Last week, we addressed a question from a reader that deals with two different topics. Therefore, while I answered him in one email, I have split the content into two posts for our site for the sake of topical clarity. Today, we will pick up where we left off last week. I will re-paste the question, and then continue in my answer.
Q) If the earth was formed, and then Satan and the demons were cast down and destroyed the earth, would it would explain the age of the earth being billions of years old and man only going back 6000 years?
A) There are several ways of attempting to determine the age of the earth. Every method relies on certain assumptions and variables which may or may not be accurate. All fall in a spectrum between biblical literalism and scientific literalism. I personally love it when I can combine science and theology, because science is one of my favorite ways to worship God.
One method of determining the age of the earth assumes that the six days of creation presented in Genesis 1 were literal 24-hour periods and that there are no gaps in the chronology or genealogy of the rest of the book of Genesis. The years listed in the genealogies later in Genesis are then added to get an approximate time from creation to certain Old Testament figures. Using this method, we arrive at an age for Earth of approximately 6,000 years. It’s important to realize that the Bible nowhere explicitly states the age of the earth, and this is a calculated number based on assumptions we can not know.
Another method of determining the age of the earth is to use resources such as radiometric carbon dating (which is a science under a lot of scrutiny for its lack of accuracy), as well as geologic cycles, and so forth. By comparing different methods, and seeing if they align, scientists attempt to determine how old the planet is. This is the method used to arrive at an age for Earth of about 4 to 5 billion years. It’s important to realize that there is no means to directly measure the age of the earth, because a lot of assumptions must be made, therefore this is a calculated number, with no claim of accuracy by any scientific method.
Both of these methods of determining the age of the earth have potential drawbacks. There are theologians who do not believe that the Bible’s text requires the creation days to be literal 24-hour periods. Likewise, there are reasons to believe that the genealogies of Genesis have intentional gaps, only mentioning certain men in the lineage. Objective measures of the age of Earth do not seem to support it being as young as 6,000 years, and denying such evidence requires the suggestion that God made virtually every aspect of the universe “appear” to be old, for some reason. This concept comes from the idea that Adam was created as an adult, not a baby. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that other elements of the universe were created mature, looking older then they were. Despite claims to the contrary, many Christians who hold to an old earth view take the Bible to be infallible and inspired, but they differ on the proper interpretation of a select few verses.
On the other hand, radiometric dating is only useful or accurate back to a certain point, far less than the scale involved in dating the earth. Geologic time scales, fossil records, and so forth are highly dependent on assumptions and subject to modeling errors. The same is true of observations of the greater universe; we can only see a tiny fraction of all that exists, and much of what we currently understand is theoretical by every standard. In short, there are ample reasons to believe that secular estimates for the age of the earth are inaccurate, as well. Relying on science to answer scientific questions is fine, but science cannot be treated as infallible.
In the end, the chronological age of the earth cannot be proven by any method. Unfortunately, there are voices on both sides of the issue who claim theirs is the only possible interpretation—theologically or scientifically. In truth, there is no irreconcilable theological contradiction between Christianity and an old earth. Nor is there a true scientific contradiction in a young earth. Those who claim otherwise are creating division where none needs exist. Whichever view a person holds, what matters is whether or not he is trusting in God’s Word to be true and authoritative.
I personally favor the young earth perspective. I believe that Genesis 1–2 is literal, and young earth creationism is what a literal reading of those chapters presents. At the same time, I do not consider old earth creationism to be heretical. I do not need to question the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me about the age of the earth. I believe one can hold to old earth creationism and still adhere to the core doctrines of the Christian faith.