The Age of the Earth, of Life, and of Mankind: Geology and Biblical Theology versus Creationism


James W. Skehan, S.J.

Chapter 2 In Science and Creation: Geological, Theological, and Educational Perspectives, Robert W. Hanson, Editor, Issues in Science and Technology Series, American Association for the Advancement of Science, MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, pp. 10 - 32, 1985


Recently, laws have been proposed and/or passed requiring that equal time be given in public school science classes for "creation science," so-called, comparable to that given to the theory of evolution. The basic position of "creation science" is set forth in the preface to The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth by Henry M. Morris, director of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego:

The origin and early history of the earth and man is a marvelous and fascinating story...given by revelation in the Bible and now strikingly confirmed by modern science. The theory of evolution has dominated our society, especially the schools, for almost a hundred years, and its influence is largely responsible for our present-day social, political, and moral problems. Many people today, including scientists,...find that evolution is merely an unreasonable theory, containing many scientific fallacies. Creation, on the other hand, is a scientific theory which does fit all the facts of true science, as well as God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures.1

In this chapter I present a summary of a modern scientific perspective on the age of the Earth and of its life forms, including mankind. Additionally, I present a modern theological perspective on the great body of religious and theological literature, but especially the Book of Genesis and the Babylonian creation story, both of which deal with the creation of the Earth and the origin of mankind. I maintain that the age and origin of the Earth, and of life, including man, are the proper subject of scientific research, and that as a result of such studies it is proper to maintain that the Earth is some 4.6 billion years old. Moreover, the earliest life forms yet discovered are about 3.5 billion years old, and the record in the rocks indicates that mankind is at least 2 million years old. Among Biblical theologians there is wide agreement that the story of the creation of the Earth and of mankind, in the first chapters of Genesis, is presented to recount the beginning of the religious history of the people of Israel, and is not a scientific analysis to establish either the age or mode of origin of the Earth.

My position on this subject is fundamentally different from that taken by those who interpret the Book of Genesis literally as regards the creation story, or who hold that the age of the Earth is approximately 6000 to 10,000 years based erroneously on Biblically derived computations of time (Table 2-1). Such computations were based on the assumption that the time interval between the creation of the Earth and the birth of Christ can be derived from computations based on Biblical genealogies and extrapolated intervals of time between "events" in the Old Testament in general, and those in Genesis in particular. The latter point of view has itself evolved from a literal reading of the Old Testament on creation and other topics to an elaborately developed program, now referred to by its proponents as "scientific creationism" or "creation science."2

A clear distinction must be drawn between what science and Genesis can or cannot tell us about this subject matter. On the basis of modern creation theology and Biblical archeology, I maintain that the Genesis narrative and the conclusions of science belong to two completely separate realms of existence and knowledge. Research on the age and origin of the Earth, of life, and of mankind is within the domain of science, and Genesis in no sense is a scientific treatment of those topics. On the other hand, Genesis is a primitive religious history of the people of Israel, and as such is one of the noblest and most remarkable documents of our civilization.

Topics treated in more specifically in this chapter are the following:

Age of the Earth

Age of Meteorites: The Age of the Earth

Age of Rocks on Earth

The Geological Record of Life

Apparent Conflict of Scientific Data with Genesis

Theological Perspectives on Genesis 1:1-2:3

Source Materials

What Kind of Literature is Genesis?

Did the Authors of the Old Testament and of Genesis Intend to Write a History?

Primitive History