There is a bit of a debate amongst believers regarding how to reconcile scripture with scientific claims about the age of the earth. Many assume that the evidence that the earth is millions of years old is water-tight, and therefore we only have three options: find a way to fit millions of years into the Bible somewhere, reject clear scientific evidence, or reject the Bible entirely. Those who do try to cram millions of years into scripture have to do it somewhere in Genesis 1. I’ve heard this done in two ways. One is the gap theory, which places millions of years in between Genesis 1:1, when God created the heavens and the earth, and Genesis 1:2, when the earth was without form and void. The idea is that earth was created once, destroyed, and then remade in between the verses. There’s a fascinating book called “The Invisible War” by Donald Barnhouse that makes this claim fairly compellingly — but so far as I can tell, even if one were to subscribe to this idea, the earth was still remade in Genesis 1:2–at which point the clock should start over. This won’t “solve” the biblical young earth problem.
The other possibility uses 2 Peter 3:8, which says that “a day to the Lord is as a thousand years,” to extrapolate that a day is also to the Lord as millions of years. Therefore, the six days of creation were actually millions of years apiece.
There are a number of philosophical problems with this. In certain places, scripture is poetic and should be interpreted as such. Psalm 91, for instance, says that “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge” (91:4). This is obvious poetry, meant to evoke the image and feeling that God protects us the way a mother hen protects her chicks. It would be absurd to think this means that God has literal feathers. Many of the psalms employ similar poetic imagery, as do many of the prophetic books, Song of Songs, etc. These should be interpreted as poetry, and not as literal historical books.
But Genesis is written like an historical book. Genesis 1 is about as clear as it could possibly be that we’re talking about six literal days. After each day the scripture says, “so the evening and the morning were the (blank) day,” to illustrate that we are talking about 24 hours.
Also, Genesis says after each day, “And God saw that it was good.” Death is not good; death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). Sin didn’t happen until Genesis 3. If each of the six days of creation was actually millions of years, do we suppose that no creatures died during that entire time? And if death did enter before Adam and Eve ever sinned, then how was creation pronounced “good”? Romans 8:19-22 tells us that even creation groans under the weight of corruption–it too must ultimately be redeemed. When did it become corrupted, if not by sin in Genesis 3?
Finally, if Genesis 1 is really a metaphorical abstraction representing millions of years of evolutionary change, what other apparently historical scriptures can be allegorized? Was there really a flood? How about a real resurrection?
In short, what can you trust? The Bible is either true or it’s not.
If the Bible is literally trustworthy, what do we do with all the evidence that “proves” the earth is millions of years old? Does “science” actually prove this?
Carbon-14 dating is the best known dating method that most people think of in conjunction with this question. The most common isotope of carbon is C-12, but all carbon-based life forms start out with a certain, albeit very small, amount of the C-14 isotope in life. C-14 is radioactive, which means over time (after death) it decays via beta decay, in which one of its neutrons becomes a proton, turning it into nitrogen. The half life of C-14 decay is only 5700 years, give or take 30 years in either direction. That means it takes roughly 5700 years for half the amount of C-14 that started out in organic material to decay into nitrogen–so you can’t use C-14 dating for anything older than 100,000 years. Past that point, there shouldn’t be any C-14 left.
And yet, some dinosaur bones have been found to still contain C-14 (https://www.icr.org/article/radiocarbon-dinosaur-other-fossils). How is this possible, if they are supposed to be millions of years old?
Those who defend the evolutionary time scale will claim that the C-14 must have crept in via contamination.
Yet there are even more remarkable findings in dinosaur bones than C-14. Many still contain intact biomolecules (here’s a comprehensive list: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1eXtKzjWP2B1FMDVrsJ_992ITFK8H3LXfPFNM1ll-Yiw/edit#gid=0). These include hemoglobin and blood residue (https://www.icr.org/article/a-80-million-year-old-mosasaur-fossil), retinal tissue, and skin (https://www.icr.org/article/original-tissue-fossils-creations-silent).
Ages at a greater timescale than 50-100K years are determined via radiometric dating of igneous rocks (those formed by volcanic eruption), often using potassium-40, which decays to argon-40. Once the lava cools, the rocks are “born”–and the assumption is that any elements that are in a gaseous state at the time will escape before the lava cools into a solid. Argon-40 is a gas, so once hardened, the igneous rock should start out with no argon. Whatever potassium there is should, over a very long time time, decay into argon-40 (the half-life of this process is 1.25 billion years). Thus, the ratio of potassium to argon can serve as a proxy for the age of the rock.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always accurate. The igneous rocks formed in the Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980 were tested using the potassium-argon method, and were dated to be hundreds of thousands of years old. Apparently, all the argon gas did not escape prior to the lava solidifying into rock, making the rocks appear many orders of magnitude older than they really were. Additionally, igneous rock are porous, so gas can diffuse into or out of the rocks, further confounding the process. If this method is so wildly inaccurate for dating a known eruption, how can we trust it for anything unknown?
Another common dating method is the ratio of uranium-238 to lead-238. This decay is a 14-step process (not a one-step like potassium to argon), with a half life of 4.5 billion years. Eight of these steps produces a helium atom, so for every one atom of uranium, eight helium atoms should be produced. Because helium escapes from rocks fairly quickly (they are porous, remember), there should be little to no helium left if the rocks were billions of years old. But the RATE project (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth) at the Institute for Creation Research determined that some of these rocks had high amounts of helium still trapped in them. This finding is consistent with radioactive decay–it was occurring–but it was inconsistent with the expected 4.5 billion year half life.
One possible explanation for this is that half lives might not be as fixed as previously believed. This has been demonstrated for other elements in laboratory experiments: radioactive Rhenium-187 decays to osmium-187 with a 41.6 billion year half life, but if all of Rhenium-187’s electrons are experimentally removed, the half life can be sped up to a mere 33 years (https://answersingenesis.org/geology/radiometric-dating/acceleration-of-radioactivity-shown-in-laboratory/). Granted, that was under laboratory conditions–but it does cast further doubt on the absolute nature of half-life decay in general.
Other common dating methods are relative, using the date of something “known” to infer the date of something unknown. These involve index fossils–i.e. if the fossil of one creature is found next to a dinosaur fossil from the Cambrian period, scientists will then assume that the previously unknown fossil must be 400-500 million years old. (But then of course the question becomes, were they correct in dating the index fossil?)
Paleomagnetism is another possible relative method. The earth’s polarity has changed at various times in its history, and the polarity of magnetic rocks reflects earth’s polarity at the time they were buried. Scientists believe they know when earth’s polarity reversed in the last 10,000 years, so ferromagnetic materials bearing a certain polarity can serve as a proxy for the date of anything found nearby (provided it was estimated to be 10,000 years old or younger). But again, this depends on a lot of assumptions–and there is evidence (https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/more-evidence-rapid-geomagnetic-reversals-confirm-young-earth/) that earth’s polarity reversed many times, rapidly, over a very short period of time. Creation scientists believed that this was a consequence of the worldwide flood, in which some of the waters came from the “fountains of the deep” breaking up (Genesis 7:11). This sounds very much like shifting tectonic plates, which would have set off volcanic eruptions. Since earth’s magnetic field is generated from its churning molten core, it stands to reason that earth’s polarity might have been affected by the same process.
The Bottom Line
We’re bombarded with the narrative that evolution and the “deep time” of earth is established fact, rather than a theory, but it’s not true.
Majority opinion does not establish a truth–what matters isn’t what the majority believes, but whether or not they are right. (The idea that majority opinion equals truth is called the logical fallacy of faulty appeal, or ‘the appeal to the many.’) Nevertheless, it can be daunting, and perhaps even feel arrogant, for the lay public to challenge the unanimous narrative of the experts.
There is, in fact, a large number of experts who do not subscribe to the dominant narrative of evolution as established fact. In April 2020, over 1100 scientists in a vast range of scientific disciplines including chemistry, biology, medicine, geology, and paleontology signed a statement claiming, “We are skeptical that ‘random variation’ and ‘natural selection’ can explain the complexity of life. A serious review of the evidence for Darwinism should be encouraged.” (https://www.discovery.org/m/2020/04/Scientific-Dissent-from-Darwinism-List-04072020.pdf)
These voices might be suppressed, but they are out there.
Science and religion are not in conflict. God made the universe and everything in it, and science is simply the study of what He made. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”
All truth is God’s truth. True science always points to Him.