The Age of the Earth

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The prevailing view among Christians today seems to be that as long as people will acknowledge divine involvement in creation, there is no need to concern ourselves with the age of the earth. What can we learn about the earth’s age from science? And from Scripture? And how should we handle apparent contradictions between the two? Here are twelve points to consider when forming your view.


First, it must be understood that the age of the earth cannot be studied scientifically. Science can make observations about how old the earth looks, but not about how old it actually is.

I am not qualified to even enter the debate on whether the earth appears to be old or young. Respected scientists argue both sides at a level far beyond me. Some of the arguments for the earth appearing young sound compelling to me, but I have not done enough study to be dogmatic about how old the earth looks.

I realize I probably find the young earth scientists’ arguments compelling mostly because I have a theological bias toward that view, and because have exposed myself much more to their arguments than I have the old earth scientists’ arguments. However, I tend to be very suspicious of the old earth scientists because it seems to me that for many years they have been interpreting all the evidence through the filter of their presuppositions of an old earth. When evidence that fits much better with a young earth is found (such as human clothing or tools in fossilized in dinosaur-age rocks or coal beds) it is dismissed as unexplainable.

Whether the earth appears old or young from scientific observation, however, is an issue of only minor significance. Even if old-earth scientists could prove conclusively that the earth appears to be old it would say nothing about how it came to look that way. Some possibilities are:

1) The earth started out the way the naturistic scientists hypothesize and came to look the way it is as a result of vast age.
2) The earth started perfect, but underwent severe (and unknown) changes at the curse (and still more at the flood).
3) The earth was created in a mature condition that appears to us like age.

It is difficult to imagine how any scientific study could possibly address the question of which of the above are most likely. I can understand why anti-creationists would assume #1, but I do not know why anyone else would.

In fact, if a person believes that God created the world, and at least some elements of creation had some degree of maturity at the moment of creation (man, woman, trees, etc.), and the curse did have a profound negative effect on the creation (Ro.8:22), it seems the most natural assumption would be that options 2 and 3 above are very likely.

Given all that, why would there be any motive to interpret Gn.1 in such a way as to allow for an old earth, unless that is the most natural way to interpret the passage?

Problems with the old earth view:

The prevailing view among Christians today seems to be that as long as people will acknowledge divine involvement in creation, there is no need to concern ourselves with the age of the earth. The following are reasons why I believe the age of the earth is indeed an important issue.

1. According to Gn.5, day 6 was 5938 years ago. There cannot be gaps in the genealogy, because it gives the exact year that each person was born in relationship to his father.

2. The 6 days are presented as literal (defined by evening and morning, with nothing in the cotext calling for a figurative interpretation).

3. Hermeneutics.  If we cannot know if Gn.1 is literal based on grammar & the rules of language, and if we have to have scientific information to know what it means, then who is to say that’s not the case in the rest of the Bible? And how could the original readers have understood it?

4. New Testament treatment of Genesis 1-11 as literal. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are interpreted at face value by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. The Christian explanation for the existence of suffering, sin and death depends on a literal, historical interpretation of Genesis 3.

5. Old Earth affects your view of the purpose of creation.
Isaiah 45:18 He did not create it to be empty but formed it to be inhabited.
If God did not create the earth to be empty and uninhabited, why would He leave it that way for the first 99.995% of its existence?

6. Old evil (suffering, death, and decay before sin). The Bible teaches the earth was a perfect paradise – without decay, suffering or death until man sinned.

7. Our Hope (Heaven will be good in the same way the original creation was good). The reason we can be sure of God’s promise about the new earth is because of God’s power displayed in the creation of the present earth.

8. The significance of the way God created. The question of how He went about it plays an important role in how we think about Him. He did it by divine fiat.  He spoke and it happened.

9. In a "synthesis" of Genesis and naturalistic scientism, the latter tends to win out. When there is an apparent conflict, it’s always the Bible that has to give.  They never assume, “Hmmm, a conflict.  Our scientific theory must be in error.  We should correct it to fit the Bible.”

10. Creation is Over. Since creation ended at day 7 (God rested from creating), any process that is ongoing today (such as gravity or erosion) is ruled out as a tool God used to create.

11. The scientific data fit the young earth model. If God created a beautiful world that was functionally mature, then you would expect things to appear to have varying ages

12. The “gap theory” is ruled out by the Hebrew grammar.

Here is an expanded explanation of each of the above:

1. According to Gn.5, day 6 was 5938 years ago.

Science cannot even address the question of how old the earth actually is – only how old it appears. And Scripture says nothing about how old the earth appears – only about how old it actually is. So there is no way Scripture and science can be in conflict.

So what does the Bible really say about when the beginning was? We know Abraham lived 2000 BC (probably 1997). But how long from the creation to Abraham?  Starting from day 6 when Adam was created. Gn.5 gives us a full genealogy. There cannot be gaps, because it doesn’t just say “so&so was the ancestor of so&so”   It gives the exact year that each person was born in relationship to his father.

Genesis 5:3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness…and named him Seth.

So Seth was born in the year 130 ADS (After Day 6). There can be no gap between Adam and Seth, because Adam was still alive when Seth was born.  And not only was Adam still alive, but we know that he was 130 years old. So if Adam was 130 years old the year Seth was born, is it possible that there was a million-year gap in between Adam and Seth?  No. What about a 1000 year gap?  No. 100?  No. 1?  Yes.  It’s possible that Adam turned 131 the day after Seth’s birth, so conceivably we could add 364 days in.

When Seth hit age 105 Enosh was born. Seth was born in the year 130.  So if he was born in 130, Seth would turn 105 in the year 235. That was the very year Enosh was born.  There can be no gap. Kenan was born in the year 325 (v.9). That chronology continues without a gap until Noah’s sons were born in the year 1556 (v.32). In v.10 we meet Arphaxad, who was born when Shem was 100, which was 1656 Then came Shelah in v.12 in 1691, Eber in v.14 in 1721…all the way up to Abraham, who was born in 1946 ADS (v.26).

So Abraham was born about 2000 years after Adam.  And since we know Abraham lived about 4000 years ago, that means Adam came into existence about 6000 years ago. If we make all the numbers precise, it was 5938 years ago.  If we allow for a little rounding, maybe we could add or subtract 20 or 30 years – maybe even 100 or 200. Even if we accept every obscure typo and bizarre textual variant from unreliable MSS that add years, the most you can possibly add is another 6000 years. But according to most reliable MSS, Adam came into existence about 6000 years ago. So according to the Bible, the earth is 6000 years plus the 6 days of creation.

Did God really intend for us to use those genealogies to date the creation?

There is more than one purpose for the genealogies, but what other purpose could the dates have? We find genealogies all over the place in Scripture, and never with the dates included except here. Why?  There are numerous genealogies, but never are exact dates and ages given without the possibility for a gap…except here?  Why? What other reason could there be besides giving us an idea of the time span? The point of ch.5 is to show how quickly perfect humanity degenerated to become as evil as it could be when God is not preserving a remnant.[1]
Someone may object:“But obviously the dates aren’t literal – people can’t live hundreds of years!” If humanity is evolving and improving with time, that would be a valid assumption.  But if the creation was created perfect and is on the decline because of sin and the curse, it’s no surprise at all that life spans were originally much longer.

Some people have tried to apply mathematical formulas to those numbers to come up with life spans closer to ours.  The problem with all those is not only are they arbitrary, but you end up with people having children at age 5 or 6.

Besides, even if you have never looked into the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and so you are not convinced Jesus was God and that He was correct in His view that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word – even if you look at the Bible as a human history book that is subject to error, still there is strong evidence for its accuracy. The Bible has an unparalleled record of historical accuracy time and time again being verified by archeology. And in this case it’s even corroborated by other history.

The Jews weren’t the only ones who kept genealogical records.  Scholars used to be puzzled by the Sumarian records of the Mesopotamian kings.  They have life spans between 20 and 40 thousand years. Then it was discovered that the Sumerians operated on a sexagesimal system (a combination of a base 6 and base 10 system.  They have found that the same symbol that represents the number 36,000 in the sexagesimal system represents 1000 in the decimal system). That puts the Sumerian ages in the same range as the biblical numbers, and if you add up all the Sumerian numbers by that system, you come up with a total time span “nearly identical” to the biblical record (Walton p.281).  (Walton is an impeccable expert on the ANE)

The Bible teaches that Adam lived 6000 years ago.  That is corroborated by history, and Morris makes a strong case that current population statistics best fit the biblical dates as well. But there is another question.  How much time between the creation of the earth and day 6, when Adam was created? Did God mean 6 literal days, or a figure of speech meaning billions of years?

2. The 6 days have to be literal

We know there are figurative uses of the word day.  Could this be one of them?

The people who want ‘day” to mean billions of years turn to 2 Pe.3:8  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years. Based on that verse it is suggested that since God’s perspective of time is so different from ours, perhaps the 6 days represented 6 short periods of time from God’s point of view, but not man’s.

First of all, that verse is talking about God’s patience with people in withholding judgment, not about the creation week. Secondly, the use of that verse is applied in an arbitrary way.  Nobody is saying Christ was in the tomb for 3 billion years, or that at the flood it rained for 40 billion years. Third, that approach totally ignores the rest of the verse in 2 Pe.3:8 which goes on to say in the very same sentence and a thousand years are like a day. So if we apply that approach, the creation took 6 days, which equals 6000 years, which equals 6 days! Fourth, what good does it do to make a day equal a thousand years?  A 6000-year creation week makes the earth only 12,000 years old. And fifth, it doesn’t say a day is 1000 years.  It says to the Lord a day is like 1000 years.  It’s still a day.  It just seems like 1000 years to Him.

An even worse argument for the day/age theory is this: Some say there can be no such thing as a day without a sun and there was no sun until the fourth day. How could God have possibly known how long a day was without a sun? This argument presupposes that God can create a universe with a word, but He can’t keep track of time without the sun. The folly of that argument should be self-evident.
It is not difficult to correctly interpret this word “day.” It’s used exactly like the English word “day.” If you look up every use of the Hebrew word “yom” (day) you will find that it is used 3 different ways:
It can refer to daylight hours
It can refer to a 24 hour period
or it can be used in the the phrase “In that day.”  That is a phrase that simply means “when.” 

That’s it.  The word is never used any other way.  You have been told it sometimes means a long, indefinite period of time, but if you look up the references people offer when they say that, they are simply examples of #3. It’s just like the way we use the word.

If you have never taken hermeneutics, you need to learn an important lesson: you never interpret something by saying, “Will this word bear the meaning I want it to have?” Whether you are interpreting Hebrew or Greek or English or Akkadian, or Chinese, the question is always, “How would the original readers have understood this?”

Back in Jesus’ day the people didn’t have a problem with an old earth. Today people do. There is no Bible-believing Christian anywhere who believes anything other than a 6-day creation.  It was all over after 6 days and nights.

Some may be alarmed to read that. If you are one of them, the reason you are alarmed is because you assumed I meant literal days. Why did you assume that?  Because that’s the normal use of language.

In the sentence right before that, I talked about “back in Jesus’ day.”  You most likely took that use of “day” figuratively (#3), because it was obvious that’s how I meant it – to refer to the time when Jesus walked this earth. You see, you already know how to discern between literal and figurative.

Keep in mind, language is always taken literally unless there is something in what was said that indicates a figure of speech.  So we should begin by assuming literal days. The burden of proof is on the one who suggests they are billions of years to show from the context why that must be.
Even if God just said “day” in Gn.1 we would be correct to interpret that literally, but the Lord seems to go out of His way to make it as emphatic as it can be that He means a literal day. They are days.  Regular days.  The kind of days that have an evening and a morning.  Days connected with alternating light and dark. What more could God have said to indicate literal days?

The argument from science at this point is irrelevant.  The intentions of what Moses was trying to communicate do not vary according to modern scientific theories. Whatever he meant, that’s what he meant.  And that message is either right or wrong, but it can’t be changed. If that conflicts with what some scientists postulate, then we have to decide which is more likely to be in error and reject it as a mistake.

Those who don’t believe the earth was made in 6 literal days either need to make a linguistic argument for why that’s not really what is being said, or just admit they do not believe Gn.1. What was written can never mean what it didn’t originally mean.

And while you are trying to determine how it would have been interpreted by the original readers, keep this in mind: Gn.1 was difficult for them to accept because it seemed to take way too long. The ancient Jews were troubled at the idea that what God could do in a moment He stretched out over 6 days.  We have no record of any ancient rabbi being puzzled about how it could be done that quickly.

So the most natural way to understand the word “day” is literally. And that seems to be exactly how it is interpreted not only by the original readers, but also by the rest of the Bible. Moses himself took his own words literally.  If anyone would know what he meant you would think he would.  When we read a little later in Ex.20 he says,

Exodus 20:9-11 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work

Why?

11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Obviously, the 4th commandment is not that we must work 6 billion years and then take a billion off?

Jesus took them literally. Mt.19:4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' 

When was the beginning?  According to Gn.1:1 the beginning was 6 days prior to the creation of man.  According to Jesus it was when Adam and Eve were created. That’s not a problem with literal days, but it is if the two events are billions of years apart. In fact, Jesus doesn’t just say beginning, but Mark tells us that He said "at the beginning of creation God `made them male and female.' (Mk.10:6) The creation of man came at the beginning of creation.  Jesus runs the whole creation week together into a single event.

But if you draw out a timeline to scale that extends 4.55 billion years, and you place the emergence of man at 100,000 years ago, if we made a scale model of that it would be like creation began 5 years ago, and Adam arrived 30 minutes ago. We can understand Jesus referring back to a week – a week that took place thousands of years ago, as a single point on a timeline. But how can we explain Jesus’ words with the other model?  If you were constructing a building, and construction started 5 years ago and is still going on, and just 30 minutes ago a beam was put in place, how could you talk about that beam being put in place at the beginning of the building process?

If you want to accept the world’s ideas about origins, Gn.1 is not your only problem.  You are going to have trouble from the first page of Scripture to the last.

Poetry?
Others say we should not take this as a model of how the creation actually took place, because it’s poetry. Most Hebrew scholars would not classify it that way, because it doesn’t have the marks of poetry, such as parallelism.  It has all the marks of historical prose. But if you want to say it sounds poetic to you, that’s fine – call it poetry.  It doesn’t matter, because you don’t interpret Hebrew poetry any differently than prose. They are interpreted exactly the same: literal statements are taken literally and figurative statements are taken figuratively.

Ps 119:135-136 is beautiful poetry, written in Hebrew parallelism.
Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

Make your face shine upon your servant  figurative
teach me your decrees literal
Streams of tears flow from my eyes figurative
your law is not obeyed literal

The question isn’t whether or not it’s poetry.  The question is what parts are intended to be literal and what parts are intended as similes, metaphors, analogies, or other figures?

Figures of Speech

A figure of speech is any use of words other than the simplest, normal use for the purpose of achieving an effect beyond the range of simple mechanical language. Figures are used for emphasis or to draw a comparison.

Interpreting figures is pretty easy: just ask yourself this question: “What is being compared to what, and what aspect is being compared?” Again, this is something you intuitively know how to do, but for some reason people have problems applying it to the Bible.

Someone might say his investment went down the drain.  Is there anyone in this room who is not capable of interpreting that figure? It’s a comparison.  The condition of the investment is being compared to waste water swirling down a drain. In what way are the two similar?  Not in every way.  It’s not suggesting the investment is wet, or traveling in a circle. No, the two are compared only at the point of something having no value and being lost.

John 10:9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.

Every person standing there immediately knew this was intended as a figure of speech.  No one thought Jesus was trying to convince them He was an actual hinged part of a fence.

So let’s interpret the figure:

What is being compared?  Jesus and a gate.  What aspect is being compared?  Not every aspect.  Not the appearance, texture, weight, cost, material – only the function.

Now let’s look at Gn.1:3-5  And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.

What is the literary form?  The form is historical narrative.  Just compare it to other historical narrative.

Gn.1:3  And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

Gn.24:45-46  and I said `give me a drink.'  46"She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, `Drink, and I'll water your camels too.' So I drank, and she watered the camels also.

If the earth looks old but isn’t, does that mean God is deceptive?

Deceit has to do with an intended message, not an unintended inference. If you tested a rock 5 minutes after the creation, what kind of results do you think you would see? The reason they say rocks look old is because elements decay into other elements.  For example, potassium decays and turns into argon at a very slow rate, and so the age of the rock is measured by the amount of argon present. Are we going to say God couldn’t possibly have created any argon?

Some say yes – God could not possibly have created any argon isotopes in rocks.  Because if God created rocks with argon, or if the trees in the garden of Eden had rings just moments after being created, or if a canyon existed, God would be guilty of deception. He would be tricking Adam into thinking that tree was years old when in fact it was only minutes old. God couldn’t have created a beautiful canyon, because if Adam noticed water eroding the ground at a slow rate, God would be tricking Adam into thinking the canyon was many years old.

They insist that if God wanted Adam to look up at see a beautiful night sky speckled with stars, the ONLY way God could have done that would be to make the stars millions of years before Adam, and then just sit and wait for the light to travel to the earth. If God just created both the stars and the light having already traveled to earth, He would be guilty of dishonesty. If we are going to say all that, why wouldn’t God be guilty of dishonesty by making Adam a man rather than a fertilized egg? 

Those things would only be deceptive if God told us to figure out the age of the earth based on observing those things.  But He never did tell us to do that.  Instead, He just revealed the creation account to us in the Bible. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the purpose of tree rings is not for dating them?  Maybe God made the first tree with rings because He likes grains and variety in wood. So He created a tree with rings, and then created a method of reproduction, which would cause future trees to develop rings as well. If the purpose of stars is to be seen on earth, why would God make them in such a way as to be invisible for the first several million years?  To do that would violate their purpose for existence.
Tracy and I put our wedding vows on parchment paper and burned the edges.  Now they look like some old document from a hundred years ago. Are we liars, deceiving the world? We would be if we told people those documents were ancient.  But we don’t.  We are truthful and tell people we created them just 11 years ago.  We made them look that way not to deceive anyone, but just because we like that look.

Keep in mind, just because something appears to lend itself to a certain incorrect conclusion, that doesn't mean God planted evidence designed to mislead us. For example, suppose you were in a discussion with someone in Jesus' day about the solar system.  He points out to you that the sun rises in the morning, travels in an arc across the sky, and goes down in the evening.  Based on that observation, he postulates a geocentric solar system. 

You try to point out to him that there is another possibility (the earth could be rotating and the sun fixed in relationship to the earth).  Your friend acknowledges that as a physical possibility, but rejects it based on this reasoning: "Why would God mislead us like that?  Why would He make it look like the sun moves when it really doesn't?" The answer is, maybe God made it look like the sun moves not to inform us about the arrangement of the solar system, but to provide us with a time to sleep and a fresh new start every 24 hours. 

Are we going to say God is lying to us when we look out the window and the earth looks flat? If we interpret what we see wrongly, that doesn't mean God misled us, but that we inferred something God never implied.

Why did God create the appearances He created?  How about this: it was created to appear beautiful. The appearance of the earth was not designed to give us dating techniques, but to show us the glory of God. It makes perfect sense that if God were creating a perfect world, it would be functionally mature. “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”  The chicken – full grown.

Also, how could we know what took place at the curse? Scripture seems to indicate an instant, obvious alteration of the creation. Perhaps that's when the process of decay in general began, and for all we know at the moment of the curse all of matter may have been radically altered - not to indicate anything about age, but to produce an earth that is obviously cursed. If you think of if God had cursed a person instead of the earth, perhaps wrinkles and arthritis and bad joints and cancer may suddenly be present, just to make it obvious that the curse was real.

God cannot be accused of deception just because we misinterpret something He has done. That’s not deception.  But I’ll tell you what is deceptive – plainly stating something in a way that causes everyone to believe something that isn’t true. If God inspired an account of the creation that would explicitly convey meaning to the original readers that was incorrect, that is flat out deception. 

This question of the age of the earth is an emotional issue for many people, and rightly so, since there are such important ramifications. And the result of that emotion has been some “fudging” of the evidence on both sides. There is no question that there are young earth scientists who want so desperately to believe in a young earth that they form their interpretations of science with so much bias toward a young earth, that their science is questionable.

And there are old earth Christians who want so much to maintain a belief in old earth that they fudge on the interpretation of Genesis 1. 
To maintain our integrity, those who believe in a young earth, when we approach science, should say: “Is it possible that anyone would arrive at my view other than people who start out really wanting it to believe in a young earth – without being biased by what I believe from Scripture?” If not, it’s probably an invalid scientific conclusion.  I have to admit, by applying that question over the last few weeks, I have had to drop some beliefs I had about science that are not really supported very well.

On the other hand, I would hope that we would all ask that same question about Scripture.  Whatever you believe about Genesis, you should ask, “Would anyone arrive at this interpretation who wasn’t motivated to do so by their beliefs from science?” Just as scientific beliefs should arise from that data itself, so our interpretations of the Bible must arise from the biblical text itself.

3. Inconsistent Hermeneutics
If we can’t know if Gn.1 is literal based on grammar & the rules of language, and if we have to have scientific information to know what it means, then who’s to say that’s not the case in the rest of the Bible? What does science tell us about resurrections from the dead?  They don’t happen.  So must we assume the resurrection accounts of Christ are allegory or myth? What about the second coming, judgment day, the millennial Kingdom, the New Jerusalem, the eternal state?  Do we have to wait until we can make scientific observations before we will know if those passages are literal or symbolic of something completely different?

If a person is willing to alter his method of interpreting the Bible to fit the opinions of naturalistic scientists, that is a very slippery slope. If our observations of natural revelation (where we observe no resurrections) can govern our interpretation of special revelation, what is to prevent us from “harmonizing” the resurrection accounts with science by turning them into allegories? I do not mean to imply with this line of argument that those who believe in old earth are any less committed to the doctrine of the resurrection than I am. I am only suggesting that in order for them to be steadfast in their faith on that point, they have to take a much different approach to the accounts of the resurrection than they take to the accounts of the creation.

4. NT treatment of Genesis 1-11
The first 11 chapters of Genesis, the chapters that talk about the 6-day creation, the genealogy that dates the beginning around 4000 BC, the flood and the tower of Babel – those chapters are interpreted at face value by Jesus and the writers of the NT. The principal people mentioned in Genesis 1-11 are referred to as real, historical people.  For example, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah are referred to in 15 other books of the Bible. The Lord Jesus Christ referred to the Creation of Adam and Eve as a real historical event, by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in His teaching about divorce (Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:2-9), and by referring to Noah as a real historical person and the Flood as a real historical event, in His teaching about the 'coming of the Son of man' (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). Paul based his teaching about the Gospel in Romans 5 and the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 on a literal, historical interpretation of the account of Adam (Romans 5:19, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22,45).

The Christian explanation for the existence of suffering, sin and death depends on a literal, historical interpretation of Genesis 3.

Rom 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…

5. Old Earth affects your view of the purpose of creation

Isa 45:18 For this is what the LORD says--he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited

Scientists seem to be settled on an age of about 4.55 billion years for the earth. The age of man (what they call homo sapiens sapiens) is said to be more like 100,000 or 200,000 years. That is like if the earth were 5 years old, man would have only been in existence for the past hour or two. So for 99.995% of the earth’s existence, it was, in the terms of Isa.45:18 (which is talking about humanity), empty and uninhabited. If God did not create the earth to be empty and uninhabited, why would He leave it that way for 99.995% of its existence?

6. Old evil (suffering, death and decay before sin)

Generally, when Christians believe in an old earth, it’s because they feel they must because of the scientific evidence, such as the fossil record. The fossil record is a record of suffering, disease and death. We have fossil remains of animals that had cancer and deformities and all kinds of horrible diseases that the naturalistic evolutionists believe to be millions of years old – well before Adam. The old earth world view postulates God creating a world of horrible pain, sorrow, suffering, disease, brutality, starvation, injury, weakness, decay and death, and then looking at all that and saying, “It is good!  It is very good!”

But the Bible teaches the earth was a perfect paradise – without decay, suffering or death, until man sinned. I made a big deal of that point, because it’s not just an implicit idea we can infer from the text – even liberal scholars agree it is a major theme intended by the author of Genesis.

Liberal commentators love to point out similarities Genesis has with other religious writings of the time, and they assume the Jews came up with Genesis by adapting the pagan myths to create their own myths. One such scholar is Jacobsen, who believes Genesis was dependent on the Mesopotamian version of origins. But even after pointing that out, Jacobson goes on to admit there are some radical differences that even he has to acknowledge – radical departures in Genesis from what the people of the day believed. And the example he gives is the fact that whatever version of origins you look at in that ancient world, they all take “an affirmative and optimistic view of existence…things were not nearly as good to begin with as they have become since…In the biblical account it is the other way around. Things began as perfect from God’s hand and grew then steadily worse through man’s sinfulness until God finally had to do away with all mankind except for the pious Noah” (WBC Theology of Gn.1-11)

Even the liberals understand that the author of Genesis had as an intended purpose the goal of refuting the idea that the earth was created worse than it is now. The error of old evil is itself quite old, and God wanted to set the record straight in Gn.1.  The world was not created as a mess that is improving, but as a perfect paradise that got messed up. Whether you take statements in Genesis figuratively or literally, there is no question even among liberal scholars that that is the purpose.

So the biblical worldview is that God created a world that actually was good, and that death, suffering, etc. were introduced only by man’s sin and the curse. Theistic creationists will argue that maybe there was death before Adam, and Gn.3 & Ro.5 are talking only about human death.

When our son was a toddler he once poured gasoline on our little dog and completely soaked her.  Within minutes the gas began to irritate her skin and she began to panic from the pain. While we were scrubbing her in the bathtub she was squealing and crying just beside herself with pain.  Finally it was too much for her and she just sat perfectly still, because it hurt too much to even move. I’m not a big animal lover, and I don’t get too emotionally effected by animals, but this was hard to take even for me.  You cannot tell me that God could create a situation like that and say, “It is very good.” As Christians, our answer to the problem of pain is to point to sin.  But if God created it and called it good long before sin, we have a real problem.

7. Our Hope (Heaven will be good in the same way the original creation was good)

Throughout Scripture creation is tied to both judgment & redemption.  After a discussion of the creation and the flood, Peter talks about our hope: we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Pe.3:13) What will that creation be like?  Peter is talking about Isa.65.

Isa.65:17-25 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create

God is not finished creating.  The hope that we live for is a future creation of a new heavens and new earth. And just like the creation of the first heavens and earth, it will be good. The question is, when God promises us something good, what is His idea of good? If it took him 15 billion years of chaos, destruction, decay, mutation, death, struggle, pain, disease and agony to create the first earth, how many billion years will the new earth take? Is that God’s idea of a good creation?  Just keep reading

19…the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. 20"Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

God’s idea of a good earth is not one with weeping and crying and death and killing.

Is it going to be survival of the fittest?

25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD.

That’s the garden paradise restored.  But the theistic evolutionists would have us believe there never was a garden paradise at the very beginning. But if our hope for the future is based on the paradise of Eden it’s obviously important that there really was an initial paradise.

Isa 51:3 The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.

The reason we can be sure of God’s promise about the new earth is because of God’s power displayed in the creation of the old earth.

Some have argued that theistic evolution somehow glorifies God and magnifies Him as Creator.  That is an amazing argument.  I wonder if those people are looking forward to another ordeal like that in the next creation. What about heaven?  Will God be glorified in heaven by the strong ones killing off the weak and diseased ones? If this earth took 15 billion years, how long before the new Jerusalem is up and running? As Christians we do not look forward to a new earth that is dominated by disease, suffering and death, because we understand that those are the very reason there will be a new heavens and a new earth – so those things can be eliminated forever. If the first creation was really billions of years of painful struggle, who is to say the next creation won’t be the same way if you can’t tell from the text?

The difference between the naturalistic worldview and the Christian worldview is stark – they cannot be mixed together. It goes way beyond how old a rock looks to be. The evolutionist believes the world came into existence bad.  All the things we consider bad were there right from the start, but now things are improving.  15 billion years of improving has gotten us to Hitler and Stalin, millions of parents torturing and killing their own children, murder, rape, brutality, theft, cancer, AIDs, deformities, Downs Syndrome, and countless millions of other problems.

The Bible says, “No, that’s backwards.  Everything was created perfectly good.  God spoke into existence a beautiful, wonderful paradise.  A garden paradise. But then man sinned and brought upon himself and the creation God’s curse.  Someday God will eliminate evil, eliminate suffering, sin & death, and reverse the curse and restore paradise.

Ro.8:20-24 the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved

Jacobsen also points out that the Sumerian myths have a garden of Eden type era when people went without clothes and enjoyed peace with the animals and with each other. But it was viewed not as an ideal age of paradise but as a miserable, poverty-stricken existence from which the goddess Nintur rescued mankind. That’s exactly the same as the modern myths.  Talk to someone who believes in an old earth and generally, when that person thinks back to the beginning of humanity, the beginning of creation, he sees not a perfect paradise, but a primitive misery that’s being improved through evolution.

If the naturalistic accounts of the origin of the earth are true, God’s promises to restore the creation ring absolutely hollow – who wants to restore a primordial soup, or a bunch of hydrogen floating through space? Who wants a restoration back to cave men or dragging our knuckles on the ground?

So you can see this is not a minor issue. The very hope of our salvation is tied to the goodness of the new creation that is to come, and that goodness is tied to the goodness of the first creation.

8. The significance of the way God created

The issue is not just the fact that God created.  The question of how He went about it plays an important role in how we think about Him.

Ps 33:8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him…

Why? …9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

The reason all the world should fear God and stand in awe of Him is not just because He is behind the creation, not because He oversaw it and superintended it; the reason every person should revere Him is because of the way He created.  Not indirectly through natural processes, not through minute changes from life and death struggles. He did it by divine fiat.  He spoke and it happened. The implication is that it was immediate, just like the most natural reading of Gn.1 would indicate. It doesn’t say, “And God said, let the dry ground appear’ and within a few billion years some gases began to swirl.” God spoke and it happened. Understanding that has an effect on your worship. It’s the starting point of faith in God. 

This is particularly a problem for the theistic evolutionists, who believe God used evolution to create.[2] The young earth model teaches that God created everything out of nothing.  He didn’t start with any pre-existing material.  Everything that was created in days 1-6 was created ex-nihilo. Theistic evolution suggests that God only created one thing out of nothing – that mass that exploded in the big bang.  Everything else God “created” out of already existing matter.

Accepting the first model is the very starting point of faith in God. Hebrews 11 is the chapter that explains the nature of saving faith.  And it begins by telling us what it means to believe in God as the Creator:

Heb.11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Faith is not believing God superintended the process, or kicked it off, or watched over the world as everything slowly came together.  Faith is believing that everything that was created was created out of nothing.

9. In a synthesis of Genesis and naturalistic scientism, the latter tends to win out

According to a poll published in the Rocky Mountain News a few years ago, must unbelievers are already theistic evolutionists. They believe God created and then superintended and even intervened in the process. But when their view of origins is examined, it matches very closely with the scenario taught by the naturalistic evolutionists, and it is nothing like what is described in Gn.1. When the opinions of the scientists are integrated with Scripture, the outcome ends up fitting the naturalists’ model much more than Gn.1.

Those who are Christians will make an effort to explain how Gn.1,2 fit into their “scientific” beliefs, but they seems to be very little effort or willingness to conform their beliefs to Genesis.  Those who are claiming to be integrating science with the Bible, in fact are mostly accepting every popular scientific theory, and simply altering the meaning of the Bible. When there is an apparent conflict, it’s always the Bible that has to give.  They never assume, “Hmmm, a conflict.  Our scientific theory must be in error.  We should correct it to fit the Bible.” That’s not integration, it’s just Trojan Horse type infusion of humanism into Scripture.

What old earth Christians are doing to Gn.1 is exactly what liberals have done to the whole Bible – take any point they don’t like and make it allegorical so it doesn’t mean what it says. The liberals are at least a little more consistent.  Old earth evangelicals seem to start out making Genesis allegory in ch.1, and then arbitrarily, at some point in the Bible, they switch over to taking it at face value.

What should we do when scientific theories seem to conflict with the Bible?[3]  Do we have to set aside rational thinking and just believe something we know isn’t true?  Of course not. But neither should we always give the benefit of the doubt to popular scientific theories which have a much less than perfect track record.

It is not irrational to believe something in spite of counter-evidence.  We do it all the time. If my speedometer says 30 MPH, that is excellent evidence that I am traveling at about 30 mph, because generally speaking speedometers don't give radically errant readings. But if I look out my window and see that I’m zooming past all the cars on the interstate, and phone poles are passing in a blur, and the dotted line is starting to look solid, and I pass a radar sign that clocks me at 160mph, then I will begin to believe that I’m actually traveling quite fast – and I’ll believe that in spite of the counter-evidence from my speedometer. 

If I read in the paper that S. Boulder Rd. was closed all the way through Lafayette yesterday all day for a parade, I will believe it. But then if I talk to 20 people, all of whom drove on that section throughout the day who claim there was no parade and the road was open, I will believe that in spite of the counter-evidence. 

There is no question the Bible and evolutionary theory are in conflict.  The question is, which is more reliable?  Which one is the better evidence that should override the counter-evidence?

While professing to believe the Bible, many (not all) of those who believe in an old earth end up almost completely ignoring Gn.1&2. They claim, “We believe it.  It’s just that it’s allegorical and symbolic.” But if you read their writings, you find they spend a lot of time telling you what Gn.1&2 doesn’t mean, but very little time talking about what it does mean. That’s because if theistic evolution is true, Gn.1&2 are either wrong or, at best, meaningless.

They say, “But we believe God is the Creator!  That means we accept Gn.1&2” But Gn.1&2 say a lot more than just that God is the Creator.  If theistic evolution is true, what is the meaning of the rest of it? Is there a way to harmonize any of it with evolutionary theory?

Evolutionists: Sun & stars exist before the earth.
Bible: Earth is 4 days older than the sun & stars

E: Sun much older than the moon
B: created the same day

E: Land first, then oceans
B: Oceans first, then land


E: the first light on earth from the sun
B: light on earth prior to the sun

E: the sun existed before land plants on earth
B: land plants existed one day before the sun

E: Dinosaurs extinct before man existed
B: Dinosaurs created the same day as man

E: reptiles before birds
B: birds before reptiles

E: land mammals before marine mammals
B: Marine mammals before land mammals

E: Death before Adam (in fact, it was by means of death that Adam came to be)
B: Death only after (it was through Adam that death came to be)

E: God created through the indirect process of allowing natural laws to operate
B: God created as a direct action by divine fiat

E: We know about the nature of the creation process, because we observe it today through science.
B: Creation is over.  It came to an end after the 6th day.

10. Creation is Over
That last point is significant.  Whatever means God used to create, it is no longer happening.

Most people who believe in an old earth believe that what we observe today must have come to be by means of the processes we observe today. If we observe rivers cutting through the earth and making a canyon, we assume that God must have created canyons by means of erosion. When we see light traveling at a constant speed all the time, we assume that God must have created what we see in the night sky by means of light traveling at that speed. When we observe certain elements decaying and producing other elements we assume God created those other elements by means of the decaying process.

But those kinds of assumptions violate the clear teaching of Gn.2:2-4 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 4This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. That passage is clear that whatever “processes” God used to create the world, those processes are no longer taking place. That would rule out things like gravity, explosions in space, erosion, decay, survival of the fittest, the movement of light, the laws of physics, etc. as being processes God could have used for the creation. We know He did not use those things, because the work of creation is finished, and all those processes are ongoing.

Again, this is particularly a problem for theistic evolutionists. If theistic evolution were true, and God created by means of natural laws – laws of physics, motion, chemistry, probability, etc. – if the creation was brought about by disease, decay, toil, struggle, killing, pain, suffering & death, then what ended on day 7? The whole premise of theistic evolution is, “These are the things we observe, therefore they must have been the means of creation.” But if you observe them today, that’s proof they were not the means of creation. If creation were brought about by evolution, how do you explain the fact that to this day we still have the laws of physics, and we still have disease, decay, toil, struggle, killing, pain, suffering & death? Scripture always refers to the creation in the past tense, not the present. Mt.25:34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. The creation of the world was an event in the past that has long since been over. It is not ongoing.

11. The scientific data fit the young earth model

If you still struggle with this, perhaps it would help if you thought in terms of another act of creation besides the creation of the heavens and the earth. Jesus gives us several to choose from - for example when He turned water to wine. What role could science play in analyzing that miracle?  If the wine were sent to the lab, how old would the scientist at the lab say the wine was?  He would make judgments based on established scientific facts on how long it takes for wine to ferment, how long it takes grapes to grow and mature, etc. They could probably even offer solid evidence for what region of the world the grapes were grown in, the amount of rainfall there was the year they were grown, etc.
Would any of that be helpful in understanding the origin of that wine?  No.  Even though the methods the scientists used may be perfectly valid in normal circumstances, the conclusions would be misleading in the case of a miracle of creation.

So is there a tension between John 4 and science?  There is a tension between John 4 and pure naturalism.  But since all science can do is make observations about the way things naturally progress, it doesn’t really have anything to say about instances of miraculous divine activity.  I’m not really concerned about the debate about the configuration of starlight or the molecular makeup of rocks at the time of creation any more than I’m interested in debating about the chemical properties of the wine Jesus created for the wedding.

Some Christians seem to feel threatened at the prospect that the divine activity described in Gn.1 can’t be explained naturalistically. The only real threat to my belief system is if it can be explained naturally. It would be a major problem for me if scientists found a naturalistic explanation for how water could be instantly turned to wine, a man could walk on water or feed tens of thousands with one kid’s lunch, or rise from the dead. That would be a problem for me, because the very fact that those things can’t be explained naturalistically, and yet still happened, are the very reason why I’m convinced Jesus was God in human flesh just as He claimed.

Since science observes the way God designed the natural order, it doesn’t really have anything to say about the time when God acts supernaturally. Is that position opposed to science or sound reason?  No.  In fact, it seems to me to be consistent with what scientists have found in examining our world.

If God created a beautiful world that was functionally mature, then you would expect things to appear to have varying ages – the sapling would look young, the big oak tree would look old, the canyon would look very old, the starlight would appear older still, etc. So is the creation model consistent with what scientists have found?  If the young earth view were true, what would we expect scientists to fine?  We would expect that depending upon what they were measuring; they would discover various different “ages” for the earth. Some methods would yield a very old age, others a much younger age, etc. From what I understand, that’s exactly what we find.  That doesn’t prove the young earth creation, but the data are consistent with it.

On the other hand, if the earth were created in a primitive form and all that we see developed naturally from that point, we would expect all the dating methods to point to the same apparent age.

12. The “gap theory” is ruled out by the Hebrew grammar

The Pre-creation Chaos Theory
This view says God created the heavens and earth formless and empty.  It has two variations, based on different grammatical analyses of the text. Some regard Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause while others regard that verse as a summary statement explicated in the remainder of the chapter.


The Initial Chaos Theory
The initial chaos view of cosmogony interprets Genesis 1:1 as a declaration that God created the original mass called heaven and earth out of nothing, and verse 2 as a clarification that when it came from the Creator’s hand, the mass was unformed and unfilled.

Looked at grammatically, verse 1 is construed as an independent clause and verse 2 as three circumstantial clauses describing the condition of the earth when it first came into existence. Calvin wrote, “For Moses simply intends to assert that the world was not perfected at its commencement, in the manner in which it is now seen, than that it was created an empty chaos of heaven and earth.” Some who hold this view regard verses 1 and 2 as a chronological unity separated by a gap in time from the first day of creation described in verse 3, whereas most think of verses 1–5 as a chronological unity.

This is the traditional view, and according to Gerhard Hasel it has the support of the majority of Jewish and Christian interpreters. Although this view is still supported in modern times, its number of adherents is diminishing. Moreover, the classic grammar by Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley construed verse 2 as a circumstantial clause with verse 1. Also, this conception of the cosmogony is satisfying to the strictly monotheistic view of the universe.

The view affirms that God existed before all and then He created matter with its potential for life. Luther wrote the following on this view:
The plain and simple meaning of what Moses (here) says is that all things that exist were created by God and that at the beginning of the first day, God put into it the light so that the light of day was shining and the shapeless heaven and earth could be seen. This was not unlike a shapeless crude seed from which things can be generated and produced.

The only real argument against this view is that it “places a different value” on the words the heavens and the earth than are given to them anywhere else in Scripture because elsewhere in Scripture the phrase refers to a fully created heavens and earth.  But it’s not surprising that we would find an exception to that at the very beginning of the creation.


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Footnotes
[1] I think it’s also intended to demonstrate that it was a long enough period of time for the earth to become quite populated.  It was not just 3 dozen people who died in the flood.  It was a burgeoning world of humanity.

[2] This point is not as great a problem for progressive creationists, who believe God created everything out of nothing, but with huge intervals in-between the various things He created. Although that view is hard to reconcile with the fact that land animals and man were created on the same day, but not the same day as birds; or with the fact that fruit trees were created a whole day before the sun.
[3] This question is addressed in detail in the “Discernment” class.
  



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Another sermon on the subject of creation: