Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Age of the Earth

      Most of the people who believe in a young earth think that the creation occurred on October 23, 4004 BCE at 9:00 o’clock in the morning. No such date can be found in the writings of the early church – it was calculated in the 17th century by Bishop James Ussher and Dr. John Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
      How did the good gentlemen make this calculation? The original writing is extremely difficult to follow (See for example Bishop Ussher Dates the World: 4004 BC, but an explanation follows:
      Ussher began his calculation by adding the ages of the twenty-one generations of people of the Hebrew-derived Old Testament, beginning with Adam and Eve. If the Bible is to be believed, they were an exceptionally long-lived lot. Genesis, for example, tells us that “Adam lived 930 years and he died.” Adam’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Methuselah, claimed the longevity record, coming in at 969 years.
      Healthier living conditions contributed, or so it was believed, to the long life spans of the early generations of the Bible. Josephus, a Jewish theologian writing in the first century, explained it this way: “Their food was fitter for the prolongation of life…and besides, God afforded them a longer lifespan on account of their virtue.”
      To calculate the length of time since Creation, knowledge of more than the ages of death of the twenty-one generations was required; one also needed to know the ages of people of each generation at the time the next generation began. Fortunately, the Bible provided that information as well.
      For example, Genesis says that at the time Eve gave birth to his third son, Seth, Adam had “lived 130 years.” Augustine (as might a lot of people) wondered how a 130-year-old man could sire a child. He concluded that “the earth then produced mightier men” and that they reached puberty much later than did people of his own generation.
      The Old Testament’s genealogy took Ussher up to the first destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Persian king Nebuchadnezzar. Ussher’s key to precisely dating Creation came from pinning down, by references in non-Christian sources, the precise dates of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.
      He finally found the answer in a list of Babylonian kings produced by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. By connecting Greek events to Roman history, Ussher tied the date of Nebuchadnezzar’s death (562 B.C.) to the modern Julian calendar. Once the date of 562 B.C. was calculated, there remained only the simple matter of adding 562 years to the 3,442 years represented by the generations of the Old Testament up to that time: 4004.
       Ussher next turned his attention to identifying the precise date of Creation. Like many of his contemporary scholars, he assumed that God would choose to create the world on a date that corresponded with the sun being at one of its four cardinal points—either the winter or summer solstice or the vernal or autumnal equinox. This view sprang from the belief that God had a special interest in mathematical and astronomical harmony.
      The deciding factor for Ussher came from Genesis. When Adam and Eve found themselves in the Garden of Eden, the fruit was invitingly ripe. Ussher reasoned, therefore, that it must have been harvest time, which corresponded with the autumnal equinox: “I have observed that the Sunday, which in the year [4004 B.C.] aforesaid, came nearest the Autumnal Equinox, by Astronomical Tables, happened upon the 23 day of the Julian October.”
      In 1765,a London bookseller named Thomas Guy began printing Bibles with Ussher’s dates printed in the margin of the work. It was soon considered to be part of the word of God.
      It fell to Dr. John Lightfoot to pinpoint the time of the great event. He declared, as the result of his most profound and exhaustive study of the Scriptures, that "heaven and earth, centre and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant, and clouds full of water," and that "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning."
      Now you know.

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