In Shakespeare’s As You Like It Rosalind says, “The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause.” The play is a comedy and the witticism could illicit laughter, but it was not the 6000-year-old earth that Shakespeare’s audience would find humorous. In the 1600s belief in what today is called “a young earth” was common.
Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, used Scripture and other sources to come up with a young earth creation date. He was not the first nor the only scholar to do so.
James Ussher, the Anglican archbishop of Ireland during Shakespeare’s time, did the scholarly work to biblically substantiate a 6000-year-old earth. Ussher sought to line up biblical genealogies to date events such as the Babylonian captivity, the dedication of the temple, the exodus, the flood, and the creation. He was extremely thorough. His Annals of the World (1650) is over 1500 detailed pages of computations and explanations. Today he is best known for assigning 4004 BC as the precise date of creation.
Many scholars agree that Ussher was accurate in his lineup of biblical genealogies, but that does not assure accuracy of his dates. The biblical “begats” reveal ancestry. Various biblical points are established and verified by knowing who is whose ancestor. For example, the Messiah was prophesied to be of Abraham’s and David’s lineage. To substantiate Jesus as the Messiah, His lineage had to be known, hence genealogies.
There are a few problems with Ussher’s dates. Ussher assumed Christ was born in AD 1. But our BC/AD calendar is based on an inaccurate assumption of when Christ was born. Present scholarship places Christ’s birth somewhere between 2 and 8 BC.
Another potential problem with Ussher’s dates is possible genealogic ellipses (i.e., persons being left out; compare 1 Chronicles 3:11–14 and Matthew 1:8). The lack of precise knowledge of how old a parent was when a child was born also complicates using the genealogies for dating.
When historians line up some extra-biblical dating of Old Testament events with Ussher’s dates they are generally close, but not exact. Ussher dates the exodus in 1491 BC. Based on dates of the pharaoh presumed to be the one of the exodus, some historians place it at 1446 BC, a 45-year difference. Ussher places the flood at 2348 BC. Josephus puts it about one
hundred years earlier. Based on extra-biblical dates, some modern scholars place the flood closer to 2800 BC.
Evolutionists need an old earth
Prior to the 1800s a many-thousand to a several-million-year-old earth was suggested for argument’s sake but was generally rejected. But in the middle of the 1800s Darwin sought to demonstrate his theory of evolution with a “tree of life.” At the base of the tree was the “first living thing.” Along the trunk and branches were organisms evolving to those alive today, which were placed on the ends of twigs.
Darwin recognized his tree was incomplete. Missing were the organisms that should of one kind of be along the branches and the common ancestors that should be at every fork in a branch. He assumed they would be found in the numerous poorly explored areas of the earth. After 160 years of searching, scientists have yet to find organisms that do not belong on the tips of branches.
Darwin assumed that if the missing organisms were not alive they must have died out. Their remains, however, might be in the fossil record. At first the theory did not require the fossils be extremely old. The idea of progressive fossilization (lower fossil layers being formed before upper layers) was proposed, but it was assumed that the layers were formed within short periods. Adding a few thousand years to the 6000-year-old earth should cover it.
But since no one could find abundant fossilization happening it became assumed that fossilization must be an extremely slow process. Fossils must have been forming over a very, very, very long time to account for their abundance.
The changing of organisms within a breeding population is called microevolution (think different breeds of dogs or of cows).
Microevolution can happen within a few generations. Darwin and his followers assumed that macroevolution, the changing of one kind of organism to another (think reptiles giving rise to birds), would just take a little longer than microevolution. Evolutionists still scour the fossil record hoping to find a progressive, macroevolutionary line of reptile/birds or other missing links to verify Darwin’s tree.
Generally, fossil organisms are either so like living ones that they belong on the same twig, or are so different that they need their own twig. To account for the lack of intermediary organisms in the fossil record, some evolutionists claim they are missing because conditions were not right for fossils to form during their time. Again, they need a very very, very old earth to provide time for all those missing organisms.
Even all that scientists can do to organisms in the lab has not gotten any of them to engage in macroevolution. Multitudinous generations of fruit flies and fish, under all kinds of conditions, have reproduced only fruit flies and fish. Rather than concluding that macroevolution does not happen, evolutionists decided the process must be so slow that they cannot observe it, hence the need of a very, very, very old universe. 4.5 billion years ought to cover it!
Scientific methods of dating the earth
Dozens of different scientific methods of dating the earth have been suggested. Generally these dating methods deal with the decay or build-up of something. In order for dating based on decay or buildup to be accurate, we need to know two things: 1) How things started, and 2) What might have affected the rate of decay or build-up that is being measured.
For example, one might measure the build-up of salt in sea water to establish the age of the ocean. To do so he must assume 1) that the ocean started salt-less or he must know the saltiness of the original ocean, and 2) that the current observed increase in saltiness has been constant since the ocean started. In Genesis we are told God “separated” the waters. How salty were they at that time? Is the salt build-up currently being observed typical of all time? What effects would a universal flood have on oceanic salt concentration? Without knowing the accuracy of one’s assumptions, dates based on oceanic salt build-up are no more than guesses.
Dates from the decay of uranium to lead in a rock assumes that one knows 1) the ratio of uranium to lead in the original rock, 2) that no lead has escaped or uranium been added to the rock, and 3) that nothing has affected that uranium decay rate since the rock was made. A lot of assumptions. Even radiocarbon dating (C-14 dating), the best science can do for dating once-living things, has assumptions that make its dates questionable.
Pick any age of the earth you want and you will probably be able to find a decay/build-up dating method to support it. The current rate of the build-up of lava on the earth’s surface suggests a 4000-year-old earth (that supports the Ussher and Josephus date of the flood rather than an old earth). It takes 14.5 billion years for light from the most distant known stars to reach earth. That is about 10 billion years longer than many scientists suggest for the age of the universe. Pick population statistics, accumulation of meteoritic dust, canyon erosion, cave formation, glaciation, or any of the others. Depending on what one measures and the assumptions one makes, one can come up with an array of scientific dates, which makes all of them questionable.
Adding age to Ussher’s dates
Let us get one thing straight: God did not have to create the universe in six literal days. He could have done it in five, four, or less. He could have done it all at once. One second: no universe. The next: there it was—all perfectly ready for His “very good” pronouncement. If the Bible is true, God is more than capable of having done that. Those who disagree have problems with who God is and the authority of the Bible, not with the creation narrative of Genesis.
Some Christians have felt the need to have an old earth. Why? As evolutionists started to describe an earth before humans and backed their claims with “scientific dates,” some Christians thought those theories legitimate. But the tightness of the genealogies leaves little room for significant additions from Adam to the present. The creation week was the only place for adding human-less ages. Thus some Bible twisting theories became popular.
Today, after examining evolutionists’ fraudulent claims, many Christians see no need to manipulate the Genesis creation account to accommodate them. Modern Christians who accept old earth dates may not admit it, but evolutionary bias is the only significant reason to claim the days of Genesis 1 are longer than 24 hours or to put gaps in the creation narrative. Since there is no real need to lengthen the creation week and since doing so violates legitimate biblical interpretation, conservative Bible-believing Christians generally dismiss changes to the creation week as described in Genesis.
What we know
The only thing we really need to know about the age of the earth is revealed in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Knowing exactly when God did it is not going to make one more saved or more effective in serving Him. Doubting Scripture, however, will hurt a Christian.
There is nothing wrong with one trying to figure out the age of the earth. But all the methods one can use are of questionable validity with the exception of one: the Bible. God was the only One present at the time, and His statements about what He did are true. There is no reason for Him to embellish or modify the account— in fact, to be less than truthful about it would be un-Godlike, which He cannot be.
Using biblical genealogies to establish dates may be a secondary usage of the passages, but that does not mean the passages cannot be used in this manner. As I often tell my students, “Ussher may have been off, but he wasn’t far off.”
William Pinkston teaches science at Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. He is a member of Faith FPC.