If the Earth is Young, Why Does it Look Old?

Jan 23, 2018 | Article, Creation

For nearly 1800 years, the majority position held within the Church has been that of young-age creation—or, the teaching that our Earth and even the universe is just over 6,000 years old and was created in just six ordinary days.

Some claim that this teaching began with the Seventh-Day Adventist church, but they are incorrect.1 This teaching started in Genesis 1:1 when it was originally penned, and continued through the ministry of Jesus Christ. In Mark 10:6 Jesus teaches that “from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

In a recent episode of my podcast, The Creation Academy, we spent about an hour dealing with this very issue. And, we also dealt with a related subject matter here.

Because the teaching of evolutionism and “millions of years” is so prevalent in our society—indeed, it is the reigning dogma—many questions are raised of young-age creationists: Do we correctly interpret the Bible? Perhaps God used evolution? Perhaps there simply is no God? How can anyone in the 21st century believe in a young earth and universe? If the universe is young, why does it look so old?

These are fair questions. In this blog post, I am going to attempt to deal with the last question mentioned.

Dr. Jason Lisle has given a thorough treatment of this on his website. I would encourage you to check it out as I’m sure we will be quoting it throughout.

I think a concise, 3-point case can be made which will make clear the misconceptions involved with this question, and provide a satisfactory answer to it. We Christians have a reasonable faith—and—we need not fear these questions.


The Problem: What is Age, Anyway?


When answering questions, especially about matters of spiritual significance, we must always examine the question itself to see if there are any problems.

Critics often ask questions which are irrelevant to the matter at hand. Sometimes this happens out of ignorance, and sometimes it is to intentionally throw off the person tasked with answering. Sometimes, the question itself is not even phrased correctly and isn’t a valid question at all.

That is the case in the instance of this question.

The fact is that nothing looks old. Age cannot be seen.

In the above-mentioned article, Lisle contends, “Age is an abstract, non-physical concept. It is the time of an object’s creation subtracted from the present time. When you subtract one time from another, you always end up with a number – a concept of quantity of time-units. Therefore, since age is a number, it is conceptual and not a physical substance or material property. Age cannot be seen. Therefore, it cannot have an appearance.”

The formal “problem” which matches up with this question is called the “Appearance of Age.” The fact that our Earth supposedly “looks” old is the problem raised to the biblical creationist.

But as we’ve seen, the problem itself has a problem in that’s it’s not real—so it can’t be a problem!

Age, as Dr. Lisle mentioned, is simply a number. Numbers cannot be seen. I don’t want to get too deep here, but the philosopher Plato suggested that numbers were abstract, yet physical objects (he called them “forms”) somewhere in the known universe. In other words, somewhere, there is an actual number “2” that can be seen, which corresponds to our conceptual idea of the number “2.”

We see the number when we write it down, but we are not seeing the “numberness” of it. We can all see the color “red.” But “redness” is not a physical “thing” in the known universe. The same is true with “age.” Age is a number, but it cannot be seen. There are physical properties that we usually associate with objects that also happen to have a great age, such as skin wrinkles, but these objects are simply “proxies”—physical qualifiers which help us to perceive information about an object, such as its age.

When we see wrinkles on the face of a person, we’re inclined to think that is indeed a person of great age. There are other features—a receding hairline, gray hair, etc.—which we also associate with old age. But the truth is that these are all features that can be present in a much younger person. When we say that someone “looks great for their age,” we really mean that “the person has physical characteristics that are typical of someone much younger,” according to Lisle.

All of this is to say that it is not accurate to ask the question when phrased this way—which is the most common way we see it phrased. When someone tells you that you are a few fries short of a happy meal because you believe in a young earth in spite of it “looking so old,” you should invite the questioner to rephrase the question because they have assumed that age can be seen, and it cannot.

What’s more is that they likely are not even sure of the nature of the “problem” they are suggesting because they are merely parroting others who have erroneously made this statement/asked this question. So, what should they have asked? Do they have a valid question after all?


The Perception: Looks Can Be Deceiving


Worldviews matter. As we’ve argued ad nauseam on this blog, facts and evidence will always be filtered through one’s worldview—or, the core beliefs one who holds to be true about the world which influence—knowingly or not—how they see the world.

So when a naturalist marvels at the Grand Canyon, for example, he is amazed that the rocks have simply arranged themselves this way over the course of millions of years. The biblical creationist, however, marvels at the confirmation the Grand Canyon provides for the early chapters of Genesis and the flood account.

When the naturalist looks out at the cosmos, he wonders in amazement at the “Big Bang” and how the universe spawned itself out of absolutely nothing. The biblical creationist wonders in amazement at the heavens and reflects on the truths of God’s Word, such as Psalm 19:1—”The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” and Psalm 8:3-4—”When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”

It’s quite clear that what you believe about the world will determine how you see the world.

If the naturalist understood the nature of the question they were asking, they would ask something more like this: “If the earth is young, why does it have features which can be scientifically tested to show that it is millions of years old?”

By the way—it is worth mentioning that it does have these features. There is a reason that the earth is thought to be millions of years old. It has been confirmed by many scientific experiments. The problem is that these experiments are all based on the assumption of great age. Forensic science cannot be carried out without making unprovable assumptions. The only question is, whose assumptions are you using? God’s, or man’s?

The reason most don’t frame this question properly is that by doing so it clearly opens up the conversation to uncomfortable dialogue. This is because while the earth may have features which can be scientifically tested to show that it is millions of years old, many of those same features can be scientifically tested to show that it is young.

One’s worldview—or perception—will wholly influence how he conducts his scientific experimentation and how he interprets his results. While many naturalists claim they observe the world as a neutral party, we recently highlighted the fact that neutrality is a myth. Most experiments in the “age” debate are either (1) null because both the creation and evolution model make the same predictions or (2) at best, able to confirm or deny a particular model inside of the respective theory. (For a detailed explanation of this, click here and start listening at 43:08.)

In rare cases where the creation and evolutionary models are tested head-to-head, the creation model best matches the predictions. For example, see this study on human populations and this one on mitochondrial DNA.


The Picture: Reality Tells a Different Story


Thus far, we’ve seen that not only is the question we started out with phrased improperly—and therefore, invalid. But when asking the actual question at hand, we see that this issue is one of perception—not reality. The final question before us is then—“What is the reality?”

I hinted at this in the last paragraph of my second argument; namely—the reality is that when creation models and evolutionary models go head-to-head, the creation models closest match reality. In those terms, the earth “looks” quite young. That is—its features scientifically testify to its youth.

Recall that assumptions are what drive the cart forward. We know that if we start with naturalistic assumptions (i.e., that the fossil record is meant to convey a long, linear history of life and that all present processes continue today exactly how they always have) we can plug those assumptions into our experiments, and amazingly, the science confirms our predictions.

But what happens if we begin with God’s Word?

Beginning with God’s Word, we find a few very important truths which can be used to point us to the true age of the earth. The verification of history requires observation. Fortunately, thanks to the biblical record, we have such observation. I would highly encourage you to read this post, which is actually the 5th chapter of a book called Searching for Adam. Here is made a succinct but detailed case for the age of the earth, with particular respect to the truthfulness of the Adam and Eve account.

To summarize a young-age creationist interpretation of the earth’s history, we could build the following case:

  1. The Genesis “Days” are only permitted by context to be a linear progression of six ordinary solar days. This is confirmed by the testimony of the Father in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11) and the testimony the Lord Jesus in Mark 10:6, amongst other examples.
  2. Since there was no death before the fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15), the fossil record cannot be recording millions of years of time. For if it were, it would record death before the fall of man in Genesis 3—a notion not allowed by the previous argument and further rejected by Genesis 1:29-30 which teach that prior to the fall all animal and human life were not carnivorous.
  3. If Genesis is true, the age of creation is not nearly as significant an issue as the order of creation. For any other creation account to be true, it must by necessity comport to the order mentioned in Genesis 1—which has been shown to be taken as historical by statistical analysis. This means a grammatical-historical hermeneutic should be used to interpret it. Only a young-age interpretation matches the linear progression laid out by the author of Genesis and is consistent with the proper hermeneutic.
  4. Genesis 5 and 11 boast genealogies unlike any other in biblical or ancient near eastern history. Significantly, they convey the age of a father when his son was born and how long he lived after that birth. This is the only form of genealogy which can give us a meaningful chronology, and we have two of them in the opening chapters of Genesis. The use of the Hebrew word “yoled” (which means, “begat”) in Genesis and the non-chronological details given about many of the relationships provide sound evidence that the genealogical links are gapless. These and other details provide us with about 2,000 years between the creation and the flood.
  5. The Bible records a worldwide deluge which accounts for the existence of the fossil record. Most details of the earth’s geology are easily explained by such a worldwide flood. (Some not so easily, but that’s what science is for.) It’s interesting that the reigning dogma teaches that fossils were laid down over a significant amount of time, but when a new fossil discovery is made, the words “local flooding” are nearly always found to be the cause of such preservation. This seems quite reconcilable with the notion of a global deluge.
  6. Finally, the Bible gives myriad uncontroversial chronological details which demonstrate the time between this event and Christ (around 2,000 years) and it is well-attested that we are about 2,000 years removed from the time of Christ.

To be frank, the case is pretty much open-and-shut—despite the fact that naturalistic science has unfortunately led much of the church to accept an alternative view. I’d invite you to visit here and here for likely answers to any questions this line of argumentation has raised in your mind.

Do you get the “picture?” One can believe the Bible and have no problem with science. Once we realize that assumptions control the dating of things, it becomes quite clear that we can trust the Bible’s history of the earth. Creation is just as viable a starting-point option as an evolutionary model. This is because for the process of evolution to work, it must have gotten started—but nobody knows how that happened.

As Koukl observes, “why do we call evolution a fact when evolution can’t even get off the ground, based on the information we have right now.[sic] The answer you get is always the same: Because we’re here. It must have happened. That’s called circular reasoning, friends, based on a prior commitment to naturalism that won’t be shaken by the facts.”

Let’s answer then—if the earth is young, why does it look old? The answer is that it doesn’t.2 Age cannot be seen, its features can be tested scientifically to determine either outcome, and reality demonstrates that creation models make better sense of the world the way that it actually is.

Recommended Further Reading:

Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!


  1. Arguably, the Seventh-Day Adventist church was instrumental in creation science. But the teaching of a young earth/universe began with the Word of God itself.
  2. To be fair, this is not the only answer young-age creationists would give. One such creationist, Dr. Kurt Wise, makes quite a compelling case for the visibility of age. Rather than to discourage this view, he embraces it and gives New Testament examples (particularly from the miracles of Jesus) where instantaneous miracles did appear to convey a non-existent history. This also leads him to accept a view of the universe that most young-age creationist astronomers would reject–the idea that starlight was created in-transit.

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Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

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