One of the strongest arguments against an Old Earth is Evolution. The argument is that death did not exist until Adam and Eve sinned, and Evolution requires death. Various scriptures are quoted as proof (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, Romans 5:12). The Old Earth Creationist is then lovingly warned that by ignoring the plain meaning of scripture, they are corrupting the Word of God, potentially missing the point of Christ's sacrifice. These are powerful arguments that deserve a loving, yet serious response.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and Romans 5:12 are two verses that link death to sin. A closer reading however reveals there to be three kinds of death in scripture. They are separation from God, physical death, and condemnation to Hell.
The other ingredient of the Death/Sin relationship is sin. However, there are sins of comission and sins of submission. Sins of comission active disobedience against God; sins of submission are from exposure to conditions from which God requires purification. This includes uncleanliness from dead bodies and blood.
Separation from God
Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world through sin. However, this death runs counter to our reconciliation in Christ. The opposite of reconiliation is separation -- in this case, separation from God.
Just as death implies previous life, separation from God implies previous connection. Appropriately, Adam was mankind’s first connection to God, and the source of mankind’s separation.
One might observe that if people lived before Adam, then they were separate from God, too. However, there is being separate, and then there is being separated, as in previously together. Before Adam, mankind was separate from God. Adam then became mankind’s connection to God, until he sinned and became mankind’s separation from God.
“Separation from God” is the death that Adam was warned of in Genesis 3:6-7. You can tell because it sounded like Adam would “die” immediately if he sinned. In fact, he was separated from God immediately, as evidenced by his self-conciousness of his nudity, and God’s insistence that Adam could no longer eat from the Tree of Life.
“Separation from God” is the death that Paul writes of in Romans 5:12. You can tell, because he starts the chapter with a discussion of reconciliation (or reconnection), then contrasts it with our death in Adam. The verse could have been written like this... (emphasis added)…
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man,
and separation from God through sin,
and in this way separation from God came to all people,
because all sinned (i.e., were born unto Adam). - NIV
Adam and Eve physically died because they sinned. However, it was not a punishment; their punishment was pain and turmoil. Nor was it the fulfillment of God's warning of death, because God was warning of separation from Him. Simply, Adam and Eve died because God didn’t want them living a life of pain and turmoil forever. So, yes, their death was a logical outcome of their sin. However, look at the result: one day they will resurrect to be with God forever. This was no punishment.
Even Eve made the same mistake that many modern Christians make. When Satan asked why she couldn’t eat of the tree, she said it was because she would die, and she meant physically. Satan corrected her — kind of — saying she was not going to die, but would become like God, knowing good and evil. While his answer was absolutely true, he left out that the death God warned of was not physical. Eve would be separated from God, that knowledge would be horrible, and Satan knew it.
You can know that physical death is not the death that entered the world through Adam because you haven’t physically died, and yet you are reconciled through Christ today. How is that? How can you be be reconciled to a death that has not occurred? The typical answer is that you were born into death. However, most mean that one day you will physically die. But consider this: those saved by Jesus will still physically die. Therefore, this must be a different kind of death. It is in fact separation from God, as we saw above. We are born into it, and Jesus saves us from it.
Consider that physical death will happen one day, but it will have no sting. Paul made this point in 1 Corinthians 15, when he triumphantly wrote, “Death, where is your sting?” The sting of physical death is sin, but your reconiliation with God takes that sting away without taking away physical death. To take this a step further, notice the order of Paul's words: The sting of death is sin. If death came from sin, then the sting of sin would be death, the reverse of what Paul wrote.
You can tell this is the correct perspective because of the place Paul gives physical death in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22…
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
When read in context, Paul is talking of resurrection, where “all” means “all” who have ever physically died, saved and unsaved. All who have physically died will be made physically alive for judgement. Similar to how we spiritually die in Adam, we will be physically resurrected in Christ. Some will be resurrected to redemption, some to condemnation (Daniel 12:2). (NOTE: Technically, for those who study such details, we are resurrected to the second heaven, where Earth is the first heaven, and "Heaven" is the third heaven. In that case, one might argue that only the first heaven is actually physical. Please show some allowance, as I loosely apply the word "physically" to all three heavens.)
Codemnation in Hell
Condemnation in Hell is like an eternal death. However, it is not eternal physical death. As we saw above, even the condemned will have been resurrected. No, this death is an eternal separation from God. It is eternal spiritual death.
Condemnation does not come until you are judged after resurrection. Until then, the condemned live in separation from God here on Earth. Then later, they die physically, get resurrected, and are separated from God eternally in Hell. Those who are reconciled with God while on Earth will also die physically and be resurrected. However, they will live with God eternally in Heaven.
Original Sin in the Bible has never been about physical death, or else Christ would have come to prevent it, and various fringe sects that believe in eternal life on Earth would have it right. But no, Original Sin is about our separation from God. It is a separation that did not exist until Adam, and one that every person since Adam has been born into. In Genesis 3, Adam named his wife Eve because she would become the mother of mankind… she didn’t start out that way, because no one was connected with God until Adam, and no one was separated from God until sin. Having been the first to sin, Eve became the mother of mankind, their mother in sin. Very fitting.
Knowing that Original Sin is about our separation from God, and not about our physical death, it means that people could have been alive before Adam. It means God just might have created the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, and that when science provides evidence that mankind evolved 200,000 years ago, it just might be true. Phsyical death, being a product of life itself, is no longer an argument against Evolution, because it never was the outcome of Original Sin, and never was the death Christ delivers us from. That said, this understanding of sin and death is not an argument for an old earth per se. What this does do is allow reasonable Christians to discuss the issue and weigh the evidence without fear of condemnation by God or each other, and without fear of distorting the scripture on either side.