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Earth's Age

by Ed Sawicki

Earth with clock hands

On December 14, 2016, Anthony Scaramucci was on Trump's transition team. In an interview on CNN, Scaramucci revealed his anti-science credentials by stating that scientists “have gotten things wrong throughout the 5,500-year history of our planet.” Many of Trump's base liked this attack against science.

James Ussher portrait
James Ussher

Scientists estimate the age of the Earth to be 4.54 billion years, but this conflicts with an estimate of 5,654 years made by Archbishop James Ussher in the year 1650. This puts the Ussher age of the Earth at 6,026 years in 2022. People who still believe Ussher's estimate despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary are called Young Earth Creationists.

So, how do we really know the age of the Earth? How can we be sure the Young Earth Creationists are wrong?

It took more than a century to arrive at the accurate age of the Earth. In the mid-1800s, Charles Darwin knew that it was far older than Ussher's estimate based on his knowledge of natural selection and the evolution of life. He never quoted numbers, as far as I can tell, but he described the Earth as evolving over “great expanses of time”.

Lord Kelvin portrait
Lord Kelvin

Lord Kelvin, whose common name was William Thomson, and other scientists in the 1800s estimated Earth's age by determining how long it would take a molten Earth to cool to its present temperature. The scientific community during Kelvin's time understood that the Earth first existed in a molten state, then cooled to the firmament that's mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis in some Bible translations. This was in striking contrast to other parts of the Bible that said, “The Earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”

Kelvin put the age of the Earth at between 20 and 400 million years. Nobody could accuse Kelvin of precision, but he did advance the estimate of Earth's age to many thousands of times greater than Ussher.

Marie Curie photo
Marie Curie

In the 1890s, radioactivity and radioactive elements were discovered by Marie Curie and others. Radiometric dating was then used to determine the age of things. In 1911, a rock was determined to be more than one billion years old. In 1956, rocks from Diablo Canyon in Arizona were found to be about 4.5 billion years old.

Today, state-of-the-art dating techniques ensure a better than 1 percent accuracy. So, the Earth is 4.54 billion years old—precisely.

Sources

Video: Anthony Scaramucci says Earth is 5,500 years old

Forbes: Trump's New White House Communications Director Believes The Earth Is 5,500 Years Old

Forbes: A Young Earth Creationist Sued The Grand Canyon Over Religious Discrimination And Won

Wikipedia: Age of Earth

Wikipedia: Young Earth creationism