Science Versus Ellen White: Earth Only 6,000 Years Old?
By Dirk Anderson, Nov. 2008
The idea that the earth is only about 6,000 years old can be traced to a man named Bishop James Ussher, who in 1650 AD traced back through the Biblical geneologies to determine the date of Creation.
Ussher took a known point in Biblical history, namely, the fall of Jerusalem in 588 B.C. Counting back from there, with the Bible’s genealogies and the known number of years that these people lived, he simply added up the dates to get back to the 4,004 B.C. date for Adam’s birthday.1
These dates were held in high esteem by Protestants during the 17th to 19th centuries, and Protestant scholar Gordon refined the dates, which eventually ended up "in the early printings of the authorized King James Version of the Bible."2 However, they began falling out of favor in the 20th century as new evidence began to emerge casting doubt on the methods used by Ussher:
These chronologies were based on the mistaken notion that the Bible’s genealogies always included every generation. Neither Ussher nor Lightfoot recognized the fact that, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew words for father ( ‘ab ) and son ( ben ) can also mean forefather and descendent. Bible scholars (including even the staunchest recent creationists) now recognize that "telescoping" was a common practice, serving as an aid to memory and as a means of emphasizing the more important ancestors. The practice becomes especially obvious to any scholar who examines passages such as 1 Chronicles 26:24, Ezra 7:2, or Matthew 1:8.3
By the early 1900s, even some conservative scholars had begun to doubt Ussher's conclusions. C.I. Scofield, author of the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, wrote in the 1909 version of that book:
The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages. . . . The frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that each creative ‘day’ was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending.
Now, let us look at a few of the evidence for the age of the earth.
Evidences of an Ancient Creation
As we begin, is is noteworthy that nearly every branch of science provides substantial evidence of an ancient creation, and there is little, if any, scientific support for a recent creation.
Stars - The Hubble telescope has detected galaxies that are 13 billion light-years away. This means it has taken the light from those galaxies 13 billion years to reach the earth.4 Even our own galaxy is 100,000 light years across, which means that from where our sun is located within our galaxy, light from stars on the opposite side of our galaxy has traveled 75,000 years to reach us.
Ice Cores - A relatively recent discovery is that ice sheets contain an annual record of layers of snow, and these layers can be examined by drilling deep holes into the sheets. Ice sheets in Greenland's NorthGRIP ice core show an age of approximately 123,000 years. In Anartica, the Lake Vostok ice core shows a history of 420,000 years, and the EPICA and DOME F ice cords show a history of 720,000 years. The Guliya ice cap in Western China reaches back 760,000 years.5
Radiometric Dating - Using dates based upon the rate of radioactive decay for meteorites and earth rocks it has been estimated that the earth is 4.5 billion years old.6
Coral Reefs - Scientists have determined that the fastest rate of coral growth is 8 milimeters per year. The Eniwetok atoll reef "is over 4,600 feet thick.... Therefore, it would have taken at least 175,000 years to produce."7
Varves - "A varve is a pair of thin layers of sediment. Typically, one band of the varve is light and composed of sand, pollen, and spores, while the second layer is dark and composed of very fine clay particles. Varves are formed by seasonal variations in sedimentary deposition. ... Varve deposits display great age. The Salido, Castile, and Bell Canyon formations of west Texas contain 260,000 couplets. Hence, this formation is most naturally considered to be 260,000 years old."8
Human Civilizations - Archeologists have discovered organized Chinese civilizations that date back to at least 7,500 BC and have unearthed pieces of pottery dating back to 19,000 BC.9 The Sumerian civilization was well-established by 5,300 BC.10
Human Beings - The oldest human beings have been dated to be 195,000 years old. These human remains, discovered in Ethiopia, were buried beneath a layer of lava, which enabled scientists to calculate their age based upon the age of the lava.11
Oldest Trees - There are a several trees that are older than 5,000 years. The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine was 5,072 years old in 2020, and there are clonal colonies of trees (Jurupa Oak and Pando) that range from 13,000 to 80,000 years old.12
Mount Everest - Once on the bottom of the ocean, Mount Everest has risen about 5 to 10 millimeters a year to its current height of 29,035 feet. If the rate of rising was constant over history, it would have taken roughly 70 million years to rise to its current height. Scientists know the top was once submerged in the ocean because geologists have discovered that the "upper formations on Mount Everest and neighboring [Mount] Lhotse are filled with marine fossils."13 This indicates a lengthy time on the bottom of the ocean.
Algae Growth Cycle - Many lakes have sediment layers of algae. One example is Lake Suigetsu in Japan. The algae blooms in spring, and when it dies, it leaves a white layer on the lake bottom. During the rest of the year dark clay is deposited on the bottom. Scientists have observed this layering process for a century. An examination of the core of the lake showed "over 100,000 white layers," which means the algae was blooming on the lake for at least 100,000 years.14 Carbon-14 dating later validated this research.
Moon Dust - Dust collection sensors on the moon's surface indicate space dust is currently accumulating on the moon at "about a millimeter" every 1,000 years.15 Astronauts reported roughly 2.5 inches of dust on the moon's surface. If the rate of accumulation was constant through history, it would take 63,500 years to accumulate that much dust on the moon's surface.
Supernovae - A star that explodes into a supernova is surrounded by a cloud of expanding gas. Scientists can measure the radial velocity of the expanding gas, and calculate backwards to the date of implosion." For example, measurements on the Cygnus Loop indicate that this supernova explosion occurred approximately 60,000 years ago."16
Ellen White: Earth is Six Thousand Years Old
Ellen White stated repeatedly in her writings that the earth was only 6,000 years old, and in 1884 she said the great controversy had been ensuing for "almost six thousand years."17 These statements have put Seventh-day Adventists in a very difficult position. Even among the small group of scientists who believe in a recent creation (less than 20,000 years ago), relatively few believe the earth to be a mere 6,000 years old.18
Ellen White not only tells us the earth is only 6,000 years old, but people who believe otherwise are "infidels":
Infidel geologists claim that the world is very much older than the Bible record makes it. They reject the Bible record, because of those things which are to them evidences from the earth itself, that the world has existed tens of thousands of years. And many who profess to believe the Bible record are at a loss to account for wonderful things which are found in the earth, with the view that creation week was only seven literal days, and that the world is now only about six thousand years old. These, to free themselves of difficulties thrown in their way by infidel geologists, adopt the view that the six days of creation were six vast, indefinite periods, and the day of God's rest was another indefinite period...19
It is obvious that Mrs. White followed Bishop Ussher's calculations, and rejected as "infidel" any scientific evidence proving otherwise. She also rejected any thought that the creation days were anything but literal days.20 Even more troubling is the fact that she claimed supernatural assistance in the writing of her books, such as Great Controversy, in which these "6,000 years" statements appeared.21
Date of the Flood Proves White Wrong
Ellen White taught that the earth was covered by a worldwide deluge. According to Ussher's calculations, this event took place in 2,348 BC. The Bible geneologies prior to the flood indicate a period of 1,656 years, so in order to fit into the 6,000-year time scale, the flood had to occur around 2,400 BC, give or take a century. One challenge with that is the oldest known Egyptian pyramid, Saqqara, was built about 2630 BC, which would be over 200 years before the flood. A more serious problem is that there were several civilizations in existence prior to and during this time frame. These include the Egyptians, whose first dynasty dates to 3,150 BC, the Sumerians, dating from 5,300 BC, and the Chinese civilazations that existed uninterupted from 7,500 BC. The city of Jericho was first inhabited around 9,000 BC and fortications around the city have been dated to 6,800 BC.22
In addition, there are living trees that could not possibly fit into Ellen White's 6,000-year time-frame. For example, the age of the Prometheus tree--a great Bristlecone Pine in Nevada, USA--has been determined by ring-counting to have been 5,000 years old when it was felled in 1964.23 That means it first sprouted in 3,035 BC, nearly 700 years prior to the supposed date of the flood! The oldest living Bristlecone Pine in California was measured by core sample to be 4,789 years old in 1957.24 That means it sprouted in 2,891 BC, over 500 years prior to the supposed date of the flood. These and other evidences prove beyond any reasonable doubt that it is impossible to fit a worldwide flood into Ellen White's 6,000-year-old earth time-frame.
As a twelve-year-old child with an interest in astronomy, I looked up in awe at the night sky. As I viewed the Milky Way galaxy I realized the light from some of those stars had taken 10,000, or even 50,000 years to reach my inquisitive eyes. Imagine my surprise when, 11 years later, some "historic" Adventists shared with me some Ellen White quotes saying that creation of the universe took place only 6,000 years ago. I was baffled at how God's prophet could make a statement so profoundly contrary to observable facts. When I asked for an explanation about the light from the stars I heard all sorts of outlandish stories, such as God performing miracles to make the light from stars get to earth faster than physical law would allow. It all seemed very strange to me, that God would perform miracles to make the universe appear to be so much more ancient than it really was. And why would God go through so much effort to falsify the geologic record to make rocks appear much older than they really were? Why did He make rocks appear hundreds of millions or billions of years old, instead of 6,000 years old? Wouldn't it have been easier for Him to make rocks look their actual age instead of millions of years old? And for what purpose did God perform these miracles? Why was He so intent on making the universe appear vastly older than it actually was? What could He possibly hope to acheive or gain through such acts of deception? It made no sense to me, but I squelched my concern and decided that one day it would all be made clear to me. That day finally arrived some 10 years later when I discovered that Ellen White was terrbily mistaken about many things, and the "6,000 years" was just one of a long list of statements contradicting science and defying known facts.
For Further Research
1. Greg Neyman, "Ussher: A Lot of Fuss about Nothing," © Answers in Creation, Dec. 13, 2003.
2. Fred Heeren, "The Bible and the Big Bang", Unity in the Body of Christ, extracted Sep. 27, 2008.
4. Wikipedia, "Observable Universe", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observable_universe, extracted Sep. 27, 2008. Note: Some "young-earth" creationists have come up with various outlandish explanations of how the light arrived at earth. Fred Heeren writes in "The Bible and the Big Bang":
5. Wikipedia, "Ice Core", extracted Sep. 27, 2008.
6. Walter L. Bradley, Ph.D., "The Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science", extracted Sep. 27, 2008.
8. Dr. Perry G. Phillips, "Varves: Layered Sediments as Evidence for an Old Earth", http://www.ibri.org/DVD-1/Tracts/varvetct.htm, extracted Sep. 27. 2008.
9. Wikipedia, "List of Neolithic Cultures of China"; "History of China". Extracted Sep. 27, 2008.
10. Wikipeda, "Sumer", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerians. Extracted Nov. 1, 2008.
11. Hillary Mayell, National Geographic News, "Oldest Human Fossils Identified", Feb. 16, 2005. Note: The age of the remains was determined by dating the lava using potassium-argon dating.
12. "10 Oldest Trees in the World," extracted June 1, 2020.
13. Stewart Green, "The Geology of Mount Everest", May 18, 2018.
14. Gleen Morton, Foundation, Fall, and Flood (Spring, TX: DMD Publishing, 1998), p. 10.
15. Megan Gannon, "Moon Dust Mystery Solved With Apollo Mission Data," Space.com, January 3, 2014.
16. Stan Freske , Creation Evolution Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1980, "Evidence Supporting a Great Age for the Universe", p. 34.
17. "For six thousand years Satan has struggled to maintain possession of the earth." (Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), p. 342). "Man came from the hand of his Creator perfect in organization and beautiful in form. The fact that he has for six thousand years withstood the ever-increasing weight of disease and crime is conclusive proof of the power of endurance with which he was first endowed." (S.D.A. Bible Commentary Vol. 1 (1953), p. 1082) "God endowed man with so great vital force that he has withstood the accumulation of disease brought upon the race in consequence of perverted habits, and has continued for six thousand years." (Testimonies vol. 3 (1872-1875), p. 138) "Satan's work of ruin is forever ended. For six thousand years he has wrought his will, filling the earth with woe, and causing grief throughout the universe." (The Great Controversy (1888), p. 673) "For six thousand years, faith has builded upon Christ. For six thousand years the floods and tempests of satanic wrath have beaten upon the Rock of our salvation; but it stands unmoved." (The Desire of Ages (1898), p. 413) "The great controversy between Christ and Satan, that has been carried on for almost six thousand years, is soon to close." (Signs of the Times, May 8, 1884).
18. While some SDA scientists privately scoff at the idea of the earth being only 6,000 years old, there is a small group of Adventist scientists that cling to the notion that Ellen White was correct. Whenever new scientific evidence emerges indicating dates prior to 4,004 BC, this group jumps into action, taking mental gymnastics to new heights in an attempt to explain away the scientific facts.
19. White, Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3 (1864), pp. 91-92.
20. Was the earth created in six literal days as Ellen White instists? There is much debate among scholars, because the same Hebrew word for "day" in the Genesis creation account is also rendered as "age" or generic period of time in other parts of the KJV Bible. There is evidence in the same book of Genesis that the Hebrew word yowm ("day") does not necessarily indicate a 24-hour period:
Furthermore, how could the events described on the sixth day of creation have taken place during a 24-hour period? John Ankerberg writes:
It would also appear that the sixth “day” of creation was considerably longer than a solar day. Consider everything that happened during this one “day.”
(John Ankerberg, "DOES SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE TODAY SHOW THAT GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH? AND WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT WHEN HE CREATED?", http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/science/creation.htm, extracted Nov. 1, 2008.)
21. Ellen White wrote, "While writing the manuscript of The Great Controversy, I was often conscious of the presence of the angels of God." (Letter 56, 1911) Apparently the angels did not mention to her anything about the age of the earth.
22. Wikipedia, "List of cities by time of continuous habitation", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_continuously_inhabited_cities, extracted Nov. 22, 2008. It should be noted that Pharoah Menes dates to around 3100 BC. His tomb was discovered in 1897, indicating he was a real person.
23. Wikipedia, "Prometheus (tree)", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus_(tree), extracted Nov. 1, 2008.
24. Wikipedia, "Bristlecone pine", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristlecone_pine, extracted Nov. 1, 2008.
Category: Visions Examined
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