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On the Age of the Earth
Stephen Hawking is no dummy. In fact, the brilliant British physicist has even been described by some as “a modern-day Einstein”. And Hawking says billions. So does popular astronomer Carl Sagan. So does National Geographic magazine. So does the PBS’s excellent TV series, Nature.
But not everyone says billions. Some say, “No, no. Only thousands.”
The debate, of course, is over the age of the earth. Is it billions of years old? Or is it thousands of years old? With the chasm of difference at least 3,999,990,000 years wide, compromise it out of the question.
Of course, the real issue here isn’t just about how many candles to put on the planet’s birthday cake. The real issue here is credibility. Some would even say that the real issue here is the credibility of Christianity. Why? Why are the stakes so high? Why does it even matter?
Opinions about the age of the earth do matter a very great deal because traditional, orthodox Christian teaching must ride the same track. For centuries Christians have taken Bible chronology at face value. Many of us still do. Based on a literal, straightforward reading (why not?) of Scripture, Adam was created about 6,000 years ago, and the earth was created only a few days earlier.
Of course, anyone these days who dares to insist that the earth is only thousands of years old –that is, to challenge the prevailing system of our time, especially in the face of so many respected scientific voices– may be considered a likely candidate for “David vs. Goliath, Part II”.
Nevertheless, many folks do take just such a position. Many (although not all) evangelical Christians today continue to hold to a “young earth” doctrine, insisting that there was –just as the Bible appears to state– a relatively recent, special creation.
Much of the conflict seems to have been stirred by the development of radiometric dating techniques in the late 1940s. Those with confidence in such dating procedures (in spite of many well-documented “fluky” results) claim that the tests they’re doing “prove” the earth to be about 5 billion years old.
With not much more evidence than that –in the minds of many individuals– traditional, orthodox Christian teaching about the origin and age of the earth is put into a place of great peril. And from there it is only a short step to the conclusion that if Christianity is so wrong about the age of the earth, it is also no doubt suspect on other matters –like, for instance, miracles, the Resurrection, or maybe even the Deity of Jesus Christ.
At this point, the very foundational and critical nature of an accurate Christian apologetic on the age of the earth becomes self-evident. After hearing so many well-polished, secular presentations on earth and solar origins, many people just say, “Let’s face it; let’s acknowledge it: science has checkmated Christianity!”
Well, not quite. Not quite. And here is one of many good reasons why that is not at all the case. Yes, there are others. But this particular, revolutionary line of thinking is often referred to as the “apparent age” concept.
Suppose that God created the earth in a state of full maturity, just as the Book of Genesis suggests that He did, with the appearance (but only the appearance) of age. Not that He did so to necessarily fool anyone, but rather that the world might be fully functional right from the moment of creation. Jesus Himself did just such a thing when He changed the water to wine (John 2:8-10). A secular scientist testing the wine would have categorically declared that it had “aged” for some time. We know differently –it only seemed to have aged, because Jesus had created it with the “appearance” of age, i.e. all ready to enjoy.
Did Adam have a navel? I doubt it. That would have been outright deception, since it would have served no functional purpose. But yes, probably the trees were created with rings, which have a separate function. For sure the chicken, not the egg, came first. And Eve could see stars right away (even without a blow to the noggin). She could see stars that were created over four light-years distant –instantly! How could that be? Simple. God created the light beams connecting the stars visually to Planet Earth at the same time He created the stars themselves.
The “apparent age” concept, as well as the “young earth” view, is best not dismissed too easily. Many of the men and women who “sign on” with this particular view have more degrees than a thermometer behind their names. Many of the men and women who “sign on” with such thinking do so on the basis of a literal reading of the Bible, as well as with the steady winds of reason at their back.