Friday October 22, 2004
The Guardian Britain's geologists are about to celebrate the fact that the universe is exactly 6,000 years old.
At 6pm tonight at the Geological Society of London, scientists will raise their glasses to James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (below), who in 1650 used the chronology of the Bible to calculate the precise date and moment of creation.
Working from the book of Genesis, and risking some speculation on the Hebrew calendar, he calculated that it began at 6pm on Saturday October 22, 4004 BC.
Actually, he put the date at October 23, and then pedantically realised that time must have begun the night before, because the Bible said that "the evening and the morning were the first day."
The geologists selected the anniversary for a day-long conference on some of the fakes, frauds and hoaxes that have plagued geological and palaeontological research for centuries. "It's not that we think Archbishop Ussher's date was a fraud," said Ted Nield, the society's communications officer. "It's just that it was spectacularly wrong."
Dr Nield conceded, too, that in toasting the archbishop's calculations the geologists were committing another error. More than 6,000 years have passed since 4004 BC. The symmetry is only apparent. The date is a mere numerological reflection. The real anniversary passed unnoticed, in 1997.