When I first came to personal faith, I was fully confident that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead in order to provide forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But there were other things that I was not so sure about. I particularly hated reading the first chapters of Genesis. I was a university student at the time and everything I was taught pointed to an Earth that was millions of years old. Yet I was being told to read Genesis 1 literally and accept that the Earth was only 6000 years old (plus a few thousand if people were generous). How was I to fit this, not just with the geological record but the archaeological record of civilizations far older than the supposed 6000 year-old planet?
To be honest, I just read the chapter and prayed to God, admitting the confusion that I felt. I did not know what else to do. My church at the time taught me that Christians had to believe in the young Earth. There were no other options.
I later discovered that there are options. Despite what some people say, you can still be a Christian and have different views of the age of the Earth and the means of creation. Here are some of the options:
Young Earth Creationism
This is where I began and I have many friend who believe this. It basically claims that Genesis 1 and the biblical genealogies give us what we need. Adding up the genealogies gives Earth (and the universe) an age of about 6000-10000 years. Creation took place just as Genesis 1 describes, with each day being a literal twenty-four hour period. Many of the geological features that seem to point to an older Earth were actually formed by a worldwide flood. Answers in Genesis is a good place to find out more about this option.
Old Earth Creationism
This option accepts the findings of geologists and astronomers when it comes to the age of the Earth and the universe. They see Genesis 1 as explaining creation in a rather poetic way. The purpose of the creation story is not to explain how and when things were created but to focus on God as the Creator and to see the design in what God made. Some see the days of Genesis 1 as being six periods of time, far longer than a literal day. In this view, God created Adam and Eve long after the Earth with all its plants and animals had been created. Reasons to Believe is a good place to find out more about Old Earth Creationism.
This option has much in common with OEC when it comes to the age of the universe and the Earth. The difference is that OEC sees God creating animals, including humans, in a form that only allows for micro evolution. Cats have always been cats, dogs have always been dogs and humans have always been humans. Theistic Evolution accepts Darwin’s basic theory of evolution. Life would have began with simple one celled lifeforms. By the process of evolution, these developed into all the life forms that we see today, including humans. The difference from naturalistic evolution is that Theistic Evolutionists see God as guiding the process of evolution for his own purposes. BioLogos is a good place to find out more about Theistic Evolution.
Intelligent Design is not really an alternative to the previous three. It really overlaps with all three. Intelligent Design starts with the scientific evidence that there seems to be design in all lifeforms. It does not seek to promote a theological agenda. One could see evidence for design without believing in God. Some educators see ID as a thinly disguised YEC and do not want it taught in schools. Many believers in ID fall into the OEC camp. While there is potential for agreement between ID and TE, there is often tension as ID is usually critical of evolution. You can find out more about Intelligent Design at the Discovery Institute.
I share these things, not just for information sake, but as a plea for understanding. There have been heated arguments between the groups. Consider focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides.