How Old is Earth?
I recently have had conversations about creationism with friends who hold the Old Earth Creationist (OEC) view. Those with this view believe that God created the earth and the universe over billions of years. They do not believe in evolution; rather, they believe that God created and organized the universe over long periods of time.
One of their most powerful points in favor of OEC is a concept from light that Hugh Ross has made popular–the spectral lines are broadened, consistent with the amount of space traveled through. This means that the broader the spectral lines, the farther the light has traveled, possibly billions of light years. Assuming Mr. Ross is correct about the spectral lines, the universe is many billions of years old. How can this be reconciled with the YEC view that the universe is young (under ten thousand years)?
YECs believe that the universe was created by God with the appearance of being older than it really is. Mr. Ross suggests that this would be divine trickery. He feels that God creating the universe at the command of His words and making it look old is misleading.
Let’s take a quick look at the biblical record. In Genesis 1:14 God, on the fourth day, created the lights, including the sun, moon and stars. I would take this to mean that God not only created the stars but He also created the light from the stars so that Adam, Eve and the rest of us could see the stars and galaxies. Couldn’t God have made the light to travel instantly or even a billion times faster on the fourth day of creation (thus yielding a billions-of-light-years-old appearance)? The Bible says in Genesis 1 that God created these things. He spoke them into existence, reads Genesis 1:14, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…’” We know from the text that Adam and Eve were adults, not babies. The earth was not a molten ball, but had grass and trees. The trees were not seeds, but grown trees that provided shade. Since the people, plants and earth in the biblical record reveal a mature age, what is misleading in making the light, stars and galaxies with a mature age? I don’t see that God is “misleading” in this matter. Rather, it is consistent with the biblical text. What If You Were God?
Now let’s suppose that you are El-Shaddai–God Almighty. You are eternal, but live outside of time. You develop a plan to create a set of creatures on a planet that does not yet exist; in fact, time, space, matter and energy do not yet exist. You want to prove a few points to the angels which you created earlier. Are you going to create time, energy, matter and then over billions of years organize the matter into stars and galaxies? Why do it over billions of years when you can do it in an instant? No, by the power of your words you order the light into existence. You create the earth for these creatures and you make it hospitable. You provide the planet with water, vegetation, atmosphere and all the ingredients for life. Then you decide to create the sun, moon, stars and galaxies. Since the stars and galaxies are so far away, you graciously extend the light from these stars and galaxies so that your creatures can see and enjoy them. It’s a natural! If I was God I would not form the cosmos over billions of years. In addition, God wants us to see His great power. He speaks and it is done! Isn’t it silly to do the creation over billions of years when God can just as well do it instantly or in six days? Hugh Ross has this “misleading” issue backwards. The biblical record clearly reveals man, animals and earth to be mature. Stars and light appearing to be millions or billions of years old is not misleading in a six-day creation as told in Genesis 1. However, if the earth, sun, moon, light, stars, and galaxies are in fact, in real time, millions or billions of years old while the Bible clearly refers to six days and nights, then that would be misleading! Those who argue for long ages with the use of the Hebrew word for “day” in Genesis 1 are ignoring the context. Genesis 1:13 reads, “And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.” Genesis 1 has many references to night, day, evening and morning. I believe it is very clear that God is communicating just one 24-hour day, not a thousand or a billion years. When I read the passage that says God created the vegetation, plants and fruit trees on the third day, it seems to me that it happened in one day. If the creation of these plants and trees happened over a thousand or millions of years, the vegetation and trees would not survive, because the sun was not created until the fourth day!
According to OECs the evidence for a billions-years-old universe is so overwhelming we must reexamine the scriptures. Just as the church was wrong about the earth being the center of the universe back in the 16th century, so we must bend to the scientific data that is so overwhelming. One OEC web site is replete with arguments supporting the OEC view. There are many arguments out there against YEC and for OEC or for naturalistic evolution. But none of us is God. When it comes to origins, no one has the facts (aside from what is written in the Bible) on exactly how God did or did not create.
Many people write and talk like they have the facts. That is unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that they frequently use condescending language when referring to creationist views. One example of this is an article from the Scientific American.com June 18, 2002 entitled, 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense. The title and the article imply the secular scientists have the facts while creationists provide nonsense. A rebuttal to this article can be found at: http://www.icr.org/headlines/rennie.html
There seems to be a belief among many Christians that they must believe in these ideas from Mr. Ross and others in order to provide a more reasonable faith. I believe that they are wrong and their views are very destructive to the faith and obedience of many people. It is much less likely that an atheist will turn to God if he or she sees Christians writing about all these evidences for OEC which does not accept but accommodates evolution. The atheist is not going to think that OEC makes it easier to become a Christian. No, he or she is going to think, “Ha! Even the Christians believe in evolution. Evolution must be true. There is no God.” The gospel is offensive–accommodation to a “reasonable faith” is not the answer to reaching people!
When it comes to interpreting the Bible some people will make their experience paramount and force the Bible to bend to fit their experience and observations. Proper hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) examines the Bible first and interprets experience in light of the truth of the Bible. I believe those with the OEC view have slipped into interpreting the Bible in light of what they observe about the universe. This is likely not their regular pattern but in matters of origins, scientific observation has become paramount. Walter Henrichsen author of Understand says, in matters of religion Christians have their ultimate authority in tradition, reason or the Bible. Henrichsen says, “Rationalism has occupied center stage. . . What the human mind cannot accept as reasonable is rejected.” As Christians we must keep the Bible as our lens through which we see life, experience and the universe. This is what gives us a Biblical worldview. I believe Genesis 1 is to be understood with creation in six 24-hour days. Whether the arguments have to do with cosmology, psychology, paleontology, inerrancy of scripture or the deity of Christ, there will always be those who interpret the Bible first according to their experience. I believe that is fundamentally wrong. The age of the earth is an issue that matters because it affects how we interpret not only Genesis 1, but the rest of the Bible, too. Jim Bendewald
Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved.
Revised: 25 May 2004 13:18:08 -0500 .
An update regarding Hugh Ross’s evidence of spectral lines:
I have been informed from Craig Rusbult, a strong advocate of the OEC position “some astronomer colleagues [say] that Ross seems to be wrong about this [spectral lines], and whatever changes there are cannot be reliably observed.”
Revised: February 18, 2005 10:23