I received a letter from a friend with questions about the age of the Earth, and how to raise children in a family where one parent is an old-Earth creationist, and the other is a young-Earth creationist. Here is my response, with the name changed and some of the letter changed as well:
I appreciate your desire to work through the intellectual and theological issues that surround the issues of the age of the Earth and evolution. Note that I list these as two separate issues. The vast antiquity of the Earth was settled in the mind of geologists well before Darwin published The Origin of Species, and many of the geologists who came up with the idea of the geologic column were committed Christians. Some old-Earth creationists are comfortable with the concept of biological evolution, and others are not.
I won’t go into the vast scientific evidence for the Earth being about 4.5 billion years old. As a Christian geologist, I find these arguments to be compelling, and the arguments by young-Earth creationists to be weak. In fact, I view most of the young-Earth arguments to be obstacles to apologetics and the proclamation of the Gospel among scientists.
It is important to point out that there are hints in the opening chapters of Genesis that open the doors for old-Earth interpretations. Here are a few:
- The meaning of the Hebrew word “yom” (day). Young-Earth creationists make a big deal about the literalness of the 24-hour days in Genesis 1-2, but ignore the fact that yom is used in a non-literal sense at least once within this passage. The middle of 2:4 literally reads, “In the day [yom] when God made the earth and the heavens…” Here, yom clearly refers to the entire period of creation, not just to a 24-hours time period.
- The amount of activity on day six hints at this being something other than a 24-hour day. Think about everything that happens: God creates land creatures, God makes Adam, Adam names the animals, God gives Adam a command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam discovers that none of the animals is suitable as his companion, and God creates Eve. Then Adam says, “At long last, this is it!!!” This fits better with a passage of time that is longer than just a few hours.
There is, of course, much more to the Biblical argument for an old Earth, and you have probably read some of this. My point is that old-Earth creationism isn’t just an accomodation to “secular” science, but is consistent with the Bible. That the following Christians support an old age for the Earth is significant:
- C.S. Lewis
- Francis Schaeffer (philosopher/apologist)
- Charles Spurgeon (19th century preacher)
- William Lane Craig (philosopher/apologist)
- J.P. Moreland (philospher/apologist)
- Norman Geisler (philosopher/apologist)
- Gleason Archer (professor of OT at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
- Walter Kaiser (professor of OT at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
- Charles Hodge (theologian, mid-1800s)
- B.B. Warfield (theologian in late 1800s, strong defender of Biblical Christianity)
- C.I. Scofield (Dallas Theological Seminary, Scofield Study Bible author)
These are all prominent, highly respected, orthodox theologians and apologists, many of whom have/had a good grasp of the languages and cultural setting of the ancient Near-East.
The authors of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy purposefully left the question of the age of the Earth as an open question. The vote among Biblical scholars on this was almost unanimous.
There is, of course, more than one old-Earth interpretation. There are the day-age, analogical day, framework, gap, and revelatory day interpretations. I haven’t made a firm commitment to any of these (I lean towards the first three) but I don’t think one has to have all of the theological answers in order to reject the literal calendar-day interpretation as not Biblically necessary.
Your main question, of course, wasn’t about defending the old-Earth interpretation of Scripture, but how to best interact in a marriage where one is an old-Earther, and the other is a young-Earther, and how to raise children in this context. If the young-Earther looks at the old-Earther as a pagan, or if the old-Earther looks at the young-Earther as an ignoramus, then there would be problems. But it seems that you are talking about a situation where there is humility and mutual respect, and so I don’t think this is an issue for you. I don’t think you have to be in complete agreement with each other in order to raise godly children with a firm commitment to the truth of Scripture. The approach I would recommend is to teach your children that there is a range of viewpoints on origins: that some Christians hold that the Bible requires a young age for the Earth, and some Christians don’t believe the Bible requires this. You can then introduce the Biblical and scientific arguments for both sides. There are challenges with this approach, especially with younger children, but I think it would be a good course in your situation.
I hope this helps. Feel free to ask me questions; I’ll make the time to answer them.
Grace and Peace