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Diversity of beliefs about the age of the Earth...

By old-Earth creationists, young-
Earth creationists, and scientists


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Overview:

There is a great diversity of belief concerning the age of the Earth and the rest of the universe:

bullet Most current estimates based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and in particular the belief that the Hebrew word "yom" in Genesis refers to a 24 hour day, cluster around 6,000 years ± 2,000 years for both the age of the Earth and of the rest of the universe. These estimates are promoted by young-Earth creationists, and by the vast majority of Christian para-church organizations that specialize in origins. However, in 1738, De Vignoles stated that he had found no fewer than 200 estimates of the date of creation, all based upon various diverse interpretations of the Bible.

bullet Belief in a "young Earth" continued among scientists, until the early 18th century, when it became obvious to most researchers that geological processes were exceedingly slow, and must have been accomplished over incredibly long periods of time. A 6,000 year old earth simply was not possible. A hundred years later, investigators studying Egyptian found that "...civilization of Egypt began earlier than the time assigned for the creation of man." 1 Once released from the time constraints imposed by the young Earth concept, progress in geology and other earth scientists advanced by leaps and bounds.

bullet Most conservative groups within Christianity still follow the estimate of Dr. John Lightfoot, a 17th century Anglican clergyman. He estimated that creation occurred during 4004 BCE. Bishop James Ussher in the 17th century made the same estimate a decade later, and ended up with almost all the credit.

bullet Most estimates of the Earth's age, based on actual measurements and calculations, are clustered around 4.5 billion years. Scientists further believe that the earth's crust solidified about 3.9 billion years ago. Parts of the universe itself are much older, dating back to the big bang, some 14 billion years ago. Such estimates are accepted by most old Earth creationists, by essentially all geologists, biologists and other earth and life scientists, and by a small number of conservative Protestant para-church groups, like "Reasons to Believe." 2 More details.

Conflict between theology and science, and why it is critical:

Back in 1991, scientists made many rough estimates of the age of the universe, ranging from 7 to 20 billion years. These were based on the crude models then available to scientists. Since then, estimates have been refined; almost all have grouped around 14 billion years.

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." 3 This estimate is based on:

bulletThe measured age of the oldest rocks on earth -- small crystals of zircon found in the Jack Hills of Western Australia.

bulletThe measured age of meteorites which have landed on earth.

Both values are in conflict with interpretations of the biblical accounts of creation by "young earth" creationists. The difference is factor of about half a million times. As author Henry Morris wrote:

"...the Biblical chronology is about a million times shorter than the evolutionary chronology. A million-fold mistake is no small matter, and Biblical scholars surely need to give primary attention to resolving this tremendous discrepancy right at the very foundation of our entire Biblical cosmology. This is not a peripheral issue that can be dismissed with some exegetical twist, but is central to the very integrity of scriptural theology." 4

Many conservative Protestants are keen to prove that the earth is young -- under 10 millennia old:

bullet The web site ChristianAnswers.net states: "If Evolution by natural processes from 'amoeba' to man is possible, as Evolutionists maintain, it would undoubtedly require billions of years to accomplish. A younger universe would make Evolution impossible." 3,5

bulletAuthor R.L. Wysong wrote: "Both evolutionists and creationists believe evolution is an impossibility if the universe is only a few thousand years old. There probably is no statement that could be made on the topic of origins which would meet with so much agreement from both sides. Setting aside the question of whether vast time is competent to propel evolution, we must query if vast time is indeed available." 5,6

bulletJohn Morris wrote: "The real key, however, for resolving the creation/evolution controversy is in a study of the age of the earth. Evolution demands long periods of time, but if the earth is much younger, as the Bible teaches, then evolution is even more foolish." 7

Gallup released a survey in 2012-JUN showing that 46% of American adults believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10 millennia ago. This value has remained almost constant for the past three decades, since Gallup originally started asking the question. 10

Basis for dating the creation of Adam and Eve from the biblical text:

The two creation stories in the Bible start at Genesis 1:1. They are undated by the author(s). To compute a probable date of creation from the biblical record, it is necessary to work backwards from a date that is known from the historical record.

The earliest event in the Bible that can be dated with reasonable certainty is the beginning of Saul's reign as the first king of Israel. It is generally believed to have occurred about 1020 BCE, at a time when Egypt and Assyria were weakened and the Israelites were able to assert domination over their own territory. Many theologians have attempted to compute the date of creation by working back from this or a similar known date, through the various time intervals mentioned in the Bible. For example:

bullet Most contemporary historians establish a base date of Saul's accession to the throne of Israel to have happened in 1020 BCE. However, Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irish archbishop from Armagh, Ireland, estimated this date as 1095 BCE in his work: Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti.

bulletWork backwards through the Book of Judges. Ussher computed 330 years for the duration of the rule of Judges. He based this on the intervals specified in the Hebrew Scriptures. Modern theologians believe that the "Judges" did not rule over all of Israel in a regular sequence. Instead, each Judge controlled separate tribe(s), so that their interval of rule overlapped. A modern estimate for the duration of time covered by the Book of Judges is perhaps 180 years.

bullet If Joshua's conquest of Canaan happened, it would have occurred circa in the 13th century BCE which was a time when Egypt's influence over the area was at a low ebb. Bishop Ussher estimated that it began in 1451 BCE; that is unlikely because Egyptian power was at its peak at that time and completely dominated Canaan. In reality, if it did happen, it probably occurred in about 1237 BCE under Pharaoh Rameses II, a time when Egypt was in a steady decline.

bullet Ussher dated the arrival of Abraham in Canaan to 2126 BCE and the Noachian flood at 2349 BCE. The latter is unlikely, because historical records in both China and Egypt continued without disruption through that date, and contain no record of a massive world-wide flood that would have wiped out their civilizations.

bulletUssher was able to use the ages of famous pre-flood personages in the Bible to estimate the number of years between creation and the flood. In 1650 CE, he published his book "Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti" ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world.") He calculated that God had created the Earth in 4004 BCE. A decade earlier, Dr. John Lightfoot, (1602 - 1675), an Anglican clergyman, rabbinical scholar, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge had already arrived at an estimate of 4004-OCT-23 BCE, at 9 AM. (We assume that this was either Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Jerusalem time). Unfortunately, Ussher gets most of the credit; Lightfoot's contribution is rarely cited.

This would make the time interval between the creation of the world and a common estimate of the birth of Christ (4 to 7 BCE) to be close to 4000 years. Some people believe that Ussher fudged the data to make it come out this neatly. This date found general acceptance among many Christians; "...his dates were inserted in the margins of the authorized version of the English Bible and were soon practically regarded as equally inspired with the sacred text itself..." 1

There are two inherent and unavoidable sources of error that are often overlooked in these calculations:

bulletThe calculation must rely on numerous passages which state that a person was born when his father was of a certain age. But if a 30 year-old man has a son, the birth might have occurred at any time between the father's 30th birthday, and one day before his 31st birthday. Thus, on average, an error of six months is introduced with each father-son passage.

bulletSome theologians have pointed out that there may be missing generations in Bible chronologies. The entire family tree may not be fully listed. Some "sons" are actually grandsons. "In Exodus 6:16-20, we find only four generations listed between Levi and Moses. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: 'It seems quite clear that some generations were omitted in the compilation' (rev. ed., s.v. 'Genealogy'). In Matthew 1:1-17, the Gospel writer deliberately omits three kings to illustrate the theological point he is making, a point that depends upon a generational pattern." 8

Computing the age of the earth and universe from the creation date of Adam & Eve:

There is a further complexity introduced by the creation story in Genesis itself. Even if one were to accept the biblical genealogies as truth, this only traces the creation of Adam back to perhaps sometime between 8000 to 4000 BCE. But the time interval from the creation of the universe to the creation of Adam is a matter of intense debate among bible-believing creationists. That is because of the ambiguity associated with the Hebrew word "yom" which appears frequently in the Genesis creation stories. It is translated as "day" in all of the English versions of the Bible of which we are aware. However, it can also mean an indeterminate interval of time.

Most young earth creationists believe that "yom" means a day of 24 hours. This puts the date of creation of the universe according to a literal interpretation of the Bible at 4000 to 8000 BCE. However, old earth creationists suggest that each of the six "days" of creation might have taken many hundreds of millions of years. Further, there might have been one or more long intervals of time between some of the "days."

2012-NOV-27: Leading evangelical abandons belief in a 6,000 year old earth:

Pat Robertson heads CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and is regularly seen on the 700 Club TV program. He responded to a request received from a conservative Christian mother who was worried that her husband and three teenage boys are questioning the Bible. "Michelle" wrote:

"This scares me! They tell me that if the Bible is truth then I should be able to reasonably explain the existence of dinosaurs. This is just one of many things they question. ... I am so afraid that they are walking away from God. My greatest fear is not to have my children and husband next to me in God's Kingdom."

Pat Robertson responded by saying that Bishop Ussher, who estimated creation to have happened on 4004 BCE, was not inspired by God. Robertson mentioned that radiocarbon dating, the existence of dinosaur fossils proves that the Earth is much older. He said to Michelle:

"If you fight with real science, you are going to lose your children. I believe in telling them the way it was."

Right Wing Watch, a project of the liberal group People for the American Way posted the following clip from CBN:

9

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. A.D. White, "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom," Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, (reprinted 1993), Volume I, Pages 249 to 265.
  2. Reason to Believe's web site is at: http://www.reasons.org/
  3. "Evolutionary age of the Earth: 4.54 billion years," ChristianAnswers.net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net/
  4. Henry Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Baker, (1984), Page 115. Quoted in Ref. 3.
  5. Bert Thompson, "The Bible and the age of the Earth, Part 1," Reason & Revelation, 1999-AUG, Vol. 19, #8, Pages 57-63. Online at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/
  6. R.L. Wysong, "The Creation-Evolution Controversy," (1976), Inquiry Press, Page 144. Quoted in Ref. 5.
  7. "John Morris, geological engineering," Answers in Genesis, at: http://www.answersingenesis.org/
  8. "Does Genesis tell us how old the world is?," Plain Truth Ministries, at: http://www.ptm.org/
  9. "Even Pat Robertson denies the earth is 6.000 years old," You Tube, posted 2012-NOV-28, at: http://www.youtube.com
  10. Dan Mercia, "Pat Robertson challenges creationism," CNN religion blogs, 2012-NOV-29, at: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/

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Copyright 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-NOV-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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