Some Christians say that the earth is not old; it just looks old. They say that God designed the earth with built-in apparent age. For example, God created mature mountains and trees, and He created Adam as a full-grown man. Therefore, they say, scientific dating methods mean nothing.
The apparent age theory is contrived by Christians who do not believe that the earth is billions of years old, as is now regarded throughout the world as settled science.
According to a recent Gallup poll, most American church attenders believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. To doubters and unbelievers, this is a bizarre belief for the 21st century and is met with incredulous rejection.
There is overwhelming evidence that the earth is more than 10,000 years old. The apparent age theory is used to debunk history, science, and archaeology.
The critical flaw with the apparent age theory is that it is incompatible with God's character. God is not deceptive.
It is 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 is 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 time has erred by 99%, 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 own 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 4000 BC. 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 9400 BC the Jericho settlement included more than 70 homes, circular dwellings about 16 feet in diameter, built with clay and straw.
By 8000 BC, 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 evidence 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.
People who believe in young earth 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.
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 is also history. For example, using modern telescopes, we can see a star explode into a supernova, 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 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.
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.
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 have 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 is a compact book for all times and generations and doesn't tell the whole story. For 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 except for Genesis 1. For reasons discussed below, most Christians do not investigate the setting for this portion of scripture and fear going beyond the text itself.
We need to study not only God's Word (Bible) but also God's World (science) to get an understanding of His method and timing in creation of the universe. Outside information does not change the biblical account, but it does enable us to interpret it better.
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 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.
Understanding the age of the earth is much more than just dating objects as we find them. It is 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 theories 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-estblished laws that He allows us to gradually 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 age of the earth an issue? Why is it even mentioned here? Because, as discussed below, what 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.
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?
This is a penetrating question that most Christians won't answer because it traps them in their own illogic. Following are some explanations for why so many Christians feel uncomfortable even discussing the subject:
TRADITION. For thousands of years, Jews and Christians have believed that the entire universe, including Adam, was created in the same week, about 4000 BC. The tradition of a young earth created in six 24-hour days is so firmly entrenched in religious dogma that it was seldom questioned – and even questioning was heresy – until modern scientific discoveries made this assertion untenable. See Bible study here on the Big Bang.
TRANSLATION OF 'DAY.' This whole issue of the age of the earth – and the perceived need for the doctrine of apparent age – is caused by the word yō·wm in the original Hebrew text, which is translated day in English translations of the Bible. As explained in the Bible study here on yō·wm, the word can mean either a 24-hour period or a long indefinite period, depending on the context (similar to how we say, this is the day of social media and people know what we mean). Most people who read Genesis 1 in an English translation at the surface level just assume that the entire universe was created in less than a week's time because their Bible says six days, but the Bible study here gives 10 reasons, with verse citations, showing from scripture why yō·wm in the Genesis context is more than our modern 24-hour day.
ENEMY. Strong causes, particularly religious causes, usually need a strong enemy. The church has historically portrayed science as an enemy of faith. Branches of science – especially cosmology, geology, chemistry, and archaeology – are the only credible sources of information to shed light on the setting for Genesis 1, but Christians have been told that science (enemy) is wrong if it deviates in any way from Christian tradition. See Bible study here on 'days' of creation.
UNITY. Every church, seminary, and ministry has its own denominational roots and its own constituency of donors, leaders, and followers who believe that it is their duty to preserve and protect the group's doctrines. Deviations are met with many kinds of censure and with loss of influence, income, and opportunity. A pastor who deviates is corrected quickly by his governing board, vocal members, big donors, and organizational hierarchy. On issues like the age of the earth, it is much easier to go along with the flow than to go against it. Leaders justify silence by telling themselves that it is best for the unity of the group.
EMBARRASSMENT. It is very difficult for a respected seminary professor, pastor, author, or other teaching leader to admit that maybe their teaching wasn't quite right. It is embarrassing and usually personally damaging. Even with new evidence and deeper study, few have the courage to publicly state any change in belief because that could trigger unpleasant disappointments, criticisms, challenges, and maybe even alienations.
FEAR. Within every theological group, there is an underlying fear that any change in the group's doctrine – which is considered correct and safe – will be displeasing to God and may even incur His chastisement.
NEED. In the past, there has been little need to address the issue of the age of the earth because it really didn't matter much. There were much bigger issues and controversies. But now Christianity is losing ground fast in the United States, and church leaders are recognizing that the losses are not about music, preaching, and programs, but about theological substance and honoring God in everyday living. Today people are smart, informed, and well-educated. They want personal dialog and sensible answers for their questions.
There is no need to develop untenable positions just to protect an old interpretation or teaching when we encounter new information. God is fully capable of creating things either slow or fast. Now we see that creation is even more awesome when it unfolds with precision and elegance over billions of years.
Just as there was a time when Christians used scripture to prove that the earth is flat ... that the earth is set on a foundation ... that the earth is center of the universe ... so now again Christians can re-read scripture in light of modern knowledge and see that the Bible does not compel belief in young earth made in a single week.
When expressed openly in conversations with doubters and unbelievers, this recognition removes a major barrier to faith in God and the Bible.