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Diversity of beliefs about the age of the Earth:

By old-Earth creationists, young-
Earth creationists, scientists,
& politicians -- mostly Christians.


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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 that are based on a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis in the Bible assume that the belief that the Hebrew word "yom" in Genesis' creation story refers to a 24 hour day. The estimates are typically 6,000 years ~+mn~ 2,000 years for both the age of the Earth and of the rest of the universe. These estimates are promoted by some young-Earth creationists and by Christian para-church organizations that specialize in origins. However, in 1738 CE, 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

Beliefs in such a "young Earth" were accepted by 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 belief grew that a 6,000-year-old earth simply was not possible. A hundred years later, investigators studying ancient Egyptian history found that the:

"...civilization of Egypt began earlier than the time assigned [in the Bible] 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

Many conservative groups within Christianity still follow the estimate of made in the year 1650 by Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He based his estimate on an assumed date of an event in ancient Hebrew history that he believed was accurate. Then he worked backwards through various "begat" statements in the Hebrew Scriptures to find his estimate of the date of creation: 4004-OCT-23 BCE, at "the start of the evening" -- some 6,022 years ago. 12 (We assume that this was either based on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or, more probably, Jerusalem time).

However Dr. John Lightfoot, a 17th century Anglican clergyman, rabbinical scholar, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge published his estimate about seven years earlier than Ussher. He used the same calculation and arrived at a slightly different estimate: near the time of Autumnal Equinox in late September 3929 BCE, -- some 5,947 years ago.

Lightfoot's earlier estimate has been largely forgotten, and Ussher received all the credit.


bullet Scientific estimates of the Earth's age are based on actual measurements and calculations. They are clustered around 4.5 billion years before the present time. 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 13.7 billion years ago. Such estimates are accepted by most old Earth creationists, by essentially all geologists, biologists and other earth and life scientists, by most religious liberals, moderates, secular Humanists, Unitarian Universalists, by small number of conservative Protestant para-church groups, like "Reasons to Believe,"2 etc. 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:

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

bullet 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 by more than 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

bullet 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." 5,6

bullet 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." 7

Gallup released a survey in 2012-JUN showing that 46% of American adults believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." That value had remained almost constant for the previous three decades, since Gallup originally started asking the question. 10

A similar survey in the year 2014 showed that such belief dropped to 42%. 13 Also, results showed that:

  • 31% said humans evolved with God guiding, and

  • 19% said God had no part in the process.

George Dvorsky, writing for Gizmodo, said:

"That means 73% of Americans don't understand Darwinian natural selection — a stand-alone process that does not require supernatural intervention." 13

He contrasted these data with findings in Canada where only 22% believe in literal creationism and in Norway where only 8% believe.

In 2017, Art Swift at Gallup published an article with the title: "In U.S., Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low:" Only 38% of U.S. adults "hold creationist views of human origins." 13 That is a drop of 16 percentage points a decade!

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.

bullet 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 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.

bullet 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:

bullet 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.

bullet

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." 8

Many conservative Christians who believe in Young Earth Creationism estimate that creation ocurred at some time up to 10,000 years ago.

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 10000 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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2018: Recent beliefs of some Republican politicians:

Kurt Andersen, in a video by Big Think Science, discussed the beliefs concerning origins by Republican candidates for the Presidency. He said:

  • "In 2008, 2/3 to 3/4 of candidates said that they believed in evolution.

  • In 2012, this fraction had dropped to one in three candidates.

  • In 2016, of the 17 candidates who ran for the Presidency, only one -- Jeb Bush -- believed in Darwinian evolution. And he qualified his statement by saying that he was not sure that it should be taught in public schools. If it is taught, then it should be [taught] in parallel with creationism."

Andersen said that he did not actually believe what the candidates in 2016 said. However they:

"... were all obliged to say 'yes' to falsehood and magical thinking of this religious kind. ... Christian Protestant religion [recently] became more extreme; became more magical and supernatural in its beliefs and practices in America then it had been in hundreds of years and more so that it is [now] elsewhere in the developed world." 11

Related essays:

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/
  11. Kurt Andersen, "How Religion Turned American Politics against Science," Big Think Science, 2018-FEB, at:https://www.facebook.com/
  12. "Ussher chronology," Wikipedia, as on 2018-OCT-06, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  13. George Dvorsky, "42% Of Americans Believe God Created Humans 10,000 Years Ago, Gizmodo, 2014-JUN-04, at: https://io9.gizmodo.com/

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Copyright 1997 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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