got a problem because the age of the Universe is 13.75 billion years
plus or minus 170 million years. This number is not a guess, but
the result of remarkably accurate measurements by the Wilkinson
Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) team that are corroborated by data from
the Hubble Space Telescope; the Cosmic Background Explorer; the Spitzer
Space Telescope; the large
ground-based telescopes, including the radio telescopes;
and numerous discoveries that span
more than a thousand years and a wide range of scientific disciplines. The age given above is a refinement announced in early 2010 by the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). Deep Time—the realization that
the Earth is ancient and that the Universe is even more ancient—may
be counted among the greatest of human intellectual achievements. We've got a problem because there are substantial numbers of Americans who have little or no knowledge of the World they live in. This renders them incapable of comprehending modern society and understanding the technological and political issues of the day. Some of them are trying to substitute a certain religious dogma for the teaching of scientific truth in America's public schools. Their dogma on the age of the Universe and the age of the Earth is dead wrong, so we are fortunate that it is unconstitutional to teach religious dogma in the public schools. These people aren't satisfied with spreading their false beliefs in their own churches, schools, and homes; they want to cram them down the throat of every American. The prosperity of the United States and the other liberal democracies in the world and the freedoms we all enjoy are intimately and inextricably tied to advances in liberal education, scientific research, exploration, and discovery on the part of progressive, independent thinkers. The end of legitimate scientific inquiry, untinged by dogma and superstition, would signal the end of the civilized world.
One of the many ways
that we know the Universe is very old is the indisputable evidence in this photograph that there is nothing
unusual about the galaxy we live in—it has billions of counterparts
throughout the Universe. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 400
This is not a guess, either, but a very reasonable estimate based upon sound science. We know the diameter of our galaxy (about
100,000 light years) and the orbital velocity of many stars,
and to know those parameters is to know the mass of our galaxy. To
know the mass is the key to making a reliable estimate of the number
of stars in the galaxy because there are upper and lower constraints
on the masses of stars. The number of bright galaxies in
our Hubble Volume—that part of the Universe that we can see
and explore with our instruments—is also about 100 billion.
know the number of distant dim galaxies that we cannot see, but it must be vast. Some of
the bright galaxies are larger than the Milky Way and some are smaller.
It is reasonable to estimate that they have about 400 billion stars
each. (Though the nearest large galaxy to us, the
Andromeda Galaxy, or M31, is twice the diameter of the Milky
Way and contains a trillion stars. It takes light about
2.5 million years to travel from M31 to our telescopes.)
Update, December 8, 2009—The Space Telescope Science Center has released a new Hubble Deep Field Image that was made with The Hubble Space Telescope’s newly installed Wide Field Camera 3. The new images shows galaxies that are more than 13 billion years old.
The claim that the Universe
is 6,000 years old is not simply inaccurate; it is so far off the
mark as to be nonsensical. If the Universe were 6,000 years old,
all the matter in the Universe—the
400 billion stars in our galaxy and the 400 billion stars in each
of the 100 billion bright galaxies in our Hubble volume—would
contained in a sphere 6,000 light years in diameter.
If that were true then the stars—including
our sun—could be
no larger than the smallest known subatomic particle. It would mean
that we are wrong about the size of the Earth and everything on it.
Since the sun has a volume of about 1.3 million Earths, the Earth
would have to be at least 1.3 million times smaller than
the smallest known subatomic particles. The claim is nonsensical
because a 6,000-year-old universe would contain no stars, no planets,
no people; it would be a Universal Black Hole. Our experience tells
us that it is not.
If the Universe were 6,000 years old, everything we
think we understand in science—everything—would be wrong. We don’t
know the speed of light. The theory of gravity is
invalid (watch out for upward-falling apples!) We don't know about stars. Atoms
exist, so all of chemistry is wrong. Wheels don’t turn, rulers
measure distance, clocks don’t measure time, we have no understanding
of mathematics. We can't generate electricity or develop a polio vaccine. We
enumerate the fingers on our hands. And your cell phone—a quantum mechanical device whose design uses the same fundamental theories that reveal the true age of the Universe—doesn’t
In short, the Universe cannot exist if the
Universe is 6,000 years old. If the Universe cannot exist if it is 6,000 years
old, then—if we accept that the Universe exists—the Universe cannot be
6,000 years old.
The measured age of the Universe, 13.75 billion years
plus or minus 170 million years, may continue to be refined as new precision measuring tools are developed, but the number is unlikely to change to a great degree. At the beginning of 2008 the age was given as 13.7 billion years within a one percent margin of error. A refinement of some millions of years was announced in March, 2008, reflecting the continuing analysis of WMAP data. Another refinement, to the number presented above, was announced in early 2010. There is a limit to how far the measurement can be refined, however; the WMAP team is not going to announce that the Universe came into being at 3:18 p.m. on a fine Monday in May (but see Bishop Ussher below).