Friday, October 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Universe!

The universe is now 6013 years old.

At least, that's true according to the calculations of James Ussher. Specifically, the universe was created at noon on October 23, 4004 B.C.

I first wrote about Ussher in 1988, as a freshman at Emporia State University. You can read the essay here. It's called "Does God Exist?" but it makes no effort to answer the question. Rather, it explores what happens when people try to answer it.

I take Ussher's research seriously: the mid-seventeenth century, James Ussher, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of all Ireland, figured out that the earth was created in 4004 B.C. As Ussher was a noted Bible scholar whose name carried weight, science had an obstacle to overcome for over three hundred years. The sensory evidence scientists used contradicted the religious evidence Christians used. Note that Ussher’s statement on the age of the earth was a theory, not a postulate. It was based on the Bible which in turn is based on the concept of God. Ussher’s theory is similar to scientific theories on the age of the earth, which are based on radiometric dating which is in turn based on sensory evidence that radiometric dating works.

So Ussher's work isn't better or worse than scientific approaches, just based on different assumptions (which are almost certainly flawed--but he didn't know that).

I'm not alone in respecting Ussher's work, even as I reject it. Stephen Jay Gould, in Eight Little Piggies, has a fascinating essay on the subject: "Fall in the House of Ussher."


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