Happy birthday, Planet Earth!

According to the chronology calculated by Bishop James Ussher, Primate of Ireland during the 17th century (a term I always find amusing given what “primate” means in zoology), today is the anniversary of the creation of Earth. Ussher used Biblical chronology and some extra-Biblical sources (i.e., made guesses) to determine that creation occurred on October 23, 4004 BC, which would mean Earth is 6014 years old today. Old girl doesn’t look too bad, does she?

Of course it’s easy for us to make fun of the good bishop today, since even most modern Creationists don’t trust his chronological calculations, and the rest of us have even less reason to pay attention to him. However, just dissing the old boy isn’t fair to him—he’s just the most remembered of many people (whose ranks included Isaac Newton) who attempted to calculate the date of creation from the historical record. It wasn’t until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that geologists began to take seriously the implications of their research for the age of Earth. For Ussher to calculate the age of the Earth the way he did wasn’t all that unreasonable at the time. It’s an historical fallacy to think our intellectual forbears were dumb. They weren’t—they just didn’t have the research methods we have today.

So, I’ll defend Bishop Ussher up to a point. We know today that he was wrong, but he really couldn’t have done much better given the state of historical and scientific knowledge at that time. Instead, we should look at the people today who still think the Earth and universe are only around 6000 years old. They don’t have the same excuse Ussher had, since the evidence in favor of an ancient Earth and cosmos—historical, archaeological, geological, radiometric (e.g., radioactive dating), astronomical, biological, etc.—is all available to anyone with enough curiosity to examine it.


3 responses to “Happy birthday, Planet Earth!”

  1. Of course Ussher used the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar (which I should have thought of earlier), so Earth’s “birthday” was actually about a month ago using the modern calendar. Oh well.

  2. […] to lump him in with Ken Ham and other modern young-Earth Creationists — as I pointed out in my earlier post on Bishop Ussher, it’s not fair to judge people by today’s standards. Newton didn’t have the […]

  3. […] of all, it’s hardly a bold statement to be a Creationist. As I’ve said in previous posts, being a Creationist in the 18th century was a potentially reasonable position and departing from […]

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