Have We Inspired Information on the Age of the Earth?

This subject has been a topic of discussion among many of our loyal believers. Therefore, we feel this article by F. L. Marsh deserves your careful study.--Editors

FRANK LEWIS MARSH, Professor of Biology, Andrews University

THE problem of the age of the chemical substances of our earth is one that pro­foundly concerns theologians indirectly, and one whose solution is of basic impor­tance to the Christian scientist who bat­tles in the front line of the controversy be­tween special creation and evolution. The student who believes that the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the in­spired Word of God, naturally turns to this Guidebook to learn if it contains any light on the age of the earth's raw materials.

One Great Event

Less than three centuries ago it was the opinion of theologians and Christian sci­entists alike that the Bible stated clearly that our earth as an astronomical body, surface and all the rest, was only a few thousand years old. Genesis 1:1, 2 and Ex­odus 20:11 were typical texts cited as scrip­tural proof for this natural fact. Indeed, most reasonably, and in harmony with good exegesis, the beginning referred to in Genesis 1:1-5 when the raw materials were created was day one of Creation week when the substance light was also created, the first of a series of six twenty-four-hour days during which the work was accom­plished whose memorialization, we learn in commandment four, was one of the rea­sons for keeping the seventh day holy. "In the beginning' the heaven (s) and earth were created, and "at the beginning" man was created, male and female (Matt. 19:4). Thus we may believe that earth (Gen. 1:1, 2), solar system (chap. 1:1, 14-19), and man (chap. 1:26, 27; Matt. 19:4) were all brought into existence in one great event, the event memorialized by the Sabbath. Early Christians rested and refreshed them­selves in this clear special revelation of natural truth.

Then it was that the desire of man to depend more on the testimony of his physi­cal senses and his reason than upon special revelation resulted in a rather rapid spread of uniformitarianism. The great stretches of time which the uniformitarian doctrine seemed to indicate were gladly seized upon by evolutionists. The thousands of years of Bible chronology were exchanged for the millions of years assumed by evolutionism. Many Bible-believing theists were so im­pressed by the marvelous advancement of natural science and its accompanying bene­fits to man as to conclude that scientists must be right when they speculated that forms of life as complicated as trilobites and brachiopods were on our earth at least 600 million years ago. The literal solar week of Genesis 1 and 2 was exchanged by more and more Bible students for extended ge­ological periods, Bible chronology was la­beled "out of date," and the significance of the Sabbath diminished to a very low point. Scientolatry, or scientism, became the religion of rapidly increasing thousands.

Under continuous battering by destruc­tive higher criticism, and under the claims of physicists that radioactive clocks proved the materials of the earth to be even bil­lions of years old, more and more Bible students began to suggest that actually Genesis 1:1, 2 and Exodus 20:11 were not so specific with regard to the age of the earth's substance as had formerly been as­sumed.

Radioactive Clock Rating

Probably giving as much aid and com­fort to the cause of theistic evolution as any other one item in modern apologetics, is the assumption that wherever in the Bi­ble the word for earth appears, only the earth's surface is referred to. This view furnishes an opportunity for those inclined to lean heavily on naturalism to let their imaginations wander boundlessly in the areas of natural development, and to con­jecture what may have happened on our earth "naturally" before day one. Such speculation usually weakens the significance of the actual accomplishments of the literal week of Creation and opens the door wide to acceptance of evolution. This restricted point of view is commonly taken by those Bible believers who hold that the datings of radioactive clocks must be accepted as valid natural truth. The logical end of such a belief, of course, is the fading away of faith in a literal Creation week. The validity of this assumed limitation in the use of "earth" in the Scriptures is placed in question by the fact that common nouns in the Bible are frequently bent to more than one use. This is well illustrated in Genesis 1 and 2 in the use of yom, day. In Genesis 1:5, for instance, "day" is used to indicate a duration of both twelve hours and twenty-four hours, and in Genesis 2:4 it is used to indicate a duration of at least six days. Then, of course, we have a "day" in prophecy used to stand for a year, for example, the 2300 days.

As one illustration of an instance where the word earth obviously does not refer merely to our earth's surface, we suggest Genesis 1:1, 2. In the light of command­ment four this refers to the beginning of the earth, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea [the raw materi­als of the earth as an astronomical body], and all that in them is [the living forms]." Indeed we dare not be dogmatic here and say that "earth" in Genesis 1:1, 2 refers only to a surface. It is at least just as valid to consider the descriptive phrase "without form and void" as applicable to an astro­nomical body, the astronomical body de­scribed in Exodus 20:11. In Job 26:7 we read, "He . . . hangeth the earth upon nothing," and in Isaiah 13:13, "The earth shall remove out of her place."

Obviously more than the earth's surface is referred to in these texts. Again in 2 Peter 3:10, 12 we read, "The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." It would appear that this fire is to destroy all effects of sin. Major earth­quakes (indirect effects of sin) not infre­quently center at depths below 434 miles. Is it not reasonable to believe that these verses tell us that the whole of this old earth is to be purified, not just its surface?

Stand Boldly on Biblical Platform

In this connection we would do well to recall that God has been very provident with Adventists in giving them the Spirit of Prophecy for the illumination of scrip­tural assertions. And in this very day of conflict with evolution, right when we need to be sure of this fact, I am of the opinion that He has told us distinctly that the ma­terials of our earth were not in existence before day one. We read, "When the foun­dations [not merely its surface] of the earth were laid . . then was laid the foun­dation of the Sabbath."—The Great Con­troversy, p. 455. "The Sabbath institution, which originated in Eden, is as old as the world itself."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 336. Certainly these words of God's mes­senger regarding the time or origin of the earth's substance are in complete harmony with Genesis 1:1, 2 and Exodus 20:11. The Adventist can stand boldly and securely on the Biblical platform of nothing in our solar system older than a few thousand years. This point of view leaves no time for slow development of anything by natural processes, and it leaves no basis for any of the.wild tales that pass among us regarding "happenings which occurred on our earth before Creation week." What a blessing and peace of mind in our day does he experi­ence who through the eye of faith sees with the same clarity of vision on this point as did the saints of old!

Certainly in good Biblical exegesis all pertinent matters in the Scriptures should be taken into account in understanding the teaching of the Word on any one point. Let us assume for the moment that we be­lieve that the Bible makes no statement about the age of the chemical substances of our planet and that we are permitted by this omission to hold the opinion that the earth's raw materials were brought into existence before day one. How would this point of view affect the adequacy and sig­nificance of the Sabbath in our minds? We read in Exodus 20:8-11 that one great pur­pose of the Sabbath is to commemorate the work of the six days. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is." If the chemical substances of our earth were in existence before day one, then the origin of all the raw materials of our planet and that of all the physiochemical laws by which inorganic things and even our very bodies and those of all plants and animals consist and function, is not commemorated by the Sabbath. All the Sabbath could be applied to would be some landscape gardening (largely destroyed in the Noachian flood) and the creation of living things. Under such conditions how inadequate the Sab­bath would be, for example, to the mineral­ogist whose chief interest would not be in things created during the six days! Would an omniscient Creator set up so inadequate and circumscribed a memorial to His work?

Don't Be Dogmatic

On the other hand, if as so clearly stated in Genesis 1:1, 2; Exodus 20:11; The Great Controversy, page 455; and Patriarchs and Prophets, page 336, every object and sub­stance we see in sun, moon, planets, and the earth originated during the six days, how fitting that as each Sabbath returns to us we look with delight at every object, from the dust at our feet to the farthest planet of our system, praise God for His love, omniscience, omnipotence, and om­nipresence, and take renewed faith in His desire and ability to save us from our sins and bring us into the earth made new!

Albeit in the light of revealed truth we must always use care not to be dogmatic about the age of the raw materials of the earth. Nevertheless in acquiring an under­standing on this subject we will carefully choose that point of view that is in keeping with pertinent Biblical assertions, which does full honor to the providence and omniscience of our heavenly Father, and which is also the most expedient in view of all special revelation. God can bless us more richly and work through us more ef­fectively when we accept that information which He, through special revelation, has vouchsafed to us.

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FRANK LEWIS MARSH, Professor of Biology, Andrews University

December 1967

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