Test of Time for the Date of Creation

Spencer Tracy interrogates Fredric March in "Inherit The Wind"
Spencer Tracy interrogates Fredric March in "Inherit The Wind"

by Ray Setterfield

October 23, 4004 BC — Archbishop James Ussher, Primate of All Ireland, announced in 1650 that the universe had been created at 8pm on 23 October 4004 BC.

It was a claim famously put to the test in the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925 when American teacher John T. Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee state law by teaching evolution instead of the divine creation of man.

Top lawyer Clarence Darrow appeared for the defence while former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution.

Using court testimony, the case was dramatised in the 1960 movie, "Inherit The Wind". Spencer Tracy starred as Darrow, under the name Henry Drummond, with Fredric March as Bryan – called Brady in the film.

“Brady”, a self-professed expert on Old Time Religion, is put on the stand by “Drummond”, who shows the prosecutor a rock.

Drummond: How old do you think this rock is?

Brady (smiling): I am more interested in the "Rock of Ages" than I am in the age of rocks!

Drummond: Dr. Paige of Oberlin College tells me this rock is at least 10 million years old.

Brady: Your professor's a little mixed up in his dates. That rock is not more than six thousand years old.

Drummond: How do you know?

Brady: A fine biblical scholar, Bishop Ussher, has determined for us the exact date and hour of the Creation. It occurred in the year 4004 BC.

Drummond: Well, that's Bishop Ussher's opinion.

Brady: It's not an opinion. It's a literal fact, which the good Bishop arrived at through careful computation of the ages of the prophets, as set down in the Old Testament. In fact, he determined that the Lord began the Creation on the 23rd of October, 4004 BC at 8:00pm.

Drummond: Was that Eastern Standard Time? Or Rocky Mountain Time? It wasn't Daylight Saving Time, was it, because the Lord didn't make the sun until the fourth day?

Brady: That is correct.

Drummond: That first day, do you think it was 24 hours long?

Brady: The Bible says it was a day.

Drummond: Well, there was no sun out. How do you know how long it was?

Brady: The Bible says it was a day!

Drummond: Well, was it a normal day, a literal day, 24-hour day?

Brady: I don't know.

Drummond: Isn't it possible that it could have been 25 hours? There's no way to measure it; no way to tell. Could it have been 25 hours?

Brady: It's possible.

Drummond: Then you interpret that the first day as recorded in the Book of Genesis could have been a day of indeterminate length.

Brady: I mean to state that it is not necessarily a 24-hour day.

Drummond: It could have been 30 hours. It could have been a week, could have been a month,  could have been a year, could have been a hundred years – or it could have been 10 million years!

“Brady” lost the argument but “Drummond” lost the case. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 – though the verdict was overturned on a technicality.

Published: September 2, 2016

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