There are two basic sets of arguments that contribute to an old Earth theology. The first set contains arguments that are scientific in nature. The second set contains arguments that are theological in nature. Quite simply, there are two different groups that make each of these arguments.
Naturalists and Theistic Evolutionists
The mainstream scientific school of thought is dominated by scientific thought that relies on naturalistic presuppositions. That means that before any conclusions are drawn from testing, any supernatural explanations are automatically denied. The untested theory is that the supernatural cannot be empirically tested. The non sequitur conclusion is that only natural explanations are possible.
It is from this philosophy of science that Darwinian evolution draws it’s a priori conclusion. So the question is not whether organisms evolved naturally from inanimate matter. The question is how they evolved from inanimate matter.
Given that even non-biological science is naturalistic, sciences that are not directly related to Darwinian evolution still assume that Darwinian evolution occurred. Therefore, when physicists and geologists test to determine the age of the earth, they must assume that it is old enough for life to have evolved. Therefore, any evidence that the earth is young is dismissed as anomalous or not yet explained.
There are naturalists who otherwise believe in a supernatural Creator. Some may even be Christian. However, they hold any claims of Christianity to be untestable because they don’t fit into the naturalistic presuppositions that they have been taught define science. If you want to work in mainstream science you largely have to buy into naturalistic presuppositions to be accepted.
The theists who argue for an old earth are the ones who argue from a scriptural standpoint. The question I have always asked is why they argue for an old earth when the scriptures don’t explicitly teach that. The plain reading of Genesis 1 is that God created the earth in 7 rotations of the earth as denoted by the period of the sun. In fact, these theologians go out of their way to deny that Genesis 1 doesn’t mean what it seems to say.
The only reason I can think of why they do this is that they have heard some of the evidence for an old earth and an old universe and are convinced by it enough to see if the scriptures make allowance for the current mainstream science on the matter. What I haven’t heard a single one in this group address is the evidence for a young earth. The only thing I can conclude is that they haven’t heard the evidence for a young earth because mainstream scientists typically don’t address it.
The Science Isn’t Conclusive
The thing is, there is some compelling evidence out there that the earth is relatively young. Not all scientists are naturalistic. Some Christian scientists actually work on the fringes and conduct experiments using science that is based on non-naturalistic presuppositions. That means that they allow that there may be a God.
Answers in Genesis has been a clearinghouse for non-naturalistic science, particularly as it relates to the origins of the universe, the earth, and life. Recently, they have been repackaging some of the leading evidences for a young earth. I’ll repost their top ten list here:
- Very little sediment on the seafloor
- Bent rock layers
- Soft tissue in fossils
- Faint sun paradox
- Rapidly decaying magnetic field
- Helium in radioactive rocks
- Carbon-14 in fossils and diamonds
- Short-lived comets
- Very little salt in the sea
- DNA in “ancient” bacteria
Another consideration that I think trips many people up is the age of the universe versus the age of the earth. Many scientists, much less laymen, think that time throughout the universe passes relatively uniformly. In our day-to-day life it certainly seems so, so it’s understandable that it’s a difficult concept for most people to grasp.
But vast differences in the passage of time are far more common than most people think. The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation (visible light and various radio waves) is nothing but temporal distortions generated by subatomic interactions that approach the speed of light. What I’m trying to say is that the universe could easily have been created after the earth and aged so fast that it appears older than the earth. It’s not scientific fiction and actually explains a few things that the Big Bang theory can’t account for. There are some that think this theory is far-fetched, but it’s actually a more likely explanation for the evidence than the Big Bang.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s no good reason to believe the naturalists on the age of the earth without question. They have some legitimate observations that can’t be ignored. But those observations have their own problems. Naturalistic science should be scrutinized. Theology that goes out of its way to accommodate it should be scrutinized as well.
My next (and last) article in this short series will discuss what the early church fathers taught regarding Genesis 1. You might be as surprised as I was when I first read it.