Mormonism and science/Age of the Earth

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Doctrine & Covenants 77:6 refers to "this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance."

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Question: How do we reconcile the actual age of the earth to the "seven thousand years of its continuance" mentioned in D&C 77:6?

The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of the earth's "seven thousand years of continuance, or its temporal existence"

Doctrine and Covenants 77:6–7 contains the only canonized statement specifically identifying the age of the earth:

6 Q[uestion]. What are we to understand by the book which John saw,[1] which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A[nswer]. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.
7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?
A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.

The scripture may be taken either literally or figuratively

Like many passages in scripture, this one is open to some interpretation. A literal reading has led some to conclude that the Earth is 7,000 years old. But others take a more symbolic or figurative interpretation that the 1,000-year dispensations are figurative in the sense of "large spans of time." This follows the Hebrew use of "thousand" ('elef), which sometimes meant a literal one thousand, and other times was more generically used to indicate "a large amount."

The phrase "temporal existence" allows for, if not implies, an existence prior to that

The chronological extent of the earth's creative period is not detailed specifically in scripture. There could quite possibly be a transition from the creative process to temporal existence thus allowing for a new period in the earth's history and thus the 7000 years.

It should be noted that these verses refer to the Book of Revelation, which is well-known for its dense numerical symbolism. It may, then, be premature to regard such numbers as literal and precise.

Scriptures are not intended to provide scientific information

The language in our scriptures from which such dating of the "age of the earth" is drawn is not intended to provide the kinds of scientific information that some people insist on having. Brigham Young stated that we have no revealed knowledge on the topic:

In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular...whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.
Brigham Young, (May 14, 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:116. (emphasis added)

The scriptures do not specify the age of the Earth

The placement of Adam at 4,000 BC has a rather long history. Perhaps the most famous attempt was made by the Irish Anglican Bishop of Ussher, who calculated the date as 4,004 (and even calculated it down to the month and day!). Such a dating, however, is not in our scriptures, even if a version of it has been included into our Bible Dictionary.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article "Earth," states unequivocally:

The scriptures do not say how old the earth is, and the Church has taken no official stand on this question. Nor does the Church consider it to be a central issue for salvation. [2]

There are varying opinions among Latter-day Saints on the age of the earth. Some believe in a "young earth." Many Saints accept an old earth in the billions of years. Many probably have no strong opinions or thoughts one way or the other.

Brigham Young (1871): "whether the Lord...made [the earth] in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject"

Brigham Young:

In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular...whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.[3]

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!

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.[4] —(Click here to continue)

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

Improvement Era 1909 regards an ancient earth as consistent with scripture

The editor of the Improvement Era wrote:

Several students have asked to know whether the ideas con- tained in the seventh Y. M. M.I.A. Manual lesson are in harmony with the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as found in section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants. A careful reading of the 7th lesson, also of the Book of Abraham, and the section referred to in the Doctrine and Covenants will demonstrate that there is no conflict. The Manual, as I understand it, simply gives the scien- tific deductions concerning the geological age of the earth. It does not pretend to say how old the earth is, but points out the scientific conclusions on this subject. The Book of Abraham in the 3rd and 4th chapters, very distinctly points out, or conveys, the idea that the creative days or periods included long periods of time. This is plainly set forth on pages 56 to 59 in the Manual. We are not told how long these periods were. It is only demonstrated in the Manual that science declares the creation to have covered very long periods of time; and that Joseph the Prophet, through the Book of Abraham, also declared that long periods of time were consumed in the preparation of the earth for man; which the prophet did before the scientists or religious leaders had announced this truth. It seems to me unnec- essary to discuss. much less try to decide, in class, the length of the time. The prophet declares it was long periods. Science, as is stated, gives millions of years as the length of time. There is positively and absolutely no definite solution of the problem given either in science or in revelation; but the fact is clearly expressed, and that is all that is sought to be done, that both science and the Prophet Joseph ascribe long periods of time to the formation of the earth....
The idea to be obtained out of our Manual in regard to these matters is not to settle upon things that are not revealed, and to decide things that cannot be decided; but it is the purpose of the Manual to show that, in a general way, Joseph Smith the Prophet, by the inspiration of God, announced truths then generally un- known but which have since been declared by men of science.[5]

The editor concludes by introducing remarks by Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve on the age of the Earth.

John A. Widtsoe in Improvement Era 1909 on the age of the earth

The scientific doctrine of the great age of the earth, rests largely upon the evidence of the orderly arrangement of plant and animal fossils in the rocks constituting the upper portion of the earth’s crust. Those who hold to the six day theory of creation, claim that in accordance with the above quotation from the Prophet Joseph, these stratilied rocks, containing fossils, are fragments of other worlds, and do not represent processes that have taken place on this earth. Why fossils may have been formed on other worlds, but not on the earth, is nearly as difficult to understand as the doctrine that living, intelligent beings are found only on the earth. Modern science has developed a doctrine like that of Joseph Smith, which teaches that heavenly bodies may be made up of fragments of destroyed worlds, but the parts of destroyed worlds which go to build new heavenly bodies are minute, even microscopic in size. There are numerous strong evidences against the view that large sections of other worlds were brought together to form this earth (see an article by Dr. J. E. Talmage, Improvement Era vol 7, p 481). Primarily, it would not be the way of nature, as we know it. God, who is nature's master, does his work in a natural manner.... The more the matter is carefully examined, the firmer grows the belief that the creation of the earth occupied immense time periods, the exact length of which is not yet given to man to know. This view does not in any way discredit the book of books, the Holy Bible. The Bible must be read with understanding minds; as :1 hook, it must no more be held to a word. than a man desires so to be held. By verse and chapter and book, the Bible will be found an accurate, inspired record of the most wonderful and valuable events and doctrines of the world. However, it must not be forgotten that the Apostle Paul has reminded us that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” God reveals himself in nature; and when nature is read understandingly God may thereby in part be comprehended. There is no conflict between the story of the rocks and the Bible, except as man has made it. Finally, it must be said that so far as living a correct gospel life is concerned, it matters little whetl1er or not we know the time God consumed in making the earth a fit habitation for man.[6]

Charles W. Penrose in Improvement Era 1909 on the age of the earth

In times past a large portion of the religious world, following perhaps the chronology of the scriptures given by Archbishop Usher, believed that the creation took place in the year 4004 before Christ. but this no longer prevails among enlightened people, and has been exploded by researches and developments and scientific observation. Geology, or "the science of the earth.” has demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that the earth is such a young; planet in this universe. We do not regard geology as sufficiently scientific to determine exactly the period when this globe rolled into organized existence, revolving on its own axis and traveling [sic] on its career round the sun, but the data furnished by thoroughly sincere and truth exploring geologists are sufficiently definite and reliable to prove that this planet existed and moved and had its being long ages before the six-thousand-years period....

The light thus thrown on the process of creation and the periods thereof , throws hack the age of the earth at least :1 period of six thousand years before the time set forth in the chronology, which for 3 long time was accepted in Christendom. Readers of the Bible should understand that the figures placed at the head of chapters therein are in It large degree speculative and unreliable: some of them, showing the periods from the birth of some of the patriarchs to that of others. are measurably correct, because they are computed from statements given in the sacred record. But those ventured as starting points on which to calculate the age of the earth, are altogether mere matters of conjecture? That which we have referred to as given by modern revelation does not die- close. or profess to disclose, the actual age of the earth. It only starts from the period alluded to in Genesis 1: 3, when “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” How many ages upon ages passed from the time called “in the beginning," to that when God called forth the light out of the midst of the darkness, cannot be gleaned from any revelation or scripture ancient or modem, that is now known to man.

Neither the periods nor the processes of the development of the earth from the nucleus or starting point of its organized development are revealed in the sacred writings, but there may have been eons of ages between the time mentioned as “in the beginning” until the time when “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” And it should not be thought that this command of Deity was the actual creation or formation of light, for that is an eternal principle or manifestation of an eternal essence. It was simply the bringing forth of light to penetrate “the darkness which was upon the face of the deep.” So, when after several periods in the order of creation “God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night,” and further, when it is said, “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also,” it is not to be understood that they were for the first time brought into being, but that they were disclosed to this globe, and their influence was brought to bear upon it by the clearing away of the dense mists that had surrounded this planet. [7]

James E. Talmage, a geologist, spoke of the earth forming from other bodies

A clear distinction must be made between theory and fact. The observations last referred to are in no sense representative of theory, but, on the contrary, stand as demonstrated facts. The planetesimal hypothesis suggests the formation of worlds—of this earth, at 1east—by the coming together of small but discrete particles, world-dust, if you please, but not large masses of structural character. However, the theory does not deny that during the early formative stages of the earth, ponderous masses may have thus fallen together; but neither theory nor observed facts war- rant the belief that the present structure of the outer parts of the earth is in any way due to the structure of the infalling bodies, Whether particles comparable to dust, or masses of greater size. Approximately nine-tenths of the land surface today consists of stratified or sedimentary rocks. These are composed of the debris of earlier formations, which material by erosion, transportation, and re-deposition has been laid down as orderly beds at the bottom of ocean, sea, or lake. Even the oldest eruptive and metamorphic rocks known to us appear to consist of the material of yet more ancient rocks, changed and made over in the construction of the formations as we now observe them. He would be rash in- deed, who would attempt to affirm that he had identified any rock formation as part of the so-called first or primitive crust. What- ever may have been the character of the planetesimal bodies, the existing structure of the earth’s crust is the result of causes less remote than the original accretion of these bodies,—causes of a kind yet operating,—disintegration, removal, and re-deposition in the case of these dimentaries, volcanism and metamorphism in the case of crystalline rocks.[8]

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.[9]

Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:

All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.[10]

This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.[11]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[12]

For further information related to this topic

  • Brigham as Young Earth Creationist
    Brief Summary: Some try to portray Brigham Young as a "young earth creationist" (YEC). This is someone who believes the earth was created in the recent past, usually 6-7,000 years ago, based upon a literal and fundamentalist reading of Genesis. They hope that by making Brigham appear uninformed about scientific matters, they can challenge his status as a prophet. (Click here for full article)
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To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. The passage is referring to the book seen in Revelation 5:1.
  2. Morris S. Petersen, "Earth," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:431. off-site
  3. Brigham Young, (14 May 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:116.
  4. John S. Lewis, "The Scale of Creation in Space and Time," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8:71-80 (27 December 2013).
  5. Edward H. Anderson, "Editors Table: Age of the Earth," Improvement Era 12 no. 6 (April 1909), 489-91.
  6. John A. Widstoe, "The Length Time of Creation," Improvement Era 12 no. 6 (April 1909), 491-94.
  7. Charles W. Penrose, "The Age and Destiny of the Earth," Improvement Era 12 no. 7 (May 1909), 505-509.
  8. James E. Talmage, Professor of Geology, University of Utah, "Prophecy as the Forerunner of Science—an Instance," Improvement Era 7 no. 7 (May 1904), 486-487.
  9. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
  10. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  11. LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," (4 May 2007)
  12. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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