This week’s DYK is taken from Chapter 6 of a soon to be released book entitled “God and Spirituality”: In 1899, John Joly of the University of Dublin calculated the rate at which oceans should have accumulated salt from land erosion and determined that the oceans were about 90 million years old. In the last half of the twentieth century real precision finally began to be obtained. The mass spectrometer was invented in the 1940s and was being used in radioactive dating techniques by the 1950s. The oldest known minerals on the surface of the earth were determined to be 4.404 billion years old, so modern scientists pushed back the creation of earth to that point, and regarded that as the date when the planet earth would have first have begun to form as part of the same process which created meteorites and all the other planets which circle our sun.
The important thing to note is that the date of the creation which is implied in the Judeo-Christian Bible (the nightfall proceeding, October 23, 4004 B.C.) could not conceivably be correct and that this date was already being seen as impossible by the early nineteenth century. Other ancient sacred texts, from India and elsewhere, fared no better than the Bible. Their guesses were wrong too, and the accumulated evidence discovered by modern science over the past two century’s shows overwhelmingly that none of them were even remotely correct.
Adding to the problems of the biblical account of the earth’s age, were geologists, paleontologists and new technology such as the mass spectrometer. And, Charles Darwin in 1859 published his book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” or “The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life,” which brought the theory of evolution into the fray. Moreover, during the 1840s western scholars began figuring out how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and ancient Mesopotamian writing, and that coupled with the beginnings of modern archeological excavation in the decades that followed, began to show other kinds of discrepancies in the Old Testament accounts of ancient historical events and the age of planet earth.
The New Testament also came under attack by modern historians. Research by numerous scholars on the synoptic problem increasingly showed that the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) reported the words, deeds and even the chronology of Jesus’ life so differently in some places, that there was no way to reconcile them. Rarely do we have a saying of Jesus reported verbatim, exactly the same words, in all three of the gospels (even though his basic teaching can be reconstructed, I believe, with a good deal more accuracy than some of the more recent radical New Testament scholarship acknowledges). Nevertheless, by the end of the nineteenth century, it had become clear that none of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and that the gospel accounts of what Jesus said and did during his active ministry, which took place around 30 A.D., were based on oral traditions passed on from person to person, which were not fully put down in writing until around 80-90 A.D., which meant that they could and did contain errors and distortions (and sometimes even purely legendary) in the form in which we now have them, and not to mention other translation errors when it was translated from Hebrew, to Aramaic, to Latin to English. It was a traumatic period for traditional Jewish and Christian belief at every level. Any idea that the Bible was inerrant and infallible began to crumble. To be continued.
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