Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday 10/23/16

This is one of my favorite days of the year. Today is the birthday of the earth.

James Ussher was born in Ireland in 1581. His mother was Catholic but he grew up a Calvanist. He became a priest, was a well regarded academic and scholar. He became Bishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland in 1625 and continued so until his death in 1656.

But, while a powerful and influential political and religious figure, he is known best for his historical research into the age of the earth. He started with Adam. The bible records an unbroken line from Adam to Solomon. There was some estimates necessary because not all of the information correlates perfectly, and there is some guesswork from begat to begat.

After Solomon, more historical resources were necessary but good historic points existed up to the Destruction of the Temple. After this--the so called Late Age of Kings from Ezra to Jesus--the Bible offered little help and most of the dates had to be taken from independent history. For example, the death of the Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar II, who conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C., could be correlated with the 37th year of the exile of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27).

He finally published his most famous work, the Annales veteris testimenti, a prima mundi origine deducti ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world"), which appeared in 1650, and its continuation, Annalium pars posterior, published in 1654. In this work, he calculated the date of the Creation to have been nightfall on October 22, 4004 B.C.. Probably 6 p.m..

Before you roll your eyes, be aware that his estimates do not differ much from other such bible-based estimates of the time, notably Johannes Kepler who estimated the birth of the earth as 3992 B.C. and Isaac Newton as 4000 B.C.. And Ussher was a very accomplished man; his collected works make up eighteen volumes.

The annoying and disappointing Stephan Jay Gould would write in "Fall in the House of Ussher" in Eight Little Piggies:

I shall be defending Ussher's chronology as an honorable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past
Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology
So times change. Methodologies change. And brilliant minds work within their contexts. And some, despite their greatest efforts, will be remembered only for their errors.

Happy Birthday, Earth!

No comments: