This article is from
Creation 36(1):45–47, January 2014

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Thinking about chronology

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thinking-chronology

Archaeologists will periodically announce findings of ancient civilizations which they ‘date’ to many thousands of years old. But with a few ‘rules of thumb’ outlined below, you can have a good idea where to fit any ancient civilizations into a biblical time frame of Earth history.

The Bible’s chronological ‘scaffolding’

When we talk about the age of things, we’re talking primarily about history. So we have to look at historical records. And the most reliable historical record is Scripture, because it is infallible and inerrant, as it was God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:15–17). And the plain reading of Scripture tells us that the earth is 6,000 years old.1

But it’s unlikely that we’ll ever find any human artifact older than about 4,500 years. The global Flood may well have wiped out any traces of pre-Flood human civilization (Genesis 6:7 might be taken to imply this). Certainly any idea that something like the pyramids would have survived such an extensive cataclysm seems untenable. So when we are contemplating the age of some artifact or monument from an ancient civilization, it must fit sometime in the past 4,500 years or so.

So when anyone claims that a civilization or human artifact is older than this biblically-derived date, we should question how they know the age. All ‘scientific’ age/dating methods that ignore reliable historical records are based on dubious assumptions about the past.2,3 This is the key point. But what about civilizations dated as old by other means, such as other purported historical records? Let’s look at a few.

Egyptian and ancient near eastern chronology

When we talk about the Ancient Near East, a lot of the archaeology has no independent chronology of its own; instead, it’s measured against the Egyptian chronology. But the standard Egyptian chronology would put Noah’s Flood during the Old Kingdom, and the archaeological evidence using that chronology conflicts with the Bible.

The traditional chronology relies (to a large extent) on a list of pharaohs compiled by the Egyptian priest Manetho in the 3rd century BC, and carbon-14 dating, especially for the Middle and Old Kingdoms, and the alleged pre-dynastic period. A shortened chronology, which many scholars agree is necessary, would harmonize Egypt with the Bible.4

Biblical creationists aren’t the only ones who suggest the standard Egyptian chronology is flawed; as we reported in 2007, “An emerging pool of scholars, representing diverse backgrounds, has been openly calling for a drastic reduction in the Egyptian chronology.”5 For example, they recognize that some of Manetho’s 31 dynasties were not consecutive but overlapping—one ruling Upper and one ruling Lower Egypt.

Civilizations like Sumer and Egypt could have sprung up fairly quickly after the dispersion from the Tower of Babel (which was in the place that would later be called Babylon); we can assume some of the individuals in those groups had the skills to build architecture and governmental infrastructure, which helps explain why we see them springing into existence almost fully-formed.6

Other ancient cultures

The Egyptian chronology can only be used to date cultures close to them and that they would have come into contact with. When we try to date people groups like the first two ancient (pre-Shang-dynasty) Chinese and Aborigines in Australia, things get more complicated. This is because neither group left behind ancient written records. Chinese civilization is said to be older than 6,000 years. But the first dynasty for which there is definite historical material is the Shang, also called the Yin, dynasty, which is dated 18th–12th century BC, well within the biblical timeframe. Furthermore, ancient Chinese characters affirm the same history taught in Genesis.7

Australian Aborigines are said to have first come to Australia up to 50,000 years ago. But their culture was entirely oral, so again, these dates are arrived at through assumptions about history.8 Evolutionary thinking has, until very recently, been used as an excuse to mistreat groups like the Australian Aborigines, who were thought to represent a ‘less evolved’ species of human.9 Thankfully, such ideas have become as politically incorrect as they are wrongheaded. It is also interesting to note that some traditional Aboriginal beliefs about God and Creation are similar to Genesis.10

Ancient structures

There are a few structures that have been uncovered that seem to bear witness to a very ancient culture. One very notable example is Göbekli Tepe (ruins of a hilltop worship sanctuary in Turkey), for which we have no cultural context. It is said to be 11,000 years old—by far the oldest date proposed for a human monument uncovered. The ‘date’ resulted from carbon dating of artifacts at the site, but we know that the older the object, the more inaccurate carbon dating gets. All indications fit well with the site being from soon after the Flood, but without more information about the site data, certainty is impossible. More site excavation will hopefully increase our understanding of its purpose.11

The old-earth problem of chronology

It is commonly claimed that modern humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. But human civilization developed only recently, even according to the secular timeline, with farming beginning about 10,000 years ago, and our most ancient cities thousands of years after that. Writing systems then appear seemingly out of nowhere. If modern humans, with all the potential for architecture, literature, government, and agriculture, existed for hundreds of thousands of years, why did it take so long for all that to develop?

Also, if we have been around for that long, where are all the people? We should see massive numbers of human graves, and our population today should be much larger, even accounting for the occasional plague to wipe out a good percentage of our population.12

History vs science

History isn’t repeatable, and we can’t go back and observe it. As N.T. Wright points out:

“Science studies the repeatable; history studies the unrepeatable. Caesar only crossed the Rubicon once, and if he’d crossed it again it would have meant something different the second time. There was, and could be, only one first landing on the moon. The fall of the second Jerusalem Temple took place in  AD 70 and never happened again. Historians don’t see this as a problem and are usually not shy about declaring that these events certainly took place, even though we can’t repeat them in a laboratory.

“But when people say, ‘But that can’t have happened because we know that that sort of thing doesn’t actually happen,’ they are appealing to a would-be scientific principle of history, namely, the principle of analogy. The problem with analogy is that it never quite gets you far enough. History is full of unlikely things that happened once and once only, with the result that the analogies are often at best partial. In any case, if someone declares that certain kinds of events ‘don’t normally happen’ that merely invites the retort, ‘Who says?’

“So how does the historian work when the evidence points toward things that we do not normally expect? … Sooner or later questions of worldview begin to loom in the background, and the question of what kinds of material the historian will allow onstage is inevitably affected by the worldview in which he or she lives.”13

So when we study historical events, we have to rely on written records and artifacts. As we go further back in history, fewer and fewer things are preserved for us. But we believe that the Bible is a supremely reliable record of human history, so we rely on it to give us a framework for interpreting other ancient records. There is no problem with this, because everyone is operating from assumptions about which sources are authoritative, whether it is an interpretation of a carbon-14 ratio or a text.

Why it matters

False ages for humans even affect the Gospel. Some of those false ‘dates’, such as for the Australian Aborigines, place people before the biblical Adam, the true ancestor of all people. But then they couldn’t have descended from Adam, whose sin brought death into the world.14 Therefore they could not be saved by the Last Adam, Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:45), the Kinsman-Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20) who must be a fellow descendant of Adam.

The Bible’s chronological ‘scaffolding’ of Creation, the Flood, and the dispersal at Babel gives us a useful and authoritative starting point for thinking about human history. This is the case even for the ancient civilizations that at first glance may seem to pose a challenge for the biblical chronology, until interpreted correctly.

timeline

Timeline of world history

Underderstanding how the biblical and secular chronologies fit together is a difficult task—hard enough to accomplish for an intelligent adult. How much more difficult must it be for a child.

One Brisbane (Australia) grandfather has found an excellent way of simplifying this. One by one, as his grand­children mature sufficiently to be interested in the subject, he makes a special time with them and works through a biblical worldview project. You can read all about Winston’s concept at creation.com/timeline-project. It would make an excellent project for home schoolers but, of course, any child would benefit from this exercise. As too would any parent or grandparent. It is fascinating to follow the rise and fall of many civilisations from the dawn of creation, and especially to be able to see everything in a linear perspective.

Winston also employs in his project CMI’sTimeline of World Historywhich can be purchased at creation.com/timeline-poster.

References and notes

  1. Cosner, L., How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? Creation 35(1):54–55, 2013; creation.com/6000-years; creaton.om/timeline. Return to text.
  2. Walker, T., How dating methods work, Creation 30(3):28–29, 2008; creation.com/dating-flaws. Return to text.
  3. Walker, T., The dating game, Creation 26(1):36–39, 2003; creation.com/dating-game. Return to text.
  4. Clarke, P., Joseph’s Zaphenath Paaneah—a chronological key, J. Creation 27(3):58–63, 2013. Return to text.
  5. Anderson, D., Egyptian history and the biblical record: a perfect match? creation.com/egypt, 23 January 2007. Return to text.
  6. Wieland, C., All at once (civilization comes suddenly), Creation 31(1):16, 2008; creation.com/civ. Note though that the earliest settler groups in the Nile Valley do not seem to have had the sophistication to erect the later temples and pyramids, which were likely from a subsequent wave of post-Babel arrivals. Return to text.
  7. Nelson, E., The original ‘unknown’ god of China, Creation 20(3):50–53, 1998; creation.com/china. Return to text.
  8. How long have Aborigines lived in Australia? Creation 15(3):48–50, 1993; creation.com/aborig. Return to text.
  9. Wieland, C., Evolutionary racism, Creation 20(4):14–16, 1998;creation.com/evolracism; see also the same author’s One Human Family, Creation Book Publishers, 2011. Return to text.
  10. Reece, L., What the Warlpiri Aborigines believe about the origin of everything, Creation 8(2):34–36, 1986. See also creation.com/nationalscars. Return to text.
  11. Cosner, L. and Carter, R., How does Göbekli Tepe fit with biblical history? creation.com/gobekli-tepe, 26 July 2011;. Return to text.
  12. Batten, D., Where are all the people? Creation 23(3):52–55, 2001, creation.com/people. Return to text.
  13. Wright, N.T., Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, pp. 64–65, HarperOne, NY, 2008. Return to text.
  14. Cosner, L. and Bates, G., Did God create over billions of years? creation.com/billions, 6 October 2011. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
From
US $3.50

Readers’ comments

Sofia A.
Here is the address of a paper by some Greek scientists (not Creationists) who dated the fall of Troy, in the 10th year of the Trojan War, by using descriptions of astronomical phenomena, which are included in the Homeric Epics ( URL deleted per feedback rules ). Since the Word of God states very clearly that He created the stars to "be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years", obviously this can be the most accurate of dating methods. So, I am wondering whether more ancient documents exist, which would allow the dating of history events in such a way. It would be very interesting.
Lita Cosner
Yes, astronomical details can help us date things extremely accurately because we have extremely accurate astronomy software that can let us know when eclipses, etc, happened, while there can be confusion regarding different calendar systems. Interestingly, this research stems from taking the Homeric writings at their word, while scholars are often loathe to give the same benefit of the doubt to the inspired, much-better attested, works of Scripture!
Philip W.
Lita, I enjoy your articles and insights. You think about these subjects rather than deflect questions with some pat answer. To let you know, I do believe that all human remains date within about 6,000 years and that the entire world was destroyed by the Flood some 4300-4400 years ago. But I don't understand why so many young earth Creationists ignore archeology. W.F. Albright discovered that the patriarchs fit nicely in the Middle Bronze Age that begins about the time of the biblical Flood. Most conservative Christians accept this. Now, the problem is that massive archaeological remains predate the Middle Bronze Age all over the world. No problem if we assign these to the antediluvian era, but that hardly makes sense if all the remains of men date from after the Flood. Consider further, that for about 200 years until the time of Babel, mankind had not yet spread out. Thus, though the worldwide archaeological remains are consistent with the biblical chronology, hardly so with a model of the Flood that sees the antediluvian remains as sparse and probably destroyed by the Flood. I look forward to your thoughtful response.

Regards,

Philip Ernest Williams
Lita Cosner
Philip, there are a couple reasons why we date all known human artifacts and archaeological sites as post-Flood. 1) The Flood was massively catastrophic. Any pre-Flood settlements would have been washed away or buried under tons of sediment. This is especially true of those that would have been near coastlines or rivers. 2) Even if there were a preserved pre-Flood city somewhere, it could be almost literally anywhere on the globe. The continents were rearranged during the Flood; there's no way to know where it would have been.

There are sound reasons to date the Middle Bronze Age after the Flood--the main one being that the Middle Bronze Age artifacts and archaeological sites have continuity with sites and civilizations that we would both say are post-Flood.
Paul T.
Hi Lita, I am not suggesting that every early monument would have taken advantage of soft rocks. However, the Main pyramid of Giza could well have been build by such a method. Transport of soft rock in clay like form, cut to shape in situ as it hardens by copper saws and drills or even twine used like a cheese slicer. Yet as the years go on, the method of shaping rock has to change as rock hardens everywhere. More sophisticated and hardened tools are needed to shape the same rock as the minerals set and harden. Of course I am not suggesting that every ancient site was built the same way, but rather that it would have been easier to shape and form rock in antiquity if many of the rocks may have not fully hardened.
Lita Cosner
Paul, I was intrigued by your comments so I asked one of our geologists for his view. Unfortunately, there are some problems.

During the Flood, various mechanisms lent themselves to the rapid cementation of rocks (and the rapid fossilization of plants and animals trapped in them). As the Flood was retreating from the continents, it would have taken eroded away rock that was not fully hardened, and some hardened rock. After the Flood, because there is no cementing fluids or pressure, it would be nearly impossible to harden rock, except locally in areas with high silica.

Also, it would be hard to cut a clay-like rock into blocks, and then harden the block. And if it were still soft when placed in the pyramid, the blocks would meld together. So the proposal still does not seem likely.
Paul T.
I enjoyed reading your article called "Thinking about chronology". I have read a lot of articles about early known cultures having "advanced technology". They comment on walls and structures with blocks of stone so tight fitting that you cannot get a razor between them. That you would need toughened tools to shape them. Yet many such commentators insist that the earth is old. I would like to suggest an alternative for many of the early societies were dealing with a different world post flood. The alternative view is that just after the flood, that many rocks that we take for granted as hard today were actually soft. This enabled them to be formed and even poured due to their moisture content and that they would harden when exposed to the air or to fire. Such blocks could be easily sawn, turned or cast with simple tools and methods. Yet in the years to come such rocks gradually hardened and it became more difficult to shape, requiring harder and harder tools to do so as water gradually soaked out of the materials. I think it would explain many things and would make sense in a post flood world.
Lita Cosner
Hi Paul, I'm publishing your comment because it is interesting. But just one problem I see with your theory (though I'm no geologist)--soft rocks would not work as part of huge monuments like Gobekli Tepe or the pyramids.
Peter H.
With reference to footnote 7 in the article, the same Dr. Ethel Nelson has co-authored a book, The Discovery of Genesis (referenced in your article http://creation.com/the-importance-of-creation-in-foreign-missions), which I could not find mentioned anywhere on your website. It may cover the same material as the book that IS on your site, God's Promises to the Chinese; I don't know. But her research and interpretations are extremely interesting. Sometimes I feel that she reaches beyond what can be proven, but it is a worthwhile read in any case. It was published in 1979 but can still be purchased from such agents as abebooks. Many ancient and current Chinese characters are described and interpreted, showing a close relationship in early Chinese beliefs to what we see in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Fascinating.
Don Batten
God's Promise to the Chinese is an update and replaces the book you mention. This article is very relevant: The original unknown god of China. This book is also very relevant: Faith of our Fathers.
Steven T.
Regarding the old Earth problem of chronology, please let me make a few points.

First, humans capable of architecture, literature, and government were illiterate barbarians in northern Europe and America north of the Rio Grande for centuries after recorded history started. Humans in, e.g. south Africa, the interior of Papua New Guinea, and parts of the Americas were still hunter-gatherer bands without agriculture or government (much less written language) until a few centuries ago (and in some cases, within living memory). Presumably all these people were capable of technological civilization (their descendants adopted and advanced it), but they did not build states or cities or write history for a long time. No one invented writing before they had cities and bureaucracies and tax records to keep.

The Bible itself mentions famines and food shortages; human population growth is limited by food supply. You can't increase food supply faster than you can improve domesticated plants and animals (and find good land where both will grow). So the assumption that if humans had started 200,000 years ago, population today would be in the untold trillions, is false -- people can't simply eat sand, much less magma.

As for burials for all those thousands of generations, bodies decay. Even bones decay. Burial grounds become farmland or go back to wilderness and plant roots demolish or scatter the decayed remnants of bones.
Lita Cosner
There is such a range of human technological achievement throughout recorded history that it can be used to tell almost any story one wants to tell. But we do know that all throughout recorded history, certain people in favorable places (fertile land, usually near rivers, etc) prospered, built huge buildings, had government, produced literature. If humans have been around for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, why did this only start much less than 10,000 years ago?
Sam H.
So when do creation scientists think the Australian aborigines got to Australia? I thought either just after tower of Babel 2000 BC or so or if they came from the Northern 10 tribes exiled from Palestine ~700 BC then just after this some time. If they/their ancestors did come from the northern 10 tribes then they would be expected to have not just creation/noahs flood/tower of babel stories but also Exodus from Egypt/40 years wilderness/conquering Canaan stories? I think on wiki it says they had a story like the Exodus...
Lita Cosner
I am not an expert on this topic, but the ancestors of the Aborigines would have been part of the confusion of languages at Babel. Migration rates of people groups can vary depending on various factors--but yes, they would have definitely arrived in Australia in the centuries following Babel.

There is no evidence that can link them to the northern 10 tribes--although people like to find the 10 tribes in all sorts of fanciful places, most of them would have most likely been confined to the nations in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

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