Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Big Bang and the Age of the Universe

Though the scientific community unanimously agrees that the universe is about 14 billion years old, many Christians in America insist that the universe is very young, perhaps only 10 or 15 thousand years old. I feel that this is an unwarranted belief which brings unnecessary scorn on the church and discourages unbelievers from seriously considering the claims of Christianity. Furthermore, it prevents Christians from leveraging an important argument for the existence of God. 
In this post, I will argue that (1) the scientific evidence emphatically supports an old universe, and (2) the Biblical evidence does not support a young universe. 
1) The Scientific Evidence
Observers on Earth see light from stars billions of light years away. The speed of light is a constant that cannot change. Therefore, if the light we see did indeed originate in the stars and galaxies which we observe, the universe must be many millions of years old. 
“Young earth” creationists recognize this, of course, and suggest that God created not only the distant star and the Earth but also the light in transit, shown as a black arrow in the diagram below. 
Therefore, the universe only has the appearance of great age. The illustration is given of Adam and Eve, who were not created as zygotes but as fully developed adults. In other words, they appeared to be older than they actually were.
However, the problem with such logic is that the sky we observe is not static, but dynamic. For example, we do not merely observe stars exist, we observe them explode. Every year, astronomers detect hundreds of supernovae outside of the Milky Way. If the light that reaches earth now was created in transit 10 or 15 thousand years ago, then none of these supernovae actually occurred! As illustrated in the following diagram, God did not just create the light in transit from distant galaxies; he populated that light with fictitious events, such as the death of stars which never actually existed. 
Such an understanding of cosmology is equivalent to the suggestion that God not only created Adam and Eve as mature adults but also infused them with memories of a childhood which they never had! Surely this is absurd. 
2)   The Biblical Evidence
The idea of a young universe is derived from the first creation account in Genesis 1.1-2.3. Young earth creationists base their interpretation on two assumptions: (1) this passage provides a literal, chronological record of God’s actions, and (2) the word “day” implies a 24 hour period of time. However, I do not believe the text supports either assumption.
Concerning the first assumption, it is simply impossible to hold a strictly literal interpretation of both creation accounts. In the first account, God created “vegetation, plants…and trees bearing fruit” on the third day (Gen. 1.12) before he created man on the sixth day. In the second account, however, before the creation of man “no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted” (Gen. 2.5). In the first account, God clearly created “every winged bird” on the fifth day (Gen. 1.21) before creating man on the sixth day. However, the second account states explicitly that birds were created after man: 
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. (Gen. 2.18-20)
These discrepancies would hardly have escaped the notice of the original writer/editor of Genesis. This is strong evidence that such a wooden interpretation of the text was never intended.
Furthermore, the first creation account is markedly different in style from a typical narrative. As illustrated below, the text is highly structured. Each section opens with the phrase, “Then God said,” and closes with the phrase, “There was evening and there was morning, a … day.” This degree of symmetry separates Genesis 1.1-2.3 from the other narratives in Genesis and is reminiscent of a song or a poem. 
Concerning the second assumption, the phrase “literal day” is often used. However, how can any “day” be considered “literal” before the existence of the Sun? The fact that the text speaks of an “evening and a morning” in the absence of the Sun (Gen. 1.5, 8, 13) surely implies that figurative language is being employed. A morning is defined as that time when the Sun rises. An evening is defined as that time when the Sun sets. If there is no Sun, one can only speak figuratively of an evening and a morning.

Furthermore, on day 3, "The earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit" (Gen. 1.12). Trees do not grow in 24 hours. Must we postulate that God supernaturally sped up this process?

Finally, the second creation account, beginning in Genesis 2.4, states that the heavens and the earth were created in a "day":
This is the account of the heavens and they earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.
If the days of Genesis 1 are literal, then the "day" of Genesis 2.4 cannot be literal. 
This understanding of Genesis 1.1-2.3 is not a modern attempt to bend the text to fit a new scientific understanding. Consider these words from St. Augustine, writing over a millennium before Darwin:
The account of the things that God made is broken down most conveniently as if in periods of time so that the very arrangement which weaker souls could not look upon with a firm gaze could be discerned as if by these eyes, when it is set forth through the order of such a discourse.
In conclusion, modern cosmology is not a threat to the Christian faith. On the contrary, the discovery that the universe had a finite beginning 14 billion years ago provides a strong argument for the validity of the Genesis record: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 
The following video briefly explains how the Big Bang points to the existence of God. 


Debbie said...

My previous comment was pretty sharp and cutting, and that is not the right attitude. I apologize. However, I am very concerned that God's clear Word not be explained away just to fit the unbeliever's mold. (I heard a wise old man say that it had been his extensive experience that unbelievers don't have an intellectual problem with God's Word like they would claim. They have a problem with the morality presented in the Bible.) Genesis is a historical book, and the clear reading of Genesis 1 is a literal 7-Day creation. I don't know how God could have conveyed that idea in a more clear way. Man's desire to explain the Bible away is insatiable--and we need to be careful to not do that. We see Jesus creating in the Gospels--and He did it quickly. He didn't require time. The 7 days of Genesis 1 don't refer to the universe--they refer to God's preparation of the earth for man--and God's creation of man. Genesis 2 never claims to be chronological. Whereas Genesis 1 is an overview of creation, Genesis 2 is an expanded look at the creation of man and his privileges and responsibilities in a specific place in the earth--a garden where God placed him and told him to proceed from there to subdue the whole earth. I would assume the sun, moon, and stars were part of the creation of Genesis 1:1--with the 4th day dealing with how they became apparent to people who would soon be on earth. What all that involves, I don't know. (I wasn't there!:)) However, it is striking that the firmament is mentioned several times in those verses. Perhaps God made some adjustments relating to how the celestial objects were seen through the atmosphere. Anyway, I am proudly and unabashedly a literalist, and I have discovered over and over that when you take God at His Word, He in time clears up various things that had heretofore seemed puzzling.

Gabe said...

I echo Debbie's comments above. When we attempt to interpret the Bible through the lens of modern science (and, as a result, fallen, sinful humans), we will always end up on a slippery slope. If the universe (and the Earth, by extension) truly are billions of years old, how could God have ascribed the terms "very good" to His creation that was full of death and disease? If each day in Genesis represents untold millions of years, we must assume that animals were living and dying as time passes between the successive events of creation. This is hardly qualifying of God's declaration that His creation is "very good". Also, the supposed unchangeable speed of light can only be verified on a round-trip basis. That is to say, one cannot know equivocally that the speed of light is constant since we can only determine it's speed based off a round-trip value. For example, if we measure the time it takes a beam of light to travel to the moon and back, we are using the known distance between Earth and moon and the ROUNDTRIP time as an extrapolation on the unidirectional speed of light. But we have NO WAY of verifying that its speed was constant to the moon and back. There are a host of other issues which negate the old age of the earth and universe that you would do well to read up on before assuming that Young Earth Creationists are ignorant of such scientific claims. My recommendation would be to visit Answers in Genesis and read through their large catalog of articles written on this very topic. You may be surprised at what you had not hitherto considered.

Murray Vasser said...

Hi Gabe,

Thanks for your comments. In "Three Views on Creation and Evolution," Edited by J. P. Moreland, young earth creationists Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds explain that the movement has abandoned the theory that the speed of light changes. In fact, they point to this as evidence that young earth creationists are responsible scientists, self-critiquing their finds and admitting when they are wrong.

As for the problem of animal death prior to the fall, see my previous post here: