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My Views On the Age of the Earth

Over the past several years, I have moved from believing in a young earth (6,000-10,000 years) to an older earth (4.5 billion years).  I wouldn’t say that I’m totally convinced, but I do think that the biblical and scientific evidence is much stronger for an old earth.  This position, unfortunately, alienates me from some of my evangelical brothers and sisters, but I cannot claim to believe something that I don’t believe any more.

For those who wonder about my views on the Bible, I am a strong believer in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible.  I am not, however, convinced that every human interpretation of the Bible is infallible.  We make mistakes and sometimes misinterpret.  Some passages in the Bible are more difficult to interpret than others.  I believe that correct interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis is not obvious.  Intelligent and conservative Christians disagree on the meaning of these passages. 

In addition, I affirm the historical-grammatical method of Bible interpretation.  I believe that we should read the Bible as the original author intended it to be understood in the historical context within which he wrote.

The issue of interpreting the “days” of Genesis is a fascinating and important issue, but it is not one of the essentials of the faith.  The age of the the earth is not a test for orthodoxy and there are several literal views  of the “days” in Genesis.

Consider this post to be an introduction to several more posts on the age of the earth.  It is my fervent prayer that we will have fruitful and respectful conversations about these issues.  As always, I will welcome comments from all sides.  I look forward to the discussion and I hope I can learn along with everyone else.


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Comments

  • Brad

    While I fully disagree with Senor Pratt on this particular topic, and while he won’t get kicked out of church (yet :) ), the really great thing is that, as a “non-essential”, our disagreement has no bearing on our salvation.

    So as long as Christians can agree to disagree in a respectful matter, this should never present a problem or create a divide.

    “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

  • Bill Pratt

    Well put, Senor Brad. I am, however, looking over my shoulder a lot more these days. :)

  • BobM

    Just a couple thoughts about age…. Couldn’t the earth have the appearance of age? Now one of the first objections might be to say that would be misleading of God or an outright lie to make something appear older than it really is…. but wait is there evidence that God does indeed create with the appearance of age…?

    How about Adam… he did not start as a baby? Right? Ok how about New Testament… Jesus’ first miracle. “Huh?” (ok I heard that)… Jesus turns water into wine. Wine takes “time” to ferment and age. Therefore if it is the choicest of wine I guess it had the appearances of age… Do you see where I’m going here? (I will probably need directions back)

    Ok just typing and thinking (not a good combination)… So couldn’t the earth have the appearance of age because it was created fully functional (like the wine)… why must it “sit” and ferment….

    Take care… great blog…

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Bob,
    Good questions. Most theologians of the church, from the very beginning, have held that God reveals himself through two kinds of revelation: special and general. Special revelation includes the incarnation of Jesus and words of the Bible. General revelation is what we can know about God from the natural world. The idea that we can know some things about God’s nature and God’s activities from the natural world is taught in passages such as Rom. 1:19-20 and Psa. 19:1-4.

    So could God create the earth and universe with the appearance of age? Yes he could, but why should we think that? If the very tools of observation and reason he has given us indicate that the earth and universe are billions of years old, then why should we believe that God is tricking us? We know God cannot lie, but he would clearly be misleading mankind if all of the repeated observations of astronomy and physics were completely wrong. In fact, you would have to completely throw out the very discipline of science because humans are unable to trust what they see.

    Specifically with regard to Adam and Eve, we most certainly could have examined them right after they were created and determined how old they were. Liver spots on the skin, scar tissue, muscle and skin tone, visual acuity, blood and bone chemistry, and their memories of past events all could have helped to determine their real age. So God was not trying to deceive anyone by creating them to be a certain size and maturity.

    With regard to Jesus’ first miracle, no amount of time turns water into wine, so the example doesn’t work. A miracle needed to occur for the water to look and taste like wine. God was not deceiving anyone by presenting wine as aged water.

    Hope this helped,
    BP

  • BobM

    Bill,

    Since the age of the earth would certainly fall into general revelation would it be fair to state when we search general revelation for things we may know about God we need to balance them with special revelation?

    I don’t think Jesus’ first miracle can so easily be dismissed as a valid example, simply by saying “no about of time turns water into wine”…. That is the point of miracles correct? To do something outside of “nature”. Couldn’t we say the same about creation? “No amount of time could … something out of nothing” It would need a miracle (intervention by God). Unless of course we would say God didn’t intervene in creation… (which is a different path altogether).

    What is interesting is why we would jump to the conclusion that if something has the appearance of age we would assume that we are being tricked? We already know from special revelation that God cannot lie so if the something has the appearance of age could there be a different explanation that does not implicate God into a lie?

    Let me give an analogy (and I know all analogies fall apart and can get us off track)…. Say I am 50 years old and come to a new town to live (and I don’t lie). All my documents from the past were destroyed. Now when you look at me I really didn’t “age” well. I appear to be much much older than 50. When asked about my age I reveal I am 50 but clearly observing me one would think differently. Now one could conclude that I have lied… or you can conclude there must be some other explanation.

    Don’t get lost into the details of this silly example… the question is “why does one jump to the conclusion that our observation determines motive when it does not match other evidence or specifically testimony?”

    So let me go back to the wine. Jesus changes water to wine. Now if you didn’t see Jesus do this miracle and we only used our powers of discovery and observation then we would conclude that this wine has an appearance of age (good wine takes time to make)… simply put we observe wine and we can conclude that it was fermented from grapes which took some “time” to grow, etc…. Read the reaction of the “master of the banquet”… from his point of view this was the best wine (and the best wine would have taken time)…

    Now the “master of the banquet” was not present at the miracle so he must rely on the testimony of others for the “facts” of what took place. He now has a choice: does he believe what he observes and tastes, or does he believe the testimony that has been given him? If he believes the testimony then the wine has the “appearance” of age but is quite new… if he does not believe the testimony then will he draw a conclusion to the motive and intent of such testimony? But what would be correct?

    So could God create the earth and universe with the appearance of age? Yes…. but we should be careful even with the question since “appearance” could be mislead our conclusions… Maybe it isn’t that it appears a particular age but indeed it is (just like the wine would be) but since we didn’t observe how creation got that way we need testimony. But then if we have testimony we still have to choose which we will base our conclusion on

    So could God create the earth and universe with the “appearance” of age? Yes…. “but why would we think that?”
    Well, why not? We have testimony and we have our observation.

    Just thinking….

    Bob

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Let me try another direction with you. We cannot, in principle, determine the age of Adam and Eve, nor the miraculous wine, because they no longer exist on earth for us to observe. There is no scientific analysis possible, so we go with the words of the Bible, which are quite clear about what happened in both instances.

    The age of the earth and the universe, however, can be determined because they are both in existence and we can apply an enormous number of scientific tests to determine their age. So in this instance, general revelation has a lot to say. Meanwhile, special revelation does not tell us the age of the earth or universe. It says that they were created by God and it gives us a few details of what that creation was like. But nowhere in the Bible is there a clear indication of the age of the earth or universe. So, in an instance where the Bible is more or less silent and general revelation speaks volumes, shouldn’t we go with general revelation? I think that is a very reasonable position to take.

    I look forward to hearing more from you!
    Bill

  • Bob

    Bill,

    Taking your new direction we do not need to have Adam, Eve or the wine to presently exist to be able to use and reference them in regards to the age question. One can easily deduce from the special revelation that Adam and Eve were functioning individuals and fully formed not “infants”. Therefore, if we could observe them according to what nature already teaches us they would have had the appearance of age. If we can’t reasonably deduce that then most everything of history would be up for grabs. The same applies to the wine. The process of making wine takes time, we know this by observing making wine. We know the process of making wine takes on average 6-12 months assuming you have already picked the grapes. The best wines often take longer. Therefore, one can properly determine that the wine from the miracle would appear to be “aged” since it was considered the choicest of wine. We really don’t need to “test” the wine to make the jump that the wine had the appearance of age. Neither would it be a deception to say the wine appeared to have age. We can run many experiments to determine how long it takes to make wine. We can then theorize that if wine exists it would necessarily be a certain age. We do not have to be present to make that conclusion.

    We can accept the testimony about the wine, can’t we? That it was wine and it was a good wine. After all if we cannot then we must question all the testimony of Scripture when giving us “facts”. Any time we run across a fact (age of person, duration, etc) we cannot in principle determine that fact because we cannot observe it…. I know one would then argue that is the difference between history and science… but that is part of the point. We are attempting to have science validate history by determining the age of something that we were not there to observe when it was created. We can only measure what currently exists. How can science determine that the appearance of age was not part of the creation? It cannot.

    Yes the Bible is quiet clear as to what happened in both instances (Adam and wine) but that is not much different then what the Bible says about the creation as a whole. I will not argue that the scientific test reveal a measurable age, but it does not determine how long it has been in existence.. For example, since light travels at a certain speed we make measurements of the light from stars and determine distance and age (over simplification I know). But just like the wine instantly appearing why wouldn’t we also give the same benefit to the light from stars… that they were instantly created. If we know wine takes time to “create” but appeared miraculously why would we think creation would be any different.

    Again just think….

    Bob

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Bob,
    I think the bottom line for me is that I do not believe the Bible records an age of the earth or universe, but I do believe that there are numerous scientific tests that do indicate an age of the earth and universe. See my two posts on this topic.

    So you ask why I don’t think the earth and universe only appear to be old. The answer is that there is no good reason to believe this, based on the data we have from the Bible and from science.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • HansH

    Hallo mr Pratt,

    Which scientific evidence you use to determine that the age of the universe is old?

    Kind regards,
    Hans

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Hans,
    I have come across evidence from several scientific disciplines, including paleontology, geology, physics, and astronomy. For some evidence from astronomy/physics, please read this post.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  • Michael Crass

    Why say that all stars were created at the same time? While a flawed theological construct might require this, science actually goes against it. We still see stellar evolution in the universe. Stars continue to form and die in the present.

    What about the fact that most of the species that ever lived are now extinct? This also goes against the appearance of age idea also.

    YEC’s are modern day flat-earthers. I cannot take such intellectual suicide seriously. I can see why people reject Christianity and the gospel because of young earth mental gymnastics. It also make me want to distance myself from it all.

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  • Pierre

    “there are several literal views of the “days” in Genesis” – yes, but which one exposits the one, true, objective meaning of the word?

  • Nucc3 .

    Yes we can agree to disagree Brad, but in the meantime, a can of worms may have been open. If one can question the seemingly six literal days of creation of Genesis 1, then that open the possibility the rest of the Bible can be questioned. WHO IS IT THAT SAID;…

    Gen 3:1

  • bruce

    Sorry to be so late. Just go into this format. Been busy accumulating data. For what it is worth:

    We could discuss ‘jots and tittles’ until the end of time. At least till the second coming. Then we will have clarification. But in the meantime:

    Matthew 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    We can say some issues are not ‘salvation related’, which is true.

    But what about the mission which I believe is about ‘continuity for Christ’ or as Francis Schaefer put it “how should we then live?” Or inspirationally as Joshua told Israel or the Apostle John told the early church: “live well and prosper”.

    Well, a ‘jot and tittle’ from historyreally.org :

    Maybe an example of ‘a man of lawlessness’ can be seen today in not only world governments but also the US government, particularly the executive branch, which is influencing the judicial branch to eliminate the Ten Commandments from any consideration. And surprisingly this is an elected position with many Christians buying into a ‘humanist agenda’, believing this is what we need to do. That is a ‘falling away’ from where we have been and how important the Ten Commandments are to a healthy culture that honors God.

    My gut feel is that we started to ‘fall away’ when we surrendered the 6 day creation model to ‘well maybe’ or ‘not sure’ or ‘does not matter’.

    In the 1925 Scopes trial, the judge and jury were ‘in the tank’ for 6 days.

    My last year in high school (1962) we started day with the Lord’s Prayer. and then we went to Biology (or evolution) class.

    Today the god of evolution reigns in the schools and in our culture, even some churches!

    A few years back, a Presbyterian minister, knowing my views, from the inspiration of the pulpit, said “global warming is a fact, and there are too many people on the planet”. The right hand of fellowship, was pointed out the door.

    How about the 4th commandment for starters (the other 9, like dominoes):

    Exodus 20:
    8. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    9. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
    10. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

    11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

    What about the 6th Commandment?

    Exodus 20: 13. Thou shalt not kill. (KJV)
    13. You shall not murder. (NKJ)

    Maybe the KJV is a problem. I believe they meant murder, but do we say “Moses murdered an Egyptian” or do we say “Moses ‘chose’ to execute justice on a murderer”?

    Not sure where in history to place the beginnings of confusion on this issue, but today 1) any war is condemned (drones are ok), 2) murderers live, 3) innocent unborn die, 4) the elderly and infirm have a right to die, or not receive life support (next phase or now?), 5) anyone who questions the state’s (or judge’s) position on these issues, will be punished (next phase or now?)?

    ‘Gay rights’ is a hot button issue right now. How about #5:

    Exodus 20: 12. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

    Recently the Irish renamed an old favorite to “how are things in Sodom and Glocca Morrah”. Saint Patrick must be very disappointed, but not surprised.

    Commandments 1-3 and 7-10: idolatry and basic morality. As always, where is the Church, on these issues? Where is the State on these issues?

    I don’t see many people going to church on Sundays (maybe Saturday?). Maybe the cure for/from the Ten Commandments is the Church united in the Gospel. And the Gospel is rooted in the history of the Bible and God’s people over the last 6000 years. God gave us plenty of great examples to choose from.

    Bruce

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