The Age of the Earth – “Science vs Religion”

“Saturday Sermon” – Commentary

“The scriptures do not say how old the earth is, and the Church has taken no official stand on this question. Nor does the Church consider it to be an issue for salvation.” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Age of Earth,”)

The belief that the earth is only 6,000 or 13,000 years old

In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Ussher calculated the “exact day” the earth was created. Based on ancient historical and scriptural records he concluded: The earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC at 6 p.m. (dinner time.) Thus, the earth is 6,000 years old (13,000 if you add in 1,000 years for each day of creation.)

This age of the earth is still accepted by some Orthodox Jews, conservative Latter-day Saints, and evangelical Christians

Tragically, some well-educated people have left the LDS Church because religion teachers have declared that the earth was created in 6 days or 6,000 years, and if you believe otherwise, you are not a true Latter-day Saint. 

This scriptural interpretation conflicts with the overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus that the earth is billions of years old. (See: “Age of the Earth,” Wikipedia)

Three Scriptural Interpretations of “Day”

There are three different scriptural interpretations of the age of the earth.

1. God created the earth in six 24-hour days. This is based on the most literal interpretation of a “day” in Genesis equaling 24 hours.

2. God created the earth in six 1,000-year days. This based on a literal interpretation of the scriptures that say, “one day with the Lord is as a thousand years with man.” (2 Peter 3:8; D&C 77)

3. God created the earth in 6 ages. The Hebrew word for “day” is “yom.”  “Yom” has multiple meanings. In the context of Genesis it literally means “time,” “age,” “season,” or “epoch.” (See: “Yom,” Wikipedia.)  

Although Genesis refers to the creative periods as “days,” the Book of Abraham refers to these periods as “times.” (Abr. 4:8; 4:13; 4:19; 4:23; 4:31.)  Abraham also suggests that the ingredients took a long time to “obey.” The Gods counseled, planned, prepared, ordered, and then watched until they were obeyed. “The Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” (Abr. 4: 10,12,18) These verses suggest a natural process of creation and the development of forms of life over a long period of time – “until they obeyed.”

Scientific Evidence and Consensus: Nature’s Clocks

Nature has given us hundreds of “clocks” to measure the age of the earth. 

Some cosmic clocks involve: (1) changing distances of the sun, moon, and earth, (2) deposits and erosion on asteroids and meteorites, and (3) increasing distances between pulsars, nebulae, and galaxies

There are also scores of well-establish earth clocks for measuring very old things. Each of these separate clocks corroborate each other.

Here are only a few of the simpler (more understandable) “local” nature time clocks that prove that the creation of the earth took much longer than 6 days or 6,000 years.

  • Tree ring dating (11,700 yrs). A tree ring is formed each year. By counting the number of rings, we know the age of the tree. So far, the oldest plant measured is 11,700 years old. (See: “Dendrochronology (See: Tree-ring dating,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov; “Dendrochronology,” Wikipedia.)
  • Stalactite growth rate dating (1 million yrs). Stalactites are formed by minerals left by slowly dripping water. Stalactites grow at a rate of 0.1 millimeter per year, or 4 inches every thousand years. Stalactites have been dated over 1 million years old. (See: “How long does it take stalactites to form,” Science Focus, http://www.sciencefocus.com; “Stalactite,” Wikipedia.)
  • Ice core layer dating (145,000 yrs). Each winter a layer of ice is added to the Arctic and Antarctic. Counting the layers in core samples date over 145,000 years. Interestingly, the thickness of ice layers in dry and wet years correlates with the thickness of tree rings in drought and rainy years. There is also ash in the ice rings during years of massive volcanic eruptions. (See: “Ice Core Dating,” Science, http://www.science.gov; “Ice Core,” Wikipedia.)
  • Mitochondrial DNA dating (99,000 yrs).  Maternal DNA connects to a common ancestral “Eve” over 99,000 years ago. (See: “Genetic Adam and Eve,” Nature, http://www.nature.com; “Mitochondrial Eve,” Wikipedia.) 
  • Y-chromosomal dating (340,000 yrs).  Paternal chromosomal and DNA dating connects to a common ancestral “Adam” over 340,000 years ago.(See: “Genetic Adam and Eve,” Nature, http://www.nature.com; “Y-chromosomal Adam,” Wikipedia.)
  • Sedimentary rock dating (20 million yrs). Annual snow packs and flooding add one layer of sedimentary rock in glacial lakes and other areas. These date back 20 million years.(See: “What Are Glacial Varves?” Tufts University, eos.tufts.edu; “Sedimentary Rock,” “Stratigraphy,” Wikipedia.)
  • Petrified wood formation dating (1 million yrs). It takes a very long time for minerals to replace the organic matter DNA in logs. Measuring by this process dates back over 1 million years. (See: “Petrified Wood,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov; “What is Petrified Wood? How Does it Form,” Geology, http://www.geology.com; “Petrified Wood,” Wikipedia.)
  • DNA decay dating in fossils (3.8 million yrs).  It takes a very long time for DNA to completely degrade in fossils.  Various fossils date back to between 100,000- 3.8 million years. (See: “Jurassic Park May Be Impossible,” Live Science, http://www.livescience.com; “Evolutionary History of Life,” Wikipedia.)
  • Crystal growth rate dating (1 million yrs).  Crystals grow at a known constant rate.  There are lots of types of crystals. Naica gypsum mega crystals date back over 1 million years. Crystal growth rate dating in one type of crystal corroborates the dating of other types of crystals. (See: “Frequently Asked Questions,” Mineralogical Society of America, http://www.minsocam.org; “Cave of Crystals,” Wikipedia.)
  • Erosion sedimentary layer dating (17 million yrs). Multiple types of dating, including sedimentary layering, are used to date erosion. Erosion dating demonstrates that the Grand Canyon is over 17 million years old. (See: “Telling Time as Grand Canyon,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov; “Geologic Time,” Tulane University, http://www.tulane.edu; “Geology of the Grand Canyon Area,” Wikipedia.)
  • Permafrost depth dating (225,000 yrs). Permafrost formation is a very slow process because it forms downward starting at the surface. This dating goes back 225,000 years. (See: “Permafrost that lives up to its name,” Nature, http://www.nature.com; “Permafrost,” Wikipedia.)
  • Sea coral growth rate dating (25 million yrs). Sea coral grows at slow predictable measurable rates. Massive corals grow at a rate of 0.3 to 2 centimeters per year. Depending on their size, barrier reefs and atolls can take from 100,000 to 30 million years to fully form. The Great Barrier Reef dates back over 25 million years. (See: “Corals,” NOAA National Ocean Service, oceanservice.noaa.gov; “Coral” and “Coral Reefs,” Wikipedia.)
  • Seabed plankton layering dating (56 million yrs). The chemicals deposited on the ocean floor from dead plankton date back over 56 million years.(See: “Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event,” “Deep Scattering Layer,” “Thin Layers Oceanography,” Wikipedia.”)
  • Continental drift dating (200 million yrs). South America and Africa were once connected.  This is confirmed by matching fossil deposits and geological formations. The continents are moving 2 centimeters per year. (That is the growth rate of a fingernail.)  Assuming a fairly constant rate of drift, the continents were connected over 200 million years ago. (See: “Continental Drift,” National Geographic Society, http://www.nationalgeographic.org; “Continental Drift,” Wikipedia.)
  • Impact craters dating (300 million yrs). From the measurements of the crater and surrounding debris, etc., on earth, moon, and mars, crater impacts on earth can be dated back over 300 million years. (See:  McEwen and Bierhaus, “The Importance of Secondary Cratering to Age Constraints on Planetary Surfaces,” Univ. of Central Florida, http://www.physicsucf. Edu; “List of possible impact structures on Earth,” Wikipedia.)
  • Radioactive/Radiometric decay dating (4.5 billion yrs). Radiometric or radioactive elements decay at known measurable rate. They have well-established half-lives. There are multiple types of minerals that can be dated, including uranium-lead.  For examples, samples from outcrops in southwestern Minnesota represent some of the oldest rocks in North America at 3.6 billion years old.  Dating of the different radioactive elements corroborate each other and take the age of the earth back to about 4.5 billion years. (See: “Geological Time: Radiometric Time Scale,” U.S. Geological Survey, http://www.usgs.gov; “Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods,” Nature, http://www.nature.com; “Radiometric Dating,” Wikipedia.)
  • Reversal of the magnetic poles dating (millions-billions yrs). Throughout the history of the earth the magnetic poles have reversed. This has occurred 5 times in the last 1 million years. This reversal can be measured by the magnetic mineral deposits on the ocean floor that align themselves with one pole or the other.  The magnetic deposits on the sea bed place the age of the earth at a minimum of millions to billions of years old.   (See: “Geomagnetic Reversal,” “Paleomagnetism,” Wikipedia; “What Really Happens When Earth’s Magnetic Field Flips,” National Geographic Magazine, Jan. 2018, http://www.nationalgeographic.com.)

Corroboration of Diverse Independent Scientific Fields

Dozens of independent fields of science have measured the age of the earth. These diverse disciplines corroborate each other. They all concur that the earth is billions of years old.  The plethora of evidence and scientific consensus is incontrovertible.

Dr. Henry Eyring’s Counsel

Henry Eyring was a world-renowned chemist. He served for over 20 years on the General Sunday School Board. Dr. Eyring had many lively, and cordial, disagreements with Joseph Fielding Smith about the age of the earth. (See: “Henry Eyring (Chemist)” Wikipedia)

“In my judgment, anyone who denies the orderly depositation of sediments with their built-in radioactive clocks places himself in a scientifically untenable proposition.  Actually, the antiquity of the earth was no problem for two of our greatest Latter-day Saint leaders and scientists.  John A. Widtsoe and James E. Talmage.”  (Reflections of a Scientist, p. 57)
God has told us that the scriptures are incomplete.  We are promised that we will receive more when we have mastered the lessons of what we have…. [D&C 101:32-34]
Of course, the scriptures do treat incidentally scientific, historical, and other nonreligious questions.  In these areas, they should be supplemented by all relevant information.  Viewed in this light, most problems disappear
I am obliged, as a Latter-day Saint, to believe whatever is true, regardless of the source.  Questions involving the age of the earth … may seem to us to be interesting and important.  However, I doubt that God thinks they matter enough to have provided definitive explanations in our current scriptures.  They will all receive adequate answers in due course. 
Whatever the ultimate answers are, the gospel will remain, and new questions will take the place of those we solve.  For me, the truth of the gospel does not hinge on such questions, interesting as they are.” (Reflections of a Scientist, p 51-52)

The Lord Has Yet to Reveal How and When the Earth was Created

  “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things–things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof–things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.”(D&C 101:32-34)

Dean Jeffrey R. Holland’s Counsel

After my mission, I attended a “BYU Education Week,” at the Anaheim California Stake Center. I went to a small class by Jeffrey R. Holland, Dean of Religious Studies at BYU.

Someone asked Dean Holland about the controversy at BYU between the religion professors and the science professors over the age of the earth. Dean Holland’s response was masterful.

He asked us to turn to the creation story in Genesis.  He pointed out that are two predominant words in the text that reveal the theme, or intent, of the author.  Those words were “God” and “good.”  He said the creation account was not a scientific analysis, but a religious and literary accountThe theme was clear. God created the earth.  The creation was good.  Period.

Bottom Line

“The scriptures do not say how old the earth is, and the Church has taken no official stand on this question. Nor does the Church consider it to be an issue for salvation.” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Age of Earth,”)

We are entitled to our own opinions as to the age of the earth. But we must not teach our personal opinions as the official position of the Church.

(Other Articles. http://www.londonedition.net)

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