The Age of the Universe is a Function of Time

by Donald E. Simanek
Abstract: Scientific estimates of the age of the earth and the universe show a consistent tendency to increase at an increasing rate as time goes on. This relation has been surprisingly consistent during the last three centuries. The implications of this are, of course, profound, for they impact on both the future and the past history of time itself.
Figure 1. The estimated age of the universe as a function of the time the estimate was made. Estimates earlier than 1850 are too near the axis to plot, and their error estimates are untrustworthy at best.
I. Introduction

The age of the earth and the universe is of crucial importance to cosmological theories, and of intense popular interest as well. Enough data have accumulated since the early 18th century that we may now critically and objectively attempt to determine whether there's a fundamental underlying relation affecting time itself.

II. Data

1644: Hebrew scholar Dr. John Lightfoot (1602-1675), Vice-Chancellor of the Cambridge University, constructed a chronology of history from Biblical genealogies. He calculated that the world was created at the equinox in September of 3298 B.C., at the third hour of the day (9 A.M.). He didn't specify the particular earth longitude for which this time applied.

1650: James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, painstakingly correlated Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy writ, arriving at the date of creation: Sunday 23 October 4004 B.C. No error bars are needed when this date is plotted on the graph, for Ussher considered it exact to the day.

For several centuries thereafter one sees little scientific discussion of the age of the universe, partly because of lack of evidence and theory. But people were pondering the question of the age of the earth, and of course, the universe is very likely older than the earth.

1760: Buffon (1707-88) estimated the earth's age to be 75,000 years by calculating its time of cooling from the molten state.

1831: Charles Lyell (1797-1875) arrived at an age of 240 million years based on fossils of marine mollusks.

1897: William Thomson (1824-1907) used improved knowledge of heat conduction and radiation to improve the calculation of the earth's cooling rate, concluding the earth was between 20 and 400 million years old.

1901: John Joly (1857-1933) calculated the rate of delivery of salt from rivers to oceans, determining the earth's age to be 90 to 100 million years.

1905-1907: Rutherford and Boltwood determined the age of rocks and minerals from measurements of radioactive decay. They found ages of 500 million years to 1.64 billion years. Subsequent work found rock samples as old as 4.3 billion years.

In the 20th century attention turns from dating the earth, to dating the formation of the solar system, and the universe itself.

1929: Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) interprets the redward shift of distant stars and galaxies as due to the general expansion of the universe. The rate of this expansion is called the Hubble constant, and if the universe were expanding uniformly since its beginning, would tell us how old the universe is. Extrapolating backward would bring the galaxies together about 2 billion years ago, using Hubble's original figures.

1947: George Gamow (1904-68) uses Hubble's original data on luminosity of Cepheid variables to conclude that the universe's "expansion must have started about two or three billion years ago." In a footnote he says "More recent information leads, however to an estimate of somewhat longer time periods."

1952: Bart Jan Bok (1906-83) estimates that galactic clusters must be between 1 and 10 billion years old.

1999: Astronomers working on a special NASA team announced that the universe is about 12 billion years old, based on measurements of the Hubble constant for very distant stars.


Person    Year  Year   E = Age   Method
           CE   A (abs)Est (yrs) 

Lightfoot  1644   5648      3298 Biblical geneaologies.
Ussher     1650   5654      4004 Biblical geneaologies.
Buffon     1760   5764     75000 Cooling rate of hot earth.
Lyell      1831   5835 240000000 Age of oldest fossils.
Kelvin     1897   5901 210000000 Cooling rate of hot earth.
Joly       1890   5894 100000000 Salt delivery by rivers to oceans.
Boltwood   1907   5911   2.2E+09 Radioactive decay of rocks.


Hubble     1929   5933     2E+09 Red-shift of stars and galaxies.
Gamow      1947   5951   2.5E+09 Red-shift of stars and galaxies.
Bok        1952   5956     5E+09 Galactic clusters.
NASA       1999   6003  1.35E+10 Expansion of universe.
III. Analysis

Fig. 1 strongly suggests that a real and fundamental relation underlies this data. One may complain that this simplified plot lumps together data on age of the earth and age of the universe. A regression analysis was performed on the two data groups separately. One finds that the earth age data (before 1929) fit a curve of the form E=FAk where E is the age estimate and A is the absolute age of the earth at the time the estimate was made (A=Y+4004) where Y is the calendar year. The fit is best with F=3015x104 and k=0.0075. The standard deviation of this fit is about 2.5%.

The estimates of the age of the universe (from 1929 to the present) fit a curve of the same form, E=FAk with F=2910x104 and k=0.009. The standard deviation of the fit being less than 0.5%. The quality of this fit is much better than that of the earth-age data. This should not be surprising, considering that early estimates of the age of the earth were largely guesswork based on poor methodology, while the more recent estimates of the age of the universe are scientific guesswork based on advanced techniques and instrumentation.

Table 1 gives the raw data, that the reader may use to check these results. These two regression lines extrapolate back to the same point in time, 4004 B.C.E. This should give encouragement to creationists and other Biblical literalists to stick with that date, and not compromise their beliefs with an earlier date.

IV. Conclusion

Physicists have long treated time as a variable, yet they have failed to realize the full implications of that fact. If these age estimates are to be taken seriously one cannot escape the conclusion that as time goes on the age of universe not only increases, but does so at an accelerating rate.

Since these results are, at present, based entirely on data from the past, this age increase must be happening in the past. Therefore that point in time representing the birth of the universe, the "Big Bang", may be moving backward in time at an ever-increasing rate.

The rapidly rising trend of the age curve (Fig. 1) strongly suggests that at some finite time in the future the universe's calculated age will be infinite. This will have several important consequences:

(1) All questions relating to the circumstances in place at the time of the beginning of the universe (the Big Bang) will be relegated to history.

(2) All speculation about what was before the Big Bang will likewise be seen as obviously meaningless.

A few theorists suggest an alternate conclusion. They say that the trend of age estimates is due to a fault of time itself. Perhaps the universal expansion of space is accompanied by a universal expansion of the time frame in which all of this happens. Or perhaps the space expansion is only an illusion caused by the time expansion. Their critics say that these theorists just have too much time on their hands.

Addendum, January 2019.

Since this was written in 2001, cosmologists have found evidence that the expansion of the universe isn't constant. It is accelerating. If so, this is another evidence that the age of the universe is also accelerating with time.

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IoP is a not-for-profit company. Our book could help them retain that status. This material is © 2001 by The Institute of Physics Publishing and appears in the science humor collection Science Askew by Donald E. Simanek and John C. Holden.

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