Introduction: Terminology. Details
of various theories. Age of the Earth
The meaning of terms:
It is our policy to use the terms by which various groups describe themselves. But
sometimes this can be deceptive. A "theory" may be much more than a theory; a
"science" may be not a science at all:
The term "theory" in science can mean
something much different from a hunch, which is how the word is used generally.
Many leading scientists consider the Theory of Evolution of plant and animal species
as far more than a simple idea. It is the
foundational belief upon which many branches of science are based. Dr. Gerald Wheeler, director of the
Science Teachers Association said in 1999-OCT: "Everything is a
theory, but...[evolution is] probably the biggest unifying theory that
exists in all of science." If either the theory of evolution or an old
Earth were to be proven
incorrect, then the structure of many different fields of science would collapse.
Various U.S. court decisions have concluded that creation science and
intelligent design are
not actually science. This is because the beliefs of creation scientists cannot be falsified. That
is, it would be impossible for a creation scientist to accept a proof
that their beliefs are false and that naturalistic or theistic evolution is true.
Creation scientists consider the
creation stories in the Book of Genesis to be
inspired by God and are thus inerrant. All physical evidence is judged by comparing it to
their interpretation of Genesis. No evidence from nature can disprove this belief. Once
a person accepts a religious text as the basis of their scientific
studies, they no longer are free to follow where the data leads. Courts and
scientists generally agree that these believers cease being scientists.
Theories of origins:
Most media accounts and websites refer to a battle between two
belief systems: evolution and creation science. This is not a particularly
good model, because:
The scope of the conflict is much larger than this. It extends
beyond the origins of life, and the development (if any) of the plant and animal
species. The conflict extends to include the origins and development of the earth and the rest
of the universe: cosmology, astronomy, geology, etc.
There are not one but two main forms of creation science in North America.
Among believers in evolution, there are two main understandings of what
drove, and continues to drive, the development of the species.
In North America, there are really at least four main belief
systems on the origins of plants, animals, the earth itself, and the rest
of the universe.
Approximate age of the universe in years
Biological evolution happened?
Origins of species
Creation Science (Young
Created by God
Created by God
Natural selection + natural processes
Creation science (Old Earth
Created by God
Within some of the main views, there are many variations.
More detailed descriptions of beliefs about origins:
Young Earth Creation Science:
support; 5% support among scientists generally; 0.15%
support among earth and life scientists). 1
God created the universe during 6 consecutive 24 hour days,
than 10,000 years ago. God rested on the seventh day -- apparently to be an
example to humanity. He is omnipotent and thus does not require rest. All of the various "kinds"
of animals that are present on earth today (and those kinds like dinosaurs
which once existed but are now extinct) are all descendants of the
animals that God created during days in creation week. Many
features of the Earth that we see today -- ranging from
fossil-laden layers of rock, the mountain ranges, strings of
active, dormant and extinct volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, etc.
were formed during the great flood of
beliefs are held mainly by people who interpret the Bible literally, regard the Hebrew
and Christian Scriptures
as inspired by God, and inerrant. This view is promoted by the Institute for Creation Research,
the Center for Scientific Creation, Answers In Genesis, Creation Research Society, and many other creation science
Theistic view: (39% public support).
1 The universe is about 14 billion years old; the earth's crust developed about
4.5 billion years ago. Geological features developed over the
life of the Earth. God caused the first living cell to appear. Humans evolved out of lower forms of life
with the process under the direct guidance of God. God
steered evolution, at least to some degree, as a tool to guide the development of new species.
This view is promoted by Reasons to Believe, some
other para-church groups, and many mainline Christian denominations. Roman
Catholicism and some others. Supporters of this belief system generally believe that
evolution only resulted in human bodies appearing on the scene. Human souls are a special creation of God.
Naturalistic evolution: (10%
1 Same beliefs as for the theistic
view, except that God or other deities are assumed to have played no part in the
processes. Origins and change in the universe, including the evolution
of life species on Earth, were driven by purely natural forces and processes. Many people have associated
with strong Atheism -- the belief that no deity exists. Certainly,
scientists who support naturalistic evolution do not believe in the existence of a
supreme being or beings. But others believe both in evolution and in
one or more Gods and/or Goddesses who do not intrude on the outcome
of natural forces. Some of the latter are Deists
who believe that God created the universe, started it in motion,
left the universe, and allowed natural processes to originate life
and drive evolution.
Old Earth creation science: (Less
7% public support) 1 They believe that each "day"
in Genesis may have been much longer than 24 hours; others believe that there
were very long gap(s) between one or more of the "days." The number of
supporters for this belief system is unknown. The Gallup Poll from
which we estimate the support for this belief did not give old earth
creation science as an option.
Most scientists, from astronomers to paleontologists, regard naturalistic
as the best representation of reality. Only 0.15%
of earth and life scientists subscribe to one of the other belief
How old is the earth, and when did various species of animals live?
These two topics are closely related, because each theory has to account
for all cosmological, geological, biological and other evidence :
The world and the rest of the universe was created by God less than 10 thousand years
All of the "kinds" of animals that ever lived were created during
A worldwide flood in the time of Noah wiped out all humans, except for the
people on board Noah's ark. All human beings are descendants of Noah
and his unnamed wife. The sediment during the flood generated the
fossil-laden rock layers; the flood itself created many of the land
forms that we see today.
All of the land animals similarly drowned, except for the 2 or 7 pairs of each species who were lucky
enough to get a ride on the ark.
The earth's life forms have never evolved. For example, God created dinosaurs along with
the other animals less than 10 millennia ago. They coexisted with humans on earth until they died off and became
extinct. However, minor changes within a "kind" have happened. One original
horse-like pair who rode on the ark may have been the ancestors of donkeys,
horses, zebras, and a few other species.
Supporters of the theistic and scientific views: Almost all scientists who are
not fundamentalist or evangelical Christians believe that:
The universe started during the "big bang" some 14 billion years
The world coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago.
The earth developed a crust about 3.9 billion years ago.
Crude, primitive forms of life appeared shortly thereafter.
Plant and animal species have been evolving ever since.
Fossil bearing rock layers are composed of sediment which was
laid down over an interval of millions of years.
Dinosaurs became extinct many tens of millions of years ago, long before the first
Old Earth creation scientists believe:
The Earth and the rest of the universe were created by God billions of years ago.
Fossil-bearing rocks and other land forms were formed
over very long intervals of time.
God created all of the kinds of animals over a relatively
short period, as described in Genesis.
"Kinds" of animals are fixed. No new ones are being created. But minor changes within a kind
Dinosaurs were created not long before humans, but
Who is right?
Scientists feel that their beliefs can be proven correct because they are
based on observation and measurements:
geology, anthropology, paleontology, nuclear physics, astronomy, cosmology and many other sciences
show that the Earth and the rest of the universe have
been in existence far longer than 10,000 years.
Observations of nature show that all "kinds" did not come on the
scene at roughly the same time. Rather, simple forms of life came first,
and then evolved into more complex forms.
However, scientists cannot prove whether or not God or a collection of
deities steered various processes over time. This is a speculation that
cannot be tested.
Meanwhile, those who base their beliefs on their interpretation of the
Genesis creation stories feel that their beliefs can be proven right, for
the simple reason that they are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Unfortunately, there exists no universally accepted proofs from nature that
can eliminate any of the main major belief systems by proving them to be false.
Pieces of evidence, and the interpretation of that evidence, that is accepted by
one group is rejected by the others.
The age of the Earth is a key factor:
If someone can prove that the Earth or the rest of the universe is
billions of years old, then belief in young earth creation
science would have to be abandoned. Scientists will then be faced with three possible models
for the earth's animal species:
If theistic evolution is correct, then God guided evolution so that simple bacteria evolved into complex animals over billions of
If naturalistic evolution is correct, then unguided, natural processes
caused simple bacteria to evolve into complex animals over billions
If old-earth creation science is correct. God created the Earth
and the rest of the universe
billions of years ago, and created all of the animal kinds long ago.
Some have since become extinct. Other kinds have changed to a minor
To winnow the possibilities down further, someone will have to prove
whether all the species were created at approximately the same time, or
whether evolution from simple bacteria to complex species actually occurred.
Even if evolution were proven to have existed, it would not be possible to
argue from nature whether God or unguided natural forces drives evolution. However,
if evolution were proven false, then the only option would be old earth
Of course, unless there is a direct revelation from God, young earth
creationists are unlikely to accept an old earth. They are
unlikely to accept any observation of nature as proving their interpretation
of the Genesis creation stories as wrong.
If someone can prove that the earth is less than 10,000 years
old, then of all the common belief systems in North America, only young
earth creation science could be correct. Evolution would be impossible;
there simply would not have been sufficient time for plant and animal
species to have evolved.
Much of this section of the ReligiousTolerance.org web site will be primarily devoted to the debate over
the age of the earth, and whether evolution of the species actually happened.
Can science determine the age of the earth accurately?
Science will never be able to prove absolutely that the world is
over 10,000 years old. Collecting countless pieces of evidence for an
"old earth", is supportive of their theory, but is not proof.
Creationists can simply counter scientists' arguments with two of
That when God created the universe 6 to 10 thousand years ago, he
created everything as if it had a history. e.g. when God created trees, he
made them with tree rings to look as if they been growing naturally for many
years before creation. When he created the Appalachian mountains, he chose
formed them to look as if they were the remains of tall mountains which had been
eroded for millions of years. When he created the world, say 8,000 years
ago, it was fashioned to appear 4.5 billion years old.
All scientific dating methods share a single assumption: that
basic processes behaved in the past much as they do at the
present. e.g. the speed of light, the gravitational constant, the
rates of nuclear decay, etc. are constant or near constant. There
is no absolute proof that this is true. If some of these
basic quantities changed by a factor of a million times or more, then dating methods
could suggest an age of the universe that is 10,000 years or less.
And so, the debate
will probably continue forever. We see no possibility of resolution or
Based on a Gallup Organization poll conducted during 1997. The poll did
not have a category for old earth creation science. More details.