I have argued in past three blog posts for young-earth creationism. But how should Christians respond to scientific arguments for the universe as billions of years old instead of only thousands? Many possible answers have been given through internet ministries and books, but I would like to respond here briefly to four of the most common arguments for an old earth: distant starlight, ice core layers, tree ring data, and radioisotope dating. While I am not a scientist or the son of a scientist, I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
How is it possible that we can see stars that are millions of light years away if the universe is only thousands of years old? Wouldn’t the universe have to be at least millions of years old in order for their light to reach us? If the Bible is true in all that it says, then the answer to this question is revealed in Genesis 1. God created the stars on day four and on day six he created man. That means Adam could see the stars when he was first made. God created the stars in such a way that their light was already visible from earth when Adam was created. Not only were stars created, the light particles that stars emit are also part of God’s creative work and he ordered them in such a way that man could see the stars from earth at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6). And he did not just miraculously extend the light that those stars emit when they were created, he continuously extends the particles of light they emit even to this day.
When God created the universe, he created it as a mature universe. Just as Adam was mature (not old) when he was created, the earth was mature from the beginning of creation. The “old” appearance of the earth (the presence of pre-existing mountains, continents, caves, minerals, and canyons) is not God’s attempt to deceive us, but his providential act of creating a mature earth that is fully habitable for his creation. The diamonds that exist in the world are primordial in nature having been created by God directly at the beginning of creation rather than taking millions of years to be formed through uniformitarian geology. God is not being deceptive by placing diamonds in the earth that otherwise would have taken millions of years to form because he has already told us that he created the earth and all that is in it in six days. Using this principle of a mature earth, every argument for an old earth can be explained away. This is not a cop-out, but the natural conclusion taken from Genesis 1:31 that the earth was “very good” from the beginning of creation and complete in God’s sight. It would be deceptive if God had not told us that he created the world in six days, but since he has, no Christian can get mad at another if he employs the “mature earth escape clause” when that is the conclusion that must be drawn from the days of Genesis being normal 24-hour days composed of one evening and one morning (Exod 20:11).
But why are there ice cores that show hundreds of thousands of years of progress if each ice layer only represents one year? Two possible answers can be given to this question. The first is that many of the ice layers are primordial in nature existing from the beginning of creation. Some of the layers were created directly by God and the rest are the result of snowfall over thousands of years. A more “scientific” solution is since multiple layers of ice can form over the course of a single year when there is heavy snowfall, most of the layers were laid down quickly after the flood caused by an ice age due to global climate change. This ice age created the land bridge used by Native Americans to cross from Asia to North America. One recent example of rapid ice buildup can be seen in Greenland when 250 feet of ice built up over a 50 year period.
What about the Bristlecone Pines that are said to be older than the global flood? The oldest living one has 4,600 tree rings. But the assumption that is being made is that only one tree ring can form per year. In extreme conditions, however, trees can produce more than one ring per year. What if the world’s climate after the flood was much colder than it is now? The trees that grew during this period of cold and drought could be more likely to form multiple rings per year in comparison to the warmer climate we experience now.
Radioisotope dating is one of the most common arguments used against a young earth chronology. But creationists do not accept the presuppositions of uniformitarian geology and radioisotope dating. For the dates to be accurate we must: 1. know the starting amount of parent and daughter elements in the original sample and that it is the same for every sample; 2. the decay rate is constant; 3. no parent or daughter material has been removed and the system has remained closed; 4. all daughter elements are produced by radioactive decay. In contrast, I would argue that the ratios of elements present in the samples that are examined during radioisotope dating are primordial in nature rather than the result of millions of years of radioactive decay. The ratio of unstable atoms to stable ones is part of the original created order rather than the result of radioactive decay. The mistaken assumption that all differences in ratios are the result of radioactive decay rather than being the result of a direct act of God leads to the mistaken belief that the universe must be billions of years old.
The debate over the age of the universe is ultimately a debate about authority. Do we interpret the Bible in light of changing scientific theories or do we interpret the world around us in light of Scripture? The Word of God does not change, but scientific theories do. All evidence is interpreted evidence and we must have the right set of principles in place for us to rightly interpret biblical and scientific data. If we believe in sola Scriptura, that the Bible is our ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice, we must interpret the world through the words of the one who was there in the beginning.