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The Creation Myths: Age of the Earth and the Universe

The book of Genesis says that the whole universe was created in either a single day or six days, depending on which account one prefers. Anyway this difference of five days between the accounts may be considered “minor”. In this section, for the sake of our argument, we will assume that the universe was created in a short period (between one to six days) sometime in the past. We will now look at how these accounts and the various genealogies of the Bible tell us about the age of the universe.

The Age of the Universe According to the Bible

Many theologians have tried in the past to fix the date of creation of the universe according to the Bible. The most well known of these was the Anglican Archbishop, James Ussher (1581-1656). In 1654 he published his book Annales Veteris Nove Testamenti where he argued that based on the chronology given in the Bible the date of creation was 4004BC. In the old editions of King James Bible we still find, as a footnote to the Genesis story, the date of creation calculated by the Ussher.[1] Fundamentalists do not, of course, subscribe to the exact date given by Ussher, but they do believe that, at the very least Ussher’s date is within the ballpark. Some liberal Christians probably embarrassed at such a recent date of creation have tried to get around the problem by claiming that the Bible does not explicitly state the date of creation. Unfortunately for them it does. Below we will show how such a date can be derived from the Bible.

The books in the Old Testament gave an unbroken succession of events and genealogies from the creation of Adam to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The fall of Jerusalem is an historical event which has been dated by historians to either 586 or 587BC.[2] King Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. The account of the fall of Jerusalem is given in II Kings 25:1-19 (also II Chronicles 36:13-21)

The table below shows the Biblical chronology from the moment of creation to the fall of Jerusalem. The table shows that from the time of creation of the Adam, when the world and the universe was only six days old, to the fall of Jerusalem, the time elapsed was 3578.5 years. If this is added to the year of Jerusalem's fall (587BC), the date of creation can be set at 4165.5BC or approximately 6160 years ago.[a] Thus, whether we take Ussher’s date or the one we have just shown, the Universe is, according to a natural reading of the Bible, only around 6000 years old.

PassagesYears Since Creation
Genesis 5:3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he became the father of a son...Seth
Genesis 5:6 When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh
Genesis 5:9 When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan
Genesis 5:12 When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel
Genesis 5:15 When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared
Genesis 5:18 When Jared had lived 162 years, he became the father of Enoch
Genesis 5:21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah
Genesis 5:25 When Metheselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech
Genesis 5:28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he bacame the father of ... Noah
Genesis 5:32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah became the father of Shem
Genesis 7:11 In the 600th year of Noah's life...the rain fell...40 days and 40 nights
Genesis 8:13-14 In the 601st year...the earth was dry
Genesis 11:10 Shem became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood
Genesis 11:12 When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah
Genesis 11:14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber
Genesis 11:16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg
Genesis 11:18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu
Genesis 11:20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug
Genesis 11:22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahar
Genesis 11:24 When Nahar had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah
Genesis 11:26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he bacame the father of Abram
Genesis 21:5 Abram was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him
Genesis 25:24-26 When (Isaac's wife-Rebekah)...delivered...Esau...and Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old
Genesis 47:9 And Jacob said to the Pharaoh, "The days of my sojourning are 130 years"...
Genesis 47:11 Then Joseph (Jacob's son) settled his father and his
Exodus 12:40 The time that the people of Israel dwelt in Egypt was 430 years...
Exodus 12:41 on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from Egypt
I Kings 6:1 In the 480th year after the people...came out of...Egypt, in the 4th year of Solomon's reign
I Kings 11:42 [T]he time that Solomon reigned...was 40 years...a Rehoboam his son reigned
I kings 14:21 Rehoboam...reigned 17 years in Jerusalem
I Kings 14:13-15:12 And Rehoboam, slept with his fathers...Abijam his son reigned...3 years
I Kings 15:8-10And Abijiam slept with his fathers...Asa his son reigned...41 years
I Kings 22:41-42Jehoshapat, the son of Asa...reigned 25 years
II Kings 8:16-17Jehoram the son of Jehoshapat...reigned 8 years
II Kings 8:25-26Ahaziah the son of Jehoram...reigned 1 year
II Kings 11:1 Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, saw that her son was dead, she arose
II Kings 11:2 Jehosheba...took Joash, the son of Ahaziah...she hid him from Athaliah
II Kings 11:3 he remained with her for 6 years...while Athaliah reigned
II Kings11:21-12:1Joash was 7 when he began to reign...he reigned 40 years
II Kings 14:1-2 Amaziah, the son of Joash...reigned 29 years
II Kings 15:1-2 Azariah, the son of Amaziah...reigned 52 years
II Kings 15:32-33 Jotham the son of Uzziah (=Azariah)...reigned 16 years
II Kings 16:1-2 Ahaz, the son of Jotham...reigned 16 years
II Kings 18:1-2 Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz...reigned 29 years
II Kings 20:21-21:1 Hezekiah slept with his fathers and Manasseh his son...reigned 55 years
II Kings 21:18-19 Manasseh slept with his fathers, and Amon his son...reigned 2 years
II Kings 21:23-24 The servants of Amon...killed the king...and the people made Josiah his son king
II Kings 22:1Josiah...reigned 31 years
II Kings 23:30-31Jehoahaz the son of Josiah...reigned 3 months
II Kings 23:34Pharoah Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king and changed his name to Jehoiakim
II Kings 23:36Jehoiakim...reigned 11 years in Jerusalem
II Kings 24:6-8Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son...reigned 3 months in Jerusalem
II Kings 24:17-18 Matthaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle...changed his name to Zedekiah...[he] reigned 11 years





Table of Biblical Chronology [3]

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The Scientific Response: On Trees and Stars

Now what has science discovered about the age of the earth and the universe? We know for sure that the earth is older than what the Bible says it is. Perhaps the most obvious way to start our examination of the age of the earth is to look at something common and close to earth: trees. When trees are felled, concentric rings can be discerned by looking at the cross section of the trunk. Each of these rings actually correspond to a single year of growth of the tree. Depending on the annual variations in weather, these rings will vary in thickness. Hence all trees in a single area that experience the same variation in weather will therefore have the same sequence of ring thickness variations. An inspection of the ring sequence of a recently felled tree and that of a tree that had fallen hundreds of years ago will enable us to tie the trees chronologically. The oldest known trees in the world are bristlecone pines which grow in the mountains of California. We know of some living bristlecone pines which are more than four and a half thousand years old. Dead ones have been found that is even older yet. By matching the ring sequences of recently felled bristlecone pines with long dead ones a chronological sequence can be derived back to approximately eight thousand years. This simple analysis, which by no means show the limit of the age of the earth, is already longer than the time given in the Bible. [4]

Astronomers use this very same method to measure the distance of nearby stars, using the full diameter of the earth’s orbit as the base (instead of just between our eyes). The figure below gives a visual example of how this is done. A photograph of a nearby star "N" is taken form position A. Six months later another photograph is taken, when the earth is at position B. The distant stars are so far away that no parallax shift among them can be measured, thus they form the background upon which the parallax shift can be measured. By comparing the two photographs, the angular shift of star "N" can be measured. Using half the value of the measured shift angle, and knowing the radius of the orbit of the earth around the sun, the distance of the nearby star can be calculated using simple trigonometry. Using this parallax method the distances of stars up to 300 light years away from our earth can be measured. Thousands of stars have been measured using this. Beyond this distance, the parallax effect is too small to be measurable.

Graphics of Parallax
The Parallax Method

At distances further than this astronomers has a method, verified by the data from the nearby stars measured by the parallax method. Astronomers are able to spread out the white light into its constituent "rainbow" of colors. This is called the stellar spectra. With the stars within the 300 light year range, astronomers have shown that stars with similar spectra have similar intensity of brightness. This allows a reliable method for determining the distance of stars beyond the 300 light year range. The spectra of the star is photographed and compared with the spectra of nearby stars whose distance is known. This will tell the actual brightness of the star. Measuring the apparent brightness (the further it is, the less bright it will seem) the astronomer can then determine the distance of the star needed to give it that level of brightness. This method can be used for stars up to tens of thousands of light years away from the earth. This means that the light of the star we see today left its source tens of thousands of years ago. [5]

Thus just by using relatively unsophisticated methods available we can already determined that the age of the earth and the universe is older than the age given in the Bible

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The Scientific Response: Radioactivity

Okay, so we have figured out the earth to be older than the Bible's claim. But how much is the earth?Getting back to earth, there is actually a verified scientific method to tell us the absolute age of the earth. This comes from the phenomena known as radioactivity. Many atoms are unstable and will spontaneously decay into other kinds of atoms. While the moment of decay of each individual atom is completely random, in a large sample the rate of decay has been shown to be constant. The rate of decay of the radioactive atoms is specific to that particular element. This decay is normally given in terms of half-life, which is the time it takes for half the original amount of atoms (the "parent" atom) to decay to another type of atom (the "daughter" atom). The decay rate of the various particles had been determined experimentally.

For a geologist trying to measure the age of a rock, the more the original sample of the radioactive atom the more exact this half-life will be. Thus by comparing the relative amount of "parent" and "daughter" atoms in a rock sample, the scientist can determine the age of that particular sample. There are many naturally occurring radioactive elements, with known "half-lives", in the earth. These can be used, when found together, to cross check the dating given by each other. One example of a radioactive element which is used for the dating of rocks is the element Potassium-40. Potassium 40 decays to Argon-40 with a half-life of 1.25 billion years. Other examples include Rubidium-87 which decays into Strontium-87 with a half-life of 4.88 billion years and Uranium-238 which decays eventually into lead-206 with a half-life of 4.47 billion years.[b] By using these radioactive clocks the oldest rock yet found in the earth (from western Greenland) is dated at 3.9 billion years. Some moon rock samples, brought back to earth by the astronauts have been dated at 4.5 billion years. Analysis of these and other geologic and astronomical evidence led scientists to conclude that the solar system was formed about 4.6 billion years ago. [6] Note that the scientific estimate of the age of the earth is larger that of the given by the Bible by a factor of a million.

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The Scientific Response: Astrophysics

This is not all. Scientists have found that the age of the universe is even older than this. To understand how scientists make this determination, we must first understand a physical phenomenon known as the Doppler Effect. The classic illustration of this effect would be that of an old fashioned train. If an observer is standing at a railway station, waiting for an approaching train, the horn of the train will sound higher pitched when it is approaching the station, and lower pitched when it is moving away from the station (and the observer). The explanation is simple. Sound are pressure waves, and all waves have what are called wavelengths, the distance between two peaks or troughs on the wave. The pitch of a sound is determined by how fast each wavelength reaches the observer (in technical jargon - the frequency of the wave). The faster the wave propagation, the higher the pitch and vice versa. Thus when the train is moving towards the observer, the source of the waves get successively closer and closer to the observer, this means that each wave gets compressed and reaches the observer at a faster rate than it would if the source was stationary. When the source is moving away, the reverse happens. The figure below gives an illustration of this.

Graphics of Doppler Effect
The Doppler Effect

Light consists of electromagnetic waves. Our eyes perceive the different wavelengths as different colours. Blue light have higher frequency (hence a shorter wavelength) than red light.[c] Doppler Effect can also be seen with electromagnetic waves. It in fact forms one of the main explanations for a remarkable phenomenon that was discovered in the early twentieth century.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, found that the lights from distant galaxies are "shifted" towards the red end of the spectrum.* Many explanations were tried, but the only explanation that was finally consistent with all the available facts is that the light waves are being stretched. And this stretching comes from the fact that the galaxies are moving away from us. This can be understood clearly from figure 4.2. The earth is equivalent to stationary observer "C" while the galaxies are the moving source "A". Hubble also showed that the recession of the galaxies are directly proportional to their distance from the earth. This discovery is now known as Hubble's Law and is generally interpreted to mean that the universe is expanding.

An expanding universe is also the only type of universe that is consistent with Einstein's general theory of relativity. If the universe is expanding now, it was not unreasonable to suppose that there was a time when the universe was very much smaller than it is today. So in the 1940s and 1950s theoretical cosmologists worked out the implications of this hypothesis. Using the best known laws of physics, they discovered that in the early stages of the universe when all its mass are huddled together in a very small space, the universe must be very dense and very bright. Their calculations showed them that in this dense, hot universe, approximately 25% of all the mass would be fused into helium, the rest remaining as hydrogen. Moreover their calculations further predicted that as the universe expanded, a background radiation would flow freely through space. And that due to the expansion, these waves will be so stretched that it will be shifted from visible light to radio waves (radio waves have much longer wave lengths than visible light). All possible observations today have confirmed the predictions of these calculations. About 3/4 of all matter in the universe is Hydrogen, the remaining, close to 1/4 being Helium with a very small percentage of other elements such as carbon, oxygen etc which make up the basic constituents of the planets. More importantly in 1965, two physicists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, discovered the background radiation predicted by the cosmologists. The evidence is extremely strong therefore that the universe evolved from a hot and dense state. The evolution commenced with a primordial explosion known as the Big Bang. The rate of expansion of the universe can be calculated from Hubble's Law. With this, the calculations can be used to find out the time when the universe was in its initial dense and hot state. This calculation showed the universe to be around 15 billion years old.[7] This is more than two million times the estimate given by the Bible.

Thus the scientific fields of Biology (rings of trees), astronomy (time light travels from distant stars), quantum physics and geology (radiometric dating of rocks), and cosmology (Big Bang) all show that the age of the earth and the universe as given in the Bible is erroneous.

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The Christian Response

The Christian responses to this ranges from the ridiculous to the fanatical. The ridiculous response will be looked at first. Some defenders of the biblical chronology, wishing to reconcile it to the scientific findings mentioned above, suggested that the "days" in Genesis should not be taken in the literal 24 hour sense. Each day in Genesis chapter 1, they argued, represents an indefinite period of time. Hence a single day mentioned there could mean millions or even billions of years. This explanation is lame. What does "there was morning and there was evening", repeated for every day of creation in Genesis, mean if days mean an indefinite period of time? Genesis 2:2 also said that God rested on the seventh day and made it holy, which was the biblical origin and explanation of the Hebrew Sabbath. Are the Jews then, supposed to rest for millions or billions of years at a time, instead of one day a week? Reading through the creation account in Genesis will show that the narrative is presented in a matter of fact way. No allegorical rendering of "days" was ever intended by the author. It is impossible to read the "day" in Genesis as meaning anything else, except the literal 24 hour day.

The fanatical response comes from a group of fundamentalists who called themselves "scientific creationists". Their efforts have been geared towards showing that the sciences and scientists are bungling idiots who overlook the glory of God's creation right underneath their noses. We will discuss "scientific" creationism elsewhere. Suffice it to say here that the methods of the creationists include quoting scientists out of context and invoking miracles whenever their rationalization fails to explain away the difficulty. As an example, creationists, when challenged with the proof of the light from distant stars, asserted that the light was created already on its way to the earth. That is, they admit that the stars may be millions of light years away, but the light we see today never really left the star. It was created by God, in the midst of its travel to earth! Happy are those who are satisfied with such explanations!

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a.The calculations here is based on the Massoretic or Hebrew text, this is the version most modern translations of the bible are based on. It should be mentioned that some Greek texts give differing time spans for some of the characters in the Bible, but these, at most can stretch the chronology another 1,500 years. Thus the maximum age for the universe a fundamentalist can claim is less than 8,000 years.
b.The reader may ask: how does one know the half-life of an element when it is measured in billions of years? The answer to this is that we can. Physicists have shown that the governing equations for all natural radioactive decay is

N[t] = N[o] * e ^ (-L * t)

where Nt is the number of radioactive atoms left at time "t", No is the original number of radioactive atoms, e is the base of natural logarithm (2.718), t is the time elapsed and L is the decay constant. The mathematically inclined will immediately notice that the equation above gives an exponentially decaying curve. In fact, physicists has shown that all natural radioactive decay follows an exponentially decaying curve. They have also discovered that the rate of decay for each particular radioactive element is constant. This rate of decay cannot be changed (slowed down or speeded up) by any physical means such as temperature or pressure. The decay constant, L, which can be measured from experiments, is inversely proportional to the half life. Thus by knowing the decay constant, physicists can determine accurately the half life of any particular radioactive isotopes.

c.Actually visible light makes up only a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum of waves. There are electromagnetic waves with a higher frequency than blue (the ones immediately higher than blue are called ultra-violet) and with lower frequency than red (the ones immediately lower are called infra-red)


1.Asimov, Beginnings:: p 21
Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p36
Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p34
2.Roberts, The Pelican History of the World: p129
3.Bradlaugh & Besant, The Freethinker's Textbook: p4-9
4.Abell, G., The Ages of the Earth and the Universe, Scientists Confront Creationism: p35
5.ibid: p42-43
6.ibid: p37-38
7.ibid: p44-45

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