It was a surprise to me to learn recently that there are still many learned Christians who hold to the view that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. I’ve never considered the idea of an ancient earth as theologically relevant, but there are apparently many for whom the Genesis creation account is to be regarded as hard science. They believe in the literal six day creation with a literal order:
- heavens and earth and light
- sky dividing water above (the vapor canopy) from water below (the oceans)
- dry land and vegetation
- sun, moon, stars
- fish and fowl
- land animals and man
There are, of course, obvious problems with this, some scientific and some theological. We could ask, for example, how light could exist without sun, moon, or stars; or why the earth, which appears to be just one of innumerable planets in the universe, would appear before any of the others. We could also ask why it took God so long to make everything. After all, if he has infinite power and resources and can speak things into existence, why could he not create everything in a single moment of time? Why stretch it out over six days?
The fact is that there is ample evidence for an earth much older than 6,000 years. There is a very good overview of dating methodologies here, describing how radiometric dating works. It also points out that ice cores have been taken from Greenland showing annual snowfall layering. Scientists have been able to visually count the layers going back 60,000 years. I think it’s pretty hard to account for 60,000 visible layers from changes in annual snowfall if the earth is only 6,000 years old.
What if the purpose of the Genesis account was not to provide a historically and scientifically accurate account of creation? What if the purpose was to show that God, and God alone, made everything that exists; that God loves order and makes everything in its time; that God established a pattern of working six days and resting on the seventh so people would not be so devoted to their work that they forget to worship their Creator? What if the Genesis account is not about creation at all but about the Creator?
I certainly don’t see the bible as myth (at least in the popular sense of myth as “made-up stories”). I do, however, think that the bible must be understood as being God’s revelation about himself, and not primarily as history or science or poetry or economics or even religion. The bible is mostly about God, and whatever it has to say about other subjects is peripheral to that one great revelation. Historians are disappointed that it says so little about the world’s great empires and so much about obscure events in an insignificant country. Scientists are disappointed that it says so little about geology, biology, and cosmology and so much about the grief and wrath of a Father disappointed in his children and the joy of a Father delighted in them. The purpose of the bible is to bring us to God. Let us therefore draw close to him in reading it, studying it, and meditating on it.
Whether the earth is old or young, whether the universe was set in motion by a big bang or suddenly appeared from spoken words, everything that exists testifies to the might and power of the invisible God who made it.