Few things are more likely to arouse the contempt and derision of modern intellectuals — even Catholic intellectuals — than stating one’s belief in a young earth. Today’s image-savy Catholics apparently see the young-earth controversy as an opportunity to prove that they are not wooden fundamentalists or biblical literalists or anti-science or anti-intellectual or anything else considered by the world to be backwards and unsophisticated. It is the mentality of the herd.
I believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. This is not in itself an article of faith, and I might be wrong about it, but the burden of proof is on the old-earth promoters. The scientists, who have no tool but naturalistic extrapolation, have certainly not proven their case. Scientists calculate the age of the earth by extrapolating from natural processes they are capable of observing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. Now, these extrapolations usually work, because natural processes are usually a pretty reliable indicator of natural history. But this is not always the case, as Mark Twain humorously illustrates:
In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. This is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolithic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
In the ten minutes I have remaining, let me summarize the reasons why I believe in a young earth:
1. I believe that Genesis was written as history and that the biblical genealogies are reliable. They are not precise, they can be confusing, there are inexplicable gaps, and reasonable scholars can disagree about a few hundred years. But they are not off by 4.6 billion years. Even old-earth evolutionists admit that human civilization is not more than 25,000 years old.
2. An old earth would therefore require me to believe that the earth was around for billions of years before the creation of man. But our Catholic Faith tells us that the earth was made for man. How do we explain God’s purpose for the earth for so long without man?
3. Sin brought corruption into the world: not only human death, but the corruption of all creation. That is the biblical teaching and the patristic consensus. In an old earth scenario the cycle of natural conflict, death, and decay is established long before sin entered the world through Adam’s transgression.
4. Which brings us to Adam and Eve, who, according to Catholic doctrine, are the first-created man and woman. How does their creation fit into an old-earth scenario? Most old-earthers believe in an old earth because it is the only thing that makes the biological evolution of mankind seem remotely possible, and they desperately want to be believe in some form of theistic evolution. Yet the biological evolution of mankind cannot be reconciled with Catholic revelation, which holds not only that Adam and Eve were the first created man and woman, but that they also were the first and only parents of the human race.
Let us assume, for a moment, that a biological mechanism for human speciation has been discovered and it is now possible to imagine that man could have evolved from primordial seaweed. If man truly evolved from some lesser form of life, via natural selection, how likely is it that the first man and the first woman happened to have emerged, after billions of years, at the same time and in the same place via the same natural process? (I anticipate: “Because God intervened and overrode the natural process!” To which I reply: That is precisely what I believe happened at the creation of man and the world, events which natural processes cannot explain.)
5. Scripture and Tradition clearly allow for the creation of man and the world in a state of maturity. If you are a theist and believe in creation ex nihilo, then you must at least believe in this possibility. Although the possibility of maturity at the moment of creation doesn’t say anything one way or the other about the age of the earth, it does say something about modern techniques used to date the earth: things may have an appearance of age. The closer we get to origins, the less we are able to assume that apparent maturity is the product of age.
6. There was a time when nature was not. The creation itself was a supernatural event and cannot be explained by nature. What are the implications of this basic truth? It means that the speed of light was not always what it is today, the properties of matter were not always what they are today, the laws of physics were not always what they are today, etc. Nature and science are insufficient: old-earth theory assumes that they are sufficient.