I love listening to your material about God and Science. How old is the earth really, and why does it matter when talking to non-believers who come from a background of scientific thinking? What’s the deal with dinosaurs and the time frame of Genesis? Do we know the time frame they lived and were they destroyed with the flood of Noah? I know at times my kids ask me this- 11 year old and 8 year old.
For many people this is simply not a big deal at all. For adults who come to us, perhaps more than 80% will never have a problem with the question of the age of the earth. However, for our young people this will almost certainly come up and for some it can be a devastating problem. Therefore, for the young, we need to cover this question. The reason is that if they hear something at home or in church which is dramatically different from what they hear in science class, this very often creates a problem. People who are trained in science who hear Christians claiming that the earth is a few thousand years old and that this claim is “scientific” will have a huge stumbling block.
Here is how I deal with it, both when I teach for churches and when I teach in my Intro to Scientific Thought class where we discuss the age of the earth.
The scientific answer to the age of the universe is that the universe appears to be about 13.5 plus or minus about 0.2 billion years. This is based on two measurements. One is estimating the age of the oldest objects in the universe, which are certain stars in eliptical galaxies. The other is measuring the distance to the farthest objects. Both measurements agree within a few percent of one another which gives us rather strong confidence in these numbers.
The scientific answer to the age of the earth is that it is about 4.6 plus or minus 0.1 billion years. Actually, this is the age of our solar system rather than the earth. This age is based principally on the age of rocks on the moon, from Mars and from meteorites. There are other measures of the age of the earth, such as a lower limit from the oldest rocks on the earth, the recession of the moon from the earth and other measurements.
These are the scientific results. This does not prove that the earth and the universe are indeed these ages. God is powerful enough that he could create a fish ready to eat, wine ready to drink and, as John the Baptist said, he could create “children of Abraham” from the very stones of the earth. I believe this and I believe that God could have made the earth in a way so that from the instant it was created it appeared to be 4.6 billion years old. Science cannot test for supernatural events, nor can it refute them. As much as some atheists and agnostics would like you to believe it, science cannot absolutely establish the date of things which happened before there were humans to observe them. Such calculations depend on the assumption that the laws of nature are unchanging and that there is no supernatural intervention. However, here is the plain truth. The universe and the earth appear to be very old. There is literally NO DATA from science which agrees with the young earth model. Those who say differently are just plain wrong. The earth and the universe could be young, but this could only be true if God made them to appear old for whatever reason he chose, because the fact is that the earth appears old.
What, then, about dinosaurs and trilobites and the like? Simple. There were no dinosaurs walking around when the flood of Noah happened. If the earth was created by God just a few thousand years ago, then apparently dinosaurs never lived. Their fossils would represent creatures which literally never lived, as there is no conceivable way that the science on dinosaurs could have them living just a few thousand years ago. People who claim differently are just plain wrong. The fossil record and the dating techniques conspire to reach this conclusion. It is absolutely impossible to support scientifically trilobites and dinosaurs existing just a few thousand years ago. To say differently is to behave in an unscientific way. There is no wiggle room here, no matter what people say. If Christians create the impression in their churches that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, they are setting their hearers up for a big fall. This is irresponsible behavior.
As for Genesis 1, there are two possible approaches. One is to interpret the “days” literally, but in this case, we must teach our children that God created the earth to appear old. We cannot tell them that dinosaurs lived a few thousand years ago as this would be counter-factual. So, we can either go for the appearance of age explanation, or we can explain that the “days” of Genesis 1 are not literal, but are the ages over which God did his work. It just so happens that the description in Genesis, if the times are taken non-literally, match up very well with the scientific evidence. First light, then the earth with seas covering it, then land emerges, then life begins in the water, then it emerges on the land, then ever-more-complex life, then humans. Bingo.
So, whatever we do, we need to present a picture which does not deny the science as this would be disingenuous and it will set up our children for a big fall when they realize that they were sold a bill of goods.
That is my take on it.