Age Of The Earth

“…let dry ground appear…” — God, Gen. 1:9
(Copyright © 2011 by Wil C. Fry.)

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.

“Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place…”
— God, Gen. 1:9
(Copyright © 2006 by Wil C. Fry.)

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.

Part of a larger series I’ve begun calling “De-distorting Christianity”. Even if I later change the series title, this tag link should still work.

  1. >>plenty of battles to fight without picking this unnecessary one.<<

    There's the rub.

    In staff meeting yesterday, we talked a little about the politics of marriage. Our publisher, a Biblical literalist, got off on the topic of gay marriage and the destruction of the family. "Once the family falls apart, so does society."

    I think if I'd had the energy to call him out, I would have said that divorce, child abuse, alcoholism, adultery, pornography, television, video games, and any number of a long list of behaviors, all threaten the family more that gay marriage.

    But I understand why he and his ilk latch onto a single idea, be it gay marriage or the age of the earth: in an incredibly complex world with bafflingly difficult problems, it is so much more satisfying to say, "Here is our problem, and here is our solution!"

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      ‘ “Once the family falls apart, so does society.” ‘

      I think perhaps (and I believe my sister would agree with me here) that the “family” fell apart a long time ago, at least in a general sense, despite shining examples of specific families that are doing just fine. And instead of addressing core issues (including the ones you listed) that have threatened families all along, it’s just easier to latch onto gay/lesbian relationships as the scape goat.

      ‘…it is so much more satisfying to say, “Here is our problem, and here is our solution!” ‘

      Yes, and that characterization applies to SO many issues today, across the political spectrum. Problem: schools failing. Solution: test more. (Or raise teacher pay, or whatever the solution of the day seems to be.) Problem: poverty. Solution: raise minimum wage. (Or any number of other one-liners.) None of these things are easy, but if you make it sound easy, you have a better chance of getting elected, or at least getting a headline.

  2. More interesting to me, the big bang (if that model holds) happened 14.8 billion years ago. Our solar system is only 4.8 billion years old. So it took god ten billion years after self-creation to create us. That is a lot of time to create other things. Ya gotta wonder how much practice was put into thinking us up.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      I suppose, were I a god, I might engage in various pursuits that might amuse me for billions of years yet be completely incomprehensible to you tiny, powerless mortals. ;-)

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