The age of the earth

  • Question from AC, Brazil

    As a believer I have some difficulty understanding how people say the earth is about 10,000 years old but we see evidence that it’s millions of years old. When did God create the earth and everything that is here, including mankind? Was it millions of years ago or it was just some thousand years ago? And, what to say about Latin American natives? Who were they descended from?

    The origins of Earth and humanity provide fertile ground for questions here on freelance theology and this kind of question has been answered before. A good starting point is to realize that the Biblical account of creation found in Genesis is not to be read as a scientific document. However, the existence of scientific evidence that appears to contradict the basic story of Genesis, results in three main ways in which Christians respond.

    The first is to firmly separate the arenas of science and faith. Put simply, this is a denial of the validity of human observation and experience if it contradicts truths that are taken ‘on faith’. Because the Biblical record must be true, the scientific evidence to the contrary is ignored. Very few Christians would actively advocate such a view, but it does still linger on in dogmatic circles, whether Roman Catholic, or protestant fundamentalist.

    The second option is to try and interpret Genesis as a scientific document and fit the ‘scientific evidence’ to the Genesis account. ‘Creation science’, as it’s often termed, argues for the rapid laying down of rocks during the great flood of Noah’s time, which also provides a handy ‘extinction event’ as seen in the fossil record and possibly explains the anomaly of carbon-14 dating. As for the native Latin Americans, the reference in Genesis chapter 10, verse 25 to the earth being “divided” during Peleg’s lifetime (after the flood) is interpreted to mean the separation of the continents. This means that, like everybody else, the Latin Americans are descended from Noah.

    Notwithstanding recent legal attempts to have creationism taught as a legitimate scientific alternative in North American schools, it should be noted that this interpretation of the scientific evidence is hotly disputed and dismissed by many scientists. While wanting to present ‘scientific’ proof for creation, creation scientists do of course operate in an unscientific manner, wanting to fit the evidence to the theory, not the other way around. In many ways, this is very similar to the first option, where something is believed by ‘faith’ and then the believer seeks to prove its truthfulness.

    A third alternative is to accept that Genesis is a ‘myth’, in the technical sense of the word. ‘Myth’ does not mean ‘fairy tale’; a myth is an attempt to explain the existence of something or a set of circumstances in non-scientific terms. The reason behind the myth becomes the important thing, not the actual mechanics of the narrative. In this case, it is clear that the Genesis author wants to relate God’s involvement with the world from the beginning, God’s involvement with human beings, and the rejection of God by those self-same humans. It is perfectly reasonable to accept these mythologised truths, regardless of the scientific evidence.

    Thanks for your question, AC – the first one on freelance theology from Brazil!

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