Presently, there are two main debates about the origins of the earth and the universe. One is the creation vs. evolution controversy being waged in classrooms, courts, mass media and even churches.
The second debate is among creationists themselves, although the discussion is certainly not as strident, since the identity of the Creator is not being questioned, the inspiration of the Bible is not being challenged, nor is Jesus Christ as Savior being doubted.
Creationists are typically classified into two groups—young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists. There are variations of creation models within each camp, yet the purpose here is not to discuss those differences, but rather to briefly lay out why we believe in what is labeled a form of old-earth creationism.
We believe that the physical evidence of the universe and the textual studies on Genesis 1 favor the universe and the earth being older than the 6,000 years man has existed. Our understanding is a logical, straightforward way of explaining Genesis 1 that is consistent with what we find in the physical world.
A proper biblical framework
As explained in the accompanying article “ How Old Is the Earth? “, the earlier history of the earth and the universe can be understood to be compacted into the first two verses of Genesis 1. Namely, there was an original creation of the heavens (all the stars and galaxies) and the earth, at which time the angels shouted for joy at its beauty and majesty. Then there was a time when the earth was laid waste and became chaotic. Waters covered the earth, no continents were in view and darkness prevailed.
Here is one of a number of scholarly opinions about the meaning of Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×that reflect our understanding. Gleason Archer, professor of biblical languages, comments:
“It should be noted in this connection that the verb was in Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×may quite possibly be rendered 'became' and be construed to mean: 'And the earth became formless and void.' Only a cosmic catastrophe could account for the introduction of chaotic confusion into the original perfection of God's creation. This interpretation certainly seems to be exegetically tenable” ( A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1974, p. 184).
What follows in Genesis 1:3-31 Genesis 1:3-31 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the middle of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth: and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light on the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light on the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that has life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creeps on the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps on the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
American King James Version×describes the seven-day creation week of literally seven 24-hour days, wherein God sent forth His Spirit to “renew the face of the earth” (Psalms 104:30 Psalms 104:30You send forth your spirit, they are created: and you renew the face of the earth.
American King James Version×), creating a world habitable for humankind with the progenitors of the various life forms we see today. We can call this general explanation the “creation/devastation/re-creation model.” Others refer to it as the “gap theory”—in reference to the gap in time and information between Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×and 1:2.
Evidence from the natural realm
The vast universe around us displays evidence of great age. The fact that we see light from extremely distant stars and galaxies, for example, indicates a universe much older than 6,000 years. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, and we can see celestial objects much farther away than 6,000 light-years—including galaxies that are millions and even billions of light-years away.
Some have argued that God created the light from these distant objects in transit to enable us to see them today, but astronomers have witnessed celestial events farther away than 6,000 light-years. This is a serious problem for those who believe the universe is only 6,000 years old. For it would seem to indicate that these celestial events never actually happened—that they are part of a fictional “movie projection” of sorts, essentially a grand hoax, which is inconsistent with a God of truth (see Psalms 31:5 Psalms 31:5Into your hand I commit my spirit: you have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 65:16 Isaiah 65:16That he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that swears in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from my eyes.
American King James Version×; Titus 1:2 Titus 1:2In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
American King James Version×).
Some young-earth creationists have proposed some interesting hypotheses as to how distant starlight can fit within their overall model, but these guesses, however well thought out, remain unconvincing.
Astronomer Hugh Ross points out regarding the universe's age markers: “Specifically, God has scattered astronomical 'clocks,' time-bound astronomical phenomena (e.g., supernovae, Cepheid variable stars, neutron stars, black holes, etc.), throughout the universe, and they all agree. They do not reflect differences of rate or dimensionality” (“Avoiding a Dangerous Trap,” Reasons to Believe, Jan. 1, 1999, p. 2).
As to how old the earth itself is, that's difficult to determine. While earth scientists generally date its origins to around 4.5 billion years, this assumes reliable radiometric dating, a uniformitarian past and an evolutionary interpretation of fossil strata. The reality is that dating methods have certain weaknesses and that the Bible indicates a more catastrophic past—as the geologic record also appears to. Nevertheless, the geologic record still seems to support an age rather older than 6,000 years. And we cannot deny an age in the millions or billions—nor do we need to in accepting what the Bible says.
Some have suggested that if the earth and moon are so old, the dust accumulation on their surfaces should be much greater. This was a common young-earth creationist argument, but most have now abandoned it. Initially, back in the mid-20th century, some calculations put the rate of dust accumulation at a much higher level than what has been carefully measured today. The older calculations were claimed to support a recent earth. But now, through more precise atmospheric and satellite measurements, the rate has been found to be consistent with what one would expect in an old earth and universe.
Even if some findings still suggest a young age for various celestial objects, scientists through continuing investigation may yet offer a credible explanation, as has happened before. Moreover, we should remember that, on behalf of God the Father, Jesus Christ exercises power to sustain the universe (see Hebrews 1:1-3 Hebrews 1:1-3 1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
2 Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:
American King James Version×). So some things could actually be older than they seem. There would be no deception in this, for Scripture tells us of Christ's sustaining work.
Finally, without speculating on exactly how the universe developed from its initial creation to the time of Adam and Eve, here are several points of basic agreement between the Bible and the conclusions of scientists:
1. Matter, energy and time have a beginning.
2. The universe began at a definite point in time.
3. The universe and the earth are quite ancient—predating the world of man.
4. The universe is finite and gradually decaying.