Science says the earth is old, but the Bible says the earth is young.
Which is correct, and how can I know?
The first statement is correct, while the second statement is a question
of interpretation. In other words, scientific evidence, from any of at
least a dozen independent methods of calculation leads to the conclusion
that the earth is somewhere fairly close to 4.5 billion years old. Whether
or not the earth actually is that is old is another question altogether.
However, the efforts of some “scientific creationists” to claim that
science supports an age of only a few thousand years for the earth fall
apart because there is literally not a single piece of scientific evidence
which supports the age of just a few thousand years for the earth.
Those who support this view will seek to poke holes in many of the dating
methods of scientists for the earth and the solar system one at a time.
Many of these criticisms may be valid. It is true that scientists have
historically tended to be quite overconfident in believing their own
conclusions. Nevertheless, if one is to propose that science supports an
age of only a few thousand years, one must come up with actual evidence in
support of this claim. It is not enough to create reason for doubting the
opposing view. A careful study of the writings of the “young-earth
creationists” will not produce such positive evidence.
What, then, is one to do with Genesis chapter one? Of course, many have
attempted to answer this question. We will recommend a couple of books
which delve into this question more thoroughly. For example, Does God
Exist? by John Oakes (GCI Books, 1999, available at www.ipibooks.com)
Other suggestions include The Science of God by Gerald L. Schroeder
(Broadway Books, New York, 1997), The Creator and the Cosmos by Hugh Ross,
(Navpress, Colorado Springs, 1995), and In The Beginning, by Henri
Blocher, (Inter-Varsity Press, 1984).
To make what is a very complicated question simple enough to answer in a
page or so, there are two viewpoints which are consistent both with
Genesis chapter one and knowledge available from science. Either;
1. God created the earth only a few thousand years ago, but with an
appearance of great age.
2. The “days” of creation in Genesis one represent long periods of time,
rather than literal twenty-four hour periods. (there are a number of
sub-versions of this view: see the references above)
The first explanation states that God supernaturally created the earth,
the solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy, indeed, the entire universe more
or less as is just a few thousand years ago. If this is true, then the
reason that scientists discover a great age for the earth when they
investigate its physical properties is that God created the earth that
way. It is impossible to disprove this claim using scientific evidence,
but neither is it possible to prove it. An all-powerful God surely could
do such a thing. The question is, did he or not? Most scientists, even of
those who believe in God, do not accept this view. However, their
skepticism is based primarily on philosophical rather than religious
The second view, takes the days (yom in Hebrew) in the Genesis creation
account to be non-literal days. Many scientists see the picture in Genesis
chapter one to be an accurate description of the creation process as it
occurred over a great period of time, consistent with what is known from
scientific knowledge. There are a number of versions of this view. These
are described in detail in the references given above.
A possible view of Genesis chapter one from this perspective follows. In
looking at the first chapter of Genesis, one should bear in mind that the
creation account is obviously not a scientific treatise. The original
Hebrew audience of Genesis did not even have words for such scientific
concepts as species, DNA, genetics, chemical elements, or energy. Of
necessity, then, the creation account paints in the broadest of terms a
process whose details would escape the original readers. Lest we feel too
superior to the ancient Hebrews, it is probably safe to say that if God
were to describe to us today in detail exactly how he created the universe
and all the life on earth, he would go way over the head of even our most
The approach we will use is to paraphrase Genesis chapter one,
interjecting current scientific knowledge. This paraphrased version of the
Genesis creation account will be written from the point of view of an
observer at the surface of the earth (Genesis 1:1). This “observer” would
first note that the sun, as it was formed, began to produce light through
the process of nuclear fusion. The early atmosphere of the earth was so
thick that the sun itself was invisible from the surface. When the earth
formed, it was already spinning, so when the sun began to produce light,
even though it was not visible from the surface, there were periods of
light and darkness (Genesis 1:3). Later, as the earth “evolved,” a
separate atmosphere and ocean emerged (Genesis 1:6-8). Next, as the planet
continued to cool and the crust thickened, lighter rocks, mostly silicates
such as quartz and granite rose up above the lower-lying basalt, creating
the first dry land (Genesis 1:9,10). Once the chemistry of the earth?s
atmosphere had evolved sufficiently, God created various life forms?
gymnosperms (non fruit-bearing plants) before angiosperms (fruit-bearing
plants) (Genesis 1:11-13). As the early plant and other life which God had
created proliferated, they absorbed sufficient amounts of carbon dioxide
and other gases, allowing the earth to cool to the point that the thick
veil of clouds finally parted, allowing an observer on the surface of the
planet to observe the sun, moon and stars for the first time (Genesis
1:15-19). Next, God created many different species of higher life forms,
such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; first in the water,
then on the land (Genesis 1:20-25). Last of all, God produced his finest
creation, man, homo sapiens (Genesis 1:26-28).
Where are the scientific blunders here? Is this a myth or is it a
simplified account of God?s creation of the earth and all the life on the
earth? The supposed Genesis “myth” has a remarkable affinity with what is
known from scientific investigation. How is one to explain this fact?
The first view (God created the earth with an appearance of age) involves
a non-scientific assumption which cannot be disproved, while the second
(the “days” of Genesis are not literal twenty-four hour periods) involves
a debatable interpretation of Genesis chapter one. Which is the correct
view? Since neither can be proven absolutely, and both involve reasonable
interpretations of the Hebrew in Genesis chapter one, it might be best not
to be too dogmatic about this question. The reader who is curious should
look at several of the references under the heading “God” in the reference
section of this web site.