John S. Lewis: "Considering that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 refers to “…this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence,” what led Phelps to speak of Earth as 2,555 million years old?"

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John S. Lewis: "Considering that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 refers to “…this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence,” what led Phelps to speak of Earth as 2,555 million years old?"

The antiquity of Earth was a subject of active debate in the early nineteenth century. Some adherents of a conservative interpretation of scripture ignored or sought to explain away the overwhelming evidence from geology. The more liberal scientific interpretations of geological history suggested an age of 100,000 to millions of years for Earth. Almost alone, W. W. Phelps, Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham scribe, offered a vastly larger perspective. In the Times and Seasons, a letter from Phelps to the Prophet’s brother William states:

That eternity, agreeable to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system [Page 76](not the world)3 almost 2555 millions of years; and to know that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years:—it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated and see and know as we are seen and known!


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Considering that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 refers to “…this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence,” what led Phelps to speak of Earth as 2,555 million years old? The answer appears to be straightforward. Though 7000 Earth years is in conflict with all physical, chemical, genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence, 7000 years of God is not ruled out. The arithmetic is easy. One day of God is 1000 years of man, and therefore in Joseph Smith’s reckoning, a day of God is 365 × 1000 days of man. The 2.555 billion years in question therefore corresponds to 2,555,000,000/365,000 years of God, which is 7000 years of God for each day of Earth’s existence. A more careful calculation, using the true average length of the year including leap years (365.257 days) gives 2,556,799,000 Earth years. Clearly Joseph Smith did not intend the “7000 years” of Earth’s age to refer to Earth years.[1] —(Click here to continue)

John S. Lewis, "The Scale of Creation in Space and Time,"

Notes

  1. John S. Lewis, "The Scale of Creation in Space and Time," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8:71-80 (27 December 2013).