Question:

How old is the world? Is the scientific way correct? In science the world is around 40 billion years old. How old is the world in the Bible?


Answer:

Dating in the Bible is a bit difficult because, for the span of time that the Bible covers, a universal calendar was not in use. Time was measured relative to local events, such as how long the current king was in power. This also led to rounding of dates since it would be rare that major events, such as the crowing of a king would take place precisely at the beginning of a calendar year. Therefore, when working backwards, you can be off plus or minus a year times the number of events you had to use to go backwards. For example, if you went back to a point in time using the length of reign of five kings, you can be off plus or minus five years.

Fortunately, the Bible contains several summaries of eras that helps to keep overall periods roughly accurate. For example, we know the length of time the Israelites were in Egypt was 430 years (Exodus 12:40-41). We also know the time from the Exodus to the building of the temple was 480 years (I Kings 6:1).

Using the records given in the Scriptures, scholars have estimated that the world is roughly 6,000 years old.

Now that is not the estimate we are told the scientific community accepts. Currently, popular scientists think the world is 4.5 billion years old, though that age constantly changes. When I was in high school, it was only 3.5 billion years old, a change of a billion years -- and I haven't lived nearly that long!

What many people do not realize is that there are thousands of ways to measure the age of the earth. The ones popularly touted are only those few that give very long answers. The vast majority of measurements give ages in the 10,000 year range!

As an example, scientists have noted that the earth's magnetic field is losing strength. Measurements over the last hundred years tell us the current rate of decay. If we assume the decay is constant (a big assumption that cannot be proven), then the maximum age of the earth given the current strength of field is 8,700 years.

Another example is the saltiness of our oceans. River water entering the oceans bring in minerals, but the evaporation of the water from the ocean leaves these minerals behind. Measuring just the sodium content of the ocean, using numerous methods for input and output of water and sodium, and assuming we started with pure water (a huge assumption) the amount of salt currently found in the ocean yields a maximum age of 62 million years -- far less than the 4.5 billion years currently favored.

Before the moon was explored, there were concerns about the depth of meteoric dust on the surface of the moon. Space is full of dust and it falls on the moon and the earth as we travel through space. If the world and the moon were billions of years old, one would expect a layer of dust over 150 feet, but when we got to the moon, the dust only measured to be about an inch deep. Given the measured influx of dust currently, that would account for a few thousand years.

We could continue to list various other methods, such as the build up of carbon-14 would indicate that the world has a maximum age of 30,000 years, but what we should address is why do these ages vary so much? The answer is simple: we weren't there! We are taking measurements made in the last one to two hundred years and then projecting them backwards to come up with an estimated age. But to do the projection, we must make assumptions about the rate at which the process continues, the starting values, and whether the current contents might have been altered. Since we weren't there, we have no idea if our assumptions are right or wrong! Actually, we can easily show that many of the assumptions are wrong. That is why the dates are published as the maximum possible value. This means we are selecting the assumptions that give the long age, even though we know this cannot be possible.

The reason the measurements giving the largest answers are popularly cited is simply because the theory of evolution needs large periods of time to even be remotely credible. Even the current values are not large enough to do this, hence the continued search for larger values. Science has not proven the age of the earth because such proof is not possible. What it has produced are a series of estimates based on assumed conditions. The best it can give is the extreme outer limits, but it cannot give the actual date. So when a report is cited that the age of a rock is 4.5 billions years, it should be read that the age of the rock is at most 4.5 billion years -- it could be less, it could be a lot less.

The Bible claims to be a record of events in the world recorded for us by the Holy Spirit. In other words, if we accept that God created the world, then the Bible claims to be God's record of some of His involvement in that world. If we accept that the Bible is God's written message, then we are faced with the fact that God indicates that the world is well less than 10,000 years old. Does this match what we know in science? For the most part it does. Every dating method's assumptions can be adjusted to give smaller ages. I know of only a few methods that give some possible difficulties, but again those difficulties arise from the base assumptions that are made.

Here then is where faith comes into play. We have evidence of a wide range of possible ages of the earth. We could believe evolution and always grab the largest dates, or we could believe God and select the dates that come closest to matching the Scriptures. Either way, it comes down to belief -- where we place our trust. Faith is the demonstration of your prejudice.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

June 6, 2010