One of the perennial debates between creationists and those who deny a creator is how old the earth is. This is a debate among Christians as well with some being in the YEC (Young Earth Creationist) corner and others in the OEC (Old Earth Creationist) corner.
I’m not going to delve into the pros and cons of those two belief systems in this post. I want to talk about something more fundamental. If we’re going to make a claim for the age of the earth, no matter which way we lean, on what should we stake that claim? In other words, what discipline or authority can we look to in order to find the answer to our question? More specifically, can we look to that oft cited source, science, for the answer?
The answer is no, we can’t. In fact, science cannot even determine how old I am. A doctor can make an educated guess based on his or her observations of me (something we can do with the earth as well) then comparing me to other people whose ages they know (something we cannot do with the earth). But those could be misleading for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I’ve suffered with a debilitating disease for many years and have aged more rapidly than normal. Perhaps my hair went gray prematurely. Or, on the other end, perhaps I’ve had a relatively easy life or are wealthy enough to mask my age with plastic surgery. Or maybe I look young or old for my age due simply to my genes. Bottom line, there is no scientific test you can perform to tell how old I am.
But they can look at my birth certificate, right? Yes, they can. But that’s not science. The reason my birth certificate is reliable is because someone who was there, probably the doctor, signed off that I was born on Tuesday, October 3, 1961. They could also, of course, ask my mother who happened to be there at the time. In other words, the only way to know for sure how hold I am is to ask someone in a position to know, someone who was there when I was born. That’s not science, that’s history.
If science cannot determine the age of an individual, how much less is it capable of doing so for the entire planet? Again, there are observations and educated guesses a scientist can make but, much as with individuals, things that have happened to the planet in the past will impact the usefulness of those observations. If, for example, I’m not taking into account that a world-wide catastrophic flood took place at some point in the past, my conclusions, based on observations in the present, will not be accurate (if such a flood did take place).
In the end, we must determine the age of the earth the same way we determine the age of individuals, by finding a reliable source that can tell us the answer. So, at least with the in-house discussion among Christians, it comes down to what the scriptures say. We must determine what we believe about the age of the earth not on what extra-biblical sources tell us but on what we’re told by the One who was there.