And why is it important?
Often, people challenge biblical creationists with comments along the lines of, “I believe God created, and I don’t believe in evolution, but He could have taken billions of years, so what’s the big deal about the age of the earth?” Some claim that an emphasis on ‘6 literal days, 6,000 years ago’ even keeps people away from the faith, so “Why be so dogmatic? Why emphasize something so strongly that’s not a salvation issue?”
It might come as a surprise that we agree—to a point. The timescale in and of itself is not the important issue. So why does CMI emphasize it? It’s important because the issue ultimately comes down to, “Does the Bible actually mean what it plainly says?” It therefore goes to the heart of the trustworthiness of Scripture. As such, compromising with long ages also severely undermines the whole Gospel message, thus creating crises of faith for many as well as huge problems with evangelism.
The implications of a long-age timescale
First, we need to understand where the concept of an old earth came from. The idea of millions or billions of years simply is not found anywhere in Scripture; it is a concept derived from outside of the Bible. In 1830, Charles Lyell, a Scottish lawyer, released his book Principles of Geology. He stated that one of his aims was “To free the science [of geology] from Moses.”1 He built his ideas upon those of another geologist, James Hutton, who advocated a uniformitarian interpretation of the world’s geology. Lyell argued that the thousands of feet of sedimentary layers (laid down by water or some other moving fluid) all over the earth were the result of long, slow, gradual processes over millions or billions of years (instead of the processes of Noah’s Flood). He believed that processes observed in the present must be used to explain the geological history of the earth. So, if we currently see rivers laying down sediment at an average rate of say 1 mm (4/100th of an inch) per year, then a layer of sedimentary rock such as sandstone which is 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) thick must have taken about a million years to form. This ‘present is the key to the past’ assumption (and its variants) is a cornerstone of modern geology. It involves a rejection of the biblical account of a global watery cataclysm. The millions of years assigned to the various layers in the ‘geological column’ were adopted long before the advent of radiometric dating methods—well before radioactivity was even discovered.
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