Most evangelical Christians would agree with the conclusions that I’ve reached about creation so far, but the next question that I’m going to consider–how old is the earth?–is one on which they differ. Like previous posts on systematic theology at Open Theism, my consideration of that question will be based on my family’s after-breakfast reading of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).
However before considering that question, I’m going to summarize the conclusions that I’ve reached about creation so far:
– God created the universe out of nothing. See my November 9 “Creation Out of Nothing by the Triune God” post.
– God created the universe to display and receive glory. See my November 12 “The Purpose and Quality of Creation” post.
– Everything that God made was very good. See my November 12 “The Purpose and Quality of Creation” post.
– God is distinct from His creation and yet it depends on Him. See my November 12 “The Purpose and Quality of Creation” post.
– There will be no final conflict between the Bible and science. See my November 14 “Creation and Modern Science – Part 1” post.
– Theories that deny the involvement of God in creation are inconsistent with the Bible. See my November 14 “Creation and Modern Science – Part 1” post.
The Age of the Earth
How old is the earth? The “young earth” position says 10,000 to 20,000 years and the “old earth” position says 4,500,000,000 years. Grudem devotes almost twenty pages (pages 289-308) to the question. In our family reading we omitted almost all of his examination of some preliminary questions about the genealogies in the Bible, the age of the human race, whether animals died before the Fall, the date of dinosaurs, and the length of the creation days in Genesis 1 and his discussion of what he calls the “framework” view of six days of creation (totalling over half of the twenty pages). Since these posts are based on our family reading, I won’t be considering that material here either.
However because much of the dispute between “young earth” and “old earth” advocates depends on whether the “days” of Genesis 1 were periods of twenty-four hours or long periods of time, we did read the conclusion of Grudem’s lengthy consideration of the length of the days in Genesis 1. In it he argues that God hasn’t given us enough information to make a clear decision whether the days were periods of twenty-four hours or long periods of time and observes that “the real test of faithfulness to him may be the degree to which we can act charitably toward those who in good conscience and full belief in God’s Word hold to a different position on the matter” (Grudem, page 297).
An “Old Earth” Theory
Grudem considers two theories held by those who believe in an old earth, the day-age theory and the “framework” view. However as I mentioned above, we omitted the “framework” view in our family reading and so I won’t be considering it here.
The day-age theory arose to provide consistency between the Bible’s account of creation and the scientific evidence that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. In favour of it is the fact that the Hebrew word yom, “day,” is sometimes used to refer to a longer period of time instead of to a twenty-four hour day. An additional argument for it is that so many things happened on the sixth day of creation–God’s creation of the animals, His creation of Adam and Eve, and between His creation of Adam and His creation of Eve the events of Genesis 2:15-20–that it must have been longer than twenty-four hours, and if it was then likely the other days were too.
Grudem lists several arguments given by Davis A. Young in his Christianity and the Age of the Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) for an old earth: radiometric dating of various materials on the earth, the time required for liquid magma to cool, the time and pressure required for the formation of many metamorphoc rocks that contain small fossils, continental drift, and coral reefs (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pages 298-99; taken from Young, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, pages 13-67).
A difficulty for the day-age theory is that the sequence of events in Genesis 1 doesn’t correspond exactly to the scientific development of the development of life. The greatest difficulty is that it puts the creation of the sun, moon, and stars (Day 4) millions of years after the creation of plants and trees (Day 3). In response those who hold the day-age theory say that the sun, moon, and stars were created before or on Day 1 and were just made visible on Day 4. However elsewhere in the creation account the Hebrew word asah, “made,” refers to things being created. A possible response is that the verbs in Genesis 1:16 can be taken as perfect, indicating something that God had done before.