How Old is the Earth?

How old is the earth? That is a good question. Although I could provide my best
estimate based on the scientific evidence, I can honestly say I do not know.
One thing which can be said with confidence (as will be shown in this chapter)
is that the earth appears to be very old. How old? Well, that depends on what
evidence you choose to look at; uranium dating, the core temperature of the
earth, the amount of salt in the oceans or any of a number of other more or
less valid measures.

Actually there are two separate but related questions which could be asked.
How old is the earth, and how old is the universe itself? In considering evidence
related to the age of the universe, one could ask about the distance to the
farthest known celestial objects, or consider the theories of the origin and life
cycle of stars and galaxies. In the end, upon looking at all the evidence, whether
one concludes that the earth appears to be one hundred million years old or
ten billion years old does not seem to matter. If in fact the earth appears to be
extremely old, then the assumption of special creation as defined by the creationists
is in big trouble, because an age of seven thousand years or even ten thousand
years is out of this range, to say the least.

One other possibility to consider is that the earth was created ?with an appearance
of age.? In other words, one ought to consider the possibility that the universe
was created in a well-evolved state so that it already appeared to be extremely
old at the first instant of creation. This intriguing possibility will complicate
the discussion of the scientific facts, but in an open-minded search for the
truth about origins it must be considered. This possibility will be discussed
in due time, but at this point it might be helpful to ask oneself what the possible
implications would be for what would likely be observed in nature if it were
true that the earth was created ?with an appearance of age.?

Does it really matter how old the earth is? It would be fair to admit that it
is not a factor most people take into account in choosing their career, or their
friends, or for that matter what brand of toothpaste to buy. Nevertheless, as
stated in the introduction, there are several reasons to spend some time considering
these issues. How does the claim that the earth appears to be very old make
you feel as a Christian? Does it challenge some long-held beliefs? Some people
are even made angry when they hear this claim. The reader?s job is to take what
he already knows by both fact and faith and to be willing to take an honest,
open-minded look at this question.

There exist a very great number of facts discovered by scientists which support
the view that the earth and the universe are very old. In this chapter just
a few examples will be given which will show that the earth appears to be very
old, certainly at least many millions of years old.




Consider, for example, the distance of celestial objects. For relatively close
(by cosmological standards) objects, scientists use the method of parallax viewing
of stars and galaxies to determine the distance to these objects in the sky.
Basically, this method amounts to looking at both a relatively nearer and a
relatively farther object in the sky from two distant points, say from where
the earth is in the spring and where the earth is in the fall. The nearer object
will appear to move just slightly with respect to the farther object. The angle
of displacement determines the distance to the farther object or the nearer
object, whichever was not previously known.


Using Parallax to determine the distance of a star.


Fall Earth



Star  #1                   Star  #2                                        

D                                                D                         





Spring Earth


Figure 2.1

In the fall, star #2 appears to be to the right of star #1, while in the spring,
star #2 appears to be to the left of star #1.



Another method used to estimate the distance to extremely distant objects such
as quasars involves looking at the size of the ?red shift? of light from those
objects. The red shift will be discussed in some detail in a later chapter.
There are other methods of estimating the distance to extremely remote objects
such as looking at the relative brightness and size of very distant galaxies
and estimating their distance by assuming the absolute size of the galaxies
are at least similar to that of ones closer to us. Even if the skeptic chose to dismiss
some of these distance-measuring techniques, they would be faced with the inescapable
fact that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, each containing billions
of stars. The known universe is clearly very, very big!

Use as an example the spiral galaxy M31 in Andromeda. It is 2.25 million light
years from our solar system. How long ago did the light hitting an astronomer?s
telescope leave this galaxy? Since light travels a distance of one light year
per year (that is the definition of a light year), evidently the galaxy being
viewed is at least 2.25 million years old (actually, using the evolutionary
theory of stars, cosmologists would predict many of the stars in the Andromeda
galaxy to be billions of years old) because the light being viewed today left that
galaxy 2.25 million years ago. In fact, looking at extremely distant objects
is one way scientists can literally look into the past. The most distant known
objects are quasars, which appear to be billions of light years from us. Presumably,
when one observes these quasars, they are viewing light which was emitted from
the objects billions of years ago. The conclusion from this evidence is that
the universe appears to be at least a few billion years old.

Does this evidence prove absolutely that the universe is billions of years old?
The answer is no, it does not. An all-knowing, all-powerful God such as the
one described in the Bible could certainly create stars out of nothing. In fact,
logically, if a star was created seven thousand years ago at a distance seven
thousand and one light years from us, it should suddenly pop into view some
time in the next year. We do not see stars suddenly popping into view, so we
naturally conclude that an object such as the spiral galaxy M31 is at least
2.25 million years old. However, a God who could create a galaxy out of nothing
could also simultaneously create light to be in transit from that distant galaxy
to here at the point of creation, making it appear that the star is millions
of years old, rather than only several thousand years.  This argument may not sound
convincing, but the fact is that we are not in a position to ultimately ?prove?
the age of an extremely distant object. The point is this: by this scientific
evidence the universe appears old. The actual age is another question, but the universe
certainly appears very much older than seven thousand years using this evidence.
Please let us not claim otherwise.

How do the creationists deal with this question? Creationists have attempted
to deal with the evidence by calling into question the use of Euclidean geometry.[1] Ei
nstein?s theory of special relativity implies that space is curved, requiring
the use of what is called Riemannian geometry to describe space. This is all
well and good. However, whether one uses Euclidean geometry, or Riemannian,
it would probably be safe to say that there is not a physicist alive today (except
perhaps a young earth creationist) who would agree that Riemannian geometry
could support the idea that light could travel ten billion light years in just
a few thousand years.

Another creationist attempt to defend the young earth view in light of the apparent
size of the universe is to claim that the speed of light has changed over time.[
2] This is a remarkable claim! The constant value of the speed of light is the
underpinning assumption of the theory of relativity. Let it be put simply?there
is no credible support to the claim that the speed of light has changed over
time. A thorough treatment of this claim can be found in a book by Alan Hayward.[3] Let
?us just admit it, the universe appears old. Whether it is one hundred million
or one hundred billion is beside the point. The universe appears to be very




Another piece of evidence for the earth itself being old is the clearly defined
layers in the sedimentary deposits on the earth. Geologists call these alluvial
deposits. As an example, anyone who has ever been to the Grand Canyon will immediately
notice that there are many thousands of nearly horizontal layers of rock with
a total thickness of about six thousand feet. These are sedimentary rocks, which
reason would seem to imply must have been laid down over great periods of time
by deposits of sand, dirt, dust and organic matter. In fact, the column of sedimentary
rock on the earth?s surface is as much as sixteen miles (80,000 ft) deep in
places. It averages over one mile in depth over the entire land surface of the

How did these thousands, and in some cases many millions of layers of rock get
there? Is there any analogy to the rings one can find in trees? The answer is
yes. For example, consider the Green River shale deposits in Colorado and Utah.
Here up to several million pairs of alternating light and dark layers of sediment can
be found right on top of one another. By looking for fossilized pollen remnants,
it can be shown that the dark layers represent the spring and summer seasons,
while lighter, pollen-free layers represent sediment laid down in the fall and
winter. Here we see what seems to be clear evidence that this area was for at
least several million years a region of fairly shallow ?inland sea.?

Consider as well the Bahama banks?the geological formation on top of which sits
the islands of the Bahamas, off the coast of Florida. Drilling into the surface
has shown that underlying the Bahamas area is a deposit of almost pure limestone
approximately 18,000 feet deep. The most reasonable conclusion is that this limestone deposit
was laid down over a great period of time by the coral reefs. The
process of
growth is still visible today. The rate at which limestone is created by the
coral and other creatures living in a reef can be debated (it has been estimated[4] at abou
t one inch in one hundred years). Besides, it can be assumed that the rate would
not be constant, as variations in climate would certainly affect the rate of
growth of the deposits. Nevertheless, one is left with clear and seemingly incontrovertibl
e evidence that the reefs have existed for many millions of years.

Returning to the Grand Canyon, one could attempt to actually count the layers
or to quote a depth-per-year estimate in an attempt to estimate the age of the
lowest layers at the canyon. Whether the sediments were deposited at an average
rate of one millimeter per year or one inch per year, the numbers calculated for the
age of the lowest layers would be many millions of years.

The fact is that creationists claim that the layers at the Grand Canyon, all
six thousand feet of them, were laid down in the seven thousand years or so
the earth has been around. Not only that, but they would claim the millions
of pairs of layers in the Green River shale formation, the Bahama Banks and
indeed all the sedimentary layers over the entire earth were all laid down within
the few thousand year history of the earth. On the surface, this claim seems
to be simply not credible.

Figure 2.2

Sedimentary rock showing strata or layers in the Grand Canyon.



How do the creationists explain the sedimentary layers?up to eighty thousand
feet deep in places? They claim that most or all of these layers were laid down
in one great flood?the flood recorded in Genesis chapter six through nine.
 To quote from a book by Henry Morris, possibly the number one leader in the
creationist movement:

The question is simply whether the model of a single global cataclysm, primarily
hydraulic in nature, can explain the data of geology better than the uniformitarian/multiple
local catastrophe model.[5]


By ?single global cataclysm, primarily hydraulic in nature,? the author means
the Noahic flood recorded in Genesis. This is a humorous way to refer to the
flood. These authors claim that a single flood is the most reasonable explanation
for up to 80,000 feet of sedimentary rock at the surface of the earth. One should
ask at this point, is this a reasonable explanation? Sediment does not normally
form into rock in this short a time.[6] Besides, a single flood could only distribute
an amount of sediment equal to the soil and other loose material already at
the surface of the earth when the flood occurred. In addition, the multitude
of layers have unique chemical as well as fossil makeup, inconsistent with the one-flood

Can anyone believe this explanation? The answer is yes, someone who has already
made up his or her mind to reach this conclusion before even beginning to look
at the evidence. The creationists have to perform great feats of contortion
to explain how the older fossils always seem to be below the younger fossils.
For example, trilobites, when found with dinosaurs are always below them, while
the great mammals are always above the dinosaurs, except in the rare exceptions
of overthrust faults. Creationists believe all these species lived at the same
time and somehow during the flood the trilobites got sorted out from the dinosaurs,
which got sorted out from the mammals and so forth by various sorting mechanisms.[7]

Despite the fact that the creationist attempt to explain the fossil record and
the alluvial layers falls apart of its own weight, they hope that if they can
introduce one piece of evidence which might legitimately call into question
the theory that the earth is very old they may cause people to accept the idea
that their theory deserves equal time.

Perhaps the most famous example of an attempt of this type was in the supposed
discovery of human and dinosaur footprints in the same rock formation. The most
well known and publicized example is known as the Paluxy man tracks, found near
Glen Rose, Texas. Films such as Footprints in Stone have been produced which purport to
show ?scientifically? that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. If this
claim were true, it would certainly turn the current system of chronology used
by paleontologists on its tail.

Upon careful study of the actual evidence,[8] the dinosaur footprints appear to be genuine,
but the ?human? prints have been shown to be either random deformations in the
rock, misinterpreted dinosaur prints, or recent carvings. Even some of the original
creationist investigators have since backed down on their claims that these
tracks are legitimate evidence to support the claim that dinosaurs and people
once lived together. Interestingly, young-earth believers have at times referred
to this claim as proven.[9] The problem is that once word gets out that there is scientific
?proof? that man and dinosaurs lived at the same time, it is hard to ?put the
genie back in the bottle.? It can be predicted that for many years to come,
sincere and well-meaning preachers will continue to quote the Paluxy tracks example
as proof that man and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Unfortunately, despite
its being disproved, preachers and creationists and just plain misinformed people
will quote this supposed evidence as proof that geologists have it all wrong.[10]

The conclusion, then, from the evidence of the alluvial layers on the earth
is that the earth appears to be millions of years old at least. Does this prove
(in the most comprehensive sense of the word) that the earth is millions of
years old? This is an important question to be asked at this point. The answer
is no. God certainly could have created the earth out of nothing with an appearance
of age. When Jesus fed five thousand people, as recorded in John 6:1-15, he
created fish which not only had an appearance of age, but which was ready to be
eaten. Bear in mind, however, that if this were true, it would amount to a belief,
not a scientific theory. Science, by its very nature, cannot predict or explain
a supernatural event.

Did God create the world with an appearance or age?  Did he do it in a way analogous
to the fish created out of nothing recorded in the sixth chapter of John? If
a person would answer yes they should be aware that this conclusion would not
be a ?scientific? one. It would be based on faith rather than fact. In fact, if
God did create the earth with an appearance of age, there would be scientific
evidence of age, not youth.

If someone believes that a few thousand years ago God created the earth with
an appearance of age, there are implications which should be considered. In
that case the fossils buried deep within the earth must have been created right
along with the earth. For example, it would imply that dinosaurs, trilobites
and a host of other species, which appear in the deeper fossil layers, would
never have actually lived at all. In that case, it would almost appear as if
God were tricking us by putting into the ground the fossils of animals and plants
which never lived. The appearance of age theory will be discussed further in
chapter five.




Since the creationists claim the mass of evidence supports the belief that the
earth appear
s young, one might think that they have a large body of evidence
to underpin this view. The fact is that their primary means of approach is to
attempt to poke holes one at a time in all the evidence for an old earth. They have
virtually no empirical evidence they can point to which can be used to say,
?look, here is hard evidence that the earth is just a few thousand years old.?
For example, they will draw into question the accuracy of uranium dating, which
is used for estimating the age of what are supposedly some of the oldest rocks
in the earth?s crust. Perhaps they have a good point. Maybe uranium dating might
even be off by 90%. The accuracy and reliability of uranium isotope dating is
a technical matter, but even if one could assume that uranium dating could be
off by as much as 90%, rocks quoted as being two billion years old would still
be 200 million years old. The question remains, what scientific evidence exists for
a young earth? Two hundred million years is still a lot older that seven thousand

Consider one more example of the kind of evidence used in many creationist writings
to support the earth being only a few thousand years old. This evidence has
to do with measurements of the amount of certain ions in the oceans. The argument
involves measuring the concentration of certain ions in the waters of the ocean.
For example, scientists have measured the concentration of sodium in the ocean
(sodium is a component of salt). By calculating the total sodium content of
the ocean, and by approximating the rate at which sodium enters the ocean at
the present day, one could estimate the time it would take for the amount of
salt now there to have accumulated, and therefore, perhaps, an estimate of the
age of the ocean. There are a lot of difficulties with the accuracy of the numbers,
such as the assumption of the flow being constant and so forth, but if one will
take the accuracy of the numbers with a grain of salt (No pun intended!), they
may reach some sort of useful conclusion. Quoting from a table in one of the
creationist publications:[11]


Ocean Ion

??????????????? Implied Age of the Earth


??????????????? 260,000,000 yrs


??????????????? 164,000,000 yrs


??????????????? 2,000 yrs


??????????????? 9,000 yrs


This table is excerpted from a much longer table. The lead and nickel numbers
seem to the untrained to be evidence that the earth is young. In fact, this
is simply not the case. As any student of introductory chemistry learns, lead
and nickel carbonate are only very slightly soluble. It just so happens that there
is a considerable concentration of carbonate in the ocean. The small amount
of lead and nickel in the ocean is not due to a young earth, rather it is due
to precipitation of the relatively insoluble compounds lead and nickel carbonate (precipitation
of other insoluble lead and nickel compounds may also be a factor). The famous
white cliffs of Dover are formed of mainly calcium carbonate precipitated in
this way. On the other hand, sodium and chloride are quite soluble ions, which could
build up to a much higher level in the oceans. Therefore, data of this type
seems to imply that the earth appears to be hundreds of millions of years old,
not several thousand years.  This is true because the numbers in the table represent
a minimum age of the ocean, not a maximum age.

Again, does this prove that the oceans are hundreds of millions of years old?
No it does not. God could have created the oceans with salt in them. Did he?
The reader should decide for themselves. However the one thing can be said with
confidence is that from this date the oceans appear to be very, very old.

 It would be fair to ask at this point why knowledgeable scientists would use
?evidence? such as that quoted above to support the contention that the earth
appears to be quite young. This is not a question of a simple mistake. Any trained
chemist, physicist or, in the case of Henry Morris, geologist, would be well aware
that this data supports an old-earth theory. Why would someone put it forth
to untrained readers as backing a young-earth theory? This is further support
for the contention that if someone approaches a question with their mind already made
up about the answer, they will inevitably fall into the trap of bending, sifting
and contorting the data in order to reach their pre-conceived conclusion.

Aside from the methods of dating the earth or the universe mentioned above,
there exist many other techniques. These include the amount of volcanic rock
on the surface of the earth, radioactive decay of potassium, meteoric dust on
the moon, optical rotation of biomolecules and so forth. From the cooling of the crust,
the earth has been estimated to be two to four billion years old. From the salinity
of the oceans, the earth has been estimated at between one and seven billion
years old. From radioactive decay of unstable isotopes, it has been estimated
to be between two and four and one-half billion years old. From theories about
the origin of the moon and loss of kinetic energy of the moon due to tides,
it has been estimated to be three to four billion years old. When taken together
and analyzed carefully, the data tends to point to an age of the earth of about
four and one-half billion years.

It would be appropriate to point out that scientists have had a tendency to
be overconfident in trying to give exact numbers for the age of the earth. Nevertheless,
although all these methods do not give identical answers, all known data we
have imply an age for the earth, the solar system, and the universe of billions
of years. I leave the reader with two possible conclusions, both of which agree
with the facts as we know them. Either the universe is very old, or it was created
more recently in some supernatural way with an appearance of great age. Let the
reader decide.

Do not be deceived. Many who would hold the Bible to be inspired by God are
convinced not only that the Bible teaches the earth to be very young, but that
the weight of scientific evidence supports this claim. Many teachers and preachers
in churches quote from creationists or from others who have heard or read materials
produced by creationists about the scientific ?proof? of the young earth. There
is no proof that the earth is young. Dinosaurs did not live at the same time
as people! If the reader finds it difficult to accept what is admittedly a rather
strong conclusion, then they should make the effort to check out the writings
of the creationists for themselves.[12]

Where is the data to support the young-earth or the young-universe theory? Just
because people with legitimate Ph.D. degrees claim to believe in this idea does
not legitimize their theories. Only empirical evidence can. Much of traditional
creationism is simply pseudo-science. It contains claims without proof.

This argument could be taken one step further. Do not be deceived. Creationism
as taught by some can be dangerous to the faith of those who believe in the
Bible. Consider a young student of the sciences who was raised being told that
creationism is legitimate science, and that the truth of the Bible is strongly supported
by it. That student would surely have their faith sorely tested when they c
considered what they were learning in their geology, chemistry or biology classes.
This student would not be questioning the Bible because their teacher was an
atheist, hell-bent to subvert belief in God. In this situation, they would be
questioning the Bible simply because in the long run, a deception has a way
of being shown for what it is in the clear light of the truth, even if it comes
from a sincere religious person.

Once one sees the gaping holes in creationism, where can they put their faith?
What about the biblical account of creation? Please hang in there. The Genesis
account will be dealt with in greater detail in chapter five. Remember in the
meantime that an all-powerful God certainly could have created the earth or in
fact the whole universe in an instant with an appearance of great age. The question
remains, did God or did he not create the earth with an appearance of age?

Now that I believe I have shown the fallacy of the extreme creationists? view,
I would like to move on to deal with the atheists? approach to the data. This
will be accomplished in chapters three and four. It will be shown that although
subtler, the atheistic view, taken to its logical conclusion, requires dealing
with the science in ways somewhat similar to those of the creationists. Remember
that if a person approaches a question with a pre-conceived answer in mind,
they will somehow manage to fit the data to their answer.


This article is an excerpt from the book Is There a God? by John M. Oakes, PhD,
which is available at



[1] For example, H. S. Slusher, Age of the Cosmos (Institute for Creation Research,
San Diego, California, 1980), pp. 33-37.

[2] For example, Walt Brown, In the Beginning  (Center for Scientific Creation, Phoenix,
Arizona, 1995), pp. 158-161.

[3] Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
1995), pp.  99-102.

[4] D. E. Wonderly,

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