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View Full Version : Measuring Eternity by Martin Gorst (some spoilers)



Dr Nigel
2007-Mar-06, 11:43 AM
I recently read this book, and found it quite fascinating. It tells the history of attempts to determine the age of the Earth and/or Universe.

It starts off with the first serious attempt, that of Bishop Ussher; I was surprised at how diligent and thorough he was, even if he began from a false premise. The two main problems facing him were: (1) there was a gap between the Old and New Testaments, and no-one could tell how large this gap was; and (2) different versions (whether different translations or traditions) of the Old Testament gave different ages for the patriarchs when they fathered their first children. He overcame (1) by a search for old records that could relate events in the OT to those in the NT. He found a set of records from Babylon that covered this time. (2) was overcome when he found two different versions of the OT that agreed with one another over the ages of the patriarchs when they became fathers. This second one I think is not so reliable, but it was the best he had.

His estimate of the year of Creation was probably pretty good, but he then proceeded to apply a couple of dodgy assumptions to obtain an unwarranted level of precision.

The story continues with various discoveries that highlighted discrepancies between the age that Ussher had calculated and the age as judged by other evidence. For example, the first problem arose during Ussher's lifetime. Contact with the Chinese brought to light the existence of records going back in a continuous history to before Ussher's date for the creation.

The book goes on to describe the nascent science of geology and how it contributed to knowledge that the age of the Earth must be significantly larger than Ussher's estimate. It also parenthetically notes that Bibles printed as late as 1912 included Ussher's sequence of dates in the margin, despite the fact that no-one could remember where the dates came from, and many people assumed the dates were a part of the Bible itself.

I found it, overall, a fascinating read.

Has anyone else read this one?

If so, what did you think?

Alasdhair
2007-Mar-06, 08:24 PM
Not yet, but it sounds like a worthy addition to the "to read" pile.