How long did creation take?


"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

- Charles Darwin

"Atheism is so senseless. When I look at the solar system, I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance."

- Isaac Newton

A3.1 The three alternatives.

Now that we've seen some of the scientific and biblical statements on the universe, hopefully read about natural revelation, how natural revelation pertains to origins, and have reviewed different aspects of the Bible's portrayal of how God works, we can now begin to ask the controversial question:

How long did creation take?

Recall the different ways in which the Bible describes God's workings: suddenly and directly, and slowly by process. In the context that most secular scholars interpret current observations of the cosmos to be indicating that everything has a great age, Bible believers must choose from one of the three alternatives concerning the biblical interpretation of the length of creation:

Alternative 1.) SIX DAYS

We could believe that the literal interpretation of the six-day creation is the intended reading of Genesis. Indications of an old cosmos are then explainable based upon the logical consequence of sudden creation. This consequence is possibly the apparent yet false age with which everything could have been created. Such a scenario would make it absolutely impossible to measure any object's true age. This alternative also eliminates the reliability of all physical evidences and nearly reduces every belief about the universe to a question of unevidenced faith.

Alternative 2.) THOUSANDS OF YEARS

We could believe that the literal interpretation of the six creation days is still valid, but, unlike the first alternative, also accept empirical evidence as trustworthy. In this case, the correct interpretation of the available data is not that the universe is billions of years old (the majority consensus of secular scientists), but that the identical data indicates the universe to be only many thousands of years old: a conclusion currently growing in favor by a smaller though equally qualified consensus of both secular and religious scientists.

Alternative 3.) BILLIONS OF YEARS

We could believe God was the cosmos' literal creator, but the six days of the creation period are not literal, consecutive days. Those days would be interpreted as being either symbolic of longer periods of time, or actual but not consecutive landmark days which symbolically close or begin specific eras. In this scenario, the interpretation by the majority of scientists indicating that the universe is possibly billions of years old is essentially upheld as correct. This figurative interpretation of the six day creation period is referred to as the day-age theory.

Which of the above theories do the facts favor?

Although each alternative can be supported by the Bible to different extents, the first alternative might go too far in dismissing what could be the God-given evidences of empirical observations and or natural revelation. The second alternative has the advantage of finding support within those empirical observations, but suffers the drawback that it is the newer and thus least familiar theory. The third alternative is also supported by both Scripture and empirical evidence, but its interpretation of the creation account is slightly more figurative than is sometimes favored within certain Christian circles.

If we eliminate the first alternative so as not to discard any possible evidence God has left us, we are really left with one basic alternative of two possible timetables: divine creation extending over a great period of time, or divine creation extending over a shorter period of time.

In either scenario, I believe the length of time for creation is secondary to the parallels that abound between modern scientific observations of the universe and the Bible. For it is these parallels which lend significant credence to the believability of the Bible.

A3.2 How old is the earth?

The Bible contains both literal and figurative statements; on this all Christians agree. Where Christians sometimes differ are on passages that may not clearly be one or the other. The creation of the heavens and the earth in "six days" is one of these areas. Those who favor the six literal day creation tend to favor the geological argument of catastrophism over uniformitarianism. They cite the following in support of their position:


1. The text actually uses the word day (yome); e.g. "And there was evening and there was morning, a second day." Elsewhere within the Bible the same word is frequently used to refer to literal days.

2. The scriptures elsewhere record God's use of instantaneous creation to produce "aged" objects. In this sense, the short-term creation of the earth, if not scientifically explained by catastrophist geology, could be considered just another miracle.

3. Certain measurements of the earth, including the slowing of its rotation, the half-life decay of its magnetic field, helium retention within the atmosphere, and the salinity of the oceans indicate the planet to have an upper age probably in the low tens of thousands of years. 18

4. A curtain of stalactites has grown to over five feet in length in the understructure of Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial built in 1923. 19 These carbonate speleothems, currently featured in tours of the Lincoln Memorial, prove that their growth rate can no longer be restricted to the old estimate of one inch per one thousand years.

Thus, formations such as those within Mammoth Cave which were previously thought to have accrued no faster than this may actually have taken only a fraction of the 350 million years that uniformatarianist geology would suggest. 20 We must either recognize this possibility or conclude that the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln was erected around 60,000 BC.

5. The small amount of dust found on the Moon by Apollo astronauts disputes at least one old-earth model. This model required the moon to be of similar age to the earth and to have a very thick dust covering. This was one reason for the oversized landing pads on the lunar landing module. Retired Apollo XVI astronaut and tenth man to walk on the moon, Gen. Charles Duke, shared with me this early NASA expectation several years ago. Since his flight, Duke has since become a stalwart advocate of the young earth and moon theory and openly attributes it to divine creation as presented in the Bible.

6. The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens quickly resulted in a production of sedimentation of such a kind that was previously thought to take hundreds of thousands of years. In one case, layers of sediment were laid down and deep canyons were cut that revealed Grand Canyon-like stratification.

7. In another case, layer upon layer of uprooted trees were found to be burying themselves vertically in Spirit Lake at the foot of the mountain. 21 Until the eruption, conditions of this kind were only being interpreted as the result of forests that had grown atop one another over millions of years.

8. Furthermore, the huge amount of bark that are shaved off the floating log jams, before the logs sink, decend to the bottom where they become a plausible origin for relatively quick coal formation. International fuels consultant Ken Carlson, having made first-hand examinations of coal mines around the world, reveals that coal can begin to form in as little as nine months under the proper conditions; conditions which can and do occur naturally. I have also heard him list many other evidences for a young earth based on fossils and geological layerings he has observed firsthand all over the world.

9. Most recently, studies of mutation rates in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), a type of DNA peculiar to women, conclude that the human race as we know it has only been reproducing for as little as 6,000 years. These studies has been reproduced by numerous scholars in multiple works such as the American Journal of Human Genetics, Nature Genetics, and Science magazine. States Science magazine writer Ann Gibbons from "Calibrating the Mitochondrial Clock":

Regardless of the cause, evolutionists are most concerned about the effect of a faster mutation rate. For example, researchers have calculated the "mitochondrial Eve" -- the woman whose DNA was ancestral to that in all living people -- lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago in Africa. Using the new clock, she would be a mere 6,000 years old.


Those who favor the day-age theory rather than short-term creation tend to favor the argument of uniformitarianism over catastrophism (more). However, in the case of an old earth, either position could be argued, and some day-age proponents still favor catastrophism. Most day-age proponents cite the following in support of their position:

1. "Day" is sometimes used in the Bible to signify lengthy periods of time. This is the application used in Genesis 2:4 to describe the entire creation period: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven" (NASB). While in Hebrew the word form for "day" here is slightly different those used in reference to the specific creation days, a phenomological interpretation in either Hebrew or English still works to read this verse as broadly conveying the sequence of creation and crediting its origin and glory to God.

2. Modern biblical scholarship refutes the first date popularly ascribed to the creation of the world, calculated to be 4004 BC. This date was arrived at by James Usher in the seventeenth century using the genealogical records in the KJV. He assumed that every generation of man was listed by name in the Bible and he simply added them up. However, archaeology has since provided additional ancient copies of Scripture and more ancient ones than those the KJV was based on. A study of the LXX as well as of 1 Chronicles seems to indicate that the genealogical list in Genesis is partial, not complete as Usher had assumed.

If Genesis provides only a partial genealogy, this would be completely in line with the practice of ancient Israel's neighboring cultures:

It is merely a matter of record that Egyptian king-lists pass over centuries at a time without formal indication or explanation of the fact. 22

Genealogical studies also must consider that the word son in both the Old and New Testaments is used in the general sense of descendant as well as of immediate offspring. Thus the belief that a 4004 BC creation date is supported by the Bible's genealogical listings as the start of creation, even if correct, is simply not a well-founded belief based upon modern textual evidence.

3. There is an appreciable amount of observable scientific evidence that leans towards an old earth such as the size and apparent age of the universe. While this does not suggest that God could not have created everything instantly, it just suggests that it appears He did not.

Of course, as discussed previously, scientific facts have more often turned out to be tentative rather than firmly proven. But even if mature-state creation is grounds to doubt the scientific evidences of an old earth, then it is equally grounds to doubt the previously listed scientific evidences for a young earth. (See also natural revelation.)

4. A great deal of events took place on each of those six creation days. In particular, Genesis 1:24-31 and 2:7-25 detail the events of day six:

Obviously an infinite and omnipotent God could conceivably have done all of his work in any time frame. But could mere Adam have accomplished his share within the remains of that twenty-four hour day?

5. Day-age theorists would further argue that an all-powerful creator could have created the universe just as easily in six seconds as six days. But the Bible reflects that God's character is one of patience saying, "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8 NASB).

This does not mean we should rush into believing this statement is a literal guide for each figurative creation day. The context of the latter quote is God's great but finite patience with man's rebellion against him. But consider the following usage of a thousand: "every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10 NIV). The word thousand here is clearly figurative of a much greater, all-inclusive number.

This reminds us that the Bible contains both literal and figurative statements. The Bible is never to be interpreted as all one or the other. Thus, each creation day might legitimately be a long period of time, or be a literal and consecutive 24-hour period, or be a literal but not consecutive day commemorating specific, lengthier periods.


As to whether or not any of these preceding arguments cinch belief in either the figurative or literal accounting, it cannot be decided with absolute certainty. What is important is that the order of creation events recorded by Moses are in harmony with modern science. Moses knew how the earth began and the order in which the events happened. The interpretation of his time intervals is not nearly as important as questioning "How could he have known what he knew?"

If we can believe Moses' account of the planet's origin, something he could not possibly have guessed or figured out, yet it parallels the most recent discoveries, can we not also believe his explanation that it was God who told him? Without committing to either one of the presented time scenarios, I find the idea that the earth is a work of God's is plausible no matter how long it took.



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NEXT: Where did the earth come from?

See also:

Natural revelation: what it reveals about origins

Where did the universe come from?

Where did man come from?

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Secular science mostly favors belief in a very old planet and universe. Bible believers are split on the matter.

This section presents different arguments and their biblical and scientific foundations. See also "Natural revelation: good science is good theology".

1. The three alternatives
2a. Young-earth argument
2b. Old-earth argument