Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth

EarthI’ve seen several posts recently on the subject of creation, evolution, and the age of the earth. If you missed them and are interested in these kinds of discussions, you may want to give them a read.

(See below for some related videos and conferences.)

I grew up believing that God created the universe out of nothing in six 24-hour days and that the earth was about 6,000 years old. My first real exposure to opposing Christian viewpoints was in Systematic Theology I in seminary, where we used Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology1 as our main textbook.

The Age of Creation

Erickson presents five views on the age of creation:

  1. Gap Theory: God first created the earth millions or billions of years ago (Gen 1:1), it was destroyed by a catastrophe (Gen 1:2), and then God created a second time around 6,000 years ago (406).
  2. Flood Theory: God created the universe about 6,000 year ago and then sent a worldwide flood about 1,6562 years later (Gen 6–8); the flood caused great upheaval and accounts for the apparent age of the earth (406).
  3. Ideal-Time Theory: God created a mature earth that had the appearance of age: a solar system and the light emanating from it, plant life ready to be eaten, animals in their full-grown state, and Adam and Eve as adults; everything had the appearance of age, even when it was really only seconds old (406–07).
  4. Age-Day Theory: The six days of creation were not 24-hour periods but perhaps millions of years each (407).
  5. Pictorial-Day (or Literary-Framework) Theory: The days of creation are arranged by the author of Genesis (or by God Himself in revealing them to man) primarily logically rather than chronologically (407).

Erickson is inclined toward the age-day theory.

Development within Creation

He then presents three views on the issue of development within creation:

  1. Traditional Creationism: Every species was created directly by God during the first six days of the existence of the earth (408–09).
  2. Theistic Evolution: The universe had its origin in a creative work of God, but God used the process of evolution to indirectly bring about the various species; He may or may not have been directly involved in the creation of human beings (409).
  3. Progressive Creationism: “God created in a series of acts over a long period of time” (409).

Erickson favors progressive creationism.

Is God Deceptive?

I’ve had several discussions with friends who reject a young-earth position, but I presently hold to a combination of the flood theory and the ideal-time theory for the simple reason that I’ve never read or heard compelling argumentation to make me reassess my views.

The biggest objection that I hear raised against the notion that the earth was created with the appearance of age is that it is inconsistent with God’s character as a God of truth. Erickson puts it this way:

The ideal-time theory is ingenious and in many ways irrefutable both scientifically and exegetically, but presents the theological problem that it makes God an apparent deceiver (and deception, as we saw in Chapter 13, is contrary to his nature). (407–08, emphasis added)

But I don’t find the objection very compelling for at least three reasons.

  1. The argument works against every position that holds that God created anything directly and out of nothing. No matter what your view, everything God created had the appearance of age the moment it was created, and it doesn’t matter if that apparent age was millennia, years, or even days. If it appeared older than it actually was, according this this logic, God’s character would be called into question.
  2. Everything that was first created is fundamentally different from everything that followed it. A human being created directly by God out of nothing can not be held to the standard of a human being who is born by procreation. What would it look like to create a man that didn’t have the appearance of age? Create a baby? Even a newborn has the appearance of being roughly nine months old. It’s difficult to fathom what creating without the appearance of age would look like.
  3. God is not accountable to man for how He chose to create His universe. He’s free to create a star that’s billions of light years away and also create the light emanating from it without our needing to think that He did something shady.

If you don’t believe in a young earth or are convinced that God used evolution to bring about the species that we have today, what were the arguments, facts, or resources that led you to your conclusion. I’m especially interested in hearing from those who’ve abandoned young-earth creationism.

Piper on Creation and the Age of the Earth

I just saw a post in Google Reader from Chris Roberts, where he points out a couple of short videos by John Piper on these issues. They’re both worth watching. I’m embedding them below for your convenience.

Creation Conferences

On a related note, there are a couple of conferences dealing with creation coming up:

Footnotes

  1. Available from Amazon and Logos.
  2. I arrived at this number by adding up the numbers in Gen 5 from Adam’s birth until Methuselah’s death (130+105+90+70+65+162+65+969=1,656). According to Gen 7:11, Noah was 600 when the flood began, and Gen 5:25 and 28 indicate that Methuselah was 369 years old when Noah was born. That would put Methuselah’s death, Noah’s 600th birthday, and the flood all in the same year.

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16 Responses to Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth

  1. LaRosa Johnson February 23, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    Phil, good thoughts. It’s always interesting to read the different arguments that people have over creation.

    I’ll be attending this year’s Chafer Theological Seminary Bible Conference (Mar 8-10) and the topic this year is this very subject, creationism. Should be an interesting discussion.

  2. Bill Moore February 24, 2010 at 5:02 am #

    I, too, was exposed to other theories of origins during undergrad and graduate studies, but I became convinced that positions other than young earth creationism simply cannot be derived from Genesis 1 and 2. In my opinion, other positions arise from attempts to make Genesis 1 and 2 accommodate evolution.

  3. Andrew February 24, 2010 at 5:14 am #

    Another response you could level against the \God is deceptive\ claim is that He told you what He did.

    In fact, I don’t see how someone with Erickson’s position avoids the same criticism. The rest of Scripture, and Jesus’s statements in particular, seem to support something like the ideal-time theory. If God actually created via evolution, He let all of his servants for the previous several thousand years, and even His Son, perpetuate a falsehood. By Jesus’s time in particular there was no shortage of evolutionary theories about the origin of the Earth. If God had wanted to tell people that He used evolution, it wouldn’t have been hard.

    I’m generally skeptical of those who want to appeal to scientific knowledge to call into question the account in the Bible. As we have so spectacularly seen recently, there is no such thing as \settled science\ on anything above very general macroscopic physical laws. It’s not so much that I’m opposed to an alternative reading of Genesis (though it would require quite a stretch); I just don’t think science is a very good competing authority.

    Any in any case, people on both sides tend to badly misrepresent their opponents’ positions, so it’s easy to get sick of the whole debate very quickly.

  4. Joshua Parsell February 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Completely agree. If God created anything from nothing (including an adult Adam and Eve or kicking off the universe with a Big Bang) then it had apparent age. 15 rings on a 2-day old cedar tree in the Garden of Eden is no more ore less deceptive than a fossil buried beneath it that carbon-dates to being 2 million years old.I've believed in the Ideal-Time Theory for a few years now. Thanks for telling me what it's called. :)

  5. Rory Roybal February 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    Interesting post, thanks!

    Long ages are a recent phenomenon to justify evolutionary philosophy. I used to believe the day-age and/or gap models were credible, until I realized they had a number of linguistic and logical problems, and that my view was not based on the Bible’s language or historical views, but simply to accommodate long age concepts. These models were constructed in the nineteenth century in an attempt to harmonize evolutionary dogma with the Biblical text. Long ages were touted as ‘proven’ by science, and therefore it seemed necessary to force the Bible’s language to conform to this supposed scientific fact even if this created linguistic, logical and historical inconsistencies. See how this came about at Young and Old Earth Creation Beliefs and Origins.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides February 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    (First time commenter, first time visitor)

    Much deep thanks for this post, Phil!!

    FWIW, where I’ve been is to strongly exclude evolution, whether atheistic or theistic, and to be agnostic about the various creation explanations.

    But I’ve always liked the one (whose name I never knew before (like the previous commenter Joshua Parsell) until now) called “Ideal Time Theory.”

    Incidentally, do you have any opinions or posts about the Local Flood vs. Global Flood debate?

  7. Rob March 17, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    Nice brief overview of the various competing theories. The biggest problem I have with the Ideal Time theory comes when you start to examine the apparent age of things in astronomy. The best example of this is SN1987A, which was a supernova (exploding star) observed by telescopes in 1987. Due to the orientation of the explosion relative to Earth, the distance to the supernova is very well characterized at approximately 168,000 light years. So that means the star exploded 168,000 years ago. If the Ideal Time theory holds, then that explosion never actually happened and, in fact, the star itself never actually existed. So how do you explain a God who creates information for us to observe about an event and an object that never existed? Isn’t that a lie?

  8. Rory Roybal March 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Uniformitarian concepts aside, one of the best ideas I’ve seen to reconcile days in the Creation account with observed cosmological phenomena is based on the idea that the universe is bounded, as the Bible indicates, since this would provide a center of mass and have relativistic effects on time during initial Creation of the universe.

    Conventional big-bang cosmology assumes our universe is unbounded, although this assumption can neither be proven nor disproven. However, the Bible indicates our physical universe is bounded. If one incorporates the Biblical claim in exactly the same mathematical formulas used for the Big Bang , a very different cosmology is produced due to gravitational time dilation in a bounded system with center of mass. In short, billions of years of physical time would have elapsed in areas of the galaxy until the event horizon equalized during the creation of the universe, while the Biblical account would naturally relate ‘Earth’ days since it is intended for men.

    The initial statement in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth” can also be perfectly translated “At the very beginning of time, God created space and matter” and what better simple way to describe a `black hole’ than the next verse “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep …” from which the Creator used to make the rest of the universe, ‘stretching out the heavens’ as He said many times? In my opinion, this almost surely reflects what is intended. The resulting cosmology is amazingly consistent with the Biblical record of Creation, and this black/white hole cosmology also provides a uniquely viable explanation for red shifts. If there was an intelligent Creator, He was certainly well aware of the physical laws He put in place and how to most effectively utilize their processes.

    The basics of this cosmology have now been endorsed and refined by a prestigious scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (see Smoller, J. and Temple, B, Shock-wave cosmology inside a black hole , Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100(20):11216-11218, 30 September 2003).

    There is no logical basis for dismissing this cosmology as a possibility even for unbelievers, since the only difference from conventional Big-Bang cosmology is a single assumption of boundedness, which is already present as a variable in existing equations. If anyone is truly interested in examining all scientific possibilities (i.e. in the true spirit of science), read Starlight and Time by Dr. Russell Humpheys, Ph.D. The author has worked for Sandia National Laboratories in nuclear physics, geophysics, pulsed power research, theoretical atomic and nuclear physics, and the Particle Beam Fusion Project, is extensively published in mainstream journals, and he examines the Bible text in uncompromising detail. After almost ten years of spurious attacks from evolutionists, there have been no errors found yet in his science, although of course evolutionists object to his theology. I have read this book cover to cover several times, so obviously find it quite intriguing, and believe others may as well.

    When we see the Lord, I’m afraid many of us are going to wonder why we doubted His clear eyewitness testimony based on wild and unfounded speculations of men who weren’t there.

    • Rob March 22, 2010 at 9:00 am #

      No offense, Rory, but Starlight & Time has been thoroughly debunked by physicists who actually know the fields of cosmology and relativistic physics. Dr. Humphrey’s position at Sandia Nat’l Labs is irrelevant to his attempts at creating a young earth cosmology. His theories cannot explain the actual astronomical observations of stars, galaxies, nebulae, etc. See this link and read it with an open mind http://www.reasons.org/unraveling-starlight-and-time

      • Rory Roybal March 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

        Rob, thanks for your kind response and no offense either, but again, there is no logical basis for dismissing this cosmology as a possibility, since *the only difference from conventional Big-Bang cosmology is a single assumption of boundedness, which is already present as a variable in existing equations*.

        Hugh Ross’ well known objections are now out of date as well as debunked, please see:
        Starlight Wars: Starlight and Time Withstands Attacks
        Systematic Theology Texts and the Age of the Earth
        The Dubious Apologetics of Hugh Ross

        … and PNAS works I referenced above at:
        Smoller’s works
        A SHOCK WAVE REFINEMENT
        of the
        FRIEDMANN-ROBERTSON-WALKER METRIC
        .

        • Rob March 23, 2010 at 6:35 am #

          I’m very familiar with the battle between Hugh Ross and the young earth community. I’m not interested in joining that battle. I only used that link because it conveniently summarizes the problems with Starlight & Time. But regardless, Humphries’ theory still cannot explain or predict the consistent, overwhelming agreement of astronomical observations that show us a billions of years old universe. It goes back to Phil Gons’ original point about the appearance of age. Why should I accept a theory that has God creating a universe that to every observation appears old when it’s really very young? The Bible says that the heavens declare God’s glory, so if the heavens are clearly and consistently declaring that light takes millions and billions of years to get here from distant stars, why shouldn’t I see that as a testament to God’s glory in His creation?

          • Rory Roybal March 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

            Hi Rob,

            “Consistent, overwhelming agreement” among men does not mean it is correct. If this were true then the world would be flat. The “appearance of age” is an assumption of men based on unproven and unprovable assumptions of linearity and original conditions, similar to reasoning used in today’s mainstream geology imagined by Hutton and Lyell.

            Who says what the original state was, and that processes have been linear since the very beginning? When men make such assumptions, it is not God who would be misleading them if they are wrong, but their own confidence in trusting their assumptions instead of the most straightforward reading of His Word.

            I’m almost sure you will disagree, but simply ask you to consider. If one gives priority to the Word of God (who was there as an eyewitness) over the words of men (who weren’t there at all), what is the most straightforward conclusion? It comes down to who one trusts more, and I believe the most reasonable choice by far is to trust the most straightforward meaning of God’s infallible Word, not men’s fallible thoughts and words.

            If you want to give priority to men’s words and think God’s truth must be manipulated and twisted into unnatural linguistics to conform to men’s fallible ideas you may do so, but I believe this is a result of having one’s priorities backwards.

            Blessings,

            Rory

    • Rob March 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

      Rory, the appearance of age is not about uniform assumptions, it’s about the examination of features that exist in all the various sciences. The supernova example I gave is one such event. It’s the existence of a star and the explosion of that star, yet according to young earth theory, that star never existed. The same is true of geological layers. Layers exist that we can examine which YEC claims were laid down by the Flood. Yet there are nests, eggs, footprints, dung, etc in those layers which show dinosaurs were living, breeding, eating, walking during the deposition of those layers. The question again is why do we see the appearance of events that could not have occurred according to YEC theory?

      The argument that “man wasn’t there, only God was” doesn’t work either, because the YEC interpretation of Genesis is still a human understanding of a clearly prescientific description of events. Nothing about an old earth interpretation violates the Scriptural teaching that God created everything. The incredible grandeur of billions of stars in a massively gigantic universe makes God’s love for our insignificant lives that much more amazing! The idea that the universe is infinitely large (billions of light years across) and infinitely small (quantum physics) simultaneously just shows how incredible God is! Understanding that God could have used a phenomenally complex creative process that produces stars and galaxies and microbes and planets and insects and humans over the course of millions of years does not in any way diminish the power of God. If anything, it demonstrates God’s unimaginable power in that even the amazing complexity of quantum physics, microbiology, and everything else has its origin in God Almighty. Whenever I read the results of new scientific studies that show even more complexity and diversity in the universe, it increases my amazement at the creativity and power of our God. From my perspective, the young earth theory tries to minimize the grandeur of creation to fit an overly magical view of God’s hand in creation.

      Please understand, I mean no disrespect to anyone who holds a young earth interpretation. But I hope you can understand that it’s not at all necessary to believe that the days of Genesis are 24 hours in order to believe in the God of the Bible.

  9. Rory Roybal March 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    I disagree, the appearance of age *is* primarily about uniformitarian assumptions as well as assumptions about the original state of matter, time etc. otherwise such age rationalizations would have scant extrapolated raison d’etre.

    You have examples, I have examples. Some fossils have even been found positioned vertically in multiple strata conventionally assumed to be millions of years apart. The Mount St. Helens explosion produced a valley complete with sedimentary layers and even petrified wood (a mini ‘Grand Canyon’) that would conventionally be assumed to be millions of years old, but we know it wasn’t because we saw it happen. Why do we see firsthand appearance of events that could not have occurred according to OEC theory?

    You are very gracious, my commendation to you for that, and please know I fully realize it’s not at all necessary to believe that the days of Genesis are 24 hours in order to believe in the God of the Bible, as you say. I am not challenging your genuine belief in God, which seems to be evident from your demeanor. However, if you click on some of those links I provided, read and think about it objectively, I believe you would find the YEC case is stronger not only Biblically (which is definitely the most straightforward and was almost uniformly believed until Darwinism took hold in the 18th century), but also scientifically.

    Since you are a Christian, you may also find my Theologica thread about this interesting at:
    Young and Old Earth creation beliefs and origins

    In any case, grace and peace, Rory

  10. David April 14, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Has anyone accounted for sin? When Adam fell, sin and death entered into the world. If this is true then the six days of creation, however the time frame anyone wants to put on it, there would not have been any death, or dying there for we can cross out evolution. Any thoughts, anyone. I must believe in a God that transcends our every thought. He is able to raise us from the grave which can not be proven scientifically. He knows our every thought. My God can do whatever He sees fit to do according to His good pleasure. If He says “There was evening and there was morning” and considered it a day, who am I to argue with God. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe”

    • Phil Gons April 14, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

      Good thoughts, David.

      Those who reject young-earth creationism (e.g., Hugh Ross) maintain that there was plant and animal death before the fall. But I’m not convinced. See my recent post “The Fall Explains Homosexual Animals” for more on this.

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