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Estimates of the age of the Earth:

Visualizing the difference
between and old and young Earth

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This is a brief note comparing the age of the earth as estimated by most scientists and by most new-Earth creationists.

Currently, there is a near consensus among earth scientists that the age of "Earth and [the rest of] our solar system is 4.54 billion years, plus or minus 0.02 billions years." 1 This estimate is based on the age of some ancient rocks found in Australia, and the age of meteorites found having landed on earth. Both have been measured using radiometric techniques. The age of moon rocks, and estimates of the lifetime cycle of stars supports this value.  Many old-Earth creationists accept this value. In accepting such an age for the Earth, most scientists reject most literal interpretations of the Book of Genesis in the Bible -- those which assume that the Hebrew word "yom" (day) as found in the early chapters of Genesis refers to a 24-hour day.

Some new earth creationists estimate the Earth's age at 6,009 years. This is based on the calculations performed by John Lightfoot and Bishop Ussher in the 17th century CE. They concluded that the earth was created on 4004-OCT-23 - some 6,009 years ago. However, those estimates were imprecise. They are based on the age of fathers in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) at the time of the birth of their sons. In some cases, the Bible ignores entire generations of families, thus introducing the potential for a considerable error into the calculations.  This indeterminacy has persuaded most new-earth creationists to accept a range of 6,009 to 10,000 years for the Earth's age.

The difference between either 6,009 or 10 thousand and 4.5 billion years is enormous. The ratio of 6,009 years to 4.54 billion years is about 755,500 to 1. Even the using the longer 10,000 year estimate, the ratio is 454,000 to 1. This is an enormous difference. 

Perhaps it could be more easily visualized by comparing to commonly seen items: paper and a football field

bulletA ream of 500 sheets of 20 pound copy paper is about 1.97 inches thick. Thus a single sheet is about 3.94 thousandths of an inch thick.
bulletAn American football field is 100 yards long, not including the end zones.

The ratio of 6,009 years to 4.54 billion is equivalent to the thickness of one sheet of paper to 82.7 yards: e.g. from a set of goal posts to the 50 yard line and continuing to about eight feet past the 20 yard line.

The ratio of 10,000 years to 4.54 billion is equivalent to the thickness of one sheet of paper to about 49.7 yards: e.g. from a set of goal posts to about a foot short of the 50 yard line.

If the only alternatives were the range of earth ages proposed by young-Earth creationists, and the much larger figure proposed by most scientists, one would think that a test could be devised which would convince both sides which of the two estimates is closer to reality. However, centuries of debate, disagreement, conflict, and a tiny bit of dialogue, have shown that this is naive. This is because the two sides have different standards for truth:

bulletYoung-earth creationists are generally religious conservatives who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. They believe that the Hebrew word "yom" means a 24 hour day. Thus, they believe that God created the world and the rest of the universe  within a six-day or 144 hour interval. Since they believe that the Bible is without error, if scientific findings and the Bible conflict, scientific findings must be in simpoly wrong. Many believe that scientists will eventually find the error in their calculations and correct them to bring their date in synchronism with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
bulletScientists use the scientific method to uncover truth. This means that they assume that things happen as a result of natural processes. They assume that God does not normally intrude into the universe and over-ride the laws by which the universe operates; that is, if God exists then he/she/it does not normally create miracles. Scientists base their calculations of the earth's age on observations and measurements, and conclude that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. They accept the possibility that some future discovery may upset this estimate. All findings in science are tentative, and can be found false if new information is uncovered. Many scientists believe that the creation passages in the Bible were written by individuals who lived in a pre-scientific age, who simply copied earlier creation myths from Middle Eastern Pagan cultures into the Bible.

There appears to be no possibility of resolving these differences of belief in the foreseeable future, unless one side changes their fundamental criteria of truth.

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  1. "Evolutionary age of the Earth: 4.54 billion years," ChristianAnswers.net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net/

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-APR-24
Latest update: 2004-MAY-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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