Last week I went through the two most common views among Christians on the Age of the Earth. I explained the basics of the two sides of the debate and how Christians should view them. But there is a bigger question behind this conversation. Does any of this actually matter? Setting aside our own concepts of taking the Bible literally, what is the impact of the Age of the Earth? Going by how passionately it gets debated, one would assume this is a core component of Christianity. Is that true, or are we blowing this out of proportion? There are, I believe three key areas affected here.
The Fall and Death
Genesis chapter 3 tells of how mankind brought sin into the world. Both sides agree that this happened, and that this is the singular moment that separated man from God, leading to our need for a savior. However, there is some disagreement on certain details that could have theological implications. Namely, was there physical death before the Fall? Most Young Earth Creationists (YEC) that I know of give a firm no. They hold that death is inherently part of the fall, and it did not exist originally. Old Earth Creationists (OEC) believe that there was death among plant and animal life somewhat by necessity, and that the fall brought in spiritual death with sin and separation from God.
If nothing was dying, it would not take very long for the world to be overrun by micro-organisms and insects. Further, many living organisms are built in such a way that they survive off of dead remains, or have features clearly meant to be predatory. This doesn’t prove the Earth is old, but it does show you can’t really hold an OEC view without death before the Fall. unless God made some very dramatic physical changes to the animal kingdom after creation.
But does whether or not animals died before the Fall change Christianity? Not really. It still leaves room for God creating everything, original sin, and Jesus coming to save us. The age of the Earth changes things, but nothing yet that can’t be reconciled with Christian doctrine.
Science and Academia
Regardless of where I might stand on this issue, I am not a scientist. Even if the age of the Earth has no impact on me as a Christian, it does raise questions for many other people. The heaviest pushback to YEC is from scientific and academic fields. While the time creation took might not have to affect your Christian beliefs, it will probably impact your scientific study. If the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, than much of what we are taught in secular geology, astronomy, anthropology, archaeology, biology, and more needs dramatic correction. This doesn’t bother everyone, but for many it’s the reason they can’t accept YEC. This is not a statement on which is right, so much as to say that if you are planning on going into one of these fields, you might want to know your views and be ready to defend them.
Now here we get to the messy part. I’ve only been talking about OEC and YEC advocates, but there is a third view some people are taking. This view is often called Theistic Evolution. Theistic Evolutionists holds that the Earth is old, but goes a step further to saying that God used natural evolutionary processes to create living beings. While I can see the appeal, as it lets you adopt much of modern secular science in favor of your view, the cost is extremely high. The most significant theological issue is that in this view there couldn’t really have been an Adam and Eve who had a singular fall into sin. If evolution is true, there never were two human beings as the parents of all mankind, but instead we are simply the product of countless generations of animals going back to single-celled organisms. This doesn’t even touch on whether it makes sense for God to be guiding a process that is inherently about random adaptations through natural selection. Simply put, there is not a good way to reconcile the early chapters of Genesis with this view.
What does this have to do with the Age of the Earth? Often OEC and Theistic Evolution are assumed to be one and the same. In reality, there is a very big line between them. OEC is not believed because they doubt God’s capabilities or don’t believe the Bible. OEC is an attempt to interpret the Bible as accurately as possible by also using modern research. The two views are connected in that they both hold that the Earth is old, and that you don’t have to interpret everything in Genesis 1 as literal. But the Theistic Evolutionists take it a step further, and go beyond what can really be considered Christian teaching.
Do We Need to Pick a Side?
The age of the Earth impacts a great deal in the natural world. Understanding the information could very well be critical, depending on your occupation. But as Christians, I don’t believe we necessarily need to pick a side. If I’ve sounded wishy washy in all of this, that’s in part on purpose. This is not an essential doctrine to Christianity. We still believe that God created the Heavens and the Earth, man was created in his image, man fell, and Jesus came to save us. In the end, that’s the impact that matters most.
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