The great debate over the age of planet Earth is a continuous argument. It has been a scientific, religious and philosophical question for ages. Some turn to science for the answer while others turn to faith. While those in the scientific community rely on empiricism, some with faith have relied on human biblical interpretation; an interpretation which claims that the bible supports a 6,000 year old age for planet Earth. As will be shown, this controversial view is not without criticism.
It has been accepted for centuries by some Christians, originating from the protestant movement that the planet was no more than 6,000 years old. This date can be traced back to a 17th century bishop by the name of James Ussher who calculated dates in the bible, to arrive at the 6,000 year age for Earth. Ussher purported based on a literal six day creation that Earth stretches back no further than the year 4004 BCE. Considered a scholar in his day, those known as ‘young earth creationists’ have carried his torch and calculations well into the 21st century.
One of the most well known young earth creationists is a gentleman named Ken Ham. Ham runs a creationist ministry and website called answersingenesis.com. His ministry tends to reject secular scientific theories and facts in support of literal biblical interpretations. Ham extends Ussher’s teachings on the Earth being young on his website. According to the website’s answers research journal, “Young-earth creationists believe that the creation days of Genesis 1 were six literal (24-hour) days which occurred 6,000–12,000 years ago.” This claim however has faced backlash, particularly within the scientific community, which uses a different methodology in determining the Earth’s age.
According to scientists, the Earth is far older than 6,000 years old. Instead, they calculate the planet to be 4.5 billion years old. They theorize that the Earth is the spawn of a ‘big bang’ which is believed to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago. Roughly nine billion years later, a more recognizable Earth formed and that hundreds of millions of years later, organisms and more familiar landscapes appeared. These carefully settled dates were based on radiometric dating of both the Earth and meteorites that impacted the planet. According to a USA Today article, a geophysicist named Clair Cameron Patterson was responsible for the age detection. The article states,
….by reporting the ratio of lead types found in these pristine meteorites and comparing them to lead ratios found in the other rocks on the Earth and other meteorites, Patterson could calculate the age of the solar system, when the Earth formed, to be 4.55 billion years old, give or take 70 million years.”
If this is true, was the bible wrong, or was its interpretation simply incorrect? The problem for Ussher begins in Genesis 1:1 where the passage reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for earth is ‘Arets.’ This word had a dual meaning which was Earth as the whole planet, or as earth (soil) as a part of the planet. The fact that the passage says God created heavens (sky) and earth (soil) would imply that God created parts of a planet that was already there. Thus, Genesis does not begin with the creation of the planet, but the creation of certain parts of a planet that had been there prior to having its lower atmosphere and land mass. Since no age is given in the creation accounts, this water covered pre-land and upper atmospheric planet could have existed for billions of years. It’s too bad radiometric dating was unavailable in the 17th century.