Age of the Earth
Pastor Bob, since becoming a Christian I have believed in the literal interpretation of the Genesis record concerning the creation of the earth. Lately, I have been reading information by leading Christians that state that there were not six literal days of creation but rather long periods of time whereby God used evolution as the mechanism of creation. What do you believe?
Let me begin by saying that Christians with a high view of Scripture and belief in its infallibility disagree on this issue; hence your question. A great place to start this debate is to bring clarity to some of the terms being tossed around today in these arguments.
Young-Earth Creationism: God created the world from nothing (Latin ex nihilo) in six literal 24-hour days and rested on the seventh. This event took place somewhere between six thousand and ten thousand years ago. God created a literal Adam and Eve as described in Genesis 2.
Old-Earth Creationism: God created the world from nothing (Latin ex nihilo) in six epochs or spans of time and rested in the seventh. The universe could be billions of years old. God may have created a literal Adam and Eve as described in Genesis 2.
Theistic evolution: The God of the Bible used the process of evolution to bring about the world that we see today. This process took billions of years, and man eventually arose through random chance and natural selection.
Intelligent Design: The world as we see it today is too extremely complex to have arisen through evolution's random chance. Therefore it must have been designed by some (unspecified) intelligent agent.
Why I Believe in the Young Earth
Though the young-earth view was widely accepted by most people through history, the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 and the subsequent spread of evolutionary thought changed all of that: many adherents of the biblical record were forced to re-examine their beliefs in light of supposed scientific discovery.
While the Bible is not a science book, because it originated in the mind of God, it must be congruent with discoveries of how our world works. A quick look at Scripture shows that this is so. For example, while men were still teaching that the world was flat and the heavens contained only about 1000 stars, the Bible had for thousands of years spoken of the earth as a sphere (see Is. 40:22) and the stars being as innumerable as grains of sand on the seashore (see Jer 33:22; Gen. 22:17). The water cycle, what scientists today call hydrology, is accurately described not only in Ecclesiastes 1:7 and Isaiah 55:10, but also in book of Job, thought by scholars to be oldest book in the Bible (see Job 36:27-28).
What I'm trying to say is that Christians should never turn their backs on solid discoveries made within the scientific community. Rather we should embrace them, knowing that "the heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork" (Ps. 19:1).
The ultimate question becomes, are we interpreting Scripture in light of science, or according to true exegesis? I like how Norman Geisler expresses it:
There is no demonstrated contradiction of fact between Genesis 1 and science. There is only a conflict of interpretation. Either, most modern scientists are wrong in insisting the world is billions of years old, or else some Bible interpreters are wrong in insisting on only 144 hours of creation some several thousand years before Christ with no gaps allowing millions of years. But, in either case, it is not a question of the inspiration of Scripture, but of the interpretation of Scripture (and of the scientific data). (When Critics Ask, emphasis in original.)
The proper exegetical interpretation of Genesis 1 has led me to believe in a literal six days of creation. While I value the brilliance of scientists who now profess belief in Christ, their leaning on scientific authority has led to a reinterpretation of biblical teaching to accommodate the current trends in naturalistic theory.
While there are numerous defenses for a young earth - including the first and second laws of thermodynamics; the historical records; population growth; helium content in the world; missing neutrons from the sun; the decline of the Earth's magnetic field; the limited number of supernovas; and radioactive halos* - I will restrict my argument to biblical interpretation.
I will now list the five reasons why I believe the earth to be young.
Reason 1: The Meaning of the Word Yom
The Hebrew word for day is yom. In a preponderance of its over 2000 incidences in the Old Testament, it means a literal 24-hour day. In the few instances where it is speaking figuratively, such as in "the day of the Lord," it is understood within the context to signify a longer period of time.
Additionally, two characteristics of the Genesis 1 days are unique to 24-hour days in the Bible: they are numbered ("a first day," etc.) and they have an "evening" and a "morning." The exegetical law of first reference states that the meaning of a word or doctrine the first time it appears in Scripture becomes its primary meaning.
Later in the book of Exodus we see Moses delivering the law to Israel at Mount Sinai. In the fourth commandment God told Moses to keep holy the Sabbath, "for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth...and rested on the seventh day" (Ex 20:11). As a result, the Israelites were to set apart one day out of the week for rest after their six days of work. There is an undeniable correlation God makes to His work of creation and the work man was now called to do.
Finally, folks love to quote, "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8). The purpose and context of this verse is that God resides outside of time. God is Spirit, therefore He is eternal and not bound by the material world. In no way is this verse stating that in the Bible every day equals one thousand years. This kind of exegesis is called proof texting, and is misleading at best.
Reason 2: Problems with Evolutionary Theory
I don't believe in evolution, at least on a macro level. Obviously, there have been proven cases of microevolution within a species over time, usually an adaptation to a changing environment. When these cases are further examined, however, it can be seen that no new genetic information is being introduced, leading to greater and greater complexity. Instead, whatever genetic information was already there has been rearranged, or perhaps lost. (A great analogy for this is a slot machine: each time the lever is pulled, the same information within the machine is reshuffled to bring a different result.)
However, the idea of a common ancestor for all life, be it plant or animal, and the multitudes of intermediate species necessary to bring us to the biota we see today, cannot be supported by an already extensive fossil record, much less by the biblical record. Genesis says, and we see today, every plant and animal reproducing "according to its kind" (see Gen. 1:11-12, 24-25).
True Darwinian evolutionary theory requires two main ingredients to work: time – hence, the older the earth, the better – and chance. Anything can happen over time, according to an evolutionist. For example, Richard Dawkins, in his national bestseller The Blind Watchmaker, contends that a marble statue, given enough time, could wave its hand at you. Mr. Dawkins, a professor at Oxford University in England, explains:
Molecules of solid marble are continuously jostling against one another in random directions. The jostlings of the different molecules cancel one another out, so the whole hand of the statue stays still. But if, by sheer coincidence, all the molecules just happened to move in the same direction at the same moment, the hand would move. If they then all reversed direction at the same moment the hand would move back. (See chapter entitled "Origins and Miracles.")
Dawkins is an avowed atheist and believes that natural selection, a blind and cruel process, is the agent of evolution. Almost all scientists would agree with this. In fact, high school biology textbooks state as much.
Even prominent evangelicals have bought into this premise. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, states that to believe in an old earth "you've got to believe in evolution of some sort; you've got to believe that God did use natural selection in some way" (http://www.ericmetaxas.com/blog/interviewing-tim-keller/).
The conundrum, however, is that many leading scientists (for example, Michael Behe and Phillip Johnson), believe that natural selection could have never brought about the complexity we see in the world today. While these men are silent on the date of creation, their findings have led to the rise of the Intelligent Design movement.
Reason 3: Man
Man was the pinnacle of God's creation. Unlike any other created form, Adam was made "in the image of God."
Until the creation of man in Genesis 1:26, the formula God used was a command ("Then God said, "'Let there be...'") and its result ("...and it was so."). With the creation of Adam, things become more personal: "Let Us make man in Our image..." Man was not only the pinnacle of God's creation, but he was the only part of God's creation to enjoy a personal relationship with God.
While some old earthers hold to a literal Adam and Eve, even this involves interpretive difficulties. To believe that most of Genesis 1 is allegorical or symbolic, but that Adam and Eve are historical, breaks almost every rule of literary and biblical interpretation.
The fall of a literal Adam also sets up the Bible's teaching on salvation: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). (See also Roman 5:18-19, 1 Timothy 2:13-14.) The doctrine of original sin, total depravity, justification, and salvation by grace all hinge on what transpired in a garden and upon a cross.
Reason 4: Jesus, Paul, and Church History
The Old Testament is the Bible Jesus, Paul, and the early Church read.
Jesus believed in a literal Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah's great flood (see Matt. 19:4, 23:35, 24:37-38; Mk. 10:6; Lk. 11:51, 17:26-27). Jesus had no doubt that God created mankind, that Adam's sin bore fruit in Cain's murder of his righteous, and that the world was destroyed in a flood.
The apostle Paul, as I stated in Reason 3, believed in a literal Adam. In the brilliant book of Romans, Paul argues that Adam passed his sin to all mankind, and speaks of Adam, Moses, and Jesus in one breath. He then concludes, "For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many" (Rom. 5:15).
Peter, in his Pentecost message, and Zechariah, his tongue finally loosed after the birth of his son John, both reference God speaking by His holy prophets "since the world began" (Acts 3:21 and Luke 1:70). In no way did these men believe that there were billions of years before man appeared on the earth.
This thinking continued through church history, and in the mid-1600s Archbishop James Ussher used the genealogies in Scripture to calculate the date of creation as 4004 B.C. Currently, Bible-believers have said that this 6000-year age could be revised up to about 10,000 years based on the fact that, in the Bible, genealogies are often "telescoped."
Reason 5: The Fall, the Flood, and Uniformitarianism
Finally, the Bible itself gives an apologetic of the argument that would be used concerning the creation:
"Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'" (2 Pet. 3:3-4). This belief is called uniformitarianism, the view that things always have been and always will be as they are right now.
Peter goes on to write "For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:5-7).
The alternate belief to uniformitarianism is to believe that prior cataclysmic events shaped the world we now see. The Bible records two of these events: the Fall and the Flood.
One of the grand results of the Flood is the immense fossil record. For fossilization to occur, a creature must be buried almost immediately after death under a great weight of sediment. This is almost impossible to explain from a uniformitarianistic point of view. (Google the Karoo Formation fossil field in Africa, for instance.)
Hebrews 11:3 states, "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God ..."
Why do we need faith to understand the creation of the world? Mainly because we are finite creatures trying to understand an omniscient God. Job, confused by his trial and mocked by his counselors, begins to question God's benevolence and justice, chapter upon chapter. Finally, God responds, "Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge... I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Though God has allowed mighty minds to make fantastic discoveries, a full reading of Job 38 reminds us of how finite we really are. (Incidentally Job 38-41 are some of the most glorious verses concerning God and his creation in all the Bible.)
To sum it up, I agree with Jonathan D. Sarfati, research scientist in physical chemistry (Aston, In Six Days): "I believe in a recent creation in six consecutive normal days because the only eyewitness tells us this is what He did, and He has shown that He should be trusted."
For further reading on this subject, Pastor Bob recommends the following books:
*Aston, John F., ed. In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2000.
Behe, Michael J. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press, 1996.
Hunt, Dave. Cosmos, Creator, and Human Destiny: Answering Darwin, Dawkins, and the New Atheists. Bend, OR: The Berean Call, 2010.
Johnson, Phillip E. Darwin on Trial. Westmont, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1991.
MacArthur, John. The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001.
Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976.
Morris, Henry M. The Remarkable Record of Job: The Ancient Wisdom, Scientific Accuracy, and Life-Changing Message of an Amazing Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.
Stoner, Don. A New Look at an Old Earth. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1973.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.