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Dec 02 2009

The age of the Earth-2: The Earth gets its first birth day

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

For previous posts in this series, see here.

For a long time, people were comfortable with the idea that the Earth and the universe might have been in existence for an infinite time and is undergoing repeated cycles of creation and destruction.

Things changed with the arrival of Christianity. That particular religion could not tolerate the idea of the universe occurring in cycles because that would mean that Jesus was dying over and over again for our sins, which seemed preposterous. (The discovery of sentient life on other planets is going to create problems for fundamentalist Christians as it is not clear how they would fit into the whole ‘original sin and Jesus sacrifice’ model.) So there had to be a chronology with a definite beginning and this acted as a spur to make calculations to fix the date of creation. Theophilus of Antioch (~115-183 CE), a convert to Christianity, provided an early estimate that the Earth had existed for 5,698 years until his time (Jackson, p. 13) and Julius Africanus (~200 CE) gave the creation date as 5500 BCE (Burchfield, p. 4).

These Christians based their calculations using an interpretation of the Bible (found in Psalms 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8) that held that the Genesis story of six ‘days’ of creation was a metaphor, where each ‘day’ represented 1,000 years. The total of six days of creation was interpreted as meaning that the universe would last a total of 6,000 years. The appearance of man on the sixth day of the Genesis story represented the arrival of Jesus sometime in the last 1000 years. These calculations, based as they were on metaphorical readings of the text, lacked a certain rigor.

It took until the 1600s for the age of the Earth to become really quantified, with scholars getting down to the nitty-gritty of calculating an actual age, with the Bible again being the main source of data, and the results obtained strongly influenced thinking in the Western world. I have written before of Bishop Ussher’s (1580-1656) calculation of October 22, 4004 BCE as the day of creation (see part 1 and part 2 ) but his was just one, and not even the first, of many precise calculations around that time that used various versions of the Bible and thus arrived at slightly different values that rarely differed by more than a thousand years.

Why there was such an explosion of so many calculations done in the early 1600s is a bit of a mystery. One suggestion is that people began to realize that if the Earth was only going to last exactly 6,000 years total, then the end of the world was quite near and hence calculating the exact age of the Earth was of practical importance. After all, if you knew for sure that the world would end in a specified year with the return of Jesus, then you could make appropriate plans, or so at least religious people think though I am at a loss as to what one might do. One finds the same kind of obsession amongst present day Rapturists. They work feverishly to look for signs of the end times because they think it is very near. People seem to be strangely drawn to the idea of an imminent apocalypse, as can be seen in the commercial success of films based on that theme.

The first Bible that had carried a chronological marginal creation date was published in 1679 but it was the insertion of the creation date of 4004 BCE and the dates of other significant biblical events next to the relevant sections of Genesis in the annotated versions of the authoritative King James Bibles in 1701 that cemented that date in the public consciousness. These marginal dates continued to be printed until the late 20th century. Ussher was not cited as the source of the dates and may not even have been the source since there were other chronologies, such as that of William Lloyd (1627-1717) who became the Bishop of Worcester in 1699, that also arrived at the date of creation as 4004 BCE. Since the latter was considered the foremost chronologer of his time, he may well have been the source of the date with which Ussher is now indelibly linked, although it is also possible that his calculations were strongly influenced by Ussher’s earlier work (Jackson, p. 30).

Whatever the original source of the date, the blame for leading present day fundamentalist Christians into an anti-science cul-de-sac from which they have never emerged surely must lie at the feet of John Fell (1625-1686), Bishop of Oxford and Dean of Christ Church College and the person who for some time controlled the operations of the Oxford University Press. It was he who in 1672 proposed putting the creation date in the King James Bible. If not for that, it is possible that the idea of a 6,000 year-old Earth may have remained a speculation, one among many, that could be interpreted away as science advanced, as has happened to so many other beliefs. But putting it in the hugely influential King James Bible raised it to the level of an infallible truth for many Christians because of their belief that if something is in the Bible, it must be literally true.

Western scientists at that time (or natural philosophers as they were then known) were mostly Christians and while they may not have been as convinced about the ideas of end of the world and Jesus coming again, they saw no reason to challenge the Bible-based calculations as to the date of creation. They took their cue from these biblical calculations and saw their purpose as trying to explain how life could have appeared and how geological forces could produce the features of the Earth, such as mountains and ravines, within that short time. This naturally led to biological theories of special creation and geological theories of catastrophism, a model in which sudden and violent upheavals produced major geological changes.

While some Christians then (and young Earth creationists now) may have seen Noah’s flood as the single major catastrophe that produced all the main features, other less Biblically-literal minded scientists such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) were willing to consider multiple catastrophes, with fire and water as the agents of these major changes, while still sticking with the biblical chronology (Burchfield, p. 5).

But with the Enlightenment, the desire for conformity with biblical estimates weakened, and people started devising theories of the formation of the Earth and the universe and doing calculations that were not explicitly linked to Biblical stories. These developments will be examined in the next post in the series.

(Main sources for this series of posts are The Chronologers’ Quest: The Search for the Age of the Earth (2006) by Patrick Wyse Jackson and Lord Kelvin and the age of the Earth by Joe D. Burchfield (1975).)

POST SCRIPT: Book signing and reception

Tomorrow (Thursday, December 3, 2009) there will be a short talk by me on my latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom, followed by a book signing and reception. All are welcome.

Where: Flora Stone Mather room at the Kelvin Smith Library, Case Western Reserve University
Time: 3:00-4:00 pm

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Beth

    Mano,
    Yes, that is a good one. I did think yolk – but that isn’t the reason behind asking the questions. It is to show that you are fallible, Mano. You can make a mistake. You are making a gigantic mistake with your eternal destiny.
    When you ask me knowing how easily the mind can be tricked and how our perception can be so un-reliable, do you think it is remotely possible that when you think that I could be not hearing from God, but something conjured up by my own thoughts … my answer would be they are not my own thoughts. I know God – I don’t ‘believe’ in Him. Back to your mother, did you think it was your own thoughts or were you recalling what your mother said to you? When she was alive, did you think it was thoughts in your head or did you, in fact, hear her speaking to you? No, you recognized her voice. I recognize God. You won’t understand it until you are born again. It is possible that God is calling you to Him. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near” (Is 55:6).
    Your statement that science is not in the Bible is incorrect. You said you read the Bible. You must have skipped over quite a bit. The One that created science (which means knowledge) wrote that the earth is a sphere (Is 40:22), the earth free floats in space (Job 26:7), creation is made of invisible elements (Heb 11:3), light moves (Job 38:19, 20), air has weight (Job 28:25), winds blow in cyclones (Ecc 1:6), blood is the source of life and health (Lev 17:11), there are an incalculable number of stars (Jer 33:22), each star is different (1Cor 15:41), and much more. The only reason that mankind is able to discover any knowledge is because God has given them a brain, eyes that can see, etc. You have nothing that hasn’t been given to you by God – nothing.
    As far Jesus healing the one leper (Matthew 8, Mark 1) is not the only story of Him healing leprosy. He healed ten lepers in Luke 17, but only one came back to thank Him. If you read the story, He sent them on their way to the priests in order to do the ceremonial cleansing first and THEN they were healed on their way. That is how God works many times, you step out in faith and then He answers your prayer. It was that was with Naaman in the OT, too. He had to go to the river in order for the leprosy to be taken away. It was step of faith.
    To be honest, your questions are like many others I have spoken with that call themselves ‘atheists’ but I don’t in atheists – neither does God. I don’t have that much faith.
    You see you can’t prove there is no God – you just have ‘faith’ that there is no God – actually I think you are hoping that there is no God. Then you can continue in your sin without consequence. I have to tell you the truth – someone is going to pay for your sins – either you or the One God has allowed to pay for your sins – if you repent (turn from yours sins) and put your faith in His goodness and not your own.
    As far as what the Bible says about Hell, I will refer to what is in the Evidence Bible:
    There are three words translated “hell” in Scripture:
    Gehenna (Greek): The place of punishment (Matthew 5:22, 29; 10:28; James 3:6)
    Hades (Greek): The abode of the dead (Matthew 11:23; 16:18, Luke 16:23; and Acts 2:27)
    Sheol (Hebrew): The grave (Psalm 9:17; 16:10)
    There are those who accept that hell is a place of punishment, but believe that the punishment is to be annihilated—to cease conscious existence. They can’t conceive that the punishment of the wicked will be conscious and eternal. If they are correct, then a man like Adolph Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of millions, is being “punished” merely with eternal sleep. His fate is simply to return to the non-existent state he was in before he was born, where he doesn’t even know that he is being punished.
    However, Scripture paints a different story. The rich man who found himself in hell (Luke 16:19–31) was conscious. He was able to feel pain, to thirst, and to experience remorse. He wasn’t asleep in the grave; he was in a place of “torment.” If hell is a place of knowing nothing or a reference to the grave into which we go at death, Jesus’ statements about hell make no sense. He said that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, it would be better to remove it than to “go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43–48).
    The Bible refers to the fate of the unsaved with such fearful words as the following:
    • “Shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)
    • “Everlasting punishment” (Mathew 25:46)
    • “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51)
    • “Fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:17)
    • “Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” (Romans 2:8,9)
    • “Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
    • “Eternal fire…the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 7,13)
    Revelation 14:10, 11 tells us the final, eternal destiny of the sinner: “He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone…the smoke of their torment ascended up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night.”
    To continue the discussion about hell = the same word used in the Bible to describe hell as Mano,
    Yes, that is a good one. I did think yolk – but that isn’t the reason behind asking the questions. It is to show that you are fallible, Mano. You can make a mistake. You are making a gigantic mistake with your eternal destiny.
    When you ask me knowing how easily the mind can be tricked and how our perception can be so un-reliable, do you think it is remotely possible that when you think that I could be not hearing from God, but something conjured up by my own thoughts … my answer would be they are not my own thoughts. I know God – I don’t ‘believe’ in Him. Back to your mother, did you think it was your own thoughts or were you recalling what your mother said to you? When she was alive, did you think it was thoughts in your head or did you, in fact, hear her speaking to you? No, you recognized her voice. I recognize God. You won’t understand it until you are born again. It is possible that God is calling you to Him. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near” (Is 55:6).
    Your statement that science is not in the Bible is incorrect. You said you read the Bible. You must have skipped over quite a bit. The One that created science (which means knowledge) wrote that the earth is a sphere (Is 40:22), the earth free floats in space (Job 26:7), creation is made of invisible elements (Heb 11:3), light moves (Job 38:19, 20), air has weight (Job 28:25), winds blow in cyclones (Ecc 1:6), blood is the source of life and health (Lev 17:11), there are an incalculable number of stars (Jer 33:22), each star is different (1Cor 15:41), and much more. The only reason that mankind is able to discover any knowledge is because God has given them a brain, eyes that can see, etc. You have nothing that hasn’t been given to you by God – nothing.
    As far Jesus healing the one leper (Matthew 8, Mark 1) is not the only story of Him healing leprosy. He healed ten lepers in Luke 17, but only one came back to thank Him. If you read the story, He sent them on their way to the priests in order to do the ceremonial cleansing first and THEN they were healed on their way. That is how God works many times, you step out in faith and then He answers your prayer. It was that was with Naaman in the OT, too. He had to go to the river in order for the leprosy to be taken away. It was step of faith.
    To be honest, your questions are like many others I have spoken with that call themselves ‘atheists’ but I don’t in atheists – neither does God. I don’t have that much faith.
    You see you can’t prove there is no God – you just have ‘faith’ that there is no God – actually I think you are hoping that there is no God. Then you can continue in your sin without consequence. I have to tell you the truth – someone is going to pay for your sins – either you or the One God has allowed to pay for your sins – if you repent (turn from yours sins) and put your faith in His goodness and not your own.
    As far as what the Bible says about Hell, I will refer to what is in the Evidence Bible:
    There are three words translated “hell” in Scripture:
    Gehenna (Greek): The place of punishment (Matthew 5:22, 29; 10:28; James 3:6)
    Hades (Greek): The abode of the dead (Matthew 11:23; 16:18, Luke 16:23; and Acts 2:27)
    Sheol (Hebrew): The grave (Psalm 9:17; 16:10)
    There are those who accept that hell is a place of punishment, but believe that the punishment is to be annihilated—to cease conscious existence. They can’t conceive that the punishment of the wicked will be conscious and eternal. If they are correct, then a man like Adolph Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of millions, is being “punished” merely with eternal sleep. His fate is simply to return to the non-existent state he was in before he was born, where he doesn’t even know that he is being punished.
    However, Scripture paints a different story. The rich man who found himself in hell (Luke 16:19–31) was conscious. He was able to feel pain, to thirst, and to experience remorse. He wasn’t asleep in the grave; he was in a place of “torment.” If hell is a place of knowing nothing or a reference to the grave into which we go at death, Jesus’ statements about hell make no sense. He said that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, it would be better to remove it than to “go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43–48).
    The Bible refers to the fate of the unsaved with such fearful words as the following:
    • “Shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)
    • “Everlasting punishment” (Mathew 25:46)
    • “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51)
    • “Fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:17)
    • “Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” (Romans 2:8,9)
    • “Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
    • “Eternal fire…the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 7,13)
    Revelation 14:10, 11 tells us the final, eternal destiny of the sinner: “He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone…the smoke of their torment ascended up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night.”
    To continue the discussion about hell = the same word for ‘eternal’ is used to describe God and heaven is used to describe hell. God is without end – heaven is without end – hell will be without end.

  2. 2
    Mano

    Beth,

    In the above, you seem to be responding to Ray Foulke’s comments in this post and Jared’s comment in this post.

    In order to maintain continuity in discussion threads, it may be best to respond to people in the same post as their original comments.

  3. 3
    Beth

    To continue our discussion:
    Jesus did many miracles – in front of thousands of people – miracles don’t always produce faith. Just because one sees with their eyes does not always mean that they will then believe and follow Christ. Some of those same people that seen with their own eyes Jesus heal the sick, feed thousands with limited resources, and many other miracles looked on as they nailed Him to the cross. Some mocked Him all the way to the cross.
    Your question of ‘Why do church steeples have lightning conductors on them?’ can be answered by saying that there are laws of nature that we have to realize that are set up. Lightning can hit any tall building – like churches?
    I will take precautions and not tempt God – just like I wouldn’t walk in front of a car and dare God to stop the car – that is not the faith that He asks for. So, if you want to stand in front of a bus heading for you in the middle of the street, I wouldn’t recommend it. Especially because of where we know you are headed.
    When satan was tempting Jesus to throw Himself (Matt 4) off the pinnacle of the temple Jesus said, ‘you shall not tempt the Lord’ and He didn’t jump from the temple.
    I think your question is juvenile though.
    One question I have to ask: if I answered ALL of your questions, would you humble yourself, repent and put your faith in the One and Only God the Savior, Jesus Christ?

  4. 4
    Mano

    Beth,

    Again, you seem to be responding to Ray Foulke’s comment in this earlier post. He may not realize that you are responding to him if you answer in a different post, and so may not answer.

    As for me, it is not a question of answering questions, it is a question of what evidence you have that there is any god at all, let alone that it is your particular god and not Allah Krishna or Zeus. Bible verses just do not cut it as evidence.

    It is interesting that you keep coming back to how awful you think hell is, reinforcing my statement that Christianity is simply trying to blackmail people into belief. It undoubtedly worked to make you a believer and maybe that is why you cannot accept that atheists find the Christian idea of hell to be hilariously funny and cannot believe that anyone would take it seriously, except for the fact that is used to terrify the gullible.

    Also, you should be aware that the Isaiah 40:22 verse you refer to says “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.” So it speaks of the Earth not as a sphere but as a circle. So the writer clearly believes that the Earth is flat because it does not make sense to be ‘above’ a sphere.

    By the way, what are you doing about stoning all those sinners as your god commands you to?

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