By the seventh day God completed his work which he had done. (Genesis 2:2)
How old is the earth? Most scientists confidently assert that the universe, and consequently the earth, is billions of years old. Literal twenty-four hour, six day creationists believe, however, that the universe and earth are less than ten thousand years old. Admittedly the overwhelming consensus of scientists today is simply to scoff at the notion of a young earth.
Many within evangelicalism, in various ways, including cosmologists like Dr. Hugh Ross of the University of Georgia, also argue for an old earth. However I suggest that each person who weighs in on this issue does so with underlying presuppositions that radically affect their conclusions. This is unavoidable. The old earth scientist — whether he is a naturalist like Carl Sagan or a Christian like Hugh Ross — begins with science; while the young earth creationist begins with Scripture. He must decide where he begins, because this will affect everything. Remember — no human was there at the moment of creation, so the use of the scientific method is severely limited.
I believe the earth is very young because I choose to begin with the inspired text of Genesis, written by Moses. I have earlier made the case for a literal twenty-four day, six day creation; and this, coupled with the genealogies in Genesis, Matthew and Luke, put the age of the earth at around 4500 years old. I realize that many of you are simply rolling your eyes at this point, saying, 'He is just a naïve preacher who doesn’t know anything about science.' Well, I will admit the second part of your statement. I am definitely not a scientist. However I also suggest this does not matter.
Well, what is the case for a young earth? If you want more detailed information, there are numerous books to consult. I have found Douglas Kelly’s Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms, published by Christian Focus Publications, to be very helpful. And Andrew Kulikovsky’s Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation, also published by Christian Focus Publications gives a scholarly yet readable overview on the issue of creation. First, I suggest the earth is around forty-five hundred years old because there is evidence that the speed of light has been slowing down. If true then the age of the cosmos would be measured in thousands, rather than in billions of years. Old universe cosmologists assume the speed of light has always been constant at one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles per second, but Professor Barry Setterfield has proposed a decay of the speed of light. He believes the speed of light once travelled seven million times faster than now. Setterfield suggests, therefore, that the earth was created in 4040 B.C., give or take one hundred years. You may know that scientists have set the speed of light since 1960 by atomic clocks so scoffers ask, 'If the speed of light is slowing down, then why has the speed of light been constant since more accurate and sophisticated measurements are available?' Setterfield counters by saying that the velocity of an electron’s orbit around the proton of an atom is equal to the speed of light, so if the speed of light is decreasing then the object used to measure it also decreases at the same rate. In other words, the atomic clock would not record the decrease in the speed of light.
Then there are numerous chronometers that are giving old earth proponents real problems. The decay of the half-life of uranium 238 to lead 206, when formulated on a steady speed of light, puts the earth at 4.5 billion years old. The decrease in the speed of light means length of time in this decay is much shorter — forty-four hundred years. Then Dr. Robert Whitelaw of Virginia Tech calls into question the ratio of Carbon 14 to Carbon 12, saying that this ratio was significantly altered by a universal flood, meaning the age of the earth is measured in thousands rather than in billions of years. You may find it interesting that the mortar in a castle in England, known to be seven hundred years old, by Carbon 14 dating was said to be over seven thousand years old; and freshly killed seals were dated at thirteen hundred years old. I also suggest that the earth has an appearance of being very old while actually being very young. We know from Scripture that Adam and Eve were created in one day and were mature at one day, as were the trees of the garden and the animals. Perhaps a Biblical parallel is the turning of water into wine by Jesus in John 2, a process that normally takes many years.
Then there is the issue of uniformitarianism versus catastrophism. The naturalist observes the strata of rock and says that these prove a very old earth because sediments have taken billions of years to accumulate on top of one another. They also say the geologic column (the pre-Cambrian, Palaeozoic, and Mezozoic, for example) further proves an ancient earth. However the Biblical creationist says that the catastrophic events of the universal flood brought a violent upheaval of the earth, causing mountains, volcanoes, and such. Actually the geologic column is nowhere intact at any one place in the world, causing many to suggest that it simply does not exist at all. And the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May, 1980 where two hundred and forty square miles of forest was destroyed in six minutes by the volcanic eruption equivalent to twenty million tons of TNT, if using the principle of uniformitarianism would take millions of years to accomplish. Yet we know the dramatic geological change occurred in only minutes. Also a universal flood would be of such magnitude that the very formation of mountains and fossils would result. Fossils can only exist by quick death and compression. There are one billion fish fossils within a four mile radius in California; and the Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of three miles has sedimentary rock formations several thousand feet thick. How could such sedimentary rock formations be at such an altitude without a universal flood? Then the thin layer of moon dust, when consultants to NASA said it would be several miles deep because of the age of the moon, further proves a young cosmos. The Mississippi River Delta receives three hundred million cubic yards of sediment each year and the build up has been calculated to suggest the earth is 4300 years old. Many other phenomena, like oil gushers, the earth’s magnetic field, the chemical composition of the oceans, radiohalos, and population growth, all point to a young earth. Perhaps we will live to see the day when the predominant scientific view of an ancient earth will give way to overwhelming evidence of a young earth. Both the naturalist and creationist have faith — the first is based on chance or some vague notion of a supreme being. The old earth creationist begins with science and then fits the Bible into his scientific observation. The young earth creationist begins with Scripture and waits for science to vindicate his observations.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.