by Gordon Howard

“Hey presto!” and the rabbit appears in the hat. “Abracadabra!” and the woman in the box vanishes. Many enjoy this kind of ‘magic’, but we know there is a trick involved—it is all sleight of hand, ‘smoke and mirrors’, an illusion. Our sense of wonder disappears when we are let into the magician’s secret (“so that’s how he does it!”). It is easy for the magician to make something disappear if it is only an illusion to begin with.

When we read that “The dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago”, or that “The earth is 4.6 billion years old”, we need to ask if these inconceivably long ages are real or merely an illusion. If they are imaginary, an illusion, we should be able to discover where the trickery is taking place.

To be real, they need to be the result of scientific measurement, but this is not possible, because there is no direct way of measuring the age of something. Nor can we determine exactly when a past event happened, unless a witness accurately recorded it. On the other hand, indirect evidence is very subject to interpretation. For example, when in the 1700s James Hutton looked at the rocks at Siccar Point in Scotland, he saw “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”, and so imagined millions of years were necessary for the rocks there to form.

Mostly, the long ages bandied about these days are the result of similar imaginings by other people in what is called “uniformitarian” thinking—the idea that things have always gone on as they are now, without any unusual interruptions. This thinking makes long periods of time necessary, because, if there has been nothing unusual to interrupt the normal patterns, the things we observe on the earth today would have taken a long time. Hence the large estimates…..

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