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During a moment of personal tragedy, a grieving mother asks if the age of the earth is important to spreading the gospel. Dr. Terry Mortenson, AiG–U.S., responds.
A long-time friend wrote to me recently questioning why the age of the earth was important. Isn’t it a side issue? Aren’t I wasting my time defending young-earth creationism—time that could be spent proclaiming the gospel?
She wrote shortly after the passing of her and her husband’s 25-year-old daughter, who died as a result of complications from genetic defects which she had at birth. Names have been changed below for sake of privacy. Her email to me read:
I just have to say first of all that our daughter, Mary, died Oct. 10th. That really doesn’t matter in what I am about to say. I have always prayed for you guys. Terry, I just keep wondering if all of this stuff you are teaching is really that important. Does it really matter what people think about how old the earth is? I just feel like people need to become Christians. I am sure that people do need to believe all that the Bible says. I don’t really know what I believe about the age of the earth or if God created the earth in exactly 6 - 24 hour days. I don’t really spend much time worrying about it. I just know that the world is going down the drain because they don’t know Christ as their savior (many of them). You seem to have such a gift to talk to people about their faith. I assume that you are doing what you feel that God is calling you to do. But I feel like there is so much that is important in the Bible beyond this that I have to speak up to you and say what I am feeling. I pray that you would be sure in your mind that this is really that important to spend so much time on it. I am usually not so free to give my opinions but I just feel strongly that evangelism is more important. Maybe, however, you are reaching an audience of intellectuals that no one else could reach by just talking about Jesus. Sorry, but I just have to say this.
This is how I replied to her (with a few minor changes, such as adding links to web articles to expand some points). Perhaps it will be helpful to others as well.
I am so sorry to hear of the death of Mary. I imagine that you and your family had, and still have, mixed emotions—of sadness to see her go, while rejoicing that she is freed from her suffering now in heaven. Your faithful, long-suffering love and care for her over these many years is a testimony of your faith and an example to all who know your family.
. . . I wanted to let you know how the Creation Museum made an impact in a teen’s life here in Michigan. We have been praying for Justin through his friend Stephanie, who is in our youth group. She has been burdened for his soul, especially since he was dating a girl who was agnostic and didn’t want him coming to church.
Two weekends ago Stephanie and Justin went with another church to the Creation Museum for the weekend. Justin was very interested in all the facts that he hadn’t seen before and kept mentioning it all made sense. After seeing The Last Adam, Stephanie said the Justin was very quiet.
Well, that next week Justin accepted Christ as his Savior, broke up with his agnostic girlfriend, has been coming to our church, and is interested in one-on-one discipleship! We praise the Lord for the museum, as it really made a lot of things clear for Justin and helped to open his eyes to his need for Christ!
I just finished watching the first broadcast of Answers Creation Hour, and I just wanted to let you know how wonderful it is to see this truth get into so many homes. I have friends who will not get together with me to watch Creation videos, but because these were broadcast on TV, they have already expressed an interest to see them. Sometimes we have to meet people at the level they are willing to accept. The Lord is being glorified through this new mass media opportunity.
Let us know what you think.
I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about my ministry so honestly. Actually one of the reasons the age of the earth matters so much is related to Mary’s disease and death. Let me list some of the major reasons this issue is so important and then give a few additional comments.
If the idea of millions of years of earth and cosmic history is really true, as many teach, then
You see, if death, disease, suffering, natural disasters (like hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in southeast Asia in December 2004), and extinctions have been going on for millions of years, as evolutionists teach, then God’s Word is fundamentally in error from beginning to end.
God says in Genesis 1:29–30 that man and the animals and birds were all originally vegetarian. Six times in Genesis 1 God said that what He had made was “good” (not good like on our scale of good-better-best, but good like God is good—without any quality that could be described as evil or bad).
In Genesis 1:31 He called everything He had made “very good.” In Genesis 3:14–19 He cursed the whole creation because of Adam’s sin. God cursed the serpent who deceived Eve, and it resulted in a physical change to the serpent. It therefore is reasonable to assume that animals were changed physically in some way as a result of the curse on them (e.g., carnivore behavior began at this time). Eve was changed physically (more pain in childbirth) because of God’s judgment.
Adam and Eve spiritually died instantly when they sinned—their relationship with God was broken and they hid themselves from God. But they also began to die physically as God said “from the dust you came, to the dust you shall return” (and as Paul says in Romans 5:12 and I Corinthians 15:21–22 that physical death came into the human race through Adam). The ground was also cursed. So, the fall had an impact on the whole creation. It is now all fallen and cursed, ruined by man’s sin—in bondage to corruption (Romans 8:19–23).
If we accept the millions of years, then (whether we realize it or not) we are also accepting that there were thorns and thistles long before Adam sinned (they have been found fossilized in rock layers dated at 340–405 million years), even though God says in Genesis 3 that thorns and thistles came as a result of sin. They are not the result of His good creativity but His holy justice.
If the millions of years are a fact, then God lied about the thorns. If God told the truth (I believe He did), then the millions of years are a lie. If Christians accept the millions of years, then they are also accepting (whether they realize it or not) that God calls cancer “very good,” because cancer is found in dinosaur bones that are dated to be at least 65 million years old, dying long before Adam was created and sinned in a theistic evolutionist viewpoint. That would mean that a disease like Mary had was also very good. During her life I expect that God showed you in many ways the truth of His promise in Romans 8:28 to cause her illness to work for good in your lives. God brought good out of her suffering, but her illness itself was not good.
What kind of God would call those things “very good”? Not the loving, good God of the Bible. If millions of years are a fact, then God is cruel and cares nothing for His creation. And if millions of years are a fact, then either God can’t communicate clearly or He is a liar. But the God of the Bible is not like that. He created a perfect world without death or disease in six literal days and justly judged that world when Adam sinned and judged it again with a global Flood at the time of Noah. In Genesis 1–11 God has truthfully and accurately explained in language that even a small child can understand what happened in the key events of the early history of His creation. And the truths taught there are foundational to the teaching of the whole rest of the Bible.
Now in our fallen, cursed world, God uses suffering, disease, and death to sanctify His people and to draw sinners to Himself, and He gives grace to those who trust Him so that they can endure their suffering with a deep sense of contentment and joy even in the midst of their tears and pain. But God didn’t create the world with all this evil. It became like this as a result of Adam’s fall, and one day (when Jesus comes again to set up the new heavens and earth), there won’t be any more of this evil (Revelation 21:3–5), even animals will again be herbivores and harmless (Isaiah 11:6–9 gives a glimpse of this state of affairs), because there will be no more curse on the creation (Revelation 22:3). The creation will be liberated from its bondage to corruption when believers receive their resurrected bodies (Romans 8:18–25). Jesus will restore all things (Acts 3:21), and His redemptive work will affect all of creation (Colossians 1:15–20).
So, acceptance of millions of years does all those six things I mentioned above. Those all seem to me and many other Christians to be vitally important doctrines, not insignificant side issues. We at Answers in Genesis believe firmly in the accuracy and authority of Scripture and try to show in our books, articles, DVDs, and seminars that the teaching of evolution and millions of years all over our culture is a (if not the) major reason for the growing moral and spiritual crisis in our culture and in the church. The evolutionary teaching has undermined belief in and submission to the Word of God.
Consider this statement by an agnostic scientist with two PhDs in his book severely criticizing evolution. I think he is very perceptive (and the Darwinian view of nature he mentions includes the millions of years of death).
“Today it is perhaps the Darwinian view of nature more than any other that is responsible for the agnostic and skeptical outlook of the twentieth century.”
Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (London: Burnett Books, 1985), p. 358.
But the cultural problems in this once very Christian nation, and formerly Christian Western Europe, did not start with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Ernst Mayr, notable American evolutionist at his death at the age of 100 in 2005, tells us when the moral and social avalanche started.
“The [Darwinian] revolution began when it became obvious that the earth was very ancient rather than having been created only 6000 years ago. This finding was the snowball that started the whole avalanche.”
Ernst Mayr, “The Nature of the Darwinian Revolution,” Science, 176 (2 June 1972): 988.
And Darwin’s “bulldog” defender in the 19th century, the agnostic/atheist T. H. Huxley, showed the connection of evolution and millions of years to the gospel when he wrote the following back in 1893. A major reason that many churches and denominations are theologically liberal today and no longer even believe the gospel—much less preach it—is because they have swallowed evolution and millions of years hook, line, and sinker, and so, have built their “faith” on legendary quicksand. Listen to Huxley (who had no respect for such compromising Christians):
“I am fairly at a loss to comprehend how any one, for a moment, can doubt that Christian theology must stand or fall with the historical trustworthiness of the Jewish Scriptures. The very conception of the Messiah, or Christ, is inextricably interwoven with Jewish history; the identification of Jesus of Nazareth with that Messiah rests upon the interpretation of the passages of the Hebrew Scriptures which have no evidential value unless they possess the historical character assigned to them. If the covenant with Abraham was not made; if circumcision and sacrifices were not ordained by Jahveh [sic]; if the ‘ten words’ [i.e., 10 Commandments] were not written by God’s hand on the stone tables; if Abraham is more or less a mythical hero, such as Theseus; the Story of the Deluge a fiction; that of the Fall a legend; and that of the Creation the dream of a seer; if all these definite and detailed narratives of apparently real events have no more value as history than have the stories of the regal period of Rome—what is to be said about the Messianic doctrine, which is so much less clearly enunciated: And what about the authority of the writers of the books of the New Testament, who, on this theory, have not merely accepted flimsy fictions for solid truths, but have built the very foundations of Christian dogma upon legendary quicksands?”
Thomas H. Huxley, Science and Hebrew Tradition (New York: D. Appleton, 1893), p. 207–8.
Let me be clear: no one is saved by believing in a young earth, and no one will be sent to hell for believing in millions of years. Our eternal destiny is determined solely on the basis of whether or not we have put our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord or not. But those Christians who accept the millions of years are being inconsistent in accepting what the New Testament says about the gospel while at the same time rejecting all or some of what the New Testament and Old Testament together say about the age of the earth, the order of creation events, and the consequences of the Fall of Adam.
Their inconsistency causes many people in our culture and around the world (because evolution and millions of years are taught as fact everywhere) to not trust the Bible and therefore not to believe the gospel. Others may not state it as clearly as Huxley, but they essentially think the same. If the beginning chapters of the Bible look like history but really are symbolic or mythological, then why should anyone believe the gospels about Jesus, which look like history but are filled with all kinds of miracles that modern science (supposedly) has shown are impossible.
That is the way many people think today—in America and around the world. And we have many testimonies in our AiG files of people who were kept from believing the gospel because they thought evolution and millions of years were true. But one day they read a creationist book, watched some videos, or went to a seminar and were shown that both evolution and millions of years are lies disguised as scientific fact. And once they saw that, they repented and trusted in Christ. So, the age of the earth is very related to the proclamation (and acceptance) of the gospel.
Ultimately, the controversy about the age of the earth is a controversy about the authority of Scripture.Ultimately, the controversy about the age of the earth is a controversy about the authority of Scripture. If millions of years really happened, then the Bible is false and cannot speak with authority on any issue. And once a church, denomination, seminary, or individual gives up the authority of Scripture on this issue, history shows over and over again that the church (or denomination, seminary, or individual) eventually begins to give up other teachings of the Bible too. To be committed to the authority of Scripture on the issue of abortion, homosexuality, divorce/adultery, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Fall, or even on the gospel, but not to hold to the authority of Scripture on other teachings such as the length of the days of creation, the age of the earth, or the global extent of the Flood is to be inconsistent. And the unbelieving world sees that inconsistency and doesn’t have any respect for it.
In my seminars, I expose the myth of evolution and millions of years to help the church understand and believe the Bible from the very first verse, so that the authority of the Word of God is restored or strengthened and so that people will have more confidence and boldness to proclaim the gospel in this evolutionized world. The testimonies we hear from thousands of people every year encourage us that this is happening in the lives of many Christians and pastors—and as a result, the gospel is going forth from them with greater power, effectiveness, and urgency. Some non-believers also come to Christ directly through our seminars or books and DVDs, too. At my recent seminar in Texas, three people indicated decisions for Christ when the pastor gave an invitation after one of my talks. So, although I don’t do direct evangelism in the same way as I did when I was on Campus Crusade staff on American university campuses, I’m still very much involved in helping to fulfill the Great Commission.
I would recommend the short web article I mentioned earlier. You’ve raised an important question, and I urge you to think about it further.
I’m going to send you a copy of Ken Ham’s book How Could a Loving God . . . ? It is based on his own experience of watching his brother, who was a godly pastor, degenerate over the course of several years and die due to a bizarre brain disease. He couldn’t even recognize his own mother the last year or so of his life. I’d like to also send you a copy of my DVD Millions of Years: Where Did the Idea Come From? which answers that question historically and shows its connection to the proclamation of the gospel.
I hope this is helpful. If you have any comments, objections, or questions, don’t hesitate to write. And if you and the family are ever passing near Cincinnati, can I encourage you to save a day to visit us and see the AiG Creation Museum?
Again, our sympathies to you and the family in the loss of Mary. We pray that God will minister to you in your time of grief.
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.