Young Earth/Old Earth, the debate rages on

As a preliminary statement, I would like to say that I think old vs. new earth is a fruitless debate that has sidetracked much of evangelicalism from other doctrines (like the infallibility of Scripture) that are far more important. In short, I don’t think there is enough data in the bible to make a conclusion one way or the other based on Biblical data alone. I don’t think the age of the earth is something the Bible was intended to answer and I think asking that question of it is an effort in futility at best.

That said, as one who leans more towards the old earth side of things I’ll appeal to the modified gap theory (held by many evangelical leaders and professors lest we think it is a “fringe movement” or something overly new) which does, in fact, hold to 7 literal 24 hour periods in Genesis 1:2 on. The “modified” moniker is there because there are usually some things people tack on to the original gap theory I’m not willing to follow, but I believe all of the main points in the wiki above, as well as the theopedia article are sound and help us avoid the following issues.
  1. If Genesis is supposed to be a detailed account of the creation (rather than recreation) of the world, where did the water come from we find the Spirit of God hovering over?
  2. As far as God making something look old; How do you get past the deception inherent in such a position?
  3. As far as science goes I’ll bring in a good quote from Galileo Galilei, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same Lord who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use. Why mistrust science when the age of the earth:
    1. is not directly addressed in Scripture and
    2. poses no threat to any major doctrine?

    There are at least two reliable sources that date the age of the earth past 10,000 years which is commonly held as the threshold of “young” earth proponents which are the redshift (specifically the cosmological redshift) and background radiation. Both of which measure the age of the universe in the billions of years.

  4. If the Earth is, indeed, young. And if it really matters that we believe that in order to “truly believe the Bible”, how come the Jews didn’t pass that down in their traditions? Why did we wait for Ussher, a Catholic bishop in the 16th century, to add up the genealogies and tell us that? Why did it never occur to anyone before the 16th century to date the age of the earth based on the genealogies in the Bible? Could it be that it just wasn’t that important?
To end with; I think this debate hurts us far more than it helps as it tends to be the number one thing atheists and non-Christians tend to go for which, if we follow their pied piper tune down this rabbit trail, has the potential to derail any gospel presentation as we fight to maintain a tertiary doctrine at best.
This issue also manages to divide us needlessly, as I often hear unhelpful and erroneous comments like “well, of you believe in the Bible you’d accept a young earth”, as if those of us who disagree somehow believe less or are nefariously looking for a way to smuggle in something like progressive creationalism or theistic evolution.
The truth is that this is an unsettled issue that, while it may be fun to debate and kick around in Christian circles, is not a core doctrine, not worth dividing us, and certainly not worth preaching to the world outside our walls about.

3 responses to “Young Earth/Old Earth, the debate rages on

  1. I happen to be a ‘gap theorist of sorts’ myself. I have no problem with a young earth or old earth. I do have a problem with twisting Scripture to make God an evolutionist.

    Without adopting the ‘young earth theory’, let me touch on a few of your points…

    If God can create the world in 7 days, he can create it aged. There need be no deception in creating an aged earth anymore than there is deception with creating an aged man, which God did in Adam. If God can make a rock without using other rocks… He can certainly make it old without using years. Remember, He is in charge of time since He created it. So He can use it in ways we can’t imagine. As a matter of fact, rocks and their age are one of the biggest problems evolutionists have to deal with.

    I don’t trust scientific dating methods any more than I trust weather forecasts for 10 days in the future. This doesn’t make the ‘billions of years’ claim wrong… It is just not an exact science since it can’t be proven. As far as I know, it is easier to prove something from 10,000 years ago than it is 10 Billion years ago. That is not a knock on science, just a recognition of its parameters.

    I find it hard to believe that no one added up the number of years recorded in the genealogies before the 16th century. I mean, I ‘researched’ it when I was in elementary school. Maybe it isn’t that people didn’t think it was important. Maybe they just figured it was common knowledge and didn’t waste a lot of time talking about something as widely understood as the fact that the sun is bright.

    I think the first chapter of Genesis records the creation of our world. Whether God used some ready made materials is really immaterial. Most people really aren’t deciding on evolution because of young earth old earth arguments. They are choosing based on an ideology.

    (By the way, I love this debate. Please don’t take it away from me. LOL)

  2. Good stuff, but of course this just touches on the topic. My reply won’t be long since as with many people that hold to modified gap theory there is much common ground.
    1. If the water were the same water as later when God created the oceans, then why mention the creation of the oceans. In any case, I can’t answer your question because the Bible does not reveal an answer.
    2. No deception. If you are referring to dating methods, all dating methods make 3 assumptions which all must be necessarily true for the dating method to hold. In any case, radio carbon dating has been shown to be unreliable (less than 100% right). It’s interesting that you would say this when it seems obvious to me that God has gone out of his way to make the universe and earth seem young. Examples are the fossil record showing abrupt appearance and the thin layer of dust on the moon lacking an atmoshere to burn up what should have been feet of accumulation over eons. The recent human population explosion (1900 on) seems to also suggest a young species and consequently young earth. If man were 200,000 years old than that should have happened ago without birth control.
    3. I agree with all of this and of course this is the common ground. Not sure why you would make this point since a young earth creationist can also hold to this albeit with more difficulty. I will freely admit that starlight/red shift poses a difficulty for young earth creationists but it can be tempered with what God creating a universe with starlight already on its way and the universe the size it is so that the physical laws of space be met that even God has to set in place for his creation to be secure (example gravity being 9.82m/sec2). I also agree with sub points 1 and 2.
    4. The Jews did pass it on. See Ex 20:11. Jesus make implicit reference to it as well in Mark 10:6. The reasons should be obvious why the Jews didn’t make it even more clear. #1. There was no “major” competing idea to young earth. #2. A casual reading of Gen 1 would yield a young earth without question. #3. It would have been extremely odd for a later Jewish prophet to clearly spell out to an audience of Jews that would be reading the text that the universe is not old. Consider the audience. They weren’t writing to Carl Sagan…

  3. One of the fundamental problems with this whole subject is the lack of direct, conclusive, evidence either way in Scripture. A fact that makes arguements such as “a casual reading of…” and “Consider the audience” almost meaningless since the central intention of Scripture is not to answer the questions we find primarily in Science (like physics, mathematics, etc.).

    Not to say the Bible is somehow inaccurate when it does touch on these areas but in order to find out how to build a flying contraption, the Wright brothers needed more than Biblical data since the Bible is not wholly interested in helping us take flight.

    Because of this distinction of primary focuses, science being on the physical universe God has made and Scripture being on God himself, I find arguements (especially from Answers in Genesis) about “imposing external” scientific data on Scripture to be rather dubious. I don’t think we come to our conclusions about the age of the universe primarily from Genesis but through other factors, mine being the warfare theology laid out in Boyd’s excellent work “God at War” (though there are several others that point out the cosmic warfare found in Scripture) which harmonizes many aspects of Scripture and provides (at least insomuch as I’ve seen so far) the best answer to the whole of Scripture, harmonizing many otherwise difficult passages. In this respect, my belief in an older universe is not the basis but rather the conclusion of prior beliefs and views.

    As for Ex 20:11 and Mark 10:6, I don’t see where they negate the possibility of an aforementioned gap and subsiquent reconstruction (in 6 literal days even) and still leave room for millions (or billions) of years. Likewise, the population explosion time frame and moon dust could also be easily explained with a recent re-creation.

    Finally, The question of death before the fall seems to be a mainstay of the young earth viewpoint but I don’t think it fits very well for the simple reason that the death mentioned seems to apply specifically to the human race God finished creating on the 6th day and not the whole of creation. What did Adam and Eve eat (not to imply they ate animals just yet) and what were Adam and Eve supposed to subdue if its not the remnants of a ruined creation. As for animals dying and becoming extinct, I don’t see sufficient Biblical warrant for the originally intended immortality of the animal soul that would be required to hold to such a claim of “no death whatsoever was permitted before the fall in Genesis 3”.

    Was God’s creation perfect when he made it (ie. not tôhû bôhû or formless/chaotic and void)? Absolutely! We look forward to the day when all of creation will be again and as far as I can tell, one need not sacrafice Biblical inerrancy, or somehow become a “slave” to modern science or ideas, in order to hold to an old universe.

    I think it would go a long way if the Christian community would allow science to answer science and theology to answer theology. Anything else, I fear, carries the stench of Galileo’s oppressors which added unnecessary hindrance to an already hard (to accept) message.

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