Ever since the well-publicized Scopes Trial in 1925, evangelical Christians have engaged in vigorous, often heated debates over the age of the universe and Earth. On one side are Christians who are convinced that there is overwhelming, consistent, accurate scientific evidence that the universe is 13.79 billion years old and that Earth is 4.5662 billion years old. On the other side are Christians who are convinced that a literal interpretation of the Bible constrains both the age of the universe and Earth to be less than 10,000 years.
The four most significant factors persuading many Christians that the universe and Earth must be younger than 10,000 years old are:
1. concern that conceding a 4.5662-billion-year age for Earth will enable naturalistic evolutionary processes alone to explain the origin and history of all life;
2. certainty that the only possible literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is that in which the creation days are six consecutive 24-hour periods;
3. belief that there was no animal or human death until after Adam had sinned in the Garden of Eden; and
4. belief that an atheistic bias explains the scientific community’s united-front conclusion that Earth and the universe are billions of years old.
Both young-earth and old-earth creationist Christians uphold the biblical doctrine of dual revelation but they apply the doctrine in different ways. I’ve written a full-length book on dual revelation that will be released later this year.1 In that book I define dual revelation as the doctrine that God has revealed himself and his personal attributes through two wholly reliable and trustworthy expressions: the book of Scripture (the Bible) and the book of nature. I know of no young-earth creationist scholar or leader who would disagree with this definition. The disagreement is over the application of a corollary doctrine—sola Scriptura.
The doctrine of sola Scriptura, codified during the Protestant Reformation, states that the Bible is the supreme authoritative source of information on all the subjects it addresses. The framers of this doctrine understood that for God’s revelation to be clearly authoritative, direct (verbal, propositional) rather than indirect communication is required.
Young-earth creationists interpret sola Scriptura as implying that the Bible is the only completely trustworthy, reliable, inerrant revelation from God. They acknowledge that the book of nature can be a reliable, trustworthy, inerrant revelation but only if it is interpreted through the lens of Scripture. Theologian John Whitcomb and physicist Donald DeYoung wrote that scientists “must grope in darkness apart from God’s special revelation in Scripture.”2 Henry Morris II, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, argued that no tool of science can ever yield any reliable information on Earth’s age. He asserted, “The compelling Biblical …direct testimony from the Creator is the only way to know the age of the earth” (italics in original).3
There is a widespread distrust of science and of scientists in the young-earth creationist community. It has been my experience that attempting to persuade young-earth creationists to adopt an old-earth perspective on creation based on overwhelming and consistent scientific evidence that establishes Earth and the universe are billions of years old is a fruitless endeavor. However, while young-earth creationists give little credence to scientific evidence, they have high regard for the trustworthiness of the Bible. They put their faith and trust in the complete reliability of a literally interpreted Bible. Therefore, biblical arguments for the age of the universe and Earth based on literal interpretations of the Bible’s creation texts carry weight and will be considered.
What Does the Bible Say about the Universe’s and Earth’s Age?
1. Unchanging physical laws: According to the Bible, the laws of physics are unchanging. In Jeremiah 33, God, speaking through the prophet, contrasts human wavering with his own immutability by referring to the “laws governing the heavens and Earth” (verse 25). Just as they remain “fixed,” as in constant and unchanging, so does God. Likewise, Ecclesiastes speaks of the monotonous operation of the natural laws, in particular the thermodynamic laws. Paul writes in Romans 8:19–23 that the entire universe is subject to the law of decay, also known as the law of entropy or the second law of thermodynamics, a law that will remain in effect until God’s redemptive purposes for humanity in this physical realm have been fulfilled.
Everything from human digestion to the shining of the Sun, Moon, and stars is extremely sensitive to even the tiniest change in the laws of physics. Young-earth creationism faces an insurmountable challenge for the simple reason that young-earth models critically depend on radically altered laws of physics—laws altered not by a factor of 5 or 10 times, but by a factor of millions to billions at the fall of Adam and/or the flood of Noah. Young-earth creationists need such appeals to explain all the past geological and astrophysical activity that has occurred within a time frame of only 10,000 years or less. However, the Bible and the book of nature4 explicitly affirm that the laws of physics have remained unchanged throughout the universe’s history.
To their credit, some young-earth creationists, especially those with science and engineering backgrounds, have acknowledged this problem. The authors of Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth have written that if the laws and constants of physics have not changed in any significant way over the universe’s and Earth’s past, then both the universe and Earth must be billions of years old.5 They concede, “Either accelerated radioactive decay accounts for the large daughter isotope residues in a short period of time, or a large amount of decay occurred at conventional rates and the earth is old.”6 For this reason, they appeal to vastly accelerated nuclear decay. For example, they assert, “All these products of nuclear decay were indeed produced by nuclear decay! But the amounts of those products we observe are much greater than thousands of years could produce—at today’s rates.”7 They add, “A change in the decay constant of the order of 109 may be required, if the accelerated decay is restricted to the one year period of the Genesis Flood. …A one year episode of accelerated decay at the time of the Flood may not be enough. Other episodes during Creation week or during the Fall may also be necessary.”8 Again, the dilemma for these concessions is that both the Bible and the book of nature explicitly affirm that there have been no changes in the laws of physics.
2. Animal death before Adam: The New Testament sheds decisive light on what resulted from Adam’s sin. In Romans 5:12, Paul writes, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (emphasis added). An exhaustive search of Scripture further clarifies that only humans are capable of sin. Only humans make moral and spiritual choices. The death Adam experienced is carefully qualified in the text as being visited on people—with no reference to Earth’s plants or animals (Romans 5:12, 18–19).
According to 1 Corinthians 15:21, the death that “came through a man” came to humans, not to humans and animals. 1 Corinthians 15:22–23 explains, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” According to Genesis 1, God gave Earth’s plants and animals to humans. The only creatures who belong to Christ through acceptance of his redeeming love are the ones made expressly for eternal relationship with him: humans. Only spiritual beings are “made alive” in Christ. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are the only passages in the Bible that explicitly address the death brought by Adam’s sin. Neither provides a compelling reason to suggest that physical death of plants and animals could not have occurred prior to Adam’s sin—or that the physical death of plants and animals necessarily impugns God’s character.
3. Duration of Genesis 1 creation days: In Genesis 1:1–2:4, the Hebrew word yôm, translated “day,” is used with three distinct definitions. Yôm refers to all of the daylight hours in Genesis 1:3–5, to a calendar day of 24 hours in Genesis 1:14, and to the entire time span of God’s creative activity in Genesis 2:4.
Each of the first six creation days is accompanied by the statement “and there was evening, and there was morning” and an ordinal number. This pattern leads to anticipation of an “evening-morning” tag to go along with the seventh day, but it does not appear there. Its omission must be intentional, and it certainly piques the curiosity of a first-time reader. Those familiar with the entire Bible would recognize the seventh day, the day of “rest” or cessation, from references to it in other passages of Scripture, such as Psalm 95:10-11 and Hebrews 4:1-11. In these texts, God’s rest from his “work” of creation still continues, and we’re invited to enter into his rest from working and obey God’s good news. In fact, Hebrews mentions that “today,” the time to repent and turn to the Lord, continues to this day.
Many young-earth creationists assert that Exodus 20:11‘s statement about obeying the Sabbath implies that the creation days in Genesis 1 must be calendar days. However, this claim is based on the assumption that a “Sabbath” can only and will always mean 24 hours. However, Leviticus 25:2–5 declares a year-long Sabbath for agricultural land. In each case, the Sabbath rest for humans and agricultural land serves biological needs and limitations—things not applicable to God.
Hosea 6:1–3 and Zechariah 14:7 show that even a numbered day can refer to a time span longer than 24 hours. Perhaps the clearest indication of this point comes from biblical elaboration in Genesis 2 on the events of the sixth creation day. That was a very full day of activity for Adam—so full it is highly unlikely Adam could have accomplished it all in a single 24-hour day.
Genesis 1 says that God created humans, male and female, on creation day six. According to the details provided in Genesis 2, God created Adam outside the garden and then placed him in the garden, where he introduced Adam to its beauty. Adam observed the trees of Eden growing. God had Adam tend the garden and “watch over it.” Then God noted that Adam was alone and that it was “not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Next, God brought Adam various species of birds and mammals to observe and name. Finally, God put Adam into a sound sleep and created Eve (from a tissue biopsy taken from Adam’s side). During this sequence of events, Adam had time to observe the difference between the world outside of Eden and the world within. He had time to learn the wonderful yet limited satisfaction that comes from gardening. He also had time and opportunity to learn about animal life and how soulish creatures (nephesh, in Hebrew) related to one another as well as to him. Finally, he had time to realize his own aloneness, his lack of a “like” partner.
According to the text, the exclamation that came from Adam’s lips when he first saw Eve was, in Hebrew, “happa‘am.” This expression is translated in Genesis 30:20 as “now at last” and in Genesis 46:30 as “now finally.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament translates this term in Genesis 2:23 as “at last.”9 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon translates it in the same passage as “now at length.”10
Theologian C. John Collins has explained that the wording and structure of Genesis 1:1–3 allow for a significant gap in time between the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:1) and the development of the conditions on Earth described in Genesis 1:2.11 Another time period of unspecified duration is possible between the state of Earth in Genesis 1:2 and the appearance of light on Earth’s surface, described in Genesis 1:3.12 On this basis, Genesis 1:1–3 would permit, if taken as history, the passage of some billions of years between the creation of the universe and the creation events thereafter. Therefore, Christians who interpret the Genesis 1 creation days as a 144-hour time span could still accept the scientifically established ages of the universe and Earth. They need not reject the astronomical evidence for an ancient universe, nor do they need to accuse astronomers of deceit.
4. Scientists’ atheistic bias: There are more than 12,000 professional research astronomers in the world and about ten times as many professional research geologists. Trying to get this many scientists to unite together to foster a conspiracy about the age of the universe and Earth that they all know is not true defies credulity. To attribute such a conspiracy to a united atheistic bias overlooks the fact that a large percentage of research astronomers and geologists are Bible-believing Christians. The vast majority of these Bible-believing research astronomers and geologists, who publicly identify as born-again Christians, adhere to an old-earth interpretation of Scripture and the book of nature.
The claim that professional research astronomers and geologists have conspired to deceive the public about the ages of the universe and Earth also overlooks the fact that these scientific communities are tolerant of aberrant hypotheses that challenge mainstream scientific theories and thinking. Such tolerance is evident in their peer-reviewed scientific journals. Some of these journals specialize in publishing aberrant hypotheses to challenge scientists adhering to mainstream theories to strengthen and widen the evidence for their theories.
Considering Multiple Creation Texts
The Bible is unique among the books undergirding the world’s major religions in the number and extent of its creation passages. There are over two dozen chapter-length and near-chapter-length creation texts in the Bible. They appear in over 10 of the 66 books that comprise the Old and New Testaments.
The dispute among Christians over creation’s timing results not from interpreting the Bible as truthful, but from failing to integrate all the truth it reveals. Each biblical creation passage must be understood in a way that is both literal and consistent, both internally and externally.
This brief summary presents some of the more significant biblical refutations that the universe and Earth are less than 10,000 years old. For readers desiring to pursue greater depth on what the entire Bible teaches about the age of the universe and Earth, I have written a full-length book, A Matter of Days, 2nd edition.13
Christians can be confident that God created a world he intends for us to discover. I would add that he wants us to learn everything we can about the natural realm. Part of that learning involves a constructive integration of all relevant creation texts with the record of nature to gain insight into his timing and purposes for the creation.
- Hugh Ross, Rescuing Inerrancy: A Scientific Defense (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2023).
- John C. Whitcomb and Donald B. DeYoung, The Moon: Its Creation, Form, and Significance (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1978), 69.
- Henry M. Morris, “Morris Debates for Young Earth at Wheaton,” Acts and Facts 15, no. 8 (1986): 5.
- I explain and document the scientific evidence for unchanging laws of physics in Hugh Ross, “New Evidence Further Affirms Biblical Prediction of Unchanging Physics,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, August 9, 2021; and in Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, 2nd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 100–104, 164–166.
- Larry Vardiman, Andrew A. Snelling, and Eugene F. Chaffin, eds., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: A Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative, vol. 1 (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research; St. Joseph, MO: Creation Research Society, 2000): 42–44, 306–307, 312–313, 316–318, 334–337, 374, vol. 2 (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research; St. Joseph, MO: Creation Research Society, 2005): 736–738.
- Vardiman, Snelling, and Chaffin, eds., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, vol. 2:738.
- Vardiman, Snelling, and Chaffin, eds., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, vol. 1:337.
- Vardiman, Snelling, and Chaffin, eds., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, vol. 1:307.
- R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 730.
- Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 1906 repr. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), 822.
- C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 51; Rodney Whitefield, Reading Genesis One: Comparing Biblical Hebrew with English Translation (San Jose, CA: R. Whitefield Publisher, 2011), 10–11.
- Collins, Genesis 1–4, 10–11.
- Ross, A Matter of Days.