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Ussher famously dated the moment of creation to noon on October 23, 4004 BC. Snooty people who imagine they are smarter than their ancestors because they watch the Discovery Channel–but who could not, if their lives depended on it, give a coherent explanation (other than an appeal to authority) for how we know the earth goes around the sun–love to laugh at this alleged Dark Age fool.
Here is a rather generous essay by Stephen Jay Gould that gives credit where credit is due to Bishop James Ussher and his stab at dating the age of the universe.
Course - Ussher - BC - Work - Instructive
Of course Ussher could hardly have been more wrong about 4004 B.C., but his work was both honorable and interesting–therefore instructive for us today–for at least four reasons.
1. The excoriating textbook tradition depicts Ussher as a single misguided dose of darkness and dogma thrown into an otherwise more enlightened pot of knowledge–as if he alone, representing the church in an explicit rearguard action against science and scholarship, raised this issue to recapture lost ground. No idea about the state of chronological thinking in the seventeenth century could be more false.
Scholarship - Time - Part - Research - Tradition
Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology–Ussher’s shared “house” if you will pardon my irresistible title pun. Today we rightly reject a cardinal premise of that methodology–belief in biblical inerrancy–and we recognize that this false assumption allowed such a great error in estimating the age of the earth. But what intellectual phenomenon can be older, or more oft repeated, than the story of a large research program that impaled itself upon a false central assumption accepted by all practitioners? Do we regard all people who worked within such traditions as dishonorable...
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