Editorials

A Tale as Old as Time, Part II: How does Ken Ham Conclude the Age of the Earth?

by Samantha Jo Haub

Last month we took a look at the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye over creationism and evolution, and for this issue we would like to take a look at the biblical genealogies that Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) relies on for determining the age of the earth.  Ham and other Christian fundamentalists regard the Bible as a textbook and interpret it literally to derive a 6,000 year old age for the earth.  These are found in multiple books of the Bible written centuries apart supposedly provide an airtight connection from Adam and Eve to Jesus of Nazareth.

The first set of genealogies is found in the book of Genesis.  Genesis 5 traces the lineage from Adam to Noah and provides the number of years each patriarch was when he fathered his son, how long he lived after that, and the total number of years for his lifespan.  The age of the men in this account are demonstrated in the chart below:

Patriarch

Life Years

Bible Verse

Adam

930

(Gen 5:5)

Seth

912

(Gen 5:8)

Enos

905

(Gen 5:11)

Cainan

910

(Gen 5:14)

Mahalaleel

895

(Gen 5:17)

Jared

962

(Gen 5:20)

Enoch

365

(Gen 5:23)

Methuselah

969

(Gen 5:27)

Lamech

777

(Gen 5:31)

Noah

950

(Gen 9:29)

Note that Methuselah, the oldest man was supposed to have lived 969 years, just shy of a century, with the average life span of all of these men a ripe 857.5 years.  This is one of the easiest sets of genealogies in the bible to build a timeline from but the exaggerated lifespans by their nature are unreliable.

Genesis 11:10-32 proceeds with the lineage of Noah’s son Shem to Abraham, patriarch of the Jewish, Islam, and Christian faiths.  This set of genealogy does provide years in a similar format as Genesis 5, though the number of years are much less inflated.

Other genealogies relied upon by Ham’s organization are found in the first few chapters of 1 Chronicles, which was written sometime after the Jews were exiled to Babylon in 586 BCE, and may have been composed over a span of 350 years.  These genealogies begin with Adam and continue with to King David and his descendants.  Of all the genealogies utilized, the generations from King David and on may be the most accurate as royal families were often meticulous in preserving their pedigrees.

The genealogies in 1 Chronicles however do not provide clear cut years as observed in the Book of Genesis.  Instead these refer to time by what year it was of a ruler’s reign, and are inconclusive on their own.

The other most relied upon genealogies in the Bible are in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38.  The Matthew account traces Jesus through Mary’s lineage to King David and to Abraham and in Luke Joseph’s family is linked back to Adam.

Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were secondary accounts based on the book of Mark, which does not record any lineages.  These accounts were written post 80 CE, sometime after the life of Jesus, and presumably long after Joseph and Mary would have been alive to provide information on their family trees.  These lineages were likely added in to affirm Jesus as the “Son of Man” and heir to David’s throne.  Even if these genealogies did come from Jesus’ family, it would be nothing short of a miracle for a lower class family to trace their lineage back 4,000 years before the era of birth certificates and Ancestry.com.

Although according to the AiG website that, “the final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself”, the Bible cannot provide a date for creation without consulting outside historical documents to construct a timeline.  For this reason, Ken Ham and AiG have greatly relied on the works of James Ussher to fill in the time gaps of the Bible and generate the 6,000 year age of the earth that they build creation model on.

Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, published his life work, The Annals of the World, in 1650.  He had set out to chronologically record the history of the world from creation, which he claimed occurred exactly at 4004 B.C. on October 23rd.  Ussher referenced the Bible and other historical manuscripts in his research, though many of the original sources have since been destroyed.

Though Ken Ham claims that the Bible is the final authority of the history of the world, the timeline derived from the biblical genealogies are disputable and inconclusive at best.  The genealogies were cultural traditions meant to link the Jewish people back to the patriarchs of their race and religion, not be interpreted as a literal timeline of the world.  The dates simply do not add up and were never meant to. So when fundamentalist Christians claim to interpret the Bible literally- what they mean is they interpret how Ken Ham and James Ussher to tell them how old the earth is.

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