One of the hottest debates among Christians, particularly those in the scientific community is over the age of the earth. Both old-earth and young-earth views of creation can be argued from Scripture, primarily because the biblical witness is not entirely clear on questions of the age of the earth. There are certain indicators, but these can safely be interpreted differently. The old-earth view argues that the earth is millions of years old, and subsequently does not find a literal reading of Genesis 1-2 to be satisfactory. The young-earth view argues that the earth is much younger, possibly thousands of years old, and interprets the creation account in Genesis 1-2 literally.
I have always held to the young-earth view, not because I have researched for hours, but because that is the view I have been taught. However, while like John Frame I believe Genesis 1-2 “suggests a literal week and does not necessitate a nonliteral view,” I am also open to reconsidering my exegesis because nothing in Genesis 1-2 excludes a nonliteral reading (Systematic Theology, 202). While the Word of God is authoritative, infallible, and inerrant, my interpretation is not. My exegesis is not flawless. And neither is yours. So, it is necessary for us to always be open to reconsidering our exegesis. Faithful exegesis must include the admission that we may be wrong.
There is no real, inherent disconnect between science and religion. It is the worldview of naturalism (and others) verses the worldview of the Bible that creates a rift between influential scientists and religious leaders. Atheism is not directly connected and Christianity is not directly opposed to science. Science is a gift of God given for exploration of his vast creative purposes. Or, according to those not holding a biblical worldview, science is a flashlight to help us see in the dark.
One of the problems I have with the young-earth view has to do with the presence of fossils, fossil fuels, and the existence of things that require prior existence of things. If fossil dating is remotely accurate, a young-earth view is all but impossible, which would imply a literal reading of Genesis 1-2 is incorrect. Questions like, “Did Adam have a naval?” or “Did the first stars twinkle?” The presence of a naval and starlight suggest a previous event. But how do we view creation if such a previous event did not occur? All these questions are speculative, but they are important because there are many people who reject Christianity on the basis of the debate over creationism. They can’t even get past the first two pages of the Bible, and based on scientific (and naturalistic) presuppositions, they reject the rest of the book based on struggles they have with the initial pages.
John Frame communicates the same problem I have with the presence of fossils when he says, “One problem I find more difficult to deal with is the existence of fossils that seem to antedate by millions of years any young-earth date for creation.” He then asks, “If God at the creation planted fossilized skeletons in rock strata, skeletons of organisms that never lived, why would he have done so except to frustrate geologists and biologists?”
This is exactly my question. If the earth is young, what do we do with fossils? The answer may be: the earth isn’t young, dummy. I know this. Again, I may be wrong. But, my view of all things is first informed by biblical exegesis and then other factors, like scientific theory, are taken into consideration. While the existence and dating of fossils is the final nail in the coffin for those opposing a young-earth view, there is one position that needs to be taken into consideration–one I have never, nor could ever have considered.
James Jordan wrote an article for Open Book in 1999 entitled, “Creation with the Appearance of Age.” Jordan’s discussion of fossils and the created order is interesting. Though not immune from criticism by no means, Jordan’s thoughts deserve careful consideration:
But what about dead stuff? Did the soil [during the original creation week] have decaying organic matter in it? Well, if it was real soul, the kind that plants can grow in, it must have had. Yet the decaying matter in that original soil was simply put there by God. Soil is a living thing, and it lives through decaying matter. When Adam dug into the ground, he found pieces of dead vegetation.
This brings us to the question of “fossils” and “fossil fuels,” like oil and coal. Mature creationists have no problem believing that God created birds and fish and animals and plants as living things, but we often quail at the thought that God also created “dead” birds and fish and animals and plants in the round. But as we have just seen, there is every reason to believe that God created decaying organic matter in the soil. If this point is granted, and I don’t see how it can be gainsaid, then in principle there is no problem with God’s having put fossils in the ground as well. Such fossils are, in principle, no more deceptive on God’s part than anything else created with the appearance of age.
My capacity for intelligent engagement with these issues begins and ends with questions. I am not prepared to helpfully discuss these issues, so I would commend scientists working from a biblical worldview to further dive into the controversy. I think at minimum Jordan presents a possible reason for fossils that doesn’t necessarily eliminate the viability of the young-earth view. He doesn’t necessarily prove anything either, other than the young-earth view cannot be so easily discarded because of fossils.
I can’t speak to all the scientific nuances (or even many of the facts) with intelligence because of my minimal engagement with the literature. I also can’t speak with bold certainty in the biblical witness to the age of the earth, because Scripture is inconclusive on this matter. But, on those matters Scripture clearly speaks, I can boldly assert. God created the world. The creator of the world is not just a God, but also a Lord who is personally involved with his creation. This Lord is sovereign over the world he created. Whether the earth if young or old does not change that. Whether the creation of the world occurred in six literal days or much longer time periods, the truth remains: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.