I will be giving a talk on Saturday on Zoom

The annual Monterey Skepticamp is being held on Saturday, January 8th from 9:46am to 5:46pm California time. I will be giving a talk at 2:30pm.

Title: Why the age of the Earth has oscillated wildly over time

Summary: The age of the Earth seems to be a settled question in the scientific community, But estimates of its age have oscillated wildly in the past, starting with it being considered really old (even infinitely old) to becoming very young (of the order of thousands of years) to becoming sort of old (hundreds of millions of years) to younger again (tens of millions of years) to the current view of it being really old (of the order of billions of years). This talk will look at the interplay of scientific and religious thinking that was driving this fluctuation.

You can see the full schedule of speakers here.

It is free. You can RSVP here.

The Zoom link to join is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88526995782


  1. John Morales says

    I might check it out if it ends up on YouTube or other accesible site.

    (I don’t zoom)

  2. prl says

    Even though it’s not strictly correct, I’ve always liked James Hutton’s
    The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end.
    Theory of the Earth, 1788

  3. Matt G says

    I’ll try to make it. I just hope it doesn’t conflict with NASA’s webcast of the unfolding of the starboard wing of the JWST.

  4. John Morales says

    Matt, I never got that sentiment… what, if you can’t see it live as it happens, it’s suddenly no good?

    (The unfurling, not the zoom!)

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Good talk!

    Whether you meant this or not (I’m sure not), I think the impression to some viewers might be that Kelvin’s beliefs influenced his calculations. I’ve seen no evidence of that; he worked with the physics he knew, and with gravitational potential energy as the major source, an age on the order of tens of millions of years was inescapable. He did say that the sun didn’t have many more millions of years to burn…

    …unless sources now unknown to us are prepared in the great storehouse of creation.

    It’s also worth noting that his proposed mechanism does account for the initial formation of stars, before nuclear fusion kicks off (at least that’s my understanding; happy to be corrected by astrophysics buffs).

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    “with gravitational potential energy as the major source, an age of the sun on the order of tens of millions of years was inescapable.”

  7. Mano Singham says

    Rob @#6,

    There is no evidence that Kelvin adjusted his calculations to fit his desire for a younger Earth. What is more likely is that he started, as scientists do, with the simplest assumptions, in this case of a rigid, homogeneous Earth, and when it gave results that agreed with his preferences of what the age should be, he had no incentive to loosen his model and see where it led. It took others to do so.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mano @8: I was referring to his calculations on the age of the sun. From what I’ve read, he acknowledged the soundness of Perry’s (a former student of his) arguments about the much larger possible age of the Earth, but he was in a sense bound by the calculations regarding the sun. How could the Earth be much older than the sun? I don’t know whether Perry had a response to that.

  9. Mano Singham says

    Rob @#9,

    As far as I am aware, they did not respond. I think the thinking among biologists and geologists was that since the physicists had got the Earth’s age so wrong, they could have got the Sun’s age wrong too, though they could not point to where the error might lie. By that time, they were pretty confident about the Earth being hundreds of millions of years old. They simply ignored the problem of the Sun being younger than the Earth as something the physicists would have to sort out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *