Thursday, May 19, 2011

How Old Is the Earth?

In another post, I referred to a news item in which world-famous physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking stated publicly that science - not religion - was his source for answers to the larger questions of life.

One of the basic questions: How old is the Earth?

Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656)
One reason this is an important question is that a precise answer was provided by religious authorities nearly 400 years ago. The Holy Bible not only specifies that the Earth was created by God in six days, it recounts the history of mankind from this beginning in great detail. In the early seventeenth century, Archbishop Ussher of Ireland, a prolific Bible scholar, used these details to publish a chronology that concluded the six-day creation was finished on the night preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. This would make the Earth about 6,000 years old. This answer is what I was taught as a boy in Sunday School, and I know many people who still accept it as the true age of the Earth.

James Hutton (1726-1797)
Nevertheless, James Hutton, the father of modern geology, claimed that his study of rocks and rock formations had led him to the heretical conclusion that they had to have taken a lot longer than 6,000 years to form. His best guess was that the Earth had to be several hundred thousand years old.

Later, while exploring the coast of Scotland, he found numerous examples of two rock formations at ninety degrees to each other. This could only have happened if one layer had formed and then over a long period was pushed up by the other layer. He had to dramatically revise his earlier estimate. The process had to have taken millions of years.

Church leaders vehemently objected to his reports, but in the end Hutton's rock-based analysis prevailed, and the science of geology was born.

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin  (1824-1907)
Later, Lord Kelvin, a mathematical physicist who formulated the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the concept of absolute zero, claimed that the early Earth, which was covered with lava, had a surface temperature of about 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and it would have taken about 20 million years to cool to the present state. But in his day, scientists didn't know that the early Earth was highly radioactive, which would have provided a huge heat source, so the Earth would actually have cooled down much more slowly.

In 1911, a clever young British geologist named Arthur Holmes developed a technique called radiometric dating, which used measurements of the radioactivity of rock samples along with half-life decay data to calculate the time for the decay. After applying the measurements on samples taken from many locations, it became clear that the Earth was actually 4.5 billion years old. Scientists have reconfirmed and validated this fact countless times since.

Religion has provided answers to questions like this for thousands of years. Science has been at it for only few hundred. So concerning the age of our planet, who do you believe? Religion? or Science? Is the Earth 6,000 years old? Or is it 4.5 billion years old?

I think it's important to affirm that if you believe science on this one, you don't have to abandon your religious faith. Ussher was just a man. He had lots of ideas and opinions, which he formed based on what was known at the time. He could have been wrong.

But for many, the issue concerning which answer to accept is filled with conflict.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Images from Wikimedia Commons are in the public domain.)


Rich Hopkins said...

I'm of two minds on this one, both on the spiritual side of life.

a. God can create an earth to look whatever age he wants to earthly beings and their technology. It's called miraculous prerogative.

b. A day in God's life isn't necessarily a day by today's standards. Could be a million years.

Of course, both of those can be argued with by both believers and non, but they work for me. And neither stops me from basic salvation. And once we're in Heaven, we'll know the answer - assuming we even care at that point.

Sean said...

There are various religions in the world and they have different opinions on when the world was created by God. To accept one definition is to deny all others, and thus you have billions of people out there who are believing the wrong story and worshiping God the wrong way... or in some cases the wrong god!

While that in itself may be disturbing, worse is the source of the data. The dates are based on on a series of begats in Genesis, with a whole bunch of people living hundreds of years. Why hundreds of years? Because Genesis itself is based on oral histories, which are tales that goat herders used to tell each other around the campfire to explain to others why things are the way they are. When written histories came into fashion, the best religious took the best stories and declared them the canon-- in spite of some pretty tall tales about floods and everyone being descended from one mother and people turning to salt and so on.

But remember, this is just one set of stories, and there are many religions with a different set of stories. If there are ten major religions, then you know either 9 or 10 of them are wrong, and billions of people are believing the wrong things.

So if you're struggling with whether to accept the facts from science or the hand-me-down mythology of the local religion, take the time to read the texts and the supporting material, don't accept things just because some priest said so.

Kabolobari Benakole said...

Thanks, Denny for sharing.

I do not see the Bible, or whatever informed chronology based on its contents, as concluding that the Earth is 6,000 years old only, so that Science has to contradict it here. The Earth, really is millions, perhaps untold billions of years old!

What we may conclude is 6,000 years old is a prepared Earth for man's habitation!

Look at Genesis 1:1 again, and you'll see that the Earth had been a part of the cosmos as well as the physical heavens from "the beginning" when God created the entire universe, some, who knows, billions of years since.

Then God, in line with His original intention to make a corporeal being of His likeness to inhabit a section (what Science rightly calls planet) of the universe, then started preparing the Earth.

Therefore, it is a prepared Earth, not the cosmic Earth, that is about 6,000 years from the time of it's preparation till when God finally rolled man into it.

Nonetheless, from Adam till today, we've lived two imperfect epochs of 12,000 years: 6,000 from creation to Adam, and 6,000 from Adam till American domination; both of which would not see a 7th year.

God has a purpose.

Kabolobari Benakole.

Unknown said...

Love how the religious get given proof that the Bible is a load of rubbish and yet still manage to spin it round to fit in with their agenda. Keep shifting those goalposts creationists.