This will not be a detailed study but rather a summary of the issues and an opinion statement. Is the earth 6000 years old (give or take) as the Bible's geneologies suggest or is it (more precisely, is the universe) 14 billion or more years old? There are Christians who have "done their homework" supporting both positions! Why the varying views?
First, I would not say this is an issue that is a Christian "essential". One view holder should not reject the other as a heretic. HOWEVER, it is an extremely important issue in that Barna indicates that as many as 70% of the young people from evangelical churches reject their faith after entering a secular college or university and hearing the old-earth/evolution ideas. Some of these young people are concluding that "science" disproves the Bible.
Foundation: Scientific facts must be testable, observeable and repeatable. Note that well, for no human has observed the timing of the universe's arrival! Nor has a case of (macro)evolution ever been observed. So all such ideas are THEORIES, not facts no matter who (says) or how many people say otherwise.
An underlying issue for Christians ought to be whether God knows how to say what He means. Until the 19th century no one questioned whether "the evening and the morning were the first day" and "the second day" meant just what was said. No one was reinterpreting the time frame into days of more than 24 hours or squeezing millions of years into the story. We do realize that well-meaning Christians feel a need to not ignore the truths that science TELLS us are established, and try to make them harmonize with the Biblical narrative. But science is not always objectively scientific.
It is important to understand that the old earth view is based on some unproveable assumptions. This further removes the "scientific fact" basis of old earth thinking from truth to theory. One of the main evidences presented by old earth proponents is that it takes starlight from distant stars (millions of light years away) millions of years to get to the earth. But this is based on several assumptions. First, do we KNOW that the speed of light has never changed? (more on this below). Secondly, do we know the rate of expansion of the universe has always been the same? The Bible DOES say 17 times that God stretched out the heavens...wouldn't a historic compacted universe resolve some of this dilemma? Thirdly, do we know that God did not choose to create the stars with light already visible? Are we willing to acknowledge God has the power to change/control any or all of these variables?
Another possible answer (for the super-intelligent reader) is found at Answersingenesis.org in an article called Anisotropic Synchrony Convention - a Solution to the Distant Starlight Problem. To try to put this simply - it is known that the speed of light can be affected by certain variables. It is different in a vacuum than in space. Einstein understood this, and the theory (A.S.C.) is consistent with the laws of physics. My explanation has NOT done justice to this theory, but if this theory is verified, it solves the distant starlight problem. Honestly, the information is way over my head, but it illustrates that just because we don't have an answer "in concrete" YET on this does not mean we won't get to that point later on. I have footnoted below a statement that gives more information about this complex subject.*
One old earth argument is as follows: Would God create a world that is a "lie" in terms of its apparent age? Would He make it look old even though it isn't? Adam looked perhaps 20 years old at actual "age" 1, and the trees of the garden bore fruit at age 1 (day)...because these things made SENSE as requirements for successful life on earth. Would we fault God for doing the same thing relative to the stars? A part of the answer to this "lying" dilemma is that (again) until recently, the millions of years idea was not evident to anyone. Secondly, while there is some evidence that SUGGESTS an old earth, the rest of the story is that in recent years OTHER scientific evidence points to a YOUNG earth, and thus, the evidence is not lying, and it is not conclusive but confusing at best. Old earth defenders say we must believe the "Book of Nature" as well as the Bible...but they generally refer to PART of what we can observe rather than all of it! One more thing: could it be that further scientific discoveries will change the things scientists are now presenting as accepted facts? It has happened many times in the past. I recall not too many years back when the age of the universe was 4 Billion years, not 14 billion years. I am dating myself, but in Jr. High I learned that the simple cell was made of just the three types of parts we see in an egg! Today we know the cell's inner workings are HIGHLY complex! Today's "facts" may become tomorrow's fiction.
I have been reading articles and watching videos and want to just pass on one that I cannot VERIFY but seems rather compelling. It shows a number of artifacts that have been found imbedded in coal which would (according to scientific measurements) normally date to over 300 MILLION years old (humans are supposedly only 1 million years old) But the items are obviously made by humans - a hammer, a toothed-gear, and more. Google: Young Earth Videos - End-all Proof.
Another compelling argument for ME regarding how accurate current "scientific" thinking is, is the age of the human race. We can calculate population growth patterns based on past statistics. Even if we factor in natural disasters, wars and disease epidemics and LOWER the growth rate from it's past average of about 1.5% down to .5% per year, we STILL (by simply starting with 2 people and doubling every 200 years) come up with a current population for the earth of what we have now in about 4600 years, which takes us back to about the time of the Biblical flood. On the other hand, if we try to do that with the 1 million year figure, we come up with a number that would put 150,000 people per square inch all over the earth. I tried calculating the population just going up to 20,000 years, and the number had more than 28 digits in it! Further evidence can be seen at site listed below*
Beyond that, I can tell you there are MANY MANY arguments given by both the old earth and young earth folks, and I have found them very interesting to study. The starlight issue is the only one that seemed convincing enough to make me wonder and search. But ultimately...for me.... I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I think of God saying "the morning and the evening were the first day" and thinking He really didn't mean morning or evening or day, or first, or second, etc. (Evolutionary order of creation varies on MANY points with the Bible's chronology of creation -- it makes nonsense out of Genesis 1. Dr. Hugh Ross has tried to blend the chronology, but his attempt creates problems with other Biblical teachings, and his big bang assumption has some built-in problems as well.)
Because of that feeling I have had, or more accurately, that reflection of my FAITH in God's Word I will not identify the other suggested "evidences" for the old earth view. (TV shows, textbooks, college professors all have a virtual monopoly on getting the word out in this regard.) Evidence for the young earth view for you to study if you are interested (it can all be found on-line by searching key words) includes the shrinking sun, the receding moon, the rate of sediment deposit on deltas, tree rings, the amount of chemical elements in the oceans, the magnetic field of the earth, excess heat in Jupiter and Neptune, helium in granite and zircons, polonium radio-haloes, polystrate fossils, the existence of short period comets, saturn's rings, the existence of galaxy spiral arms, incongruous orbits of planets, the existence of C-14 in items that should not have any in them (if the earth is old), and there are more evidences as well. Admittedly many of these evidences are (like old-earth arguments) based on assumptions...but they are assumptions commonly accepted by scientists. This is why the age of the earth cannot be nailed down beyond any possible doubt.
I realize that I have just skimmed the surface of the issues involved (gap theory, theistic evolution, progressive creationism, geologic column, dinosaurs, flood effects etc.). But it seems clear to me that there is no need to allow the confusing, changing, unscientific conclusions dubbed the "Book of Nature" to negate the Biblical record. Scientists are WRONGLY labeling theories as facts! There is a lot of convincing evidence that verifies the Bible's timetable. Our youth need to know the Bible and true science are compatible!
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* "On a large scale, where objects are definitely objects and waves are definitely waves, where every position is well defined and an object can be at only one position at a time, relativity seems to work. On a tiny scale, where whether something is a particle or a wave depends on how you measure it, where nothing has a clearly defined position and something can reach its destination before it leaves its original location, relativity does not work. A useful set of three one-hour videos that discuss this 'problem' and are free to watch can be found on the PBS Nova site:
Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Illinois Central College