A Response to Young-Earth Arguments

I want to thank Dr. DeRouchie for his thoughtful and clear argument in favor of a young earth. I agree with him that this discussion is one where Christians can hold different viewpoints but still affirm that the opposite position is acceptable within doctrinal orthodoxy.

But I’m not persuaded by his six arguments, as I explain in the following replies.

The ‘Most Natural Reading’

Reply 1: Our initial reading of a passage is not always the correct reading.

Dr. DeRouchie says, “The most natural reading of the Bible’s introduction points to a young earth,” and he gives several reasons why he thinks the six “days” of creation were “the equivalent of 24-hour calendar days, even though the sun was not created until day four (Genesis 1:14–19).”

“Our initial reading of a passage is not always the correct reading.”

It is not clear what he means by saying that the young-earth view is “the most natural reading.” I understand this expression to mean something like “the first-impression reading” — that is, the meaning that an ordinary reader “naturally” gives the passage when first reading it.

But many times in Scripture, further inspection of the text allows us to see that our first understanding was not correct. For example, someone could read, “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises” (Ecclesiastes 1:5), and think that Scripture teaches that the sun goes quickly around the earth at night and reappears in the east the next morning. But eventually, scientific observation proved conclusively that the earth rotates on its axis, showing that a first impression or “most natural reading” was not correct. Rather, Ecclesiastes 1:5 was only describing the movement of the sun as it appeared to an observer standing on earth. That is not our first-impression reading, but that is the correct meaning. Similarly, our first impression of the six “days” in Genesis 1 might not be the correct understanding — the “days” might represent long periods of time (as in Genesis 2:4) rather than 24-hour days.

And when the original readers saw that the sun was not established to mark “days and years” until day 4 (Genesis 1:14), they would realize that the first three creation days (at least) were somehow different from ordinary days.

What About the Science?

Reply 2: The scientific evidence requires explanation.

I was a bit surprised that Dr. DeRouchie gave no explanation for how a young-earth position can explain the many evidences of extreme age in the universe and especially on the earth, such as the radiometric dating of rocks from the earth, the moon, and asteroids; the billions of light-years distance of many stars; the expansion rate of the universe; the observation of distant stars burning out millions of years ago; the rate of continental drift; hundreds of thousands of years of ice layers in the Arctic; tens of thousands of years of layers of sediment in lakes, and so forth. These scientific observations are the reason so many thousands of Christians hold to an old-earth position, and one can hardly expect us to change our minds if no convincing alternative interpretation of this evidence can be given.

Genesis 1–4 as ‘the Beginning’

Reply 3: The New Testament views all of Genesis 1–4 as “the beginning” because it all is preparation for the main story of the Bible: the history of the creation, fall, and redemption of human beings through the work of Jesus Christ.

It is not surprising that the events of Genesis 1–4, for example, are all spoken of as “the beginning,” because, from a literary standpoint, that is how Genesis 1–4 functions in relationship to the rest of the Bible. The creation of human beings is not “the ninth inning,” as Dr. DeRouchie claims, but all of Genesis 1–4 is more like the first inning, and the rest of the Bible — moving through Noah, Abraham, David; the exile and return; the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus; the establishment of the church; and the return of Christ — is the remaining eight innings of the redemption story.

Role of Genealogies

Reply 4: The genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 lay the groundwork for the New Testament to show the descent of Christ from Adam, and they show the remarkable age and health of the pre-flood generations, but they are not intended to teach us the age of the earth or of the human race.

Dr. DeRouchie agrees that the word son in Scripture can sometimes mean grandson or great-grandson, so he (in principle) does not have to hold to Archbishop Ussher’s date of 4004 BC for the creation, but he comes close to that when he notes that “adding the ages in the genealogies points to humanity being around 6,000 years old.”

But if we agree that the genealogies can have gaps, and that they highlight only certain individuals, and that many individuals in the early generations lived several hundred years, then there is little reason to oppose a figure of 10,000 or even 20,000 years for the human race.

God’s Eternity and Patience

Reply 5: An earth that existed for billions of years without human beings can encourage us to ponder with amazement God’s even greater eternity and his infinite patience.

“From God’s perspective, 13.8 billion years may not seem like a long time at all.”

Peter writes, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). We cannot fully understand this reality, but it does suggest that from God’s perspective, 13.8 billion years may not seem like a long time at all, and that age does allow for the light from distant stars, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, to have enough time to reach the earth and awaken our awe and worship as we ponder the infinite wisdom and power of a Creator who could make such an immense universe.

Possibility of Peaceful Animal Death

Reply 6: It is entirely possible that, before the fall of Adam and Eve, animals, like plants, lived a normal life span and then died quietly and peacefully.

The warning God gave to Adam and Eve was that, if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die, not that animals would also begin to die. Paul writes, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). At the fall, death spread to “all men” (plural of anthrōpos, “men, human beings”), not animals. (Note that animals are never said to sin.)

Back in 1975, in arguing that there will be “no final conflict” between the facts of science and the teachings of Scripture, apologist Francis Schaeffer noted that there was the possibility of “the death of animals before the fall.” He said, “If we watch a dog die in a warm chimney corner, there is no struggle. It is like a leaf falling from a tree. . . . One could think of there being natural cycles for the animals, up to all that does not include man, with death not by the chase and not in agony.”1

“God created a truly amazing, truly gigantic universe.”

Dr. DeRouchie allows for the death of animals to provide meat for us to eat in the age to come, so there should be no objection in principle to the idea of animals, like plants, living a normal course of life and then peacefully dying on earth — for millions of years, with their bodies decaying and, along with dead plants, decomposing and providing the material that produced the fossil fuels like coal and oil that we find in the earth today.

I do not believe that Dr. DeRouchie gave adequate consideration to the idea of peaceful animal death before the fall, which would provide an answer his fifth and sixth arguments.

And so, in spite of Dr. DeRouchie’s thoughtful arguments, I end up where I began: God does not intend in the Bible to tell us the age of the earth, and an overwhelming amount of evidence from many different fields of science leads us to conclude that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and the earth is 4.5 billion years old. God created a truly amazing, truly gigantic universe.

  1. Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 31. 

is research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary and author of Systematic Theology. He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.