How Old Is the Earth?
Dr. Hugh Ross, a theologian/scientist, who contends that the earth is billions of years old, has characterized the issue of the age of the earth as “a trivial doctrinal point” (1994, 11). Others allege that the Bible simply does not speak to this matter. [For a refutation of the false ideas advocated by Dr. Ross, see Van Bebber and Taylor 1994.]
One writer states: “Any attempt to ascribe a specific or even a general age to either man or the Earth from a Biblical standpoint is a grievous error” (Clayton 1968, Lesson 4, 3).
The Basic Issue
If it is true that the Bible is completely silent on this topic, then certainly we ought not to make an issue of it. But, is the Bible silent regarding the age of the earth and the human race?
We pose these questions for reflection:
- Do the Scriptures contain chronological data which allow the careful student to arrive at a relatively reliable estimate as to the antiquity of the human race?
- Does the Bible teach that the earth and mankind were created in the same week?
If these questions can be answered affirmatively—and we are confident they can—then the testimony of inspiration must be respected. Shall the declarations of the Scriptures be dismissed merely because some are intimidated by the assertions of skeptical scientists who are committed to the theory of evolution?
And make no mistake about it, the lust for time is paramount in the Darwinian scenario of origins. Dr. Robert Jastrow, one of America’s more popular scientists, says: “The key to Darwin’s explanation is time, and the passage of many generations” (1977, 112; emphasis added). The late George Wald of Harvard University was bolder yet: “[T]ime itself performs the miracles” (1954, 48).
Assumptions or Scientific Fact?
Here is a crucial question: is the claim of great age for earth and humanity, as alleged by most scientists, based upon solid, scientific evidence? Or is it grounded upon evolutionary-oriented assumptions?
No Scientific Proof
There is no scientific proof that the earth is billions of years old. The average layman thinks there is, but he is mistaken.
Dr. Stephen Moorbath, an evolutionist associated with the University of Oxford, wrote:
No terrestrial rocks closely approaching an age of 4.6 billion years have yet been discovered. The evidence for the age of the earth is circumstantial, being based upon . . . indirect reasoning (1977, 92).
Dr. John Eddy, an evolutionary astronomer, stated: “There is no evidence based solely on solar observations that the Sun is 4.5 to 5 billion years old.” He continued:
I suspect that the Sun is 4.5 billion years old. However, given some new and unexpected results to the contrary, and some time for frantic recalculation and theoretical readjustment, I suspect that we could live with Bishop Ussher’s value for the age of the Earth and Sun [4004 B.C.]. I don’t think we have much in the way of observational evidence in astronomy to conflict with that (1978, 18).
Dating Methods Presume Evolutionary History
The techniques for dating the earth result from uniformitarian (evolutionary) assumptions. Radiometric methods for dating the earth’s rocks are based upon the decay sequences of certain elements.
For example, uranium-238 (called a parent element) will, through a series of decomposition processes, ultimately produce lead-206 (called a daughter element). Scientists believe they know the present decay rate. Thus, if a rock contains both uranium-238 and lead-206, the ratio of the two elements will be used to estimate the age of the sample.
It is conceded, however, that in order for this method to be valid, certain assumptions must be granted.
It must be assumed that no lead-206 was in the rock at the time of its formation. But what if lead-206 was a part of the original creation? That would invalidate the accuracy of the age-estimate.
It must be assumed that neither the parent nor the daughter element has been altered in mass since the beginning. However, there is an increasing body of evidence which indicates that both parent and daughter elements, under the proper conditions, can migrate in the rocks, thus radically affecting any result that might be obtained.
The assumption is made that decay rates have remained constant. Again, though, recent research has shown that while these decay rates appear to remain constant within narrow limits, under special circumstances they may be altered considerably. Evolutionist Frederic B. Jueneman declares:
The age of our globe is presently thought to be some 4.5 billion years, based on radiodecay rates of uranium and thorium. Such “confirmation” may be short-lived, as nature is not to be discovered quite so easily. There has been in recent years the horrible realization that radiodecay rates are not as constant as previously thought, nor are they immune to environmental influences.
And this could mean that the atomic clocks are reset during some global disaster, and events which brought the Mesozoic [age] to a close may not be 65 million years ago, but rather, within the age and memory of man (1982, 21).
Did he say: “Global disaster”? What about the Genesis Flood?
Evolutionary Dating Methods Are Unreliable
Numerous evidences reveal that evolutionary dating methods are not reliable. The following examples demonstrate the folly of giving unqualified endorsement to the various “clocks” that are reputed to require an ancient earth.
- Studies on submarine basaltic rocks from Hawaii, known to have formed less than two hundred years ago, when dated by the potassium-argon method, yielded ages from 160 million to almost three billion years (Funkhouser and Naughton 1968, 4601).
- The shells of living mollusks have been dated at up to 2,300 years old (Keith and Anderson 1963, 634).
- Freshly-killed seals have been dated at up to 1,300 years, and mummified seals, dead only about thirty years, have yielded dates as high as 4,600 years (Dort 1971, 210). In our book, Creation, Evolution and the Age of the Earth, we documented one case where muscle tissue from a mummified musk ox was dated at 24,000 years, while hair from the same carcass dated only 7,200 years! (Jackson, 1989a, 13).
Clearly, the evolutionary clocks are drastically in need of repair!
There Is Scientific Evidence for a “Young” Earth
Not only are the evolutionary claims regarding the age of the earth without adequate support, there are a number of genuine scientific evidences that point to a relatively “young” earth.
Dr. Thomas Barnes, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Texas, has done extensive research in the decay of the earth’s magnetic field. His findings indicate that the magnetic field was created only a few thousand years ago, and is decaying toward extinction (1981, 1-4).
Also, deep under the surface of the earth are huge reservoirs of oil and water. Many of these reservoirs are characterized by extremely high fluid pressures. These pressures are gradually diminishing (much like air seeping from the tire of an automobile).
It is acknowledged that the rock above these pockets is porous enough to allow the pressure to escape in a matter of several thousand years. Yet the pressure is still there. Dr. Melvin Cook, former professor at the University of Utah and president of IRECO Chemicals (1968 winner of the Nitro Nobel Award), argues that this suggests that these pressure pools were formed only a few thousand years ago. He contends it is evidence for a young earth (1970, 5).
Actually, there are many tell-tale features of the earth which suggest that its existence is not to be measured in terms of billions of years. In his recently published book, The Young Earth, Dr. John Morris devotes an entire chapter to “Geologic Evidence for a Young Earth” (1994, 93-117).
The Biblical Evidence for a Young Earth
For the Christian who honors the testimony of the inspired Scriptures, the final word on this matter is the Bible itself.
If it can be demonstrated biblically that humanity and the earth were created at approximately the same time, and if it can be shown that man’s history is to be measured in terms of a few thousand years—rather than millions, even billions—then it logically follows that the earth should be viewed as relatively young. Consider the following.
The Bible Places Man at the Beginning
The Scriptures indicate that the earth and the human family are substantially co-existent in point of origin.
Moses described the creation of the earth and man as occurring within the same six-day span (Genesis 1). That these were ordinary days, of approximately twenty-four hours each (not figurative “days” representing millions of years), is demonstrated by the fact that the prophet viewed them as the same type of day as the Hebrew sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).
It is unfortunate that some Christians feel that we cannot “be sure” as to the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1 (Shipp 1994, 2).
The prophets affirmed that Jehovah’s sovereignty has been evident to man “from the beginning,” even from “the foundations of the earth” (Isaiah 40:21). How could this statement be remotely accurate if man did not arrive upon the planet until billions of years after earth’s creation?
Christ stated that “male and female” humans have existed “from the beginning of the creation” (Mark 10:6). This affirmation can never be harmonized with the notion that man is “a very recent new-comer to this planet” (Clayton 1968, Lesson 8, 2).
Paul argued that unbelief is inexcusable because evidences for the existence of the invisible God are “clearly seen” in the orderly universe, and have been “perceived” (a term that denotes rational intelligence—thus, obviously by man) “since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20).
Anyone who takes seriously the plain statements of the Scriptures cannot but see the import of such passages.
The Scriptures Affirm a Brief History of Man
The Bible indicates that man’s years upon the earth have been relatively few.
In Luke, chapter three, the divine historian lists the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, who was the “first man” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Now, from Christ back to Abraham there are some fifty-five generations.
Archaeology has demonstrated that these fifty-five generations spanned approximately two thousand years at the most (Kitchen and Mitchell 1962, 213). Furthermore, from Abraham on back to Adam, there are but twenty additional generations (a number of which were noted for exceptional longevity).
Even if one grants a few possible omissions in the genealogical narrative (as with some Old Testament records—cf. Ezra 7:3,4; 1 Chronicles 6:6-10), there is no reason to assume that the earlier portion of the Lord’s family record is of a radically different structure than that which characterizes the later generations.
And so, Christ’s genealogy spans only a few thousand years—not millions. If the genealogical accounts of the Savior’s lineage do not demonstrate historical proximity, what is their purpose? The Bible is not silent concerning the relative ages of the earth and the human family.
A Compromise with Evolutionary Chronology
T.H. Huxley (1825-1895), the radical evolutionist who was known as “Darwin’s bulldog,” once spoke of certain religious writers who “torture texts to make them confess the creed of science.”
He was exactly right. It is a sad tragedy that many have yielded to unwarranted compromises in an effort to harmonize the Scriptures with the evolutionary time-frame. One such effort is the so-called Gap Theory.
The Gap Theory was advocated by Robert Milligan, a leader in the early American Restoration Movement, in his book, The Scheme of Redemption (1989, 24-25). Later, George DeHoff defended this concept in his popular little volume, Why We Believe The Bible (1956, 27-31). More recently, Roy Deaver has argued this theory in his commentary, Romans: God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness (1992, pp. 167-174). These gentlemen were all sincere, but, we believe, quite incorrect.
The Gap Theory was first proposed by Thomas Chalmers of Edinburgh University in 1814. His views were expanded by C.H. Pember (Earth’s Earliest Ages, 1876), and popularized in the footnotes of The Scofield Reference Bible. This notion alleges that there was a vast era of time, representing billions of years, between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Into this span, the long ages—demanded by “modern science” (evolutionary chronology)—are conveniently stuffed! What shall we say regarding this?
First, the Gap Theory has no biblical basis. Does it not seem strange that this alleged era of billions of years supposedly existing between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 is never once specifically alluded to anywhere in the Bible?
Second, the Gap Theory is unnecessary. It would never have been concocted but for the claims of evolutionists relative to geologic time. Weston Fields, in his brilliant refutation of the Gap Theory, says that Thomas Chalmers “felt that he could make room for the vast expanse of time which the geologists of his day were demanding” (1976, ix).
Even the evolutionists are aware of what some creationists are attempting to do by advocating the Gap Theory. A skeptic has written that the Gap Theory “involves critical compromises with the plainest, most literal reading of the Bible in order to force scripture into concordance with scientific evidence regarding the age of the Earth” (McIver 1988, 1).
Third, the Gap Theory contradicts numerous biblical statements. For instance, it denies that Adam was given dominion over “every living thing” that God created (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:6), since, according to this concept, millions of creatures—probably the vast majority of all species that have existed upon the earth—became extinct before the first man was ever created.
Additionally, it expressly repudiates the divine affirmation that the earth and all its creatures were brought into existence within the six days of the initial week (Exodus 20:11).
Why is the clear testimony of this passage set aside for some speculative theory that is taught nowhere explicitly in the Scriptures? Unfortunately, the answer is all too obvious: men are intimidated by the assertions of modern “scientism.”
There are other conflicts between the Gap Theory and biblical revelation which we do not have the time to address here. However, elsewhere we have responded to the arguments that are advanced in defense of the Gap Theory, and also introduced biblical evidence against it. We urge the reader to review that material (Jackson, 1989b, 6-9).
It would be well to remember this: today’s science is tomorrow’s superstition. According to recent articles in various science journals, some astronomers are now saying that the standard techniques employed in measuring the age of the universe are significantly less accurate than new estimates based upon “compelling evidence” coming in from the Hubble Space Telescope. These findings appear to “indicate that the Universe is younger than its oldest stars, an apparent impossibility that will force a re-examination of our Universe model and how stellar ages are measured” (Jacoby 1994, 741).
Some are suggesting that the age of the universe may need to be reduced by almost two-thirds. The Los Angeles Times reported that “the new calculations are beginning to create a major headache for cosmologists” (Hotz 1994, 1). What does this say about the accuracy of the measuring-methods behind such speculations?
Science will continue to make its vain and vacillating speculations. Those who are wise will not panic with every “scientific” pronouncement, by seeking to adjust the Bible accordingly; rather, they will remain with the express testimony of the abiding Word of God—and wait for the world to catch up!
Alexander Campbell expressed it quite well:
We are aware that some writers of modern, as well as of ancient time, think the Mosaic account of creation should be discarded as erroneous, because the various strata of earth, according to Geology, evince a higher antiquity than five or six thousand years . . . . We place the inspired record, as given by Moses, under a divine commission, against all the theories founded upon nature or science, as interpreted by man; and we believe the Mosaic account will grow brighter and brighter, as the geological theory fades and recedes into comparative oblivion (1958, 69).
- Barnes, Thomas. 1981. ICR Impact, October.
- Campbell, Alexander. 1958. Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch. Rosemead, CA: Old Paths Book Club.
- Clayton, John N. 1968. Does God Exist? — Correspondence Course. South Bend, IN: Donmoyer Church of Christ.
- Cook, Melvin. 1970. Bible-Science Newsletter, January 15.
- Deaver, Roy. 1992. Romans: God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness. Austin, TX: Biblical Notes Publications.
- DeHoff, George. 1956. Why We Believe The Bible. Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications.
- Dort, W., Jr. 1971. Antartic Journal of the United States, Vol. 6.
- Eddy, John. 1978. Geotimes, September.
- Fields, Weston W. 1976. Unformed and Unfilled. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co.
- Funkhouser, John G. and Naughton, John J. 1968. Journal of Geophysical Research, July 15.
- Hotz, Robert Lee. 1994. Looking Younger. Los Angeles Times, October 27, Sec. B.
- Jackson, Wayne. 1989a. Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth. Stockton, CA: Courier Publications.
- Jackson, Wayne. 1989b. Is There A “Gap” Between the Beginning And The First Day?. The Spiritual Sword, Vol. 21, No. 1, October.
- Jacoby, George H. 1994. The Universe in Crisis. Nature, October 27, Vol. 371, No. 6500.
- Jastrow, Robert. 1977. Until The Sun Dies. New York, NY: Warner Books.
- Jueneman, Frederic B. 1982. Industrial Research and Development, June.
- Keith, M.S. and Anderson, G.M. 1963. Science, August 16.
- Kitchen, Kenneth and Mitchell, T.C. 1962. Chronology of the Old Testament. The New Bible Dictionary. J.D. Douglas, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- McIver, Tom. 1988. Formless and Void: Gap Theory Creationism. Creation/Evolution, Vol. 8, No. 3.
- Milligan, Robert. 1989 Reprint. The Scheme of Redemption. Rogers, AR: Bible Study Publications.
- Moorbath, Stephen. 1977. Scientific American, March.
- Morris, John. 1994. The Young Earth. Colorado Springs, CO: Master Books.
- Ross, Hugh. 1994. Creation And Time. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group.Shipp, Glover. 1994. The Christian Chronicle, December.
- Van Bebber, Mark and Taylor, Paul. 1994. Creation And Time – A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross. Mesa, AZ: Eden Publications.
- Wald, George. 1954. Scientific American, August.