Some Christians say that the earth is not actually old but 'just looks old,' that it was created relatively recently with built-in apparent age.
They say that God created mature mountains and trees and created Adam as a full-grown man ... everything at various stages of its life cycle ... and therefore scientific dating methods mean nothing.
The apparent age theory is not taught in the Bible but is contrived by Christians who do not believe that the earth is, or might be, billions of years old
As discussed below, the apparent age theory is incompatible with God's character. God is not deceptive.
Theologians speak of 'old earthers' and 'young earthers,' those who believe the world is more than 10,000 years old and those who believe it's less than 10,000 years old.
Most Americans are old earthers, but according to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans who attend church frequently are young earthers. To doubters and unbelievers, a young earth is a bizarre belief for the 21st century and is met with incredulous rejection, and it's a huge barrier to Christian faith.
For Christians who hold this view, a contrived theory not taught in the Bible – the apparent age theory – is often used to defend against the overwhelming evidence of a very old earth. The apparent age theory is used to debunk history, science, archaeology, and even ordinary observation.
The critical flaw with the apparent age theory is that it is incompatible with God's character.
The apparent age theory requires a world of fakes that fool us into believing things we see but which, in fact, never existed. It requires us to believe that God planted false evidence to deceive us. This is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches about God's character. Satan is a deceiver, but not God.
Following are examples of where the apparent age theory takes us:
It's reasonable to believe that God created the world by starting at some mid-point in the normal life-and-death cycle – as trees being mature instead of seeds and Adam being an adult instead of a baby – but it's going too far to assert that God planted false evidence.
Under the apparent age theory, God has planted millions of fake bones of creatures (as dinosaurs) that never actually existed, just to fool us into thinking that they really did exist at one time.
Modern science tells us how dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago. Even if science has erred by 99% in its time measurements, the data still shows that dinosaurs lived more than 10,000 years ago and never lived simultaneously with humans. Therefore, according to apparent age theory, dinosaur bones must be fake.
God knew that we would write textbooks, take photographs and build museums to house these creatures' skeletons and believe that they are part of earth's natural history. How can a holy God now get pleasure from a fictitious prank?
God knew that the prank would make it more difficult for Christians to bring others to Christ because of its glaring contradiction to modern knowledge. Why would God thwart his desire for us to 'make disciples?'
The problem gets worse when we apply the apparent age theory to ancient cities.
Bible genealogies say that Adam lived about BC 4000. For people who believe in a literal six-day creation, that means that there was no human activity on earth until about six thousand years ago.
But now, archaeologists are uncovering entire cities much older. For example, the biblical city of Jericho has been dated by many different methods to have been first settled about ten thousand years ago.
We now have archaeological evidence that by about BC 9400 the Jericho settlement included more than 70 homes, circular dwellings about 16 feet in diameter, built with clay and straw. By BC 8000, Jericho had a population of one thousand people or more, surrounded by a wall twelve feet tall and six feet wide.
When studying dinosaurs, we have only bones and strata to observe and test, but with cities, we get more evidence, such as physical structures, tools, artifacts, and food.
According to the apparent age theory, God planted this fake ancient city to trick us into believing that people lived in Jericho ten thousand years ago when in fact the universe wasn't even yet in existence. Why would God deceive us like that?
The problem gets even worse when we apply the apparent age theory to glaciers.
Young earthers say that God created glaciers as enormous ice sheets in cold climates. They say that glaciers never needed a process of snow, freezing, and compression and that they looked like today's glaciers from day one.
That's reasonable and easy to comprehend until we consider the movement of that ice.
We can now drill deeply into compacted ice sheets and recover core samples going back 800,000 years.
Analysis of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the cores shows that there have been eight glaciations within this time period, averaging approximately one major world-wide ice advance and thaw every 100,000 years. The last glaciation (Pleistocene) began about 110,000 years ago and ended about 15,000 years ago.
Old compacted ice gets as hard as rock. The Pleistocene ice masses can be traced as they scarred the earth, pushing huge boulders acting like grinding teeth while sliding by gravity from the poles toward the equator, gouging valleys and forming lakes and rivers, and leaving tell-tale moraines of enormous rock deposits and soil as they thawed.
At its maximum extent, the Pleistocene – just one of innumerable glaciations – covered 32% of the United States, moving as far south as Indianapolis, Columbus, and New York.
This is too much to happen within 10,000 years. Under the apparent age theory, this means that God created the world with all the markings of repeated massive glaciations, but in fact, none of them ever really happened. Why would God perpetrate such an enormous illusion?
The problem grows beyond comprehension when we apply the apparent age theory to light from stars (including our sun and reflective objects like our moon).
Light from stars is more than just illumination; it's also history. For example, using modern telescopes, we can see stars explode into supernovas, and that tells us that the star ceased to exist at a certain time and place in the universe.
The most distant star we can see with the world's most powerful telescopes is Icarus, approximately fourteen billion light-years from earth. What we see today is light leaving the star more than nine billion years ago (allowing for universe expansion).
According to the apparent age theory, we don't really see light from Icarus. We just see other light made to look like Icarus, and made always to act and position like Icarus, but it's only a stellar illusion, part of a phony light show.
It is difficult for most people to understand why so many Christians believe, using the apparent age theory, that God would drastically alter our sense of reality in so many ways. This only fortifies the contention of doubters and unbelievers that the Bible is fiction and cannot be trusted.
Good interpretation and explanation of any passage of scripture begins with the text itself, in the way ordinary people read the passage in their own favored translation of the Bible.
A deeper study moves into the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to see how ordinary people understood a particular word, expression, and/or concept at the time and place of writing.
But the text itself can take us only so far. Then we need to move outside of the Bible to study the setting into which the passage is set.
The Bible tells the essentials we need to know, but it's a compact book for all times and generations and doesn't tell the entire story. For a deeper understanding, we need to fill in some blanks, and sharpen our interpretations, by gathering relevant information from other sources.
We do this kind of outside research routinely in Bible study generally, but Christians seem to have an unusual fear of investigating the setting for Genesis 1, probably because so many pastors over the centuries have threatened God's wrath upon anyone questioning traditional interpretations of that most ancient of all Bible texts.
We need to study not only God's Word (Bible) but also God's World (science) to get a better understanding of God's method and timing in creation. Outside information must not change the biblical account, but new knowledge about God's World can help us interpret God's Word with more precision for our time and place.
In extra-biblical study, not only do we find objects that are extremely old by every human observation and measurement, but we also find a consistent aging pattern:
Dinosaurs, for example, are found buried in lower strata than humans.
Cities have multiple layers of rubble built up from different settlements over the centuries. Archaeological sites are called 'tells' because even before modern imaging methods, it was possible to tell from the huge mound of earth that it was once an ancient city. Findings in each layer explain much about the city's history and can be compared with the findings from corresponding layers in other tells.
Glaciers leave tracks and moraines on the earth from their movement, and computer simulations of ice melts of various types and sizes produce time estimates.
Stars follow known paths at known speeds so that supercomputers can predict with perfect accuracy exactly where the stars will be in future dates – as with eclipses – and where they have been in past dates.
God has loaded the universe with strong evidence of very old age, much older than 10,000 years, probably millions or billions of years.
Why would God load the universe with all this evidence and then expect us to stop short of drawing some conclusions from it?
Understanding the age of the earth is much more than just dating objects we find. It's putting all our knowledge together to see an amazing aging pattern.
With a proper understanding of this setting for Genesis 1 – filling in with details from science – there is no need to invent the critical age theory to limit God's marvelous creation. We can believe that the earth exists just the way we find it.
We can understand why the Bible tells so little about God's timing and method of creation. If the Bible gave details, it would have been ridiculed throughout the centuries.
For example, suppose the Bible said that God created the earth through a colossal explosion which left only vaporized gasses that took billions of years to cool into solids ... the earth is just a relatively small rotating ball of molten rock with a thin crust ... it circles the sun once a year at an incredible speed ... and we are held in place by a mysterious force called gravity.
If that's what the Bible said, it would have been dismissed as a book of utter nonsense in earlier times.
So the Bible keeps it simple: God designed and created the universe. It didn't just happen by itself at random from nothing. God shaped it into its present form and brought life to earth in an orderly process, according to pre-established laws which He allows us gradually to discover and use. The key point is that the universe is the result of the intelligence and power of ONE sovereign creator/designer God.
If this is all we need to know from Genesis 1, why is the age of the earth an issue at all? Why is it even mentioned here? Because, as discussed in Insight 1, what many Christians ascribe to the Bible about God's method and timing of creation is destroying the Bible's credibility in the minds and hearts of doubters and unbelievers and is repelling them from the gospel message.