Any scientific survey of the history of planet Earth will naturally start with a discussion on the principle of Uniformitarianism. James Hutton developed Uniformitarianism in the late eighteenth century in direct opposition to the then current Biblical based Catastrophism as the underlying philosophy behind geology. Basically stated, Uniformitarianism is the idea that "the laws of nature do not change with time. We assume that the chemical and physical laws operating today have operated throughout all time" (Hamblin 182).
When first developed, and as usually taught in introductory geology classes, Uniformitarianism denies past short-term, earth-changing events like those found in scripture and teaches that the earth is billions of years old (as opposed to the Biblical standard 6,000). The modern view of Uniformitarianism, often called Actualism, allows for these events, but still implies a very old earth.
Scientists have developed many different methods to date materials found in the earth. Superposition is used to determine the relative ages of different rock strata. Superposition is the idea that "in an undisturbed succession of sedimentary rock layers, the oldest layer is at the bottom, and the youngest layer is at the top" (Wicander 26). From looking at the huge amounts of layers found in the earth, geologists as far back as Hutton held that the earth must be much older than previously thought.
More recently, scientists have developed so-called "absolute-dating" methods. These methods measure the decay of radioactive isotopes in rocks to determine the rock's age (this is discussed in detail in the paper GEOLOGIC DATING METHODS). Based on these two dating methods, scientists generally believe that the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old (Hamblin 206; Wicander 23).
Hamblin and Christiansen wrote that this number might seem "astonishing" and "not easy to deal with" (206). Indeed it is--especially when evaluated as Jacob has outlined.
The first analysis to which we will subject the idea of typical Uniformitarianism and the idea of a 4.5 billion year old earth is the test of the scriptures. In March of 1832 Joseph Smith the Prophet was engaged in translating the Book of Revelation. Not understanding many of the things he read, Joseph went to the Lord with several questions. Two of these questions refer specifically to the age of the earth. In Doctrine and Covenants 77:6-7 we read:
Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A. 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.
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. (Emphasis added)
Here the Lord clearly taught Joseph Smith that the earth's temporal existence, or from the time of the Fall of Adam through the completion of God's work on earth, would be seven thousand years. Later in verse 12 we read:
Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man... when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things... in the beginning of the seventh thousand years--the preparing of the way before the time of his coming. (Emphasis added)
Here again Joseph was taught that in the beginning of the seventh thousand-year period the earth would be sanctified or cleansed for the beginning of the Millennium. Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the great sections concerning the last days, also supports this idea of the earth existing for seven thousand years. Verses 108-110 are as follows:
And then shall the first angel again sound his trump in the ears of all living, and reveal the secret acts of men, and the mighty works of God in the first thousand years. And then shall the second angel sound his trump, and reveal the secret acts of men, and the thoughts and intents of their hearts, and the mighty works of God in the second thousand years--And so on, until the seventh angel shall sound his trump; and he shall stand forth upon the land and upon the sea, and swear in the name of him who sitteth upon the throne, that there shall be time no longer; and Satan shall be bound, that old serpent, who is called the devil, and shall not be loosed for the space of a thousand years. (Emphasis added)
Modern revelation then makes very clear that the earth's temporal existence will only be seven thousand years. Yet some people have tried to twist and distort these verses to mean something different (though, modern prophets are consistent in their literal interpretation of the verses). As further evidence of a straightforward interpretation are the reconstructed scriptural chronologies and genealogy tables. Often when reading the scriptures one has a tendency to skip over the genealogies and details on the timeframe of events. This first chart presents a compilation of the details of the chronology of the time from Nephi back to Adam. The charts clearly illustrate that it is currently about 6,000 years from the time of Adam. The reliability of these charts in showing the approximate time periods is very high (see the cited scriptures and notes for details). At most they could be off by about 200 years, but defiantly nowhere near a thousand or more.
The genealogy charts, compiled from the Bible, modern scripture, and other teachings of Joseph Smith, provide even more accurate evidence of the time elapsed from Adam to the present. Again, although a few hundred years could be miscounted, there is no place for a thousand.
Although not as explicate as the scriptures, modern prophets and apostles agree that the age of the earth is currently around 6,000 years. Commenting on Doctrine and Covenants 77:6, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
By the seven thousand years of temporal existence is meant the time of the earth's duration from the fall of Adam to the end of time, which will come after the Millennium and "a little season" which will follow. [Sec. 29:22-23; 88:111.] (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1948, 2:64. cf. Orson F. Whitney in Saturday Night Thoughts, 1921, pp. 10-12. and Orson Pratt in Journal of Discourses, 1878, 19:290).
It is clearly established from the scriptures and the words of prophets then, that the earth's temporal existence has only been approximately 6,000 years up to this point. The argument is often put forward that the temporal earth may only be that old, but the earth itself is much older. This may be the case, but as will be shown later more fully, science teaches that fossils of complex organisms are dated as being up to 570 million years old (Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia cv. ediacaran fauna). This idea is at variance with the teachings that the Fall of Adam (6,000 years ago) brought death into the world (see section FALL OF ADAM in this paper for more details).
We are forced to make a decision: which will we believe--the scriptures or scientific evidence as it is currently interpreted?
Scientists base Uniformitarianism, like all scientific theories, on vast amounts of observations. What could cause a misinterpretation of scientific data gathered? If events in the earth's past were perhaps not as uniform as they currently are, Uniformitarianism--the foundation theory for all geology--would not be as accurate as it is believed to be. Many Bible--believing people think only of Noah's Flood when considering geologic catastrophic events mentioned in scripture; however, there are at least nine major events that should be taken into consideration:
1. Fall of Adam
2. Noah's Flood
3. Earth's Division in the Days of Peleg
4. Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
5. Moses' Plagues in Egypt
6. Joshua Holding the Sun Still
7. Isaiah Making the Sun Retrogress Eleven Degrees
8. The Signs at Christ's Birth and Death
9. The Signs Which Will Proceed Christ's Second Coming
Each of these events, and probably others, should show up somewhere in the geologic record (in fact they do, see GEOLOGIC CORRELATIONS in this paper).
As shown above, extreme Uniformitarianism is not as reliable as it first appears when tested against the scriptures and the words of prophets. Each geologic dating method also used to show a 4.5 billion year old earth stands or falls on the theory of Uniformitarianism (see GEOLOGIC DATING METHODS for a detailed examination of each method).
Uniformitarianism (and more especially Actualism) still has merits. Nowhere in scripture or in the words of prophets are we told that the laws of nature have changed. In fact, James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained miracles like those we have examined as follows:
Miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized. (139)
The basic premise of Uniformitarianism is true then according to Elder Talmage. Yet obviously there are many natural laws that man is not aware of and therefore is far from understanding. As has been shown, many of the assumptions currently believed about Uniformitarianism simply do not agree with the revealed word of God as found in scriptures and in the teachings of modern apostles and prophets. The final standard of Jacob's tests for finding truth was a personal witness of the Holy Ghost. God has promised, "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:5). Find out for yourself the truthfulness of Uniformitarianism.