Genesis and the Age of the Earth

For many people, the account in Genesis appears to be at odds with what science tells us about ‎the age of our universe, the world, and humanity. For example, scientists date humanity to be ‎between 100,000 and 200,000 years old, the Great Barrier reef is 600,000 years old, the Green ‎River formation in Utah is 4 million years old, some dinosaur fossils are hundreds of millions ‎of years old, and we can observe stars 13 billion light-years away (their light took 13 billion ‎years to get here).‎

However, if you add up all the genealogies in the Bible from Adam to Jesus and then add 2,000 ‎years (for the time from Jesus until now), then the history recorded in the Bible is more like ‎‎6,000 years. If all the genealogies in the Old Testament are closed genealogies (without gaps), ‎then this would be a significant issue, not least because humanity appears to have been around ‎for at least 100,000 years. But the language that the Bible’s genealogies are given in, doesn’t ‎permit such a rigid understanding of them.‎

The biblical phrase “Seth became the father of Enosh” (Genesis 5:6) can equally mean “Seth ‎became the ancestor of Enosh” (see the footnote in Genesis 5:6 NIV). In fact, in Hebrew ‎‎(the language that the Old Testament was written in), there’s no way to distinguish between the ‎two, the word can take either meaning (father or ancestor), and sometimes it even takes both meanings in the same ‎verse (Numbers 36:8; Joshua 24:2; 1 Kings 11:43; 15:24; 22:50; 2 Kings 15:38; 2 Chronicles ‎‎9:31; Malachi 2:10).‎

And so, if the genealogies in Genesis, Numbers, Chronicles etc, are open genealogies (with ‎gaps), then the age of humanity is not a question that the Bible seeks to answer. It is not concerned with ‎scientific questions of age, but rather with establishing a line of descent, and the precision ‎required for this during the time in which Old Testament was written, didn’t require tracing an ‎unbroken line through every single generation. Freeing the Bible from the burden of answering ‎our scientific questions (which it was never written to answer) enables us to see that there is no ‎contradiction between the scientific and the biblical accounts of humanity.‎

But what about a 4 million year old river formation? Or a 65 million year old dinosaur fossil? ‎Or light from stars that has taken 13 billion years to reach us? There’s no way that humanity is ‎that old. If it is insisted that the six days of Genesis 1 are periods of 24 hours, then a number of ‎conflicts arise between science and the Bible. However, in the account of creation in Genesis 1, ‎the use of the word ‘day’ is much more flexible than that. Its first occurrence reads: “God called ‎the light ‘day’,” (Genesis‬ 1:5‬) which is clearly not referring to a period of 24 hours.‎

At the end of the creation account, it reads: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth ‎when they were created, when (lit. ‘in the day’) the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” ‎‎(Genesis‬ 2:4‬), using the singular ‘day’ to refer to the whole creation week. Moreover, unlike the ‎first six days, the seventh day doesn’t come to an end, suggesting that we are still in God’s ‎Sabbath day of rest, since God’s “works have been finished since the creation of the world” ‎‎(Hebrews 4:3).‎

For these reasons, Christians, going right back to the early church fathers (e.g. Philo, Clement of ‎Alexandria, Augustine), have taken Genesis 1, not as a scientific text book that answers the ‎questions that we want to ask (how? and how long?), but as a narrative that outlines the ‎orderliness of creation, answering the questions the author was intending to address (who? and ‎why?).‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ In the scope of 2,000 years church history, young earth creationism is a very recent ‎phenomenon (less than 100 years old).‎

Genesis 1 and modern science both attest to the universe having a beginning, and beginning as a ‎primordial ‘blob’, which is now formed and filled. While science describes an expansion and ‎inflation of the universe, the Bible describes it as the Lord stretching out the heavens (Isaiah ‎‎45:12; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15). Of course, this doesn’t prove that Genesis got it right, but it does ‎demonstrate a consistency.‎

As an unbeliever, Dr. Andrew Parker wrote a scientific account of the Cambrian explosion ‎called In the Blink of an Eye, only to discover what he calls “a whole series of parallels ‎between Genesis 1 and the modern, scientific account of life’s history” (Parker, The Genesis ‎Enigma, xii). Dr. Parker has subsequently written on the striking parallels between ‎the account in Genesis 1 and the scientific history of the earth in The Genesis Enigma: Why ‎the First Book of Bible is Scientifically Accurate.‎

This is precisely what we would expect if there is coherence between God’s general revelation ‎‎(studied in science) and God’s special revelation (studied in theology). We can properly talk ‎about a history of creation: the account of creation in Genesis 1 is a historical account in ‎temporal sequence. And yet, it was not written as a scientific account, and so words like ‘day’ ‎may be used more generally, as in ‘the day of the dinosaurs’. Indeed, when the order of Genesis ‎‎1 is compared to the scientific account of the beginning of the universe and of life on earth, we ‎see so many parallels that a natural synthesis is almost hard to avoid:‎
‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎
Genesis 1 DescriptionScientific Description
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The Big Bang.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and ‎the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.The universe begins as a primordial ‘blob’ of matter and energy.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.The first star is born.
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from ‎water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water ‎above it. And it was so. Matter orbiting our sun gathers together to create planets (covered by liquid).
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ‎ground appear.” And it was so.Pangaea rises above sea level and breaks up into continents.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the ‎land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The beginning of life: photosynthetic organisms (plants).
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from ‎the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be ‎lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two ‎great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night [“made to ‎govern” indicating an appointment, not a new creation].The orbits of the earth and moon stabilise (seasons, days, ‎years).
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the ‎earth across the expanse of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every ‎living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged ‎bird according to its kind.The Cambrian explosion.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: ‎livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” ‎And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according ‎to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.Creatures begin to walk on dry land.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over ‎the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the ‎creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image ‎of God he created him; male and female he created them.The first humans are born.

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