The Age of the Earth

Part 6: Scriptural Difficulties with Age of the Earth

By Steve Webb

Greetings in Christ! This is the sixth in a series of blog articles that deal with the age of the Earth from a Christian perspective. I am a Christian geologist who has been working in this field of science for 38 years. I take the Bible as the accurate inspired word of God, as I have done since my youth. As explained in a prior introductory blog, I believe the Earth is considerably older than 6000 years and I do not believe that this conflicts with Scripture. Due to the fact that my time and energy for writing on this subject is limited, all I can do is bite off a single small piece of this at a time. There are not many areas that I can speak with true authority, but this is one of them. I know my geology. I hope you will give me audience.

In my last blog I talked about the etymology of the word 'day' (Hebrew yom) as used in the Bible and particularly in Genesis. My conclusion was that there is a lot of more complexity in its usage than is often recognized, and that it is not at all obvious that the days in Genesis 1 can be confidently construed as consecutive 24-hour days. At a minimum, one must admit that there is a level of uncertainty in its usage.

In this blog I would like to consider other Scriptural evidence that has bearing on the age of the Earth. The first passage I would like to address is Genesis 1:1-3, which reads: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters."

Question: What day of creation did this happen? If you said the first day, you are wrong, at least in my opinion. We read in the next verse, THEN God said let there be light and there was light; and God saw that the light was good and separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day and the darkness He called night. To me it is pretty clear that some important creation events occurred before God created light to begin enumerating time in terms of days. How much time are we talking about? Perhaps one minute — perhaps 15 billion years. We have no way of knowing.

In the next passage to be considered, most Christians probably remember that the sun was not created until the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19). Given that light was already in existence and that plants (created on the third day) need sunlight, Young Earth Christians (YEC) typically explain this late appearance of the sun as being a product of the sun taking some time to break through the misty shroud covering the Earth such that it was not visible until the fourth day even though it had actually been created earlier. While this is a possible explanation it is by no means a sure one. First of all, if the sun had been created earlier, there would be no reason not to say this. Humans had not yet been created so there was no need whatsoever to couch things in language to explain why the sun was slow in showing itself. Second is the unwarranted assumption that the sun must have previously existed so as to create daylight and support plant life. In Revelation 21:23 where John is prophesying about the New Jerusalem, he tells us specifically that there will be no sun because the glory of God will illuminate it, i.e. there is no reason to assume that the sun was in existence during the first three days of creation. If it had been in existence the Scriptures would have surely said so rather than confusing things by saying it had been created later.

So if the sun was not created until the fourth day, what are the implications of it? The main implications are that these are not solar days; they are God days. They are however long God chose them to be. We have no idea if they represent a brief period of time or geologic epochs. There is simply no way to know. If we insist that they be 24-hour days then we are going beyond Scripture.

Next, let's consider events that happened on the sixth day of Creation (Genesis 1:24-31; Genesis 2:15-25). What transpires during this day? First, God creates all the terrestrial animals. Second, Adam is created. Third, Adam meets God and learns who God is, followed by learning how to walk, talk, eat, use his bodily processes, and then receives a tour of the garden. Fourth, God puts Adam to work naming ALL the animals. The word 'all' here is a comprehensive all according to the Hebrew lexicon. We could conjecture that maybe Adam just needs to name the various classes of animals: reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc. and God will be pleased. But that would not do at all. A giraffe is very different from a mouse and both are very different from hippopotamus, yet each are mammals. This is a huge job. Anything less than 20,000 or so animal names would do grave injustice to the animal kingdom. Fifth, Adam completes his job and realizes that none of the animals are suitable for a mate and that he becomes lonely. Sixth, God agrees to solve this problem for Adam and puts him to sleep, extracts a rib, and creates woman. Seventh, Adam awakens and meets Eve to his great delight and pronounces her his soul mate. After this sixth day is over, I can picture Adam thinking that if he has to work this hard all his life that he had better start demanding union wages! The point here is that this day doesn't have anywhere near the feel of 24 hours. There just isn't enough time for Adam to collect his wits, realize how different he is from the rest of creation, begin to understand who he is as a person, and truly feel loneliness. I sense the passage of a considerable amount of time in these verses.

Many Bible scholars who have commented on Genesis have noticed the curious terminology used in referring to days. Specifically each day is summarized with the words, "and there was evening and there was morning." This is not a day: it is only 12 hours of a day. Why are only partial days being described? Could this be a useful clue? Some Christians believe in what is called the gap theory, meaning that there is an unknown amount of time in these gaps between each 12-hour period. It is an interesting idea; I have no idea of its validity.

Something that is readily noticed by all readers of Genesis is the difference in the Creation accounts between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In chapter 1, humans are the last of all creation. In chapter 2, they are the first. And in the second account the entire creation was accomplished in a single day and the animals created in a different order. This is typically rationalized by saying that the first account spells out the accurate details while the second account is merely a brief recap. It always stuns me how casually this conclusion is reached. It would not have required additional words in order for Genesis 2 to specify that Creation was done in six days and to get the order of creation to correspond to Genesis 1. A recap is fine but not if the recap is inaccurate. The author of Genesis (probably Moses) was not around during the days of Creation so all information concerning it had to have been revealed directly from God. It has to be God who is revealing this information. Are we accusing God of being so forgetful that He can't keep His facts straight from one chapter to the next?

Perhaps, instead, these Scriptures are sending us a very different message. Perhaps they are intentionally telling us to look for meaning instead of scientific facts. The meaning of the early chapters of Genesis has to do with relationships (still another blog topic). It has nothing to do with science.

As a side comment, a YEC is likely to say that regardless of whether creation was done in 1 day or 6 days, it still makes for a 6000 year old earth. In contrast, an unbeliever is likely to respond by saying that all credibility has been lost if Scriptures contradict each other even from one chapter to the next. I suggest we cannot bypass this problem as quickly as we would like.

For those interested in Bible numerology there are interesting numbers to consider with respect to the age of the Earth. In I Chronicles 16:15, the verse refers to a 1000 generations. It reads, "Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations." A thousand generations is also specifically said in Psalms 105:8, Deuteronomy 7:9, and I Chronicles 16:15. As we know from Psalms 95:10 and from the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, a generation was 40 years. This means that Scriptures are indicating an Earth age of at least 40,000 years. As I explained in an earlier blog, 40,000 greatly exceeds the critical 6000 year threshold. The number 40,000 might just as well be 40 million or 4 billion from a Scriptural standpoint. I completely understand that the number 1000 could be a poetic device used to indicate a long passage of time, but why not use 100 instead? It would be just as poetic and would be much closer to a 6000 year old earth. A thousand generations simply does not sit well with a 6000 year old earth.

You have probably not heard the name Gerald Schroeder unless you have done some outside reading on this subject. Schroeder is a Jew with a PhD from MIT in physics. Schroeder reminds us that according to Einsteinian physics time is relative. A rocket ship sent at the speed of light would have people in it aging significantly slower than their counterparts back on Earth. Schroeder theorizes that the account of Genesis in the Bible was written from God's perspective rather than human perspective. When God created the Big Bang it sent matter, including primordial earth, flying away from the center at light speed. This would have created a huge time difference between the two locations. In fact the time difference according to Schroeder is that Earth would 'coincidentally' appear to have aged by 6000 years from one perspective and 15 billion by another. His point is that maybe Genesis was written from God's perspective rather than ours. I have not adopted this position but it is an interesting take on things.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that in reality the first day of creation was 50 million years, the second, 25 million years, the third 40 million years, the fifth 20,000 years and the sixth 1,000 years (I picked these numbers completely at random). Would the Scriptures have given us this information? I think definitely not. The reason is that the Scriptures would then be giving us this information solely for the purpose of science. In my studied opinion, the Bible gives us virtually no science information and it never gives us information solely for teaching us science. The reason for this is that of the many things that God is conveying to us in Scripture, science is so unimportant that it doesn't even register on the radar. The Bible wasn't given to teach us about science. I wish that weren't true because I would love for it to be full of scientific facts, but it is not. That was not God's intent. This is hard for us to accept in our factually oriented science based culture (the subject of a future blog) but we need to read our Bible, including Genesis 1, for other purposes.

So if the six days of Creation are not consecutive 24-hour days, then why are they presented as if they could be? I have no idea. Some theologians have suggested that it is purely to lay the groundwork for the Sabbath day, a concept so important that it became one of the Ten Commandments. Nor do I have a preferred theory as to how to rationalize the apparent age of the Earth with the days of Creation. I simply know that scientifically the Earth appears much older than 6000 years, and I see Scriptural grounds for doubting that the six days of Creation are consecutive 24-hour days.

So where does that leave us with options as to the age of the Earth? Here are the main possibilities.

The earth is 6000 years old (the young earth theory)

The pre- Day 1 creation gap: an unknown amount of time transpired prior to light being created

The day gap theory: there was time in between days of creation

The mature earth theory: the earth was intentionally created by God in a mature state as were Adam and Eve created in a mature state.

The variable day theory: days of creation are used in variable senses, with the first 3 days prior to the creation of the sun being of unknown length.

God had Genesis written from a different time perspective (ala Gerald Schroeder).

The creation days are metaphorical imagery meant to support the concept of the Sabbath and have no direct connection to age dating. Some theologians have even suggested that Genesis 1 was a creation hymn meant to be sung in praise and thankfulness to God and was not intended to relay scientific information.

As said before, I do not have a strong personal position on this. I simply do not know. I am not trying to push a particular theory; I am just trying to describe what I see. My 38 years of geology have not only changed my original position (I was raised in a very conservative church), but have increasingly reinforced my view that the Earth appears much older than 6000 years. In combination with this, I think we do injustice to Scripture with simplistic answers regarding difficult text that can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Blessings and keep the faith!

Published 2-18-14