Most secularists and some Christians believe Earth to be billions of years old. This is called the Old Earth View. Other Christians believe the Bible indicates The Age Of The Earth is about 6,000 years. This is called the Young Earth View.
[Discussion: Do you know, or can you guess, how each group calculates the age of the earth? How does one group conclude the earth to be about 6,000 years old whereas the other group calculates billions of years?]
Nowhere does the Bible state the age of the Earth or the universe. However, from the biblical record, assuming literal 24-hour periods for the six-day creation period and no gaps in the chronology or genealogy of Genesis (see Genesis ch. 5 as an example), we can approximate the time from creation to certain Old Testament figures.
From those Old Testament figures, one can calculate the time to the birth of Jesus, which happened around year 0 10. This is why we use the abbreviation A.D. for years after 0, since A.D. comes from the Latin phrase anno domini, which means “Year of the Lord”. Thus today, in the year 2021 A.D., we are on the 2021th year of the Lord.
Using this method, we can calculate the age of the Earth to be approximately 6,000 years. 11
Dinosaurs aren’t a problem for the Young Earth creationists either. Although the Bible does not mention the word “dinosaur”, it does use the Hebrew word tanniyn, which is sometimes “sea monster” or “serpent”, but most commonly “dragon.” The creatures were found in both land and water, and are mentioned close to thirty times in the Old Testament. They appear to have been some kind of large reptiles.
Job 40:15 speaks of the Behemoth, a mighty creature with a tail like a cedar tree. The next chapter, Job 41, goes onto describe an other creature in detail, the Leviathan, emphasizing it’s size, strength, and viciousness. As summarized by GotQuestions:
The leviathan cannot be tied down or tamed (Job 41:1, 5); it is frightening to even look at (verse 9); it is best left alone (verses 8, 10). The leviathan has a graceful form (verse 12) but is incredibly well protected with scales (verses 13, 15–17). Its chest is as impenetrable as its back (verses 15, 24). It has fearsome teeth (verse 14), and death awaits anyone who approaches its mouth (verses 18–21). No sword, spear, dart, javelin, arrow, stone, club, or lance can defeat it (verses 26, 28–29). It cannot be caged, because it breaks iron like straw (verse 27). 12
I must concede to the Young Earth creationists that both the Behemoth and Leviathan do resemble dinosaurs. Furthermore, it’s interesting how they are mentioned specifically in the book of Job, which man historians agree is the oldest written book of the Bible.
This would mean that dinosaurs co-existed with man, but perhaps went extinct after the climate changed drastically after the flood. Even today scientists estimate that “between 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours.” 13
However, some Christians believe the creation account in Genesis does not fall into the genre of literal text. We see a defense of this non-literal viewpoint in Paul E. Little’s book, Know Why You Believe. 14
Let’s look at the use of the Hebrew word for day. Can it mean periods of time rather than a single twenty-four-hour day? In Genesis 1:31 the word is used to describe the completion of the sixth day, during which God created Adam and Eve.
Genesis 2:15-25 describes God’s creative activity on that “day.” It also describes Adam’s activity: naming all the animals, falling into a deep sleep, the creation of Eve—all on the sixth day! It seems that even with the most literal interpretation of this day, the sixth day was a longer period of time.
The use of the same word in other passages shows the Lord’s concept of day is not so confined. For instance, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (Psalm 90:4) and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8). Geologist Davis Young notes that “the language of Genesis 1 (for example, the development of vegetation on day three) strongly implies the processes of natural growth and development, initiated by the decree of God’s word (‘Let the land produce vegetation’).”
However, while defending the non-literal viewpoint, the following is mentioned:
It should be noted that some highly intelligent evangelical scholars interpret the Genesis account as describing twenty-four-hour days, with God creating a “grown-up” universe, and we need to consider their arguments…
In summary… “As biblical students, therefore, we must remain agnostic about the age of the earth.”
Although Christians are divided on the matter, the secular majority’s opinion currently holds the earth to be billions of years old.
[Discussion: Do you know any dating methods used to get the age of the Earth?]
The age of the Earth and life on it is mostly estimated using radiometric, carbon and fossil-record dating. However, what isn’t often advertised to the public is that these dating methods rely on various unprovable assumptions.
All rocks and minerals contain radioactive elements assumed to have been deposited on Earth when the Solar System formed. Since radioactive decay is usually constant, by measuring how much of it has happened in various rock and mineral samples, we can calculate their age. This is assuming the samples haven’t been altered, contaminated, or disturbed by later heating or chemical events. 15 All radiometric methods require at least three assumptions:
Thus, it shouldn’t come as surprise that various interventions can theoretically speed up decay significantly. As an extreme example, stripping an atom of all electrons can speed up decay by up to a factor of one billion! 16 We were not here when earth formed, nor do we know all the details of what global environmental events may have taken place since, which could contaminate the data. 17 An example of this uncertainty is illustrated by North Carolina State University’s recently conducted research revealing an “oversight in a radioisotope dating technique used to date everything from meteorites to geologic samples”, which means “scientists have likely overestimated the ages of many samples.” The research was done in the university’s Nuclear Engineering Department by Associate Professor Robert Hayes and published in the journal Nuclear Technology. 18
Dating rocks and minerals usually relies on the uranium-lead radiometric method, 19 while dating organic material relies on the carbon dating method. All living things, plants, humans, animals, absorb carbon-14 from the air. Humans do this by breathing, but as soon as an organism dies it stops absorbing air, including carbon-14. Then, whatever amount of carbon-14 was in the organism at death starts to decay at a relatively constant rate.
By comparing the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere to the un-decayed amount of carbon-14 in an organism, we can approximate when the organism died. The problem is the ratio of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is not constant and is affected by variables such as the earth’s magnetic field, solar winds, and—in more recent times, —industrialization and above ground nuclear tests conducted in the 1960s. 20 Other anomalies can also skew or corrupt carbon dating. This is what happened with the Melanoides tuberculatus snails, living in the artesian springs in southern Nevada, where unique conditions caused carbon dating to estimate certain snails to have been dead for about 27,000 years, although they had died recently. 21
Carbon dating results can also be skewed by the fact that even though we know how much carbon-14 is in the air now, we don’t know how much there was 5,000 years ago. Trying to adjust for unknown carbon-14 levels of the past, researchers calibrate carbon-14 dating against tree rings. 22 Yes, you read that right, I said “tree rings”. We are talking about the rings you see in a trunk of a tree when you cut it down.
Since researches know the error-proneness of radiocarbon dating, they attempt to calibrate their carbon dating results with tree rings. This field of study called dendrochronology (from Greek: dendro, meaning tree, chronology, meaning time).
Some trees, such as the bristlecone pine, can live up to 5,000 years. 23 This is estimated by counting the rings of the tree. The age of the tree is carbon dated and the results matched to the number of rings the tree has. When the results are skewed, the carbon dating data is “calibrated” to match the data known by counting the tree rings.
The problem is that tree ring counting, dendrochronology, isn’t close to being exact, as it is prone to varying degrees of error. 24 For example, trees usually add one new ring a year. However, due to various anomalies, such as weather conditions, there can missing, discontinuous, or double rings.
Overall, carbon-14 dating can be useful, and we owe gratitude to those who developed it for our technological arsenal,. Yet, we must remember it’s not a precise tool. Furthermore, the data gets increasingly imprecise as we pass the 5,000-year mark.
Scientists readily admit when radiocarbon dates do not fit a desired result, the dates are ignored or dismissed. 25 Stated differently, “If a C 14 date supports our theories, we put it in the main text. If it does not entirely contradict them, we put it in a footnote. And if it is completely out of date, we just drop it.” 26
The fossil record isn’t without its share of controversy either. One example is the coelacanth:
Declared to have been extinct for about 70 million years, this fish was thought by scientists to have been the fish that first walked out of the ocean on its way to becoming the ascendant of modern man. The reason this is important is that many fossils have been dated to be roughly 70 million years old simply because their remains were found in the same stratum [layer] as the remains of the coelacanth.
One can only imagine the disappointment in the scientific community when a fisherman caught a coelacanth off the island of Madagascar. No lungs, no legs. Interestingly, many evolutionists believed the reason this fish disappeared from the fossil record is that it had evolved into land-dwelling tetrapods [four-limbed animals, such as reptiles]. 27
As the late evolutionary paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once candidly admitted, “The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.” 28
What about the Neanderthals then? Aren’t they proof humans evolved from primitive sub-humans? No, they were just a group who were stocky and with shorter legs. Today, you can see a lot of variation in human characteristics, for example between Norwegians and Asians.
As per encyclopedia Britannica, “Until the late 20th century, Neanderthals were regarded as genetically, morphologically, and behaviorally distinct from living humans. However, more recent discoveries about this well-preserved fossil Eurasian population have revealed an overlap between living and archaic humans.” 29 In other words, Neanderthals, mated with other groups whose humanity is unquestionable.
[Discussion: How old do you think Earth or the universe is? Are you more likely to believe in the Old Earth or Young Earth viewpoint? Why?]
As for as using various methods such as fossils, carbon-14 dating, radiometric dating, and historical records when estimating the age of the Earth, neither the Old Earth nor Young Earth viewpoint can be disproved. Each method has both its strong and weak points. Thus, both the Old Earth and Young Earth camps can use data to support their beliefs and attack the methods used by opponents.
To throw one last curveball, some Young Earth proponents suggest that God could have created a “mature” universe, since he created a mature Adam, instead of creating him as a baby. If modern doctors would use scientific methods to examine Adam one day after he was created, they most certainly would not conclude Adam to be one day old. It could be the same with Earth and the universe. The argument proposes that, like Adam, they might look old, but that doesn’t make it so
Stay tuned for Part 3.
10 Most likely, Jesus was born around years 3 to 7 A.D. https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/The-life-of-Jesus
14 Little, Paul E., Know Why You Believe, p. 158.
16 Woodmorappe J., Billion-fold acceleration of radioactivity demonstrated in laboratory, TJ 15(2):4–6, 2001.
18 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.13182/NT16-98; http://www.cs.unc.edu/~plaisted/ce/dating2.html; https://answersingenesis.org/geology/radiometric-dating/key-flaw-found-radioisotope-isochron-dating/
24 http://www.academia.edu/14282829/Recent_Problems_with_Dendrochronology; https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/dating-anomalies-in-the-archaeology-of-the-7th-century-bc/8AFA36719859B587B995AF6D248DE83C
25 T. A. Thompson, G. S. Fraser, and G. Olyphant, Establishing the altitude and age of past lake levels in the Great Lakes, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 1988, 20(5) p. 392
26 Säve-Söderbergh and Ingrid U. Olsson, C14 Dating and Egyptian Chronology, in Ingrid U. Olsson (ed.) Proceedings of the Twelfth Nobel Symposium, New York, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, and Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell.
28 Stephen Jay Gould, “Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?” Paleobiology, 6(1): 119-130 (1980).
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