Did God Create Over Billions of Years?
And why is it important?
by Lita Cosner and Gary Bates
Often, people challenge biblical creationists with comments along the lines of, “I believe God created, and I don’t believe in evolution, but He could have taken billions of years, so what’s the big deal about the age of the earth?” Some claim that an emphasis on ‘6 literal days, 6,000 years ago’ even keeps people away from the faith, so “Why be so dogmatic? Why emphasize something so strongly that’s not a salvation issue?”
It might come as a surprise that we agree—to a point. The timescale in and of itself is not the important issue. So why does CMI emphasize it? It’s important because the issue ultimately comes down to, “Does the Bible actually mean what it plainly says?” It therefore goes to the heart of the trustworthiness of Scripture. As such, compromising with long ages also severely undermines the whole Gospel message, thus creating crises of faith for many as well as huge problems with evangelism.
The implications of a long-age timescale
First, we need to understand where the concept of an old earth came from. The idea of millions or billions of years simply is not found anywhere in Scripture; it is a concept derived from outside of the Bible. In 1830, Charles Lyell, a Scottish lawyer, released his book Principles of Geology. He stated that one of his aims was “To free the science [of geology] from Moses.”1 He built his ideas upon those of another geologist, James Hutton, who advocated a uniformitarian interpretation of the world’s geology. Lyell argued that the thousands of feet of sedimentary layers (laid down by water or some other moving fluid) all over the earth were the result of long, slow, gradual processes over millions or billions of years (instead of the processes of Noah’s Flood). He believed that processes observed in the present must be used to explain the geological history of the earth. So, if we currently see rivers laying down sediment at an average rate of say 1 mm (4/100th of an inch) per year, then a layer of sedimentary rock such as sandstone which is 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) thick must have taken about a million years to form. This ‘present is the key to the past’ assumption (and its variants) is a cornerstone of modern geology. It involves a rejection of the biblical account of a global watery cataclysm. The millions of years assigned to the various layers in the ‘geological column’ were adopted long before the advent of radiometric dating methods—well before radioactivity was even discovered.
But here’s the theological problem. Those rock layers don’t just have rocks or granules in them. They contain fossils. And these fossils are indisputable evidence of death—and not just of death, but carnivory, disease and suffering. There are remains that have tooth marks in them, and even animals fossilized in the process of eating other animals. There is evidence of disease, cancers, and infection; and general suffering from wounds, broken bones, etc. Biblically, we understand these things only began to happen after the Fall. But because of the Bible’s detailed genealogies, there’s no way for the biblical Adam to exist millions of years ago, before death and suffering started happening in the uniformitarian time scale. The implication of long-age belief is that God ordained death before the Fall of man, but the Bible clearly states that it was Adam’s actions that brought death into the world (Romans 5:12).
The god of an old earth
The idea that death was in creation before the Fall has major implications for the character of God. The same problem arises if one thinks that God used evolution to create. Evolution is a random and wasteful process that requires millions of ‘unfit’ organisms to die. Countless transitional forms would have arisen, only to fall as casualties in the great march ‘forward’. At some point, this allegedly ‘good’ God ordained a lottery of death that finally resulted in humans, and then God looked at His image-bearers, standing on top of layers upon layers of rocks filled with the remains of billions of dead things, and proclaimed His whole creation—along with the evidence of all the death and suffering that went into creating it—to be ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). So we can see that long ages don’t fit in the biblical view, whether or not someone believes in evolution along with it.
To summarize, the age of the earth was derived from the rock layers, which have fossils in them, which puts death, suffering and disease before the Fall. The Bible is clear that there was no death before Adam (Romans 5:12)…
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