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Christians are quick to speak out against evolution but often fall silent on the age of the earth. It just doesn’t seem to matter. But when you talk to an evolutionist, which subject arouses the strongest reaction? Why is this so?
When the secular media visit the Creation Museum to interview me, they rarely ask about biological evolution. Typically they will start by asking, “Why do you believe dinosaurs and people lived at the same time?” or “What do you believe about the age of the earth?” or even, “Why do you reject science and believe God created the universe in six days only thousands of years ago?”
I believe they start this way because they know biological evolution is impossible without billions of years of history. In fact, I find that secularists are very emotionally committed to the millions and billions of years. They almost go ballistic when told the earth is only thousands of years old.
In my experience, I have found that secularists don’t really care if Christians reject evolution. Yes, they still mock. But the minute people reject billions of years, they are labeled antiscience, anti-academic, and anti-intellectual. The pressure to believe in an old earth is extremely great.
Secularists understand something few Christians seem to grasp—biological evolution is not the heart of the issue. “Millions of years” is. If they accept a history timeline as outlined in the Bible (around six thousand years), secularists are forced to abandon evolution, and creation is the only viable alternative. But by accepting an old earth, it is easy for them to justify their rejection of God and the trustworthiness of His Word.
Most conservative, evangelical pastors recognize that the Scriptures clearly teach Adam was made from dust and Eve was made from his side. They realize how hard it would be to explain the gospel without referring to the origin of sin and death in Genesis. However, many such pastors do not consider the age of the earth an important issue (see “What Pastors Think About Millions of Years” below).
Many Christian leaders tend to think it is very important to oppose biological evolution but it doesn’t matter what you believe about the age of the earth. A recent U.S. poll found that more pastors and other Christian leaders believe in millions of years than believe in biological evolution or theistic evolution. LifeWay reported about its December 2011 survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors: “Pastors overwhelmingly believe that God did not use evolution to create humans and think Adam and Eve were literal people . . . [but] ministers [were] almost evenly split on whether the earth is thousands of years old.”1
The 2011 book Already Compromised details the view of Christian college presidents, vice-presidents, heads of religion or Bible departments, and heads of science departments. Overall, the majority believe the earth is billions of years old. Almost 78% of the heads of the religion departments are old-earthers. So it is not surprising that most pastors accept an old earth.
Let’s face it, in the majority of evangelical churches in America, pastors won’t preach that people evolved from ape-like creatures. But many pastors will say they are not sure if the days of creation were long periods of time or literal days. Many will say the earth could be billions of years old. And that is a bigger problem.
All of the compromised positions on Genesis (the gap theory, framework hypothesis, theistic evolution, day-age theory, progressive creation, etc.) have one thing in common—they attempt to fit millions of years of history into Genesis 1. The major reason so many pastors, Christian academics, and Christians do not believe in six literal (24-hour) days of creation is ultimately their desire to account for the supposed billions of years.
Such compromise places mankind’s fallible dating methods—his beliefs about the past—in authority over God’s Word. This opens a door to undermining biblical authority. Such compromise does not negate one’s salvation, but it does affect how coming generations view Scripture.
This compromise causes a generational loss of biblical authority. Loss of authority is a major reason many young people doubt the Bible and ultimately walk away from the church. This slide was documented in research published in the book Already Gone, which showed clearly why and when the church is losing about two-thirds of the next generation.
“Millions of years” flies directly in the face of the history God’s Word clearly reveals. Ultimately, belief in millions of years attacks the character of God. If the fossil-bearing layers were laid down slowly over millions of years, then these layers contain the remains of dead creatures, fossil thorns, evidence of diseases (e.g., brain tumors), and animals eating each other—all before humans appeared on the planet.
How can a Christian fit this into God’s Word, which tells us that everything was “very good” after God finished creating man? How can a good God call brain tumors “very good”? How could such history fit with Scripture, which tells us that thorns came after sin and that humans and animals were originally all vegetarian?
The old age of the earth is a much bigger problem than biological evolution. Not only is it a direct attack on the authority of Scripture that drives away the next generation, but it is also the child of the pagan religion of this age—naturalism, the atheistic philosophy that everything can be explained by natural causes without God. Secularists must cling to long ages in order to explain life without a Creator.
Belief in an old earth was born out of naturalism, as documented by the research of Terry Mortenson.1 The belief in billions of years was originally postulated by materialists, atheists, and deists in an attempt to explain the geological record by natural processes, rather than by a global Flood as revealed in the Bible.
Naturalism is the anti-God religion of this age, and millions of years is foundational to its false idea of biological evolution. George Wald, a biochemist and Nobel prize winner, explains why a long period of time is so important to evolution’s story: “Time is in fact the hero of the plot. The time . . . is of the order of two billion years. What we regard as impossible on the basis of human experience is meaningless here. Given so much time, the ‘impossible’ becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles.”2
Without the belief in millions of years, Charles Darwin could never have successfully postulated his ideas of biological evolution. One figure who probably did more than anyone else to popularize belief in millions of years is Charles Lyell, who published his ideas in The Principles of Geology (1830). Darwin took Lyell’s work with him in his five-year voyage aboard the ship HMS Beagle. Lyell’s book convinced Darwin and gave him the foundation to propose millions of years of small changes in biology.3
On the surface, it does seem really radical to reject millions of years. If you visit museums, zoos, and even amusement parks like Disneyland, EPCOT, and Universal Studios, you will hear and see the phrase “millions of years” much more than the word evolution. You have to watch only one or two documentaries on Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, or the History Channel to hear the words “millions [or billions] of years” multiple times. Even the leading children’s museum in the USA, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, has numerous signs in its dinosaur exhibit with the words “millions of years.” But one will be hard-pressed to find the word evolution.
Standing against biological evolution only partly closes the door to biblical compromise.
Standing against biological evolution only partly closes the door to biblical compromise. Refusing to compromise on the timeline of God’s Word beginning in Genesis—while standing against mankind’s fallible beliefs about millions of years—slams the door completely shut.
As an analogy, the idea of millions of years is like a disease (although we know sin is everyone’s ultimate disease). Biological evolution is merely the symptom. Many Christians are treating the symptom but fail to recognize the source disease.
Time may be the hero of the secular evolutionary plot, but the hero of real events is God. In Scripture He has given us the infallible record of the true history of the universe, which shows how He has been working out His plan to redeem sinners since Adam brought death into the world around six thousand years ago.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.