For this paper, the age of the earth will be discussed; both from the secular and Christian viewpoints. Reasons behind opinions concerning the age of the earth will be compared and contrasted, and evidence from both the Christian and secular points of view will be examined. The purpose of this paper is to discuss which point of view holds more merit, the old-earth secular view or the Christian young-earth view.
Old-Earth Secular View
Based on radioisotope dating, scientists estimate that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old (Gollmer, Faulkner, Whitmore, & Ross, 2015). Radioisotope dating uses both stable and unstable isotopes to determine how old certain properties are and when certain events occurred (Gollmer et al., 2015). It is considered accurate because scientists have been able to use it to date events for which the actual occurrence is already known, so it is assumed that other dates it provides are also close to when certain events occurred (Martin, Condon, Prave, Melezhik, Lepland, & Fallick, 2013).
Scientists have measured the earliest fossil evidence preserved in lava flow as having occurred 4.5 billion years ago, which is why they place the age of the planet as 4.5 billion years (Martin et al., 2013). Additionally, they examine the change and development of fossil species over the course of billions of years of evolutionary change to support both their view that the earth is many billions of years old and that evolution is a viable concept (James, 2016).
Many Christian ministries estimate the age of the earth as being less than 10,000 years old, although the Bible itself does not actually state the exact time when the earth was created (Buchanan, 2016). Most Christians who claim to know the age of the earth believe it to be approximately 6,000 years old (Buchanan, 2016). The estimation of the age of the earth from the Christian perspective comes mainly from calculating the genealogies of Genesis and calculating an estimated age of the world from the contents of that book (Dal Prete, 2014). This method assumes that the book of Genesis is entirely complete, and does not leave out any time periods, and that at the time when the book was written, a year comprised 364-and-a-quarter-days, as is the current estimation of a calendar year (Buchanan, 2016). It also assumes that a day in the time of Genesis consisted of 24 hours, as is the current estimation of a day (Buchanan, 2016).
Most people who read the English translation of the Bible assume that the words have the same meaning as the words in original languages in which the Bible was written. However, in point of fact, the original languages in which the Bible was written contained fewer words than English, which means that the words in those languages had several different meanings (Dal Prete, 2014). In the Genesis 1 account of creation, for example, the word “day” has several different meanings, depending on whether it is translated from Hebrew or Aramaic (Dal Prete, 2014). The Hebrew word that is translated into “day” in English actually has three literal meanings; the portion of the day when the sun is actually shining, a 24-hour day, and a long, unspecified period of time of undetermined length (Dal Prete, 2014). The Hebrew word translated “morning” could mean many different things, including “sunrise,” “coming of light,” “beginning of the day,” or “dawning,” in addition to possible metaphoric usage (Dal Prete, 2014).
People who determine the age of the earth based on the Bible acknowledge that every verse is to be taken literally, and that it can be translated into current-day timelines. For instance, the verses Genesis 5: 1-3, state “This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” This assumes that Adam reached the age of being able to produce children at 130; this is inconsistent of what we currently believe to be true.
Comparison of the Viewpoints
Both the Christian and secular views on how to determine the age of the earth assume a consistent 24-hour day and 365-day year (Buchanan, 2016). This could be problematic, in that before the advent of contemporary science, neither the length of a day or the length of a year was likely able to be determined with any accuracy, or recorded in consistent terms (Buchanan, 2016). As previously stated, the word for “day” in Biblical languages can be taken to mean many different things, from merely the part of the day when light is present to the entire dawn-to-next-dawn 24-hour view, which is what is currently considered a day. In most cases, the Bible, when referring to a day, is not talking about a standard 24-hour period (Dal Prete, 2014). For instance, the Bible states that God created the entire world in six days, and that Adam had his first child at the age of 130 (Gen 5:1-3). These two statements, when considered together, would call into question the accuracy of time reporting in the Bible.
Contrast of the Viewpoints
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth’; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:11-12). It would seem improbable that plants managed to reproduce themselves into other plants in the span of a single day; this is something that usually takes anywhere from a year to several years, depending on the type of plant involved. This draws attention to one of the major contrasts between the secular and Christian views concerning the age of the earth. Christians believe that it is possible that God did in a single day what nature takes years to accomplish; secular scientists believe that this is improbable (Dal Prete, 2014). If, after all, this was possible, why did it continue in this manner? Why do plants not continue to be created, grow to maturity, and spawn new plants in a single day?
Another difference between the secular and Christian view is the life span of the Biblical characters. The average life span is currently approximately 70-80 years, and that is the highest that it has been over the course of history. Only two centuries ago, people were considered to have lived a long life if they reached their 50th birthday. Therefore, it is unreasonable to most secular people to accept that people in Biblical times began having children at the age of 130. This supports the idea that Biblical time is different from current, secular time.
Christians and secular scientists have different ways of measuring how old the earth is. Christians base their opinion on the teachings of Genesis, while secular scientists usually use radioisotope dating, which measures the difference between isotopes to determine when certain occurrences happened in the scope of time (Gollmer et al., 2015). It is necessary to look at evidence from both the Christian and secular perspectives to accurately discuss and determine which way of looking at the age of the earth a person will prescribe to. The primary difference between the two methods is the way that time is measured; whether it is days or years. It is of great importance to determine how time was measured during Biblical times in determining whether the earth is 6,000 years old or over 3 billion years old.
- Buchanan, M. (Sep 2015). Earthly powers. Nature Physics, 11(9), 00-700.
- Dal Prete, I. (Jun 2014). “Being the World Eternal . . .”. ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society, 105(2), 292-317.
- The Holy Bible: King James Version. (1999). New York, NY: The American Bible Society.
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- James, J. (Aut 2016). The age of the earth: A plea for geo-chronological non-dogmatism. Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology, 71, 39-51.
- Martin, A. P., Condon, D. J., Prave, A. R., Melezhik, V. A., Lepland, A., & Fallick, A. E. (Jan 2013). Dating the termination of the Palaeoproterozoic Lomagundi-Jatuli carbon isotopic event in the North Transfennoscandian Greenstone Belt. Precambrian Research, 224, 160-168.