Science says the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old — based on radiometric dating, while many Christians and Jews say the Earth’s age is 6,000 to 10,000 years, based on a biblical chronology that connects the six days of creation (Gen. 1:3-31) with various genealogies later in the Bible, and matches them with known historical events.
(Since the Bible doesn’t give years and dates for a huge period of later history, early chronologists often used the historically known date of death for King Nebuchadnezzar II to match up the years.)
In my view, they missed something very early.
As I mentioned previously, a literal interpretation of the Bible (common among Young Earth adherents) doesn’t have to include a young universe, since the six days of Creation don’t really begin until Gen. 1:3, when God said “Let there be light”. In the same way, I don’t see much evidence in Genesis’ first chapter that the Earth waited to be created either.
The very first verse of Genesis says simply “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is often taken as an introduction to what follows, but it could just as easily be understood as background material for what follows. In other words: At some point, he created the heavens and the Earth; then later he created everything else in six days.
In Bible colleges around the country, this is often discussed (as I witnessed personally on many occasions). When the question comes up: “Why didn’t God simply spell it out, so there would be no argument about it?”, the answer is often: “Because it wasn’t that important to the message of the Book.”
Inexplicably, many Christians have decided it’s important. There are numerous well-selling books, the only purpose of which is to “prove” a young Earth. Too many preachers and pastors to count spend countless hours at the pulpit focusing on this very subject. For reasons I can’t comprehend, these people have decided that to be faithful to their religion, they must reject science’s claim that the Earth is really much older.
To be fair, not all Christians hold to the Young Earth or Young Universe theories, which is why I’ve said “many” in the preceding paragraphs.
Some groups decided early that they wouldn’t take every word of the Bible literally, and read the Creation story as a general, idealized account. The problem with this, in the eyes of literalists, is then: Who gets to choose which parts to take literally and which parts are exaggerations or allegories? If every believer chooses for herself which parts to believe, then the whole thing falls apart.
Other groups have decided to incorporate later Bible passages into their beliefs about Creation. One such passage is II Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” In other words, God lives outside Time, or at least experiences it completely differently than we can comprehend. With this in mind, it’s easier to take the “days” of Creation as time periods of unimportant duration.
My points here (and I’m often painfully aware that my points aren’t always clear) are: (1) You can still be a biblical literalist and stipulate that the Earth is much older than 10,000 years, (2) There’s nothing in the Bible or Christian theology that makes the age of the Earth/universe important, and (3) Christians have plenty of battles to fight without picking this unnecessary one.