Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy birthday, Earth!

The universe, and the Earth along with it, turned 6,011 today, according to the calculations of James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

Ussher's most famous work was a chronicle published in 1650, drawn from religious and historical references, leading him to conclude that creation occurred at nightfall preceding October 23, 4004 BC. Some references mistakenly report that the time and date were 9 am or pm on October 23.

Such calculations were a not uncommon approach by scholars of that period, but Ussher's scholarship and detailed knowledge of history gave great credence to his interpretations. So, while some groups have adopted the 6,000 year age of the Earth as a article of faith, one could argue that it is, in fact, one of the first scientific attempts to determine the Earth's age. Ussher carefully researched his study, using the best references available to him. He described his assumptions, made interpretations of contradictory data on a rational basis and documented his procedures and conclusions. That sounds like the scientific method.

Since then, we have new data and new tools that show how old the universe and the Earth truly are, but Bishop Ussher gets an "A" for effort.

In 1997, we celebrated the 6,000 anniversary which coincided with the annual GSA meeting in Salt Lake City.

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