Thursday, March 04, 2010

Orders of magnitude: Usshering Ussher

The age of the universe, I have discovered, is 23 hours 4 minutes and 6 seconds.

Well, obviously not. That’s a bizarrely small and bizarrely precise number. Even if you’re a young-Earth creationist, you should be looking at this and thinking that I’d have to be out of my mind to seriously believe that.

Now you know how the rest of us feel about you.

Archbishop James Ussher notoriously calculated the date of creation to be 4004 BC, just 6014 years ago. The best current science, using observations of cosmic microwave background radiation, puts the age of the universe at 13.73 billion years (plus or minus 120m). So Ussher was out by a magnitude of around 2.3 million times.

So here’s where my 23 hours 4 minutes and 6 seconds comes in. If you take how wrong Ussher was, and then apply the scale of his mistake to his own number, this is what you get. From a young-Earther point of view, this age would look as ridiculous as the young-Earth notion looks to anyone who respects science rather than guesstimates based on mythical genealogy.

(You think I’m kicking a straw man? In the UK, about a third of people think young-Earth creationism – less than 10,000 years ago – is either definitely or probably true. In the US, over 40% believe in it. That’s a lot of straw.)


Chris said...

By your method Ussher is literally infinitely more correct than Aristotle.

No, I think the kinder way to view Ussher - as opposed to the lunatics of today - is like one of those people who tries to add order to fiction and gets caught up in it a little, like people writing wikis for Lost or creating deck plans for the Enterprise. All religion then can be seen in its proper place, as a type of LARPing.

Tom Freeman said...

Nice analogy - and you could potentially see all of theology as like writing wikis for Lost. Or fanfiction...