In defence of the indefensible.

I came across this very interesting piece just now via Twitter. It’s not new but was circulated today, January 4, it is the birthday of Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland James Ussher, who was born in 1581.

The Renaissance Mathematicus

Friday was the 23rd of October and the Internet sceptics had a field day mocking one of their favourite punching bags James Ussher (1581 – 1656) Archbishop of Armagh. Ussher is notorious for dating the creation of the world to 6 pm on the 22nd of October 4004 BCE (and not 9 am on 23rd October as Pharyngula falsely stated) a fact that the hordes of Pharyngula and other similar self appointed defenders of scientism love to brandish as a proof of the stupidity of Christians.

1024px-james_ussher_by_sir_peter_lely James Ussher Source: Wikimedia Commons

However Ussher has a right to be judged by the social and cultural standards of his own time and not those of the twenty first century. Who knows which things that we hold sacred will be ridiculed by sneering sceptics in three or four hundred years? “Can you believe it in the early 21st century…

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3 Responses to “In defence of the indefensible.”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Ussher’s argumentation from the Book of Genesis was not at all novel at the time he wrote it. People were using Genesis to talk about the exact date of the creation of the world and the universe, with reference to the Gregorian calendar (the one in common use today), in the third century AD. I recall a speculation of Julius Africanus, in that era, of the time of year of Jesus’ conception or birth being at the same time of year as the creation. (Julius’ concern in his writing was to work out the correct date for Christmas.) Before that, I believe the Jews were making similar speculations based on the Book of Genesis which they have in common with Christians, although I would need to consult the Talmud (ancient Jewish tradition) to check.

    It would be nice to see what Ussher actually wrote, of course; it is presumably online somewhere. As you (Peter) correctly point out, this was before modern astrophysics, geology and Darwinism.

    • telescoper Says:

      I seem to remember that Newton worked on the biblical chronology too, which he felt was very important.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        Indeed. Newton wrote more on what today would be called pseudoscience (at best) than he did on science. Not just biblical chronology, but also alchemy and so on.

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