Should Christians Divide Over the Age of the Earth? Review of the New Book

During my Ph.D. studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of my professors, Dr. Ted Cabal, was working on a book about whether Christians should divide over the age of the earth. It’s thrilling to see his research come to fruition in the recent-released book: Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth.

Old Young Earth

Dr. Cabal is thoughtful, kind, and engaging in the classroom. Thus, I’m not surprised to see his recent book reflect those characteristics as well. Even though he is an old-earth creationist (OEC), Cabal goes out of his way to mention that most young earth creationists (YECs) do not consider the earth’s age worth dividing over, and that many members of BioLogos, who are committed to influencing the church towards embracing evolution, have treated him and his views with kindness and respect.

Although Cabal takes some firm stands in the book, he does so with graciousness, and it’s clear that he desires further dialogue and clarity: “What follows are just my opinion, but I hope they serve as starting points for more fruitful conversations between evangelicals.”[1] His firm yet gracious approach is much needed for this issue (and many others), especially in our contentious times.

Copernicus Vs. Darwin

Controversy of the Ages covers a lot of ground including the discredited thesis that theology is at war with science. Cabal rightly notes that the relationship between science and faith is best explained as “complex” rather than in conflict. Cabal notes that Christianity contributed substantially to the rise of modern science and that most conflicts in the history of science had nothing to do with theology: “Battles between scientists and theologians have actually been rather sparse” (20).

Cabal also compares and contrasts how the church responded to the Copernican revolution compared with its response to Darwinism. Copernicus made discoveries that lead to the correction of both science and theology. The broader goal was to harmonize science and Scripture. Yet during the rise of Darwinism, key figures no longer shared a biblical worldview. As a result, liberal theologians began to emphasize experience over the propositional truth of the Bible and evolution became the lens through which to formulate Christian doctrine.

Do YECs Practice Evolutionary Science?

Two sections of the book struck me as most interesting. First, chapter 7 is entitled, “Do Young Earth Creationists Practice Evolutionary Science?” Cabal notes how certain YECs claim that all non-YEC evangelicals compromise the authority of the Bible by submitting to “evolutionary science,” which is based on naturalistic methodology.

Yet ironically, Cabal gives four examples of how some YECs do the very same thing they criticize in OECs. For instance, he notes how certain prominent YECs have written extensively how the Bible discusses dinosaurs, and yet these biblical passages were never interpreted this way prior to the discovery of dinosaurs in the modern era.

He also gives examples of how some YECs have adapted their theories about the fossil column, radiometric dating, plate tectonics, and whale evolution in light of scientific discoveries. Cabal has no problem that YECs adapt their approach to coincide with modern science, but he notes the inconsistency of labeling others “evolutionist” when they do the same thing.

Drawing Theological Lines

Second, chapter 9 is worth the price of the whole book. Cabal notes that Christians need to have theological boundaries to protect the faith, but ought to draw them with charity and proper balance between inclusivity and restrictiveness. While he does have some criticisms for Reasons to Believe, the leading OEC organization, since they are committed to biblical inerrancy, he reserves his primary criticism for Answers in Genesis (AiG) and BioLogos.

As for AiG, Cabal is concerned that they draw doctrinal lines to narrowly—including such things as a young earth, a flood-shaped geology, Neanderthals, and details about taxonomy in the definition of inerrancy. He contends that they conflate interpretation with inspiration. And Cabal is deeply concerned at a certain attitude that often results from the sweeping, unsubstantiated claim that ineffective worldwide evangelism, the abandonment of the faith by young Christians, and sexual immorality are the result of the church embracing an old earth.

As for BioLogos, Cabal believes they draw theological boundaries too broad. BioLogos does not endorse biblical inerrancy (their website includes many articles arguing for errors in the Bible). Given that various key figures in BioLogos have abandoned the special creation of humans, the fall, the historical Adam, as well as original sin and also offered evolutionary accounts for the rise of belief in God and human morality, Cabal wonders how many more substantive theological reformulations are on the way. As a result, he cannot recommend BioLogos as a constructive resource for the church, even though that is what it seeks to be.

This book was no doubt hard for Cabal to write. For one, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2001, and quite obviously, has limited energy. Thus, he could not have written this book without the help of his co-author, Peter Rasor. Second, Cabal has built relationships with people on all sides of this debate. He sincerely cares about them and has no desire to create unnecessary division in the church. Yet when it is all said and done, he cares most deeply about the health of the church. And thus he takes the risk of making his views public.

Controversy of the Ages fills a need that has existed for some time. While lay people will certainly find value in this book, his primary audience is those who have a vested interest in the intersection of science and faith. If that’s you, I could not recommend this book more highly.

[1] Theodore J. Cabal & Peter J. Rasor II, Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth (Wooster, OH: Weaver Books, 2017), 190.

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35 replies
  1. Kerry says:

    I always appreciate when someone takes the time and effort to address such issues. Paul admonished us to always be ready to give a (reasonable) account for what we believe, and he reasoned with people. I was raised in a Christian home, but when I was at Georgia Tech, it became important to me that I make sure I believe the *Truth*, whatever it is and wherever it takes me, not just because of what I experience growing up. Months grew into a few years (and to be honest, I still struggle with some things), but over and over again, my objective reason and subjective experiences both tell me that Christianity is the most rational answer. And lest anyone worry, yes, I have a relationship with Christ, and in fact one of the closest times with Him was when my son suffered a traumatic brain injury.

    Nevertheless, I’m one of those people who “doesn’t want to be tricked” (as C.S. Lewis alluded), and so I think it’s important and, frankly, to be expected, that science and Christianity have strong bonds. As such, especially with a background in science and engineering, I do believe in a very old universe and earth, while I do have some friends who believe in a young earth. We respect one another.

    One thing I do struggle with, though, is fitting Adam and Eve and the Fall, and even pre-Fall death, into it all. Now, I think young earth has its own serious problems to overcome, but I can’t just ignore these questions, and would love to hear some thoughts on them. I’m ok with believing that the Jews consider much of the writings to be allegorical, but the Fall has to be literal, or else … from whence came our Sin and fallen state?

    I’d love to hear any thoughts on this. Thanks, and I hope we each grow closer to God, regardless of our stance on this issue.

    • Ed Vaessen says:

      “And lest anyone worry, yes, I have a relationship with Christ, and in fact one of the closest times with Him was when my son suffered a traumatic brain injury.”

      Bye bye rational answer….

    • Josie says:

      Hi Kerry I agree it’s good to have a civil debate with other believers and that’s what ultimately matters.
      I personally believe in a young earth as it makes sense to me looking at population growth from Noah and also biblical genealogies. However I would never fall out with another believer over this, much better to talk and accept different POV.
      From what I have understood from the Bible I don’t believe that there is such a thing as ‘pre-Fall death.’However long Adam and Eve were in Eden nothing could have died whatsoever.
      I say this because of passages in the Bible such as Romans 5:12 which says ‘.just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,…in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.’

      According to the Bible death is the consequence of sin, if no-one had yet sinned nothing could have yet died. Death was a direct result of the Fall and so can’t have been present beforehand.

      I believe it applies to every creature on the earth based on things such as Romans 8:20,21 which says ‘….for the creation was made subject to frustration — not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it. But it was given a reliable hope that it too would be set free from its bondage to decay and would enjoy the freedom accompanying the glory that God’s children will have.’

      It implies that creation became trapped in bondage and subject to decay when human beings did i.e. at the Fall.

      So nothing could have died until the Fall happened so pre-Fall death is an impossibility.

      This is just my understanding of the Bible passages obviously others may disagree. Whatever stance people take like you said it’s most important to grow closer to God.
      I also hope Kerry that your son is doing better 🙂

  2. Peter J Markavage says:

    In response, I’d like to link to a similar article with a quote from that article here:

    “While the issue of the age of the earth will undoubtedly continue to be a point of disagreement among Christians, it should not be made into a hill on which to die. It should not be a point over which the church should divide. As we read in Romans 14, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.”

    QUESTION FROM PETER: In one of the Frank Turek videos (I don’t have it at this very moment) – the question was asked why we can’t consider various gods as being valid. The answer Frank gave was something akin to someone says 4+4 is 9 and someone else says 4+4 is 8, one person is wrong / one person is right.

    That being the case, whether God created the world in 6 literal consecutive days versus 6 literal-non-consecutive or longer periods – someone is right, someone is wrong. I’m not going to laugh or make fun of someone for believing in other gods, I’m going to pray for them.

    Yet, the analogy here “not a hill to die on” seems to make it as if there are various interpretations that could be accepted. No, either it is 6 literal days or it isn’t. I believe it is, I believe I can say you are wrong about it, and I believe I can still fellowship with those who have accepted Christ as Savior.

    But it seems to me that whenever a strange and unorthodox argument wants to be accepted in mainstream Christianity – the first thing to do is “disarm” everyone and says “don’t die on that hill”, etc. etc.

    • Kyle says:

      You miss a very key point in this. Your someone else could be saying 4+4 is 7. The law of contradiction provides that 2 mutually exclusive answers cannot both be right. This doesn’t exclude both from being wrong. That being the case whether they want to believe in 6 literal days or 6 periods, they can both be wrong.

      • Josie says:

        I understand your point, and if you don’t believe in the Bible you will believe another alternative.
        However for Christians to whom this article is appealing to they can’t ‘both be wrong’ The Bible clearly states the earth was made in six days. There is some debate as to whether it is literal day or a day as a period of time but the fact it was created in six days is clear in the Bible and so one of the positions must be right based on the Bible.

      • Peter J. Markavage says:

        ??? Either each day is 24 hour period or it is a variant of 24 hours. How could there be more than two options? Agreed, could be 12 hours, could be millions of years. But I consider these last two options a variant to 24 hours.

    • Kim DiScala says:

      Evolution is an “established conclusion ” ? The THEORY of evolution is a long way from an established conclusion . As far as the earth’s age … those who have a Companion Bible know that the word translated as “was” in Genesis 1:2 , is actually , “became” . there are many other references to a first world age . Read chapters 40 and 41 of JOB and see if the description of leviathan and behemoth resemble the likeness of dinosaurs . No one knows how old the earth is , but we do know that there was an age before this one , this is the second earth age and the third is yet to come .

  3. Olivia says:

    I believe in a young earth – the population models for starters make sense using that timeframe. It also makes sense when you look at the generations in the Bible and the gaps/overlaps between them. However I wouldn’t fall out with other christians over this it is much better to have a civil discussion.

    I think everyone made good points I personally Kerry believe in a literal Fall which if I understood correctly is what you said you believe in also and I believe that from that moment death resulted. Therefore there can’t have been any death in Eden, no matter how many days/years Adam and Eve lived there.

    The Bible says that ‘…just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, …in this way death came to all people, because all sinned….for just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ Romans 5:12,19

    Death entered through the disobedience of the one man Adam and life entered through the obedience of one man Jesus.

    If things were dying for a long time before the disobedience of Adam then simply the Bible would not be telling the truth, because it clearly says death entered the world through one man’s actions. Which also thankfully means we can be redeemed by the One righteous man’s actions.

    So I don’t think there is such a thing as pre Fall death because on my understanding of the Bible sin and the consequence of that which is death entered when Adam disobeyed God not one second before.

    That’s just my view not holding myself as an expert or anything like you I’m always up for a civil discussion with other believers 🙂

  4. Gary Bryson says:

    If you believe the genealogies in the Bible, you have to believe in a young Earth. Those who don’t believe the genealogies, probably don’t believe some other parts of the Bible either. Sad to say.

    • Kyle says:

      Those who believe in the genealogies in the bible have to believe people literally lived to be over 900 years old. That a 500-600 year old man constructed an ark. These are things no rational person can accept.

      • Josie says:

        No rational person perhaps I guess that’s why we take these things on faith!
        These people had better genes than us being nearer to Adam and the world had deteriorated less so I believe it is perfectly plausible they lived longer lives.

        • Kyle says:

          There is no scientific basis for anything you just said. Arguing something based on faith alone is completely irrational.

  5. David Mumma says:

    It is a really basic argument: either God lied or He didn’t. Either the Bible is true or it isn’t. God said He created the world in six literal days (Exodus 20:11). If you want to throw out the basis for the Bible: “In the beginning God”, then you can interpret the remainder of it any way you choose. I choose to believe God.

    • Andy Ryan says:

      “either God lied or He didn’t”

      There are several thousand different Christian sects in America alone. All interpret the Bible in different ways, from minor to major. It’s not helpful to set it up as ‘either God lied or he didn’t’, given the possibility of simple misinterpretation by humans.

      “God said He created the world in six literal days”

      The Bible says that. It doesn’t supply a quote from God on the issue. And it doesn’t use the word ‘literal’ either. Further, there’s no quotes from God on how old the world is. There’s no date.

  6. Ed Vaessen says:

    “During my Ph.D. studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary”

    Logical fallacy, known as the appeal to authority.

  7. Michael says:

    I’m a YEC and am struggling somewhat with this issue. I learned recently that two of my favorite apologists are not YEC. When I learned that, I was kind of knocked sideways for about a half day. They teach at a university that offers a “certificate in apologetics” that I intend to pursue. In about a year, I want to pursue a teaching ministry to help others connect the dots. Although I already have lots of alphabet soup after my name, I never completed year 3 of an MDiv degree. However, at 65 (and having emerged from a dark place of many years), I’m not interested in more alphabet soup at a 1 year cost of $10k+. But the certificate would help just a bit. Bottom line, I guess, is that I have to figure out how true to Scripture the OEC and YEC positions and followers remain and whether the science believed to support an old earth is really science or more of Darwin’s tripe. I guess I’ll buy this book. Thanks for the review.

      • Michael says:

        My issue is, as was stated above, “…I have to figure out how true to Scripture the OEC and YEC positions and followers remain and whether the science believed to support an old earth is really science or more of Darwin’s tripe.” I have a lot more reading and processing to do. Back in the 70s, I didn’t have much of detailed opinion on origins (YEC vs OEC and related) partly because my KJV Scofield Reference Bible of 1917 talked about a gap in the first 2 verses…and so if it was good enough for Scofield it had to be good enough for me (smile).

        I had an OT professor in seminary back in the 80s who often challenged “young preacher boys” and their positions. One day, I expressed a position on a subject and several in the class looked over at me. Dr. Skinner (I believe) came back to my desk and with a glow on his face and the twinkle of heaven in his eye, he asked me, “Brother Moore…would you swing over hell on that?”

        Whatever position I arrive at, I want to be able to swing over hell on it….as much as possible. So…I have a lot more reading to do…and to figure out my answer to the question posed by Sean Mcdowell at the top of this page.

        • Kyle says:

          I meant specifically with regards to science and how it determines the age of the earth. What do you know of the age of the earth as science dictates?

  8. Michael says:

    Well, I’m not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV. Perhaps you are a scientist. What I “know” is limited to what I’ve read from creation scientists, albeit YEC scientists. Does that mean I have a bias? Sure. Same as those with a different perspective. I’m willing to listen and read. I move at a turtle’s pace…just a little faster than a snail…and sometimes get turned upside down until someone helps me.

    What I’ve read about “science and how it determines the age of the earth” suggests inconsistencies and doubts in the process and results of how the age of the earth is calculated. So, for me, science cannot accurately, definitively “dictate” the age of the earth if we’re talking radiometric dating. Some radiometric inconsistencies that create question marks follow:

    1. Unproven assumptions. Radiometric dating relies on observing how quickly radioactive material decays into the nonradioactive material. There are some unproven assumptions in this decay process to include (a) how much radioactive material was in the rock when it was first formed, (b) rock was not contaminated, and (c) that the rate of decay was constant.

    2. Failed dating methods/results. Something is not right because young rocks have been dated to be very ancient. If the dating methods fail on rocks with known ages why would we trust those methods to date rocks of unknown ages?

    3. Examples:

    a. Novarupta. A volcano in Alaska that erupted in 1912. In 2012, a “doc” retrieved a rock sample from the lava dome and had it dated at a professional lab. It was dated as old as 5.5 million years old. (see Wikipedia and “Journey to Novarupta” on Facebook).
    b. Kilauea Iki basalt, Hawaii. Birthday – 1959; age tested (AT) 8.5M yrs
    c. Volcanic bomb, Mt. Stromboli, Italy. Birthday 1963; AT 2.4M yrs.
    d. Mt. Etna basalt, Sicily. Birthday 1964, AT .7M yrs
    e. Medicine Lake Highlands, CA. Birthday <500 yrs; AT 12.6M yrs.
    f. Mt. St. Helens. Birthday 1986; AT .35M yrs.

    You see, I’d rather “swing over hell” on the earth-age calculations sourced in the genealogies of the Genesis record rather than the earth-age “science” of radiometric dating. BOTH require faith because neither one of us were there from the beginning to observe, measure, and record data.

    ok…your turn. What do YOU know of the age of the earth as science dictates it? If you can help me sort this out, I would be appreciative.

    • Kyle says:

      “Well, I’m not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV. Perhaps you are a scientist. What I “know” is limited to what I’ve read from creation scientists, albeit YEC scientists. Does that mean I have a bias?” – That’s not bias that you have. That is incorrect information that you have. Any YEC calling themselves a scientist is being generous with the term. Can they predict anything with their conclusions? Can they perform repeatable experiments? Science isn’t just looking at some evidence, forming a conclusion, getting it published, and hoping it works. They have to SHOW it works. Perform experiments. Tell others what they did and have other people perform the same thing.

      1. I’m sure you have mainly read YEC propaganda. (a) I trust the scientists to know what they are doing, yet you seem confident enough to question them? What makes you an authority on radiometric dating? (b) See A (c) This is a very well known and understood process. This is what gives us nuclear bombs and nuclear power along with being able to date the age of things. If the rates were not constant these things would not work with any consistency. They do. Every time.

      2/3. I’m not going to go through each one as I’m sure these were cherry picked for you from some YEC propaganda. I’ll comment on the Hawaii one though. That “failed” dating was because they were using an incorrect method. Imagine if I gave you a ruler with tick marks every mile, then asked you to measure something accurately to the nearest foot. In this example they were using a K-Ar radiometric dating which cannot be confidently used under something like 100,000 years. We have other methods for dating things. All these “failures” tell us, is that the methods used are not accurate for the short time period in these cases. It does NOT mean the overall method of radiometric dating is incorrect.

      Neither of us need to be there for the beginning of earth to accurately date it. If you have a big tub with a small hole in it that you know was once filled to the top with water, you don’t need to have been there at the beginning to know how long it has been dripping. If you know the rate the water has been leaking, the initial amount of water in the tub, and how much water is in the tub now, it is a trivial calculation. This is how radiometric dating gives us accurate ages. Not understanding it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Being lied to for years by YEC “scientists” doesn’t mean it is wrong. – For how the age of earth was determined – General info on how this process works – specifically K-Ar dating and assumptions made and limitations

      • Michael says:

        I do plan to read the wiki articles. I appreciate you taking the time to provide the links. I’m certainly not in your league regarding the radiometric stuff. I have a lot to learn and more questions to ask.

        I’m reasonably confident you’ve been asked this question before since you’re hanging out on this website. So…humor me, please.

        What is your view on the origin of life and evolution?

        • Kyle says:

          Sure. It is important to note in the scientific community these are two separate and distinct areas of study. Evolution does not describe or pertain to the origins of life in any way. Evolution is explicitly how life changes over time in response to a number of factors. You cannot have evolution without life. The origins of life is due to “abiogenesis”. This is the natural process how life arises from non-living matter. Much beyond that I don’t know myself, however I’m of the opinion that the scientists looking into it do, and that I will trust them on this matter. You can find some more information here.

  9. Michael says:

    Thanks so much Kyle for being polite in your response. If you’re game, I would like to ask you more questions to help me understand. We could start with the origin of life and evolution. We’d at least have somewhat of a level playing field with the origin of life. Your background/studies seem to be in science…perhaps you’re a prof somewhere. My background/studies have been in business, research and investigation. Anyway, I’ll put some questions together (hopefully intelligent), post them here and then we can play. If you’re not interested, then thanks for your time.

    • Kyle says:

      I’m always willing. My background is engineering, however I do like to learn as much as possible. Most of the topics I’ve spoken on already in this thread I spent at least an hour or two delving into when I first encountered these arguments, sometimes more.

  10. Stephen Baloga says:

    If death came before the fall, then the bible is a total farce and Jesus is no Christ and He suffered and died in vain.

    And Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic.

    “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female”  (Mar 10:6).

    He is therefore not trustworthy.

    He does not possess all knowledge and therefore is not God manifest in the flesh.

    If you believe that multiplied millions of animals died before the first Adam “evolved”, you are no Christian at all.

    It is right for mind numbed atheists to ridicule your so-called “faith”, which is certainly not the faith of Christ.

    Is it not interesting that the best kept secret by secular science today is that pliable soft tissue (flesh, cells, blood vessels, protein, DNA) is being discovered more and more in dinosaur remains? Remains said to be 65 million years old. MILLION! And mummified dino remains. The scandal of the century!

    Evolution as a hypothesis will be disproven in my lifetime.

    • Kyle says:

      I have no idea what message you are even trying to convey. The last line however presents a willful ignorance to the state of the world around you. You are absolutely wrong in that regard.


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