Adapted, with permission, from Does God Exist? January/February 2015, pp.3-9.

Several years ago a spruce tree was discovered in Sweden that was determined by carbon dating to be 9,550 years old. The man who discovered the tree is a professor of physical geography at a Swedish university. He named the tree “Old Tjikko” in honor of his deceased dog. More accurately the root system of the tree is that old, although the stem or trunk is not more than a few hundred years old. News of this caused a flurry of discussions on the web about how Young Earth Creationists explain such an old tree. Although this tree is the oldest known Norway spruce, there are much older trees. An example is a clonal colony of quaking aspen trees called “Pando” or “The Trembling Giant” located in southern Utah, and pictured above. The individual tree stalks are genetically identical clones growing from the same root system. Although the individual stalks are much younger, the root system is estimated to be at least 80,000 years old, and perhaps much older than that. Those who insist on the earth (and the universe) being 6,000 years old say that all of the scientific dating methods are not accurate. However, are they creating an issue with science that is not justified?

I have been a member of the Lord's church for over 45 years. One of the things that I have seen in all that time is that issues come and go in the church. Controversy is nothing new, and in fact most of the issues are not new. I was amazed to hear some youth ministers recently talking about the idea that premarital sex among teenagers is OK because it is a physical expression of release and not a spiritual matter. That reminded me of the situation in Corinth where some of the members of the church were believing that the use of a prostitute was acceptable for Christians for the same reason. In 1 Corinthians 6:15 – 20 Paul gives a brilliant response to such an argument, reminding the Corinthians of what God intended in the oneness of a man and a woman.

Many issues seem to repeat themselves over the years as Satan uses denominational creeds and teachings to corrupt the pure teachings of Jesus Christ. The belief in special spiritual gifts and how God works through the Holy Spirit was a huge issue in the 1960s as tongue-speaking and miracles became a hot button topic. In the early twenty-first century, prophetic theories related to dispensationalism and premillennialism have become popular. In 2014 there was a major remake of the original Left Behind movie based on the book by the same name. Denominations that teach a premillennial belief system have come into considerable amounts of money promoting these teachings.

The church has always paid a high price for embracing denominational teachings. A current hot-button issue concerns the age of the earth and how long humans have been around.


There are those who consider this to be one of those most important issues of our day. However, they have different reasons for feeling that way.

There are very sincere Bible students who feel that anyone who believes the age of the earth could be in the millions or billions of years is not taking the Bible literally. We will address this point in just a moment.

Other believers feel that this is a critical issue because they subscribe to dispensational teachings and premillennialism. If your church teaches that biblical history is divided into dispensational periods and that our present period will end with the “rapture” and a great tribulation, then you are limited in the time-frame you can believe in. Recent religious surveys show that over 50% of Protestant denominations teach some version of this belief system. Studies of the beliefs of the producers of home-school materials and creationist materials show that over 90% of them are dispensational-millennialists (see Ronald Number's book The Creationists, Alfred Knopf, 1992). This includes popularizers such as Kent Hovind, Ken Ham, The Institute for Creation Research, etc. Even apologetic groups that may not subscribe to dispensational-millennialism theologically use the materials circulated by the popularizers, so the denominational message is spread and given emphasis.

The third group that feels this is an important issue are people like your author who work with young people who are trained in the sciences, and who believe the Bible is God's Word. We feel this is an important issue because we see the incredibly destructive effects all of this is having on the faith of young people. It is not really the issue of whether the earth is old or young that is involved here, but the bad science and distorted theologies that result from the discussion. We see some in the scientific community throwing ideas around that are not science. Theories like multiverses, superstrings, branes, parallel universes are displayed as new scientific discoveries in popular magazines, when in reality they cannot be tested or falsified in any way. These ideas may be interesting speculations, but they are not scientific fact and really are not science at all.

On the other side of the ledger, we see some popularizers of apologetics making fundamental scientific errors. Recently a popular apologetics spokesman blamed Darwinism for the Crusades, even though the Crusades took place long before Darwin's birth. Young people who know even a small amount of geology can see the enormous petrological errors involved in comparing the canyon on the side of Mount St. Helen's with the Grand Canyon. When a seventh-grader hears the preacher attribute the entire Canyonlands area to the flood of Noah, which he knows cannot be true, his trust in the preacher's message about the church is seriously wounded. A day rarely goes by when I do not deal with some young person who has left the church over issues of this kind. Leaders of churches with dwindling attendance continue to refuse to come to grips with this major cause of young people leaving.


This is not a salvation issue. When the crowd asked Peter in Acts 2:37 “What must we do to be saved?” Peter did not give a set of beliefs about the age of the earth. The gospel of Christ is the good news and has to do with redemption provided by God, not what a person might believe about the geologic history of the earth.

This is not a question of whether we take the Bible literally or not. People on all sides of this discussion seem to think that the 6,000 year age of the earth is arrived at by “taking the Bible literally.” That is absolutely not true! Nowhere does Scripture state any age to the earth —  young or old. Those who believe that the Bible says the earth is of a young age have arrived at that belief by accepting a number of assumptions. An archbishop in the Anglican church named James Ussher stated these assumptions in a thesis he wrote on the subject in 1650. Ushers assumptions were:

  1. There are no undated verses in the biblical account.
  2. There were no missing people in the biblical genealogies.
  3. The purpose of the genealogies was chronological, so they are all written in chronological order.
  4. No historical period is missing from the Bible.

All of these assumptions are in error, but they all have to be accepted by anyone who attempts to give a biblical date to the age of the earth. Taking the Bible literally means looking at who wrote it, when they wrote it, to whom they wrote it, and how the people of the time would have understood it. Taking a stated age from the margin of a King James translation of the Bible is not taking the Bible literally.

This is not a “false teacher” issue on either side. Attacks on those who do not agree with a practice or belief are made by attaching a biblical label to the person being attacked. “False Teacher” is a good example. If you do not agree with me on some minor point, you can accuse me of being a “false teacher.” The idea is not only that you are right and I am wrong, but also that I am a really bad person. Listen to a biblical description of a “false teacher:”

… there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Peter 2:1, NIV).

That means that if I disagree with you on any biblical point, and you label me as a “false teacher,” I am a really bad guy. Second Timothy 3:1 – 7 tells us what a “false teacher” is really about:

… lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. … They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

As individual Christians, we need to understand that disagreeing on some biblical point does not mean that one person is right and the other person is going to hell. Jesus challenged the Pharisees for claiming that everything they said and taught was right and should be followed, while their actions were not right. He even said to the Pharisees, “You give a tenth … . But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).


The real “age of the earth” issue is not about name-calling or false teachers, or church politics. The real issue is our view of God and how God operates — both now and in the past. There are two extreme views involved here. One is the “magician” view of God. Those who hold this view see God as a miracle worker who functions as a magician, doing magic and miraculous things that man cannot and should not try to understand. Many preacher-training schools promote this view in which every statement in Genesis is a miracle done by a method only God can do and understand. When God says, “Let there be light,” in Genesis 1:3, light appears by itself with no cause. We know today that light is produced by the acceleration of electric charge, but the magician approach would say that light came by an act of God that was totally miraculous. The extremists of this view would suggest that at the end of verse 1, God had an earth with fossils in the ground, rock layers with coal seams hundreds of feet underground, all from animals and plants that never existed.

The alternative extremist view is to maintain that God is an engineer and that everything was done by natural processes with God offering some kind of guidance, but no more. This view would accept any concept of the evolution of humans saying that God simply used evolution to form humans, and that whatever spiritual qualities we might have were physically produced in our brains. The creation of the physical universe would, in a similar way, be viewed as a natural process guided by God, but nothing more.

Both of these extremist views are seriously flawed. Suggesting that God created the cosmos and everything in it by a miraculous process beyond the understanding of humans denies the evidence and puts God in the role of a deceiver, faking history to mislead us. In 1987 astronomers saw a star explode. Supernova 1987A was the first such explosion viewed by humans since 1054 when the Chinese recorded a similar event. We have seen new elements formed in this process that were not there before. We have seen processes that fit our understanding of how heavy elements have been produced in the cosmos.

When we measure how far away the star is, we find that supernova 1987A is 160,000 light years away from us. That leaves us with two possibilities. One explanation is that the event did happen 160,000 years ago, and is a method God uses to create. The other possibility is that God made a video of something that never happened. He then sent it toward earth from a point 6,000 light years out in space knowing we would watch it and misunderstand it. James 1:13 tells us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” God does not try to deceive us. Claiming that dinosaurs never existed but were placed in the ground miraculously will not make sense to a junior high student who has cut open a petrified dinosaur egg and found a baby inside.

A person who is a physical extremist (naturalist) cannot seriously believe that everything we see and experience is naturally caused. The creation of time and space is not a natural process. Man's spiritual makeup is not explainable in terms of evolution or psychology.

In the original language of Genesis chapter one, there is strong indication that both miraculous creation and natural processes took place. The language indicates this with the Hebrew bara being used only in reference to what God can do — never to what humans or natural forces can do. The Hebrew asah is used in reference to what both man and God can do. When the creation of time, space, and matter/energy are described in Genesis 1:1 the word used is bara. When change is made in the waters in verse 7 the word used is asah, indicating a natural process. When the spiritual makeup of man and woman is described in verse 27 the word used is bara. When man’s physical body is made up of the elements of the earth in Genesis 2:7 bara is not used. Instead, the Hebrew word yatshir is used, indicating the kind of process a sculptor or artist might do. The Genesis account ends in Genesis 2:3 (KJV) by stating “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he rested from all his work which God created [bara] and made [asah].” A clear statement of the fact that both processes were used.

This article is a call to Christians to take the Bible seriously, in a way that recognizes all of God's methods and abilities. We will never be able to explain all of the methods God has used to create us and the world in which we exist as physical beings, much less the eternal world that Jesus has promised us. We deny what the Bible says when we restrict God’s methods and the time-frame in which God acts — be it young or old. Let us continue to study and learn all that God shows us in his Word and in the natural world in which we exist. We cannot reach out effectively to the twenty-first century world by making God a mystic and denying the obvious methods he has built into the world. Passages like Romans 1:18 – 20 and Psalm 19:1 all speak to us of God's intent for us to do this. Failing to do so is refusing to accept the whole counsel of God.