A little background: once upon a time there was an Archbishop named James Ussher who set about to figure out exactly how old the Earth was, based on Biblical evidence. This was around the time of the Renaissance but before the Age of Reason, when secular science began to come into full bloom. So the most natural approach, to him, was to flip through the Bible, keep track of all the “Ahab begat Ohabs,” and add together the listed ages of all these characters to figure out how much time had passed during Genesis, Exodus, etc.
He was able to find a real life historical event or two with a known date that was also mentioned in the Bible, which allowed him to connect Biblical chronology with actual world history. Thus he determined that the world had been created in 4004 B.C. Even more specifically, he had a time and a date based on hints in the text about what season it may have been and the time of day (even though there was no sun at the initial moment of creation).
This is where Young Earth Creationists get the idea that the world is 6000 years old. But of course, radiometric dating — which involves something very like a natural clock, regularly decomposing radioactive substances — tells us the world is much older. Not only that, it tells us when different layers of the fossil record were laid down. We know, for example, that life has existed for a couple billion years, but multi-cellular life is only about 600 million years old, while human beings separated from chimpanzees some six million years ago.
Institutions like the Kentucky Creation Museum (established by Answers in Genesis) try to explain the ancient fossils of long-extinct species all over the world by imagining that all these species have lived and died over the past 6000 years, and that some flaw in radiometric dating techniques causes us to be off in our numbers by more than six orders of magnitude. Before the Flood, apparently, life was very much like the Flinstones’ town of Bedrock.
Of course, even if that were true, the fact that multi-cellular life didn’t exist until the last third of the history of life (and maybe the last eighth of the history of our planet), raises the question of what the Roman Empire was really like, if it were run by bacteria.
It’s not only the sciences of geology and evolutionary biology that make a mockery of Biblical literalism. Simple history puts the lie to some deeply-help beliefs of fundamentalists. Chinese civilization, for example, actually has records pre-dating the year of creation, 6015 years ago (there was no year zero). The Onion, everyone’s favourite fake news site, once had an amusing story along the same lines:
Members of the earth’s earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth. . . .
According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God’s most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.
“These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant,” one Sumerian philosopher wrote. “They must be the creation of a complete idiot.”
Is it inappropriate to be making fun of Christian-inspired pseudoscience so close to Easter Weekend, of all times? Perhaps so. After all, it’s all fun and games until someone gets smote by a vengeful God.
Photo credit: PZ Myers
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