Next I would like to move to an inside the church discussion.
II. How Old is the Universe
For scientists this is not a controversial issue. Today’s best estimate is the universe is 14.6 billion years old and the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Physicists and astronomers are the ones that have arrived at those ages.
However, there is great disagreement inside the Christian Church as to how old the universe is. There are followers of Christ that believe the universe is 6,000 years old all the way to others believing the universe is 14.6 billion years old. So how do you reconcile these huge differences?
The first step is to acknowledge in Christianity there are open handed and close fisted issues. Close fisted issues are those whereby to deny them is to deny Christianity. They are also called essential doctrines or core doctrines. An example would be the Trinity; if you deny the Trinity then you deny the God of the Bible. You can call yourself anything you want but you cannot call yourself a Christian. Another close fisted or core doctrine is the resurrection. You must believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead or you are not a Christian.
An open handed doctrine is one that there can be disagreement or should we say differences in interpretation. A few open handed examples are: theories of salvation such as Calvinism versus Arminianism or end time beliefs or whether supernatural sign gifts are for today. Christians can disagree on all of these and still be brothers in the Lord.
The age of the universe/earth is an open handed belief. Being an open handed belief doesn’t mean it’s not important; it just means we can agree to disagree on certain issues. Saint Augustine once penned, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”
This can be an emotional issue. I have found some people hold strongly to their view and get angry if you disagree. For some young earth believers they think holding a view of billions of years is an attack on the Bible and giving in to Darwinian Evolution. I can assure you six of the seven views take the Bible seriously and believe they are interpreting Genesis 1 the way the author intended. Only one view supports Darwinian Evolution, theistic evolution. I believe that particular view has major problems. I strongly believe the Bible to be God’s Word and think the best interpretation of Genesis 1 and the rest of the Bible is the old earth view.
I will give you 7 different ways of interpreting Genesis 1. All of them have strengths and all have weaknesses. This is why there is so much disagreement among Christians on this issue. I will highlight of few of them.
- The Young Earth Interpretation – Often called the twenty-four-hour view, the Calendar-Day view, the young earth perspective may be described very simply. It accepts the first chapter of Genesis as historical and chronological in character and takes the creation week as consisting of six twenty-four-hour days, followed by a twenty-four-hour Sabbath. Since Adam and Eve were created as mature adults, so the rest of creation came forth from its Maker. The Garden included full-grown trees and animals, which Adam named. Those holding this view believe this is the normal understanding of the creation account and that this has been the most commonly held understanding of this account both in Jewish and Christian history.
- The Old Earth Interpretation – Also called the day-Age view, the old earth view says the six days of the are understood in the same sense as “in that day” of Isaiah 11:10-11—in other words, as periods of indefinite length and not of 24 hours duration. The six days are taken as sequential but as overlapping and perhaps merging into one another. According to this view, the Genesis 1 creation week describes events from the point of view of the earth, which is being prepared as the habitation for man. In this context, the explanation of day four is that the sun only became visible on that day, as atmospheric conditions allowed the previous alternation of light and darkness to be perceived as coming from the previously created sun and other heavenly bodies. The Day-Age construct preserves the general sequence of events as portrayed in the text and is not merely a response to Charles Darwin and evolutionary science. From ancient times there was recognition among Bible scholars that the word “day” literally could mean an extended period of time.