Our culture inundates us with the claim that the earth is millions of years old. It is presented as fact in kids’ books, TV shows, and textbooks—even on cereal boxes. It’s around nearly every corner of our lives.
But in Genesis, the Bible tells us that God created everything in six days. It repeats this claim in many other places, like Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, and Jesus affirms the Genesis account in Mark 10:6.
You wouldn’t think that these two opposite views could ever be reconciled, but Christians have tried. When the idea of long ages first became popular in the 1800s, a Christian named Thomas Chalmers began to popularize the gap theory. He proposed that long ages should be inserted between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 to reconcile the biblical account with what secular scientists seemed to be discovering.
Today, Chalmers’ idea has grown into several variant models that have one thing in common. They generally try to insert millions of years between verses somewhere early in Genesis 1. But that creates a theological problem that undermines the integrity of God’s Word and the basis for the gospel itself.
Death Before Sin
The Western world began entertaining the idea that the earth is millions of years old in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when men began to theorize why layers of sedimentary rock are full of extinct fossils. Some people who opposed the Bible proposed that rock strata were laid down slowly and gradually over millions of years.
As this interpretation caught on among secular scientists, some Christians felt they needed to squeeze it into Genesis. They knew it would be ludicrous to put millions of years in the genealogies between Adam and Jesus. So they had to put them before Adam, during Creation Week.
But this introduces a huge mistake. What do you see in those rock layers? Fossils of once-living things. Fossils of animals that ate other animals. Death. Those rocks are full of suffering, thorns, and extinctions.
Why is that a problem? Genesis 1:31
says at the end of the Sixth Day of Creation,
Then God saw everything that
He had made, and indeed it was very
good.” The original creation was very
good. It was perfect, according to
Deuteronomy 32:4, as every work of God is
At some point, the perfect creation became imperfect. We do not live in a perfect world today. According to God’s Word, two things destroyed our world: sin (through our ancestor Adam) and the global Flood (which occurred in Noah’s day). Death came into existence as a punishment for sin. This is recorded in Genesis 3, after Creation Week.
The first recorded animal death was the direct result of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:21. After that, throughout the Old Testament, God required animal sacrifice to cover people’s sins. Clearly, human sin is related to animal death.
How can we have millions of years of death prior to Adam’s sin, when it was Adam’s sin that caused death to come into existence?
Now here is the problem: We look at rock layers full of fossils and supposedly see millions of years of death, struggle, suffering, and extinctions. How can we have millions of years of death prior to Adam’s sin, when it was Adam’s sin that caused death to come into existence?
To make the problem worse, we find thorns in the fossil layers. The Devonian layers, for example, contain fossils of Psilophyton crenulatum, an extinct thorny plant. In the evolution-based long-age scenario, the Devonian rocks would have to be dated to about 400 million years before Adam.
But according to God, thorns and
thistles came about as a direct result
of Adam’s sin. He ate from the tree
that God specifically told him not to
eat from. So God said, “
Cursed is the
ground for your sake; in toil you shall
eat of it all the days of your life. Both
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth
for you, and you shall eat the herb of
the field” (Genesis 3:17–18).
How can we have thorns millions of years before thorns existed?
Even though most gap theory variations necessarily put death before Adam’s sin, they recognize that Satan brought evil into this world; and death is evil. Therefore, Satan must have fallen before death came into the world. So many gap theorists claim Satan and his minions fell between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This presents another problem.
If Satan fell during Creation Week, then God declared a fallen, sinful, and evil Satan “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Following that logic, sin would be “very good,” too! These are serious problems.
So What Explains Those Layers of Fossils?
Many fossils are formed quickly, before the fossilized organism has time to decompose completely. So many forms of fossilization, such as fish with food still in their stomachs, require catastrophic conditions. Creationists claim that the best explanation for the majority of fossil-bearing rock layers is the catastrophic worldwide Flood in Noah’s day. Some fossil-bearing rock layers have formed since the Flood through local catastrophes like floods, volcanoes, and earthquakes, but most fossil layers date from the great Flood.
Does that logic work out? Would we expect rock layers from the Flood to have fossils of dead things? Yes. Would we expect to find fossil thorns in rock layers from the Flood? Yes. Do death and thorns pose a theological problem if they were laid down after Adam sinned? No.
Death and thorns are daily reminders that we are all sinners and we all need a Savior. Only through Jesus Christ—our final and perfect sacrifice—can we be saved from sin and death.
Understanding that our Creator made the world perfect and very good, and that in Adam, we fell from that perfection, opens our eyes to the loving work of our Savior. For indeed, we were created by our Savior and saved by our Creator. The gap theory undermines all that.
Our God is the God of salvation;
and to God the Lord belong escapes
from death” (Psalm 68:20).