Diversity of beliefs about the age of the Earth...
By old-Earth creationists, young-
Earth creationists, and scientists
There is a great diversity of belief concerning the age of the Earth and the rest of the universe:
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.
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.
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
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." 2More 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:
The measured age of the oldest rocks on
earth -- small crystals of zircon found in the Jack Hills of Western
The 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:
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
Author 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."
John 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."
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.
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.
Work 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
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.
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.
Ussher 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:
The 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.
Some 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."
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.
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: