How Long Ago Did You Say?
Why the age of the Earth will always be the dividing line of belief.
For most of the history of the Christian church, the age of the earth was not a point of contention. Until the 19th century there was a consensus within the Church that the date of Creation was about 4000 years before the birth of Jesus. Attacks on the Bible in the first 18 centuries were on such subjects as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the means of salvation. With the rise of science in the 17th century, a new mode of attack on the Bible was found. The seeming objectivity of science gave the enemies of the Bible an ideal platform for their attacks.
One of the first people to understand the power of a seemingly scientific attack on the Bible was Charles Lyell. Lyell was trained as a lawyer, but his first love was geology and his greatest hatred was the central place that the Bible had in Europe and America. In Europe and America the Bible was the standard not only for the law and moral standards, but also for science, a fact which Lyell and a growing band of humanist intellectuals found unacceptable. So Lyell set out to destroy the Bible’s place in society and he did it by writing a book on geology.
Lyell’s book, Principles of Geology, purported to be an objective text about rocks, but it was also meant to destroy the foundational book of the Bible, Genesis. Two examples of how Lyell never intended to be objective in his book is that he started out with the belief called “uniformitarianism”, the idea that “the present is the key to the past”. This idea eliminates, without even examining the evidence, any consideration of miracles and therefore a Creator. The second thing that Lyell did was to falsify data, the best example of this being his report on Niagara Falls. Up until recently Niagara Falls was wearing away the cliff that it falls over, having made a valley approximately 35,000 feet long so far, but the question was how quickly was this happening? Lyell went to Niagara Falls to find the answer and asked people who had lived there for many years how many feet a year the Falls was wearing away the cliff. They told him about 4 feet a year, but that answer didn’t fit with what Lyell wanted to hear. 4 feet a year into 35,000 feet would give a timeline for the valley of, at most, 8750 years to make. Since this answer didn’t fit what he wanted to hear he just made up a number, writing in his book that the Falls was wearing away the cliff at only 1 foot a year. This would have meant that it would have taken about 35,000 years to make the valley, far longer than a straightforward reading of the Bible would allow. Later research on the Falls found that it was actually wearing away the cliff at about 5 feet a year.
Principles of Geology was one of the books that Charles Darwin had on his trip around the world. It was one of the things that put him on the pathway to his ideas on evolution. Lyell knew that a direct attack on the Bible wouldn’t accomplish what he wanted, the destruction of the Bible’s place in society. What Lyell also knew was that a subtle attack on Genesis, specifically the age of the earth, could succeed in undermining confidence in the historical accuracy and authority of the Bible. It was because Lyell had already prepared society for disbelieving the Bible, that Darwin’s ideas were so readily accepted.
Over the years virtually every idea that Charles Darwin proposed has been abandoned, only to be replaced by new ones. One of the few things that evolutionists have been consistent about is the age of the earth. They know that if they abandon that, then they cannot make their story even sound plausible. What is both sad, and to me puzzling, is why so many Christians who reject the fallacies of evolutionists so readily buy into their false claims about the age of the earth.