How Old is the Earth?
Many attempts have been made to reconcile the biblical account of the creation with the rock record found on the earth. Science seems to show that the earth is millions of years old, when the creation story refers to “days” of the creation periods. Latter-day Saint prophets and scientists have also wondered.
The scriptures do not provide sufficient information to accurately determine the age of the earth. Generally speaking, those who accept the scriptural account subscribe to one of three basic theories about the age of the world. All three theories depend on how the word day, as used in the creation account, is interpreted.
The first theory says that the word day is understood as it is used currently and therefore means a period of 24 hours. According to this theory, the earth was created in one week, or 168 hours. Thus, the earth would be approximately six thousand years old. (Many scholars agree that there were approximately four thousand years from Adam to Christ and that there have been nearly two thousand years since Christ was born.) Very few people, either members of the Church or members of other religions, hold to this theory, since the evidence for longer processes involved in the Creation is substantial.
A second theory argues that Abraham was told through the Urim and Thummim that one revolution of Kolob, the star nearest to the throne of God, took one thousand earth years (see Abraham 3:2–4 ). In other words, one could say that one day of the Lord’s time equals one thousand earth years. Other scriptures support this theory, too (see Psalm 90:4 ; 2 Peter 3:8 ; Facsimile No. 2 from the book of Abraham, figures 1, 4 ). If the word day in Genesis was used in this sense, then the earth would be approximately thirteen thousand years old (seven days of a thousand years each for the Creation plus the nearly six thousand years since Adam’s fall). Some see Doctrine and Covenants 77:12 as additional scriptural support for this theory. [One reason this theory sounds natural is that the Lord said to Adam, “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the time that thoueatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning (Abraham 5:13). Adam lived just under 1,000 years.]
Although the majority of geologists, astronomers, and other scientists believe that even this long period is not adequate to explain the physical evidence found in the earth, there are a small number of reputable scholars who disagree. These claim that the geologic clocks are misinterpreted and that tremendous catastrophes in the earth’s history speeded up the processes that normally may take thousands of years. They cite evidence supporting the idea that thirteen thousand years is not an unrealistic time period. Immanuel Velikovsky, for example, wrote three books amassing evidence that worldwide catastrophic upheavals have occurred in recent history, and he argued against uniformitarianism, the idea that the natural processes in evidence now have always prevailed at the same approximate rate of uniformity. These books are Worlds in Collision, Ages in Chaos, and Earth in Upheaval. Two Latter-day Saint scientists, Melvin A. Cook and M. Garfield Cook, have also advocated this theory in their book Science and Mormonism. A short summary of the Cooks’ approach can be found in Paul Cracroft’s article “How Old Is the Earth?” ( Improvement Era, Oct. 1964, pp. 827–30, 852).
A third theory says that the word day refers to a period of an undetermined length of time, thus suggesting an era. The word is still used in that sense in such phrases as “in the day of the dinosaurs.” The Hebrew word for day used in the creation account can be translated as “day” in the literal sense, but it can also be used in the sense of an indeterminate length of time (see Genesis 40:4 , where day is translated as “a season”; Judges 11:4 , where a form of day is translated as “in the process of time”; see also Holladay, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, pp. 130–31). Abraham says that the Gods called the creation periods days (see Abraham 4:5, 8 ).
If this last meaning was the sense in which Moses used the word day, then the apparent conflict between the scriptures and much of the evidence seen by science as supporting a very old age for the earth is easily resolved. Each era or day of creation could have lasted for millions or even hundreds of millions of our years, and uniformitarianism could be accepted without any problem. (For an excellent discussion of this approach see Henry Eyring, “The Gospel and the Age of the Earth,” [ Improvement Era, July 1965, pp. 608–9, 626, 628]. Also, most college textbooks in the natural sciences discuss the traditional dating of the earth.)
While it is interesting to note these various theories, officially the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the earth. For reasons best known to Himself, the Lord has not yet seen fit to formally reveal the details of the Creation. Therefore, while Latter-day Saints are commanded to learn truth from many different fields of study (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:77–79 ), an attempt to establish any theory as the official position of the Church is not justifiable (Old Testament Institute Student Manual, Vol. 1, Chpt. 2).
After Their Own Kind
Genesis 1:11–12, 21, 24–25: The Lord says that plants and creatures reproduce “after their own kind.” Latter-day Saints do not believe that one species of plant or creature can evolve into another. Instead, it appears that species have been created and become extinct through the creation periods. This probably happened while the earth was being prepared for modern animal, plant, and human life. Species appear suddenly in the rock record, and then they disappear suddenly, with no evidences for transitional species. The species that existed on earth before modern animal and human life forms appeared all had a part in preparing the physical earth for modern life forms. Their existence (and even their extinction) provided rock forms, minerals, atmosphere, and nutrients that now provide a perfect environment for us and for modern animal life.
Men and women are created in the image of God. As explained in the Plan of Salvation, we were His spirit-children in the Pre-existence. In Moses 2:27 it says, “And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.” Mormons have a different view of Adam and Eve than that of most Christian faiths. Abraham had a vision of Pre-mortal life:
Now, the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born (Abraham 3:23, 24).
This is similar to Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
This process is called “foreordination,” wherein the choicest spirits in the Pre-existence are fore-ordained to govern God’s kingdom on earth. This in no way compromises man’s free agency, which the Lord always protects. It is not “pre-destination.” If a person foreordained to be a leader in God’s kingdom on earth fails to live up to his calling, the Lord raises up another to take his place. Adam and Eve were among Heavenly Father’s choicest spirits in pre-earth life. In fact, revelation has declared that Adam is the Archangel Michael whose forces of angels will finally defeat Satan.
Mormons do not see religious history as a gradual development of a one-God faith. Rather, Latter-day Saints know that Adam was a high-priest and a prophet who fully understood the Plan of Salvation. He and Eve made an eternal covenant with each other and are bound in a celestial or eternal marriage. Adam is called the “Ancient of Days,” not only because he was the first man, but because he holds the keys of all the gospel dispensations, which he will deliver to Christ when Christ comes to rule during the millennium.
“I am grateful that in the midst of the confusion of our Father’s children there has been given to the members of this great organization a sure knowledge of the origin of man, that we came from the spirit world where our spirits were begotten by our Father in heaven, that he formed our first parents from the dust of the earth, and that their spirits were placed in their bodies, and that man came, not as some have believed, not as some have preferred to believe, from some of the lower walks of life, but our ancestors were those beings who lived in the courts of heaven. We came not from some menial order of life, but our ancestor is God our heavenly Father” (George Albert Smith, in Conference Report, Oct. 1925, p. 33).
What Does Replenish Mean?
“It is true that the original meaning of the word replenish connotes something is being filled again that was once filled before: Re —again, plenus —full. Why the translators of the King James Version of the Bible used the word replenish may not be clearly known, but it is not the word used in other translations and is not the correct meaning of the Hebrew word from which the translation was originally taken. It is true that the Prophet Joseph Smith followed the King James Version in the use of this word, perhaps because it had obtained common usage among the English-speaking peoples. Replenish, however, is incorrectly used in the King James translation. The Hebrew verb is Moleh[pronounced Mah-lay] . . . meaning fill, to fill, or make full. This word Moleh is the same word which is translated fill in Genesis 1:22 , in the King James Bible, wherein reference is made to the fish, fowl, and beasts of the earth” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:208–9).
Some Interesting Quotes
“How much organic soup, the material some point to as the source of the first spark of life, would be needed for the chance production of a simple protein? Jacobson answers this question also: ‘Only the very simplest of these proteins (salmine) could possibly arise, even if the earth were blanketed with a thickness of half a mile of amino acids for a billion years! And by no stretch of the imagination does it seem as though the present environment could give even one molecule of amino acid, let alone be able to order by accident this molecule into a protoplasmic array of self-reproducing, metabolizing parts fitting into an organism.’ [Homer Jacobson, “Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life,” American Scientist, Jan. 1955, p. 125.]
“Another scientist, impressed with the odds against the chance formation of proteins, has expressed his opinion as follows: ‘The chance that these five elements [carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur] may come together to form the molecule, the quantity of matter that must be continually shaken up, and the length of time necessary to finish the task, can all be calculated. A Swiss mathematician, Charles Eugene Guye, has made the computation and finds that the odds against such an occurrence are 10 160 to 1, or only one chance in 10 160 ; that is, 10 multiplied by itself 160 times, a number far too large to be expressed in words. The amount of matter to be shaken together to produce a single molecule of protein would be millions of times greater than that in the whole universe. For it to occur on the earth alone would require many, almost endless billions (10 243 ) of years.’ [Frank Allen, “The Origin of the World—by Chance or Design?” in John Clover Monsma, ed., The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, p. 23.]” (Coffin, Creation, pp. [3–4].)
‘It is a feature of the known fossil record that most taxa appear abruptly. They are not, as a rule, led up to by a sequence of almost imperceptible changing forerunners such as Darwin believed should be usual in evolution.’ [ G. G. Simpson, The Evolution of Life, p. 149.]
“Thus we see that not only is the sudden appearance of complete and intricate animals a problem for evolution, but the absence of change from one major type into another is equally serious. Again we can say that this is no new problem. Soon after collectors started accumulating fossils, it became obvious that fossils belong in the same major categories as do modern animals and plants. A number of scientists have commented in recent years about the lack of change and the absence of connecting links for specific kinds of animals. . . .
“On a television panel celebrating the centennial of Charles Darwin’s book Origin of Species, Sir Julian Huxley began his comments by saying, ‘The first point to make about Darwin’s theory is that it is no longer a theory, but a fact. No serious scientist would deny the fact that evolution has occurred, just as he would not deny the fact that the earth goes around the sun.’ [Sol Tax and Charles Callender, eds., Issues in Evolution, p. 41.] This is a confusing statement that tells only part of the truth. First, the word evolution must be defined.
“The word itself merely means ‘change,’ and on the basis of this definition, evolution is a fact. However, most people understand evolution to mean progressive change in time from simplicity to complexity, from primitive to advanced. This definition of evolution is not based on fact. The study of inheritance has revealed principles and facts that can prove evolution— if we understand the word evolution to mean ‘change.’ But the obvious minor changes occurring to living things today give no basis for concluding that limitless change has happened in the past. . . .
“Yes, new species of plants and animals are forming today. The almost endless intergradations of animals and plants in the world, the fantastic degeneration among parasites, and the adaptations of offense and defense, lead to the inevitable conclusion that change has occurred. However, the problem of major changes from one fundamental kind to another is still a most pressing unanswered question facing the evolutionist. Modern animals and plants can change, but the amount of change is limited. The laboratories of science have been unable to demonstrate change from one major kind to another, neither has such change happened in the past history of the earth if we take the fossil record at face value.” (Coffin, Creation, pp. [13, 15].)
“Constant exposure to one theory of origins, and only one, has convinced many that no alternative exists and that evolution must be the full and complete answer. How unfortunate that most of the millions who pass through the educational process have little opportunity to weigh the evidences on both sides!
“Examinations of the fossils, stony records of the past, tell us that complicated living things suddenly (without warning, so to speak) began to exist on the earth. Furthermore, time has not modified them enough to change their basic relationships to each other. Modern living organisms tell us that change is a feature of life and time, but they also tell us that there are limits beyond which they do not pass naturally and beyond which man has been unable to force them. In consideration of past or present living things, man must never forget that he is dealing with life, a profoundly unique force which he has not been able to create and which he is trying desperately to understand.
“Here are the facts; here are the evidences; here, then, are the sound reasons for believing life originated through a creative act. It is time that each individual has the opportunity to know the facts and to make an intelligent choice.” (Coffin, Creation, p. .)
“Molecular biologists point out that there are complex microscopic structures basic to all living things that cannot exist in a partially developed way — there are no “intermediate forms” for these fundamental and interdependent parts which could function in any other way than in their complete and fully-designed form. In other words, they could not have “evolved” at all; they must have simply appeared on the scene, fully and completely functional” (Eric n. Skousen, Ph.D., Earth in the Beginning, p. 109).
“New varieties of life suddenly appear in the rock record with no ancestral precursors. Even the deepest fossiliferous rocks reveal fully developed life forms.” In many textbooks careful attention is given to the succession of fossil horses that appear to have gradually developed into the modern, single-toed horse. Concerning each of the so-called intermediate stages, Dr. Salisbury notes that ‘…each of the intermediates is completely distinct from others in the series and appears suddenly in the record. There is no way of knowing that one of the so-called fossil horses gave rise by an evolutionary process to any other in the sequence’ (Ibid., p. 110).
“Attempts to develop one species into another under carefully controlled laboratory conditions have succeeded about as well as the alchemist’s attempt to turn lead into gold….We are, therefore, a long, long way from being able to accept the glibly stated hypotheses which seem to be taken for granted that [simple life forms developed into complex life forms] (Armin J. Hill, Some Matters to Keep in Mind When Treating Science and Religion, p. 6).
“From all the evidence at hand, [the hominids that predated Adam and Eve] had little in common with the advanced intelligences that the Father had chosen as his own spirit offspring, meaning of course, Adam and Eve and their descendants. From the evidence associated with their remains, it is clear that these… creatures differed in appearance, mental capacity, and in other significant ways from the modern human race….There is no genealogy from hominids to humans, just as there is no “genealogy” of any life form” (Skousen, p. 156, 7).
Go to The Fall of Adam.