Thomas Jefferson and his revolutionary friends thought more of us when he penned:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.―That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …
Jefferson returned to that theme a half century later in a letter to Thomas Weightman on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with this assertion that the time was at hand when it would be universally accepted that:
…the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately…”.
Unfortunately his hope was betrayed; even now the world, including America, is caught up in a counter-revolution. Many are the governments that hold to the first set of principles, “Man is a wolf to man”. America itself is sliding farther and faster in that direction, to the “Left”, the anti-God ‘Left’. The opposite of socialism, communism, progressivism and other ‘isms’ that can be grouped as ‘Left’ is Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The truth, as opposed to the illusion of all these, let’s just say ‘Socialist’ systems, is total control of the masses by government, and total control of government by an elite few. You may be certain that these ‘booted and spurred’ few hate the Biblical view of mankind, and they even hate the provisions God made for the growth of humanity, fossil fuels for instance. For this reason, as well as deeper spiritual reasons, the concept of Biblical Creation is worth fighting for, but, as I said before, six literal creation days is ‘not the hill to die on’.
PS, There is a lot of good information about this controversy but I highly recommend the works of Dr. James Tour, Dr. John Lennox, and Dr. Michael Behe; both in books and on youtube. Don’t be put off by what wikipedia and the cohorts of the Left say about them, recognize them as simply enemies of God desperately hiding behind a phantasm.