Young earth creationism and really old living things
When I grew up in a conservative evangelical (Pentecostal) church young earth creationism was the only game in town. With a blush I remember arguing the view to incredulous friends in high school and handing off a copy of It’s a Young World After All to my polite science teacher.
In the early 1990s I shook off the young earth view in university. There were two primary factors in my deconversion: first, coming to understand how to read ancient near eastern cosmogonic creation narratives (or at least how not to read them); second, coming to terms with the historical origins of modern young earth creationism (Ronald Numbers’ The Creationists and Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind were especially helpful). My further steps toward an evolutionary model of human origins were facilitated by a course I took at Regent College with Mark Noll and David Livingstone on Christianity and science. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
My simple observation here is to point to the growing number of living organisms that we know are older than the 6-10,000 years, the typical span that young earth creationists allot for earth history. For many years I believed the oldest living organisms on earth were bristlecone pine trees. How wrong I was. A TED talk that I viewed recently by Rachel Sussman blew that wide open. She chronicles ancient living things, her benchmark being 2000 years old or older (in case you didn’t know, that is even older than Henny Youngman’s comedy one-liners). Included in her list are 80,000 year old trees and 600,000 year old bacteria. You can check out the video below. I also recommend this article on “The Oldest Trees on the Planet.”
Personally, I’m glad I can take this all in with unalloyed fascination rather than the skepticism, fear and cognitive dissonance that would have been my lot twenty-five years ago.