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Dr Kent Hovind, a noted American Young Earth creationist, claims that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

When I was growing up, I was taught in school that dinosaurs come from at least millions of years ago in Earth's far distant past.

So how can the claim about the Earth being 6000 years old be true?

Is there any evidence that supports the claim that the Earth is only 6000 years old?

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A claim of 4004BC for creation is often attributed to Anglican Bishop James Ussher, who published a Bible-based Annals of the World in 1650. As discussed in Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology, this claim was not unique to Ussher and could also be attributed to other contemporaries, e.g. "John Lightfoot published a similar chronology in 1642–1644". –  Paul Mar 27 '11 at 22:50
    
The Wikipedia article about Kent Hovind's offer does not mention 6,000 years. For pedants, the followers of James Ussher might state that more than 6,013 years have passed since 23 October 4004 BC. –  Henry Mar 28 '11 at 0:30
    
@Henry: True, but because he is one of the popular Young Earth Creationists, it seems implied in his contest. But you have a point, I'll remove it if you like. –  Mark Rogers Mar 28 '11 at 0:44
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Clearly false. Everything came into existence just now. –  Borror0 Mar 28 '11 at 6:36
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There is at the moment absolutely no scientific basis for the claim that earth is 6000 years old. Same goes for 3000, 30000, 25000, and even few hundred millions. All knowledge and research point to the number given here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Earth –  Kamil Szot Mar 28 '11 at 13:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 153 down vote accepted

No, there is absolutely no sustainable claim at all that the Earth is young.

It was proven through multiple experiments (see bottom of the answer), and whole sciences have been built on the premise of an old Earth. Admitting a 6,000 years old Earth hypothesis equates to denying the validity of the work of all of those.

It's clearly a false theory espoused by a fringe of extremists.

Most of XX century science is direct evidence against Y. E. C.

Entire books have been devoted to explain how the universe formed and what we currently, rationally and reasonably think might have happened and why. Any pop-sci book on cosmology, physics, evolution would be an interesting read.

Here is a diagram illustrating the consequences (and therefore, the amount of dependent evidence that needs to be disproofed as part of accepting a young Earth).

YEC flowchart

Entire physical sciences need to be proven totally wrong before Y. E. C. is acceptable

If the Earth were young, it would imply that:

cloud chamber

orbitals

DNA

bacterial evolution

Dinosaur

  • Geology? Back to the XIX century as well

Geological layers

Direct proof

All these sciences are based on hard, indisputable and verifiable facts and they either depend on Earth being billions of years old, or they predict that it is.

This is a graph of the results of lead dating Earth through radioactive dating experiments:

enter image description here

Other dating results are summarized on wikipedia (relevant citation is in a book):

Statistics for several meteorites that have undergone isochron dating are as follows:

St. Severin (ordinary chondrite)
Pb-Pb isochron - 4.543 +/- 0.019 GY
Sm-Nd isochron - 4.55 +/- 0.33 GY
Rb-Sr isochron - 4.51 +/- 0.15 GY
Re-Os isochron - 4.68 +/- 0.15 GY
Juvinas (basaltic achondrite)
Pb-Pb isochron ..... 4.556 +/- 0.012 GY
Pb-Pb isochron ..... 4.540 +/- 0.001 GY
Sm-Nd isochron ..... 4.56 +/- 0.08 GY
Rb-Sr isochron ..... 4.50 +/- 0.07 GY
Allende (carbonaceous chondrite)
Pb-Pb isochron ..... 4.553 +/- 0.004 GY
Ar-Ar age spectrum ..... 4.52 +/- 0.02 GY
Ar-Ar age spectrum ..... 4.55 +/- 0.03 GY
Ar-Ar age spectrum ..... 4.56 +/- 0.05 GY

Source: Dalrymple, Brent G. (2004). Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The Age of the Earth and Its Cosmic Surroundings. Stanford University Press. pp. 147, 169. ISBN 978-0804749336.

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Not unless the universe were created pre-aged, but the distinction is not useful to science at that point. –  DuckMaestro Mar 27 '11 at 21:50
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Or if we are actually living in the Matrix and it's all a lie! ;-) –  Sklivvz Mar 27 '11 at 21:51
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Wait, I really don't get it. Isn't the kind of sarcastic, smug post Robert Cartaino warned this forum to avoid? Would one address a curious creationist this way? Downvoted. –  Uticensis Mar 27 '11 at 23:41
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@billare: I wish this was sarcastic or exaggerated. Unfortunately it's all true. We would really have to go back to XIX century science. What makes the post a bit comic, is the claim. –  Sklivvz Mar 28 '11 at 5:30
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It would be nice if your post actually spelled out the science that gives credence to the billions of years claim. As is your post basically says "If you know anything about modern science you know it's older" or "Modern science must be right on all these counts, it's not disputable". Neither of these seem to be very good plans for a "Skeptics site". The only actual evidence you give is the lead isotope ratio chart with no explanation, and no discussion of the inherent assumptions therein. –  C. Ross Mar 28 '11 at 12:50

(Disclaimer: this answer lives on the edge between science and philosophy.)

The earth could very well be only 6,000 years old, but all observed data and deduced models point to an earth billions of years old. This means that if the earth (and the universe) were indeed only 6,000 years old that it would have to have been created in a way such that it were pre-aged -- which is entirely possible, just not verifiable (see Omphalos Hypothesis, Last Thursdayism). At this stage, the distinction becomes/remains important in the realm of religion, but not in the realm of science.

You can look at it another way -- can we actually go back in time to see with our own eyes? No. We measure current data and deduce. In the realm of science the actual age of the earth doesn't really matter; what matters is figuring which "facts" and models to assume true in order to make useful predictions about the future (see Instrumentalism). Knowing the past if solely for peace of mind is more a religious matter than a scientific one; and it's likely we'll never know what really happened 6 thousand or 5 billion years ago anyways. Science is about observations, models, and the future!

(edit: Added some links for further reading / support. Thank you to those who shared links and criticisms of my original answer.)

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Even if you admit the "created to look old" argument, the 6000 y.o. claim is unreasonable. I might as well claim 1 second or 1 trillion years, and it would be just as correct. –  Sklivvz Mar 27 '11 at 21:50
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Right. It's a 100% unuseful model in the realm of science because it's a free variable with no effect on any physical models (but it could be a reasonable choice within certain religions, but I digress). –  DuckMaestro Mar 27 '11 at 21:54
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@Sklivvz, yes, this is called Last Thursdayism. If you accept the Omphalos hypothesis, no age is more meaningful than any other. –  Matthew Flaschen Mar 28 '11 at 1:23
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+1. I think, the thing to call into action her is Occam's Razor. Why go through the whole dance of creating a pre-aged universe, when it is simpler to just create one that began and aged normally over billions of years? –  MAK Mar 28 '11 at 4:57
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@Mak They're equally difficult to do - impossible as far as we're concerned. –  Michael Mar 28 '11 at 13:44

The 6000 year old figure comes from the Genealogies in the bible -Ussher - He added up the lifetimes from Jesus (1 AD) back to Adam. The Genealogies are surprisingly complete. If you believe in the non-miraculous parts of the bible, it's actually a decent way of figuring out the date of "The Fall of Man." Let us assume, that there was a man called Adam, who was the first follower of Jehovah, and that he lived some time on the order of 6000 years ago.

If we accept that, there is still no evidence that the "Adam" who was kicked out of Eden is the same Adam who was "created" on the sixth day.

What we cannot assume, unless we are biblical literalists, is that the garden of Eden and creation stories are anything but metaphor. The "days" in creation could very well be arbitrary periods of time on the order of millions or billions of years. Peter alluded to this possibility when he said "... With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. [NIV]"2 Peter 3:8

So, even taking the Judeo-Christian genealogies, we still have very weak evidence of a young earth. The only people who believe this are the aforementioned literalists, who believe in the young earth because they are literalists. (That is, they are not literalists because they believe in a young earth.)

TLDR: The only evidence for a young earth is biblical. Take it as you will.

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+1 for at least looking at the other side. I am one of the aforementioned Biblical literalists and I will freely admit that our basic premises rest on the belief that the Bible is true. However, I haven't yet seen evidence to doubt it. By the the way, the next part of another verse (II Peter 3:8) states, "...and a thousand years as one day." This verse is meant to show that God is outside time, not that His time is somehow longer/slower than ours. –  Michael Mar 28 '11 at 13:00
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People always are very critical of Ussher, he was doing something very useful, which is creating the idea of critical history and how to we take the Bible and other texts from antiquity and figure them out. The problem was he was assuming that the written history of humans was also the history of the Earth. Of course when he was writing there was no way to know that it wasn't. –  Zachary K Mar 28 '11 at 13:05
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@ZacharyK And there is now? What do we actually know about history that wasn't known then? We only know something happened. And if we say that the written history of the earth is not in the written history on man, something's wrong. –  Michael Mar 28 '11 at 13:16
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There is evidence that the earth is older than 6000 years old, yes. For example geology depends on an old earth and we know it works because the oil companies keep finding oil where they expect to find it. –  Zachary K Mar 28 '11 at 13:24
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@comonad Comparing God's time to the time for a fruit fly and dog years is dumb. Dog years are used to explain aging in human terms. When we say a human year is seven dog years, we are just explaining the aging process that occurs in dogs and putting in terms and numbers that we humans can understand. –  paradd0x Mar 28 '11 at 17:34

Wow. Talk about a previously solved problem. However the "controversy" seems to rage on. The debate over this is multifaceted and often crosses scientific disciplines, which can make refutation tricky.

While I doubt I can add anything to the debate, other than yes, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, I can provide links to the sites where good, kind, intelligent people have already done the heavy lifting to prove this.

Also, I don't mean to poison the well, but here is a nice article regarding Kent Hovind's imprisonment.

You can start here for a good overview of just about every young earth creationist argument and its proper refutation. It also gives a very good presentation of the fossil record, including the transitional fossils.

Another good place to start if you would like to learn about the Earth and the science behind how we know what we know is the Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive. it is an excellent place to get an idea of the science of paleontology, particularly the cambrian explosion, and theory of punctuated equilibrium. An understanding of how radiocarbon dating works is also helpful. Some independent study in geology is always helpful as well.

The iron chariots wiki exists solely for the purpose of countering the glut of poor arguments touted as evidence for religious claims such as this check it out.

PZ Myers routinely takes on these claims from the perspective of evolutionary biology. His site is brilliant, well written, and humorous.

I have not cited any specific studies done, simply because if you follow through on the links above you will find them, regarding just about any aspect of the question.

However, not everything has to be a link or a site. If you want to understand the planet you live on, the universe it's in, and the beings you share it with, then go on, read Hawking, Dawkins, Darwin, Gould, Feynman, Einstein, Watson & Crick, and definitely read Sagan, read the Bible, read the Koran, read the Bhagavad-gita, or any of the other holy books. Put in the time, do the research, ask the questions, you will probably find that if you do, you will only increase your understanding of the issue.

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I like the recommendation of actually reading the books that always get referred to. I mean, probably many have read a bestseller by Dawkins, but whoever took the time to read the other books you recommend? Yet often just the people who didn't read X at all make the strongest claims about it... –  dancek Mar 28 '11 at 9:14
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Poison the well you did. Much as I am gleeful at his imprisonment, it does not pertain to the discussion. At all. He was imprisoned for tax fraud, not for stupidity. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 28 '11 at 13:43
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Didn't mean to imply that his imprisonment invalidated his claims (which clearly invalidate themselves). My answer started out as a comment, but got too long. All I wanted to do was provide some links, and I figured that since this was a skeptic site most readers would already be familiar with Kent Hovind's legal issues and might enjoy the article. Didn't intend it to persuade anyone one way or the other regarding the claim, and honestly, I hope it didn't. –  Monkey Tuesday Mar 29 '11 at 2:33
    
This is by far the best answer posted to this question! I do wish you'd remove the poisonous bit though :) –  Koveras Nov 7 at 5:02

Introduction

Over the ages, people have developed

techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning

quote from: Scientific method, Wikipedia

Those techniques of inquiry are usually known as scientific method. Working hypotheses are proposed as explanations for phenomena, and are then tested with experiments. A hypothesis must be able to predict some outcome, and it must be possible to test if the prediction is wrong.

Falsifiability or refutability of an assertion, hypothesis or theory is the logical possibility that it can be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of a physical experiment.

quote from: Falsifiability, Wikipedia. See Karl Popper, Logic of Scientific Discovery. In the meantime check Science: Conjectures and Refutations as an introduction.

Theories are groups of hypotheses which have some logical structure and help "explain" phenomena in a common mental framework.

Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.

from: Scientific method, Wikipedia

If some phenomena in the field are not predicted by the current (dominant) theory, then hypotheses with which we could explain that phenomena are formed and tested. Those that can be incorporated in the current theory are. If a tested hypothesis cannot be incorporated in the current theory, then that theory is changed, or a new theory which better fits all experimental data becomes dominant.

see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, overview at Wikipedia article. If you think Mathematics is exempt, see Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos (which draws influence from George Pólya's teachings on the subject).

It is very important to note that any new theory would have to take into account all hypotheses that have not been disproved.

Current theories

There is a large number of predictive hypotheses that have been tested with many experiments and have not been disproved yet and either:

  1. predict an old earth or
  2. require an old earth for their explanatory power

We say that such hypotheses are consistent with an old Earth. Those hypotheses are lumped together to form the best theories we currently have to explain various phenomena.

Some examples are already mentioned in Sklivvz's answer:

This is not an exhaustive list. Most sciences (at least 'hard sciences') have contributed some hypotheses that are consistent with old Earth.

The claim about the Earth being 6000 years old could be true (in the 'scientific' sense) if:

  1. it would not be in contradiction with tested hypotheses or
  2. it would provide a model (theory) that:

    • covers all phenomena explained by current hypotheses consistent with an old Earth
    • is predictive and falsifiable
    • is thoroughly tested
    • provides a convenient and understandable explanation for all such phenomena

Only one such theory comes close to that as far as I know -- the Earth and the Universe coming to existence 6000 ago looking and behaving as though they were much older than that. As there is no predictive and explanatory difference, we usually choose the simpler explanation (i.e. that the Earth and the Universe really are much older). See Occam's razor to learn about the motivation for such a choice.

All young earth theories that I have heard of yet do not satisfy some of the above requirements (or none of them). For popularly accessible details, refer to talkreason website or talkorigins website.

Usually though, the demands are even higher:

  • it should cover some additional phenomena (otherwise why change an old working model that has the same predictive and explanatory power; partly motivated by Occam's razor and also partly by economic considerations).

Problems in understanding

There are usually a couple of problems that impede our understanding:

  1. Not a lot of people truly grasp the scientific method. Only around 30% of 25-64 U.S. population has a Bachelor's degree as of 2008. Source: The Condition of Education from Institute of Education Sciences. Furthermore, a degree does not always imply that the person understands the scientific method. See Konrad Paul Liessman's Theory of Misdeducation for possible explanations.
  2. Above-mentioned theories are sometimes presented as given facts in the educational system. See school curricula and perhaps Konrad Paul Liessman's Theory of Misdeducation.
  3. Even though the evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming, it is sometimes very complex and is scattered throughout many fields of science. It is hard (time-demanding) to have operational knowledge for even one such science and exceedingly difficult for all such sciences. Therefore scientists versed in one field rely on peer-reviewed results from other sciences. Some people mistake such reliance for faith.
  4. Many people do not have operational knowledge in any science that is directly related to the age of Earth. They believe that the results from other sciences are true because they understand the scientific method, but when asked to explain such results, they cannot do so. That makes it easier to mistake their belief for faith.
  5. Finally, there is a large number of people who do not understand the scientific method at all. As a result they make many logical fallacies in their arguments, and are often ideologically motivated to be combative in their arguments with people holding differing opionins.
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Hello, thanks for the lengthy answer. We do require that any significant claims be supported by references from reputable sources. Feel free to pilfer from my answer for some! Please add adequate citations to your answer. Please read meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1505/… and meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/5 –  Sklivvz Apr 9 '12 at 0:41
    
@Sklivvz Thank you! I will be editing my answer to provide references. –  ipavlic Apr 9 '12 at 6:59
    
While you are working on a potentially better answer, you might want to touch on the time model and possible effects of time dilation. I find this aspect (passage of time as modeled by the scientific method) to be of interest while I was considering this question. –  prusswan Apr 9 '12 at 7:27
    
@prusswan I am sorry, I don't know much about the possible effects of time model and time dilation on the considerations about the age of Earth. Could you provide some ideas or references? –  ipavlic Apr 9 '12 at 10:23
    
This is quite a nice summary, very well done indeed. Just a reading tip: The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch, which gives a better account for why the “the Universe was created pre-aged” explanation is bad, which goes way beyond simply invoking Occam’s razor. Briefly, good explanations (according to him) are hard to vary. The “Universe is pre-aged” is easy vary, i.e. we can give a multitude of possible reasons for why this is, while the good explanation of the age of the Universe rests on precise prediction which, if varied even a little, would turn out false. –  Konrad Rudolph Jun 15 '12 at 10:06

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