IBRI Paper (2002)
The Date of Creation:
Bible-Compatible Evidences for Great Age
Daniel E. Wonderly
Copyright © 2002 by Daniel E. Wonderly. All rights reserved.
The creation of the earth and universe by God is a foundation principle of Christianity. A great number of chapters in both the Old and New Testaments emphasize this truth. We are thankful that many evangelicals today realize the dangers of evolutionary philosophy and are warning others of these dangers.
However, many Christians are now confused (and sometimes in bitter disagreement with each other) over the question of how old the fossils and geologic strata are. There is the important rule that we should never adopt beliefs which contradict any of the Bible’s direct teachings, but we do need also to recognize the principle that we should not reject the careful observations of research science. Geology, oceanography, and some of the other sciences have given us much reliable information regarding the nature of the earth’s crust. It is logical that Christians should use the results of geologic and oceanographic research because these sciences are practically neutral with respect to biological evolution.
Even though a high percentage of all scientists believe the standard evolutionary scenario, scientific research regarding the earth’s crust gives them very little, if any support for that belief. Thus the frequent rejection by Christians of research data (items of evidence) regarding the geologic formations and strata of the earth is both unnecessary and harmful. We say harmful because Christians cannot have a good witness and influence in the presence of unbelievers or of our nation’s educators if they deny obvious realities regarding God’s created world.
Some evangelical Christians today fall into the trap of denying one such area of reality, namely the great age of many parts of the earth’s crust. They do this thinking it is necessary for rejecting evolutionism. But, as we shall see below, the recognition of long periods of time has no necessary connection with belief in biological evolution.
Weak Arguments Against Evolution Weaken the Evangelical Position
The evidences against an evolutionary origin of life are very strong, but the arguments in favor of an earth only a few thousand years old are exceedingly weak. Yet many evangelical Christians, students and public officials in our nation are regularly being told by young-earth creationist leaders that these weak arguments should be given a prominent place in the teaching of origins. These arguments are in conflict with a great deal of high quality scientific data, and usually create an unwholesome anti-science attitude in the minds of those who feel they must accept a young-earth view. They must therefore ignore or reject the great mass of scientific data that cannot logically be interpreted as fitting into a young-earth model. This position among evangelical Christians has, in turn, greatly perplexed our nation’s educators, and caused them to assume that the Bible (our “handbook”) has anti-science and illogical characteristics. This widely publicized young-earth teaching usually causes public leaders to forget that there are many old-earth special-creationist teachers who accept carefully-collected scientific data.
How can churches and individuals begin to correct this bad situation that has developed? At least two basic patterns of thought and action will be necessary. First, we must go back to the Bible and observe that it does not really give us any definite statements that limit the age of the earth. Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the earth “in the beginning,” and most conservative Bible scholars and teachers of the past two centuries have admitted that the Bible does not really state when “in the beginning” was. Evidently God was pleased to withhold that information, and to allow mankind to make investigations later on, which would at least work in the direction of answering that question.
The second basic step we need to take in alleviating the present-day creation controversy is to make a reassessment of our attitude toward scientific research. We of course cannot accept all the beliefs of scientists. Many of them have beliefs which deny God and his creation, and which contradict the fact of the divine inspiration of the Bible. All research scientists have been taught to attempt to be objective in their investigations, not allowing for personal opinions to influence their conclusions. But, unfortunately, most of the scientists who specialize in investigating the theories of evolution are lax in their attempts to be objective, because they have a personal, philosophical “reason” for holding onto a full belief in evolutionary origins.
However, in branches of science that are not at all dependent upon a belief in biological evolution, immense amounts of excellent, reliable research results have been accumulated, especially during the past forty years. Geology and oceanography are two of the sciences that could be continued and expanded almost indefinitely without needing to depend on a belief that life originated by evolutionary processes.1 Thus Christians should feel free to use the immense amounts of non-evolutionary data that geologic and oceanographic research has produced, and to recognize the validity of the age-indicating features contained in that body of data. We recognize that God’s creation of Adam and Eve as the parents of the human race was only thousands (rather than millions) of years ago, but this does not indicate that the earth and all the fossils it contains are young.
Some Evidence for Great Age Summarized
There are many very observable evidences for great age in the sedimentary parts of the earth’s crust that are not at all dependent upon radiation dating. Some of these are large, biologically-formed limestone structures. Other such evidences include the great thicknesses of layered shale, claystone, sandstone, and common limestone. These types of rock layers (strata) usually alternate with each other in the vertical “stack of layers” which they form on the deeper rock of the earth’s crust. Nearly all of the middle and eastern parts of the United States are covered with such sequences of rock, sometimes to a thickness of several miles. In most localities east of the Rocky Mountains this sedimentary cover is at least three thousand feet thick. Some of the rock layers show evidence of having been deposited in a short period of time, but most of them are types which could not have been formed rapidly by flood waters.
Our knowledge of the long time periods needed for forming the rock strata is thus not based upon a vague “uniformitarian theory,” but on careful field observations of the geologic processes which form various types of rock. For example, we can observe limestone in the process of formation in various parts of the ocean, and when shale and claystone are formed we observe that tranquil waters and a time period are required for the clay particles to settle out of the water. Also it was necessary for a good amount of hardening (lithification) of each such shale deposit to take place before it could support the great weight of thousands more feet of layers above it. (Remember that both freshly-settled clay and finely-divided lime are soft, like mud.)
The lithification processes for sedimentary rock are necessarily slow, not at all like the baking of bricks. The primary lithification process of sandstones and limestones is called “cementation.” This is the building in of tiny crystals of minerals between the particles of sand or lime. These crystals are composed of calcium and silicon compounds which precipitate out of the water, little-by-little, as the dissolved calcium and silicon become available. Thus the forming of the sedimentary rock cover of the earth required long periods for lithification in a favorable aquatic environment.2 And the fact that even the deepest sedimentary rock layers frequently contain large numbers of marine fossils tells us that these layers were not formed at the original creation. (God did not create dead fossils.)
The passage of very long periods of time in earth’s history is evident from literally scores of conditions and types of structures we can observe in the rock layers. One of the most vivid and reliable of these is the existence of many large, biologically-formed limestone structures which have literally grown in place in the oceans of the past and present. A few examples are (1) the Eniwetok atoll, a Pacific coral reef nearly a mile thick (and still growing) on top of an ancient volcanic cone; (2) ancient coral reefs resting under a mile of complex sedimentary layers in the oil fields of Alberta, Canada; and (3) the Great Bahama Bank, which has been slowly built to a thickness (height) of three miles above its original sea-floor base to form an isolated shallow-water platform off the coast of Florida.3
All of these structures are composed almost entirely of sediment
which were produced by the natural growth of their corals and other
organisms. They contain even in the deeper layers abundant
, well-preserved fossils of these animals and plants. At the fastest
known growth rate for coral reefs, it would have taken 790 thousand
of continuous growth to form the Great Bahama Bank. However, it
and the other atoll structures listed above had long interruption
when the sea level was too low or two high for appreciable growth.
these times the marks of many centuries or millennia of dissolving and
erosion were left on the tops of the platforms before growth finally
Furthermore, many of the periods of growth were slow, because
organisms, rather than corals, were producing some of the sediments.
Additional long periods of time were required for the shallow-water cementing processes which are so familiar to sedimentologists today. These bound the particles together to form limerock. We should remember too that every one of these great limestone structures rests on a thick foundation that was very old before the lime-secreting organisms began their work.
This is just one example of the types of natural time records that show us the earth is very old. If we are tempted to “explain away” the time element by saying that God created ready-made fossils and biological sediments, we are accusing God of deception or trickery. Or if we try to assume that the corals and other lime-secreting organisms of ancient times grew at twenty, fifty or a hundred times the rate of their present growth, we have fallen into a similar error. All evidence points to the fact that the natural laws and processes by which biological growth and the cementation of rock are controlled today were created as stable and essentially constant. These natural laws are dependable, not erratic. The Book of Genesis leads us to believe that biological growth rates during Adam’s life were necessarily similar to what they are now. Even today, when a group of aquatic organisms begins to reproduce too rapidly, they soon choke themselves with their own waste products, and their dead bodies then pollute the entire area.
A Few Guidelines for Thinking About the Earth’s Age
In considering the geologic evidence for great age we must not fall to the temptation to formulate unreasonable explanations of how things might have happened in the past. We believe all that the Bible definitely teaches, but we need to be careful not to harbor prejudices against the great body of carefully-collected scientific data which indicate that the earth is very old. Geologists have identified many sedimentary layers mostly around the edges of landmasses which are relatively young. But the great majority of sedimentary deposits further inland have very different characteristics which show that they are old, having been formed earlier in ancient seas.
We must always remember that God is consistent and orderly in everything he does. For example, the Flood was an immensely destructive event, designed for judgment upon man’s sin. However, as a destructive event, it could not produce on the earth the many intricate and orderly structures which petroleum geologists now find nearly everywhere they drill.
The existence of these orderly structures does not support an
view of origins. They were formed by simple growth and by other
of accumulation according to the natural laws that God created. This is
a view held by a great many of the founders of conservative,
Christianity in America, and it is a view which honors God and the
1 It is true that, when sedimentary geologists and oceanographers use types of fossils which occur in various strata, for correlating strata and assigning dates to them, most of the scientists assume that the fossils forms developed by macroevolution (the supposed process of evolving from one kind of animal or plant up to a much higher kind) as well as microevolution (small evolutionary changes with definite limits). But such an assumption is not necessary for making correct correlations and date-assignments. The dates themselves are not derived from rates of evolution. The scientists can work just as effectively and accurately if they assume that God created the major types of animals and plants in the distant past, and that they multiplied and became dominant at certain periods or sub-periods in geologic history.
2 For descriptions of the formation processes of various types of sedimentary rocks, see Origin of Sedimentary Rocks, by H. Blatt, G. V. Middleton, and R. C. Murray (Prentice-Hall, 1980, 782 pages). Other publications of this sort may be found in libraries under “Petrology,” “Sedimentary…” and similar headings.
3 The following
excellent primary sources describing these biologically formed
(1) Eniwetok atoll, U.S. Geological Survey Pprofessional Papter
no. 260-Y, 1960, H.S. Ladd; no. 260-P, 1954, J. W. Wells; no. 260-I I,
1969, E. B. Leopold; (2) Alberta coral reefs, American Association
Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, J. R. Langton and G. E. Chin, vol.
no. 10, 1968, pp. 1925-1955; M. E. Hriskevich, vol. 54, no. 12, 1970,
2260-2281; (3) Great Bahama Bank, American Associatio of Petroleum
Bulletin, H. G. Goodell and R. K. Garman, vol. 53, no. 3, 1969, pp.
513-536. More recent papers dealing with specific topics regarding each
of the above can easily be found in bibliographies and indices in
|Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written.|
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