Navigating the Young vs. Old Earth Debate

James Ussher (1581-1656), Ireland Archbishop who calculated from the Bible that the earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.    Throughout   church history, most (but not all) Christians have embraced  such a   view of a "Young Earth" as taught within the pages of Holy Scripture (Wikipedia, painting by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680).

James Ussher (1581-1656), Ireland Archbishop who calculated from the Bible that the earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C. In the 21st century, very few young people in the developing world still accept the concept of a “Young Earth”.  But is there a way to reconcile the teachings of the Bible today with the findings of modern science? (Wikipedia, painting by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680)).

A recent informal survey at the social networking website, Reddit.com, was conducted that asked atheistic young people who left the Christian faith, what were their reasons for leaving the faith. By far, the most common response from over 50% of the respondents was concerning “Christian teachings that conflict with [the] findings of modern science.”    Though not a definitive be-all, end-all conclusion by any means, I find this to be an incredibly disturbing trend explaining what is draining people out of evangelical churches.  In my view, the heart of the controversy centers on the debate over the age of the earth.

So, how old is the earth? Is it relatively young, say between 10,000 to 6,000 years old as many Young Earth Creationists would argue? Or is it really old, some 4.54 billions of years according to many Old Earth Creationists?

Evangelical Christians are deeply (and rightly) concerned about the erosion of biblical authority undercutting the proclamation of the Gospel. Yet for many, any departure away from a specifically Young Earth perspective is a compromise of biblical authority. This is a serious claim. For if adopting the modern scientific consensus of an Old Earth is against the clear teaching of the Bible, then surely every Bible-believing Christian should reject that scientific consensus and embrace creation science, based on a literal six 24-hour day understanding of God’s creative act in the first few chapters of Genesis.

But is this the only way to understand the timing of creation as taught in the Bible?  The Old Earth Creationist, on the contrary, makes the claim that the teaching of modern science is instead compatible with a high view of the Bible’s divine inspiration. The Old Earth advocate argues that the Young Earth community is driving an unnecessary wedge between faith and science, thus harming the integrity of the evangelical witness of the church. Mmmm… Which perspective is the right one?  How does a Christian navigate through these competing ideas regarding the age of the earth?

Thankfully, in the Internet age, there are a number of very good resources to help a Christian work through these types of issues.  Let me suggest some of the better resources:

The Young Earth Perspective:

By far the most prominent ministry dedicated to advancing a Young Earth Creationist perspective is Answers in Genesis (AiG). Directed by Australian Ken Ham, AiG has put together the world’s most popular Young Earth Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio. On the Old Earth side of the issue stands Reasons to Believe (RTB), directed by Canadian astrophysicist, Hugh Ross. Both AiG and RTB regularly publish essays dealing with contemporary science issues and their relationship to the Christian faith, as well as producing high-quality audio podcasts and some videos.   Go to AiG’s and RTB’s websites as good places to start your education on these issues involving creation.

Also, the Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society are Young Earth organizations that are much older than AiG, having been both founded primarily through Henry Morris (1918-2006), the former Virginia Tech hydraulics engineering professor and famous co-author of the 1961 The Genesis Flood that launched the modern creation science movement. However, AiG has eclipsed these other organizations in terms of influence and outreach into evangelical churches.  According to CharityNavigator.org, AiG has a yearly budget of about $20 million.

The Old Earth Perspective:

In comparison, there are few organizations dedicated to providing apologetics resources dedicated to an Old Earth Creationist viewpoint, like Reasons to Believe. The Old Earth view should be distinguished from a “Theistic Evolution” or “Evolutionary Creationism” viewpoint, advocated by the BioLogos Foundation. The former rejects the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to the creation of humanity, whereas the latter embraces evolution as the best explanation for human origins within a Christian worldview.

According to the CharityNavigator.org, Reasons to Believe has a budget of about $3 million per year.  Based on these numbers alone, it is clear that the Young Earth side of the controversy has a greater influence among Bible-believing Christians than does the Old Earth side.

Young Earth and Old Earth in Dialogue:

Some may argue differently, but AiG and RTB are probably the best American-based organizations that represent their respective points of view. But what happens when advocates of these contrasting views interact with one another? A few years ago, the John Ankerberg show hosted a series of debates involving AiG’s Ken Ham and astrophysicist Jason Lisle versus RTB’s Hugh Ross and Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser. Even though it is a long debate (AiG has a 10-hour version of the debate on their DVDs!!), it is probably one the best debates currently available for several reasons:

  • Both AiG and RTB promote the debate on their website and sell their own DVDs of the debate. This indicates that both sides felt like they got a fair shake. The discussion, though very intense, was quite charitable and articulate on both sides.
  • John Ankerberg is an experienced moderator of debates. Ankerberg has long been recognized as a gifted Christian apologist himself through his syndicated program.

The debate throughly examines most of the important issues surrounding the topic. including:

  • Does the Bible teach that God created in six literal 24-hour days or were the days millions of years long?
  • Is the Big Bang a valid biblical and scientific model?
  • Can we really tell the age of the universe?
  • How accurately can we measure Starlight and time?
  • Are radiometric dating methods accurate?
  • Is God’s record of Scripture compatible with the record he gave in nature?
  • How old is the Earth?
  • When were Adam and Eve created?
  • Before Adam sinned, was there any death in the plant or animal world?
  • Were there soulless hominids before Adam?
  • When did the dinosaurs die out?
  • What happened at the time of Noah and the flood?
  • Can science be effective in investigating the past? Why does the age of the Earth matter?

The debate is broken up on YouTube in multiple parts (50 different videos, totaling about 4 hours), but you can get the full audio MP3 here. Otherwise, check out the debate DVDs from the respective ministry organizations.

Other Young vs. Old Earth Debates (Though Not As Long!!):

Frankly, most of the other debates available on YouTube on this topic done here in America that I have looked over tend to be pretty bad.    For example, Ken Ham and friends and Hugh Ross and friends debated one another on the Trinity Broadcast Network. I could only stand a few minutes of watching the debate before I nearly screamed. Despite some helpful provocative discussion, the debate moderation was just simply awful and a terrible waste of time.

Interestingly, the better debates on the topic have been done in Britain. I do not know why, but perhaps that British accent makes people sound a lot more intelligent than in many of the American debates.    Consider the following exchange between Hugh Ross of RTB and his Young Earth opponent, Malcolm Bowden, on a British Pentecostal television network, RevelationTV.   Bowden is a very eccentric character, who also embraces the older theory of Geocentrism, the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe. Though not as in-depth as the John Ankerberg debate, the Ross/Bowden debate is much shorter, less than one hour, and it still manages to touch on the key issues at stake:

Many Christians say that the age of the earth is not a “salvation issue,” and therefore some treat the debate as being relatively unimportant.   I would disagree. True,  your salvation surely does not depend on the meaning of “days” in Genesis, but if the Reddit.com survey mentioned in my introduction is any real indication, the failure to properly grasp a view that biblically integrates science and faith in the church today is having serious consequences… and sadly, many of these consequences could be eternal.

ADDENDUM:

A reader contacted me off-line and offered the following paper from Creation Ministries International (CMI), written by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati on “How old is the earth?”, featuring two informative videos on the topic.

CMI is a Young Earth Creationist ministry, originally based out of Australia, that has growing outreach efforts throughout the English speaking world. Along with other ministries such as Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and the Creation Research Society, Creation Ministries International works toward raising public awareness about issues regarding the age of the earth from a Young Earth perspective.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

5 responses to “Navigating the Young vs. Old Earth Debate

  • Jason B. Ladd

    This is a great article with a lot of great resources. I have been very interested in this debate. Looking forward to checking out the debate you referenced.

    Like

  • John Paine

    Clarke:

    Nice find on the Reddit survey, and as usual, great job on the research.

    This topic might best be approached first as part of a good education. Study the cosmology and science. As you note, it is very easy to figure out what’s going on with the science, which by many independent methods puts the earth at 4.5 billion years old. Then consider the ‘debate’. What kind of religion is afraid of the truth? Not mine.

    Here’s an interesting aside that RTB published this week addressing a problematic inconsistency by James Ussher:

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/Israels-Sojourn-in-Egypt-And-How-it-Affects-Calculation-of-a-Creation-Date-Part-1

    Like

  • dwwork

    Great post that gives readers resources to investigate this issue. I agree that while old verses young earth is not a salvation issue when it drives people from the truth it does affect their salvation.

    Like

  • John Donahue

    Young earth creationists face TWO major problems: 1) Explaining exactly WHEN over 170 asteroid/comet impact craters occurred given that about 30 would have each released more energy than the earth’s combined nuclear arsenal all detonated at once; and 2) Explaining the whereabouts of all those dinosaurs which were allegedly on Noah’s Ark. If they were all on the Ark, they all survived the Flood, right? So where are they? Given an extinction rate of all 995 species of dinosaurs in just 4-6,000 years, we should all be extinct by Christmas!

    Like

    • Clarke Morledge

      John,

      Thanks for stopping by at Veracity.

      The Young Earth response to your impact craters objection would be a number of speculative theories have been proposed to explain them, collected here:

      http://creationwiki.org/Impact_crater

      However, I really do not know how any of the ideas can be tested. It puts you back to the argument that God made it appear as though these craters were made over long periods of time, when in fact, they were all made over a very short and recent period of time. This is more philosophically appealing, but again, how could anyone test this?

      Regarding the dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, I think the standard answer is that these were really young dinosaurs and only a subset; therefore, allowing everything on planet earth to fit:

      http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2000/04/03/dinosaurs-on-noahs-ark

      After the Global Flood, rapid speciation perhaps happened, a kind of “Darwinian” evolution on super high-speed, but then rapid extinction following. I have also heard the other idea that the dinosaurs became extinct during the flood because they did not fit on the boat! Again, testing these type of ideas is really problematic.

      Thanks again for your contribution here on Veracity!

      Like

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