The Age Of The Earth And Religious Zealotry
Physicist Paul Davies, Professor of Natural History at the University of Adelaide in Australia, author of over twenty books on science, including The Mind of God and God and the New Physics, says:
There are religious zealots to this day who declare that we cannot trust our clocks or our senses. They firmly believe that the universe was created by God just a few thousand years ago, and merely looks old (Paul Davies, About Time, 1995, p. 39).
Although I do not think of myself as a religious zealot, I suppose I must plead guilty to Davies' charge. But I want to make it clear that I do so out of my respect for the Bible, which I believe to be inerrant in conveying the mind of God to His creation. As such, there seems to be no legitimate way of denying that the continuum begun with the six days of Creation occurred in the not too distant past — somewhere in the vicinity of 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Therefore, when I preach on Genesis One, I feel compelled by the text to speak of six, consecutive, twenty-four hour days of Creation. To modern science, such an idea is, of course, so scientifically deficient as to be absolutely laughable. Even so, there is no way I can teach, as do old-Earth creationists (OECs), that the Universe and Earth came into existence over a period of billions of years. On the contrary, it is by faith, and faith alone, that I believe God created everything in six, consecutive, twenty-four hour days, and this is why I admit to being a young-Earth creationist (YEC). When it comes to the Bible, this is the only position I can conscientiously defend. So, if I'm to be called a "religious zealot" because I believe the Bible to be the infallible, inerrant word of God, then so be it!
My OEC brethren counter that the days of Creation could have been something other than twenty-four hour days, and I suppose they could have been, as the Hebrew word (yôm) translated "day" does not mean only a twenty-four hour day. But when one takes into consideration that in the first 35 verses of Genesis we have a number + a day + a sequence of morning and evening, then it seems rather compelling that the Author intended to convey the idea of six, consecutive, twenty-four hour days. Therefore, when six days of Creation, the genealogies and life spans of pre-Flood people, along with the genealogies given for the post-Flood people, et cetera, are taken into consideration, it seems like we have enough information to establish a fairly accurate age of the Earth. So, although I don't subscribe to Ussher's 4004 B.C. date (or Lightfoot's date of October 23, 4004 B.C. at nine o'clock in the morning) for Creation, I really don't think it was all that far off either. This is why I've admitted to believing the Earth is somewhere in the vicinity of six to ten thousand years old — and closer to six than to ten!
If the Earth is six thousand years old, and this seems to be the best reading of the text, then the findings of modern science, which claim the Universe is 15 billion years old and the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, is clearly at odds with the Bible. This incompatibility seems to set up the classic confrontation between science and religion that most everyone has come to expect today. Consequently, the YEC position is strong biblically, but weak scientifically. On the other hand, the OEC position is strong scientifically, but weak biblically. The discussion referred to above is typical of the debate between these two groups. Well, who's right? The answer to this question depends on whether you're a YEC or an OEC. If you're a YEC, then YECism is right; but if you're an OEC, then OECism is correct. But suppose, if you will, that YECs and OECs are both right? In other words, is there any way that six, consecutive, twenty-four hour days can also be 15 billion years? I know this sounds preposterous, but there are several physicists who say this is precisely the case.
Gerald L. Schroeder, Ph.D., author of Genesis And The Big Bang and The Science Of God is a physicist (he studied at MIT) and theologian who argues effectively that the billions of years that cosmologists say followed the Big Bang and those of the first six days described in Genesis are, in fact, the same — identical realities described in vastly different terms. Dr. Schroeder, who is a devout Jew, rejects macroevolution with its amoeba to man scenario, but he cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a "scientific creationist." On the other hand, he can accurately be described as an OEC. As such, he honestly admits the age of the Universe is particularly bothersome because it has, he thinks, been proven by various independent sources, such as radioactive dating, Doppler shifts in starlight, and the isotropic "3 degrees above zero" radiation background. At the same time, he cannot deny that the "six days" of Genesis are found within uncompromisingly explicit statements that refer to phenomena that are readily measurable by modern archaeological, paleontological, and cosmological instrumentation. He argues that it seems the first chapter of the Bible was deliberately included to make it difficult for scientifically oriented people who want to believe the Bible. Nevertheless, there it is right up front, challenging us in the very dimension that seems to rule our lives — the passage of time. No one, he argues, is immune from the effects of its unrelenting flow into the future. Some may question whether its flow can be slowed or accelerated, as did Einstein, and two hundred years before him, Newton; but none of us can fail to feel the brevity of six days.
Dr. Schroeder understands there is just no way to avoid the issue: The Bible says God created man, along with all the material produced in the Creation, in just six days. Current cosmology claims (proves) that nature took some 15 billion years to accomplish the same thing. Which is correct? Again, Dr. Schroeder says: "Both are. Literally. With no allegorical modifications of these two simultaneous, yet different, time periods" (Genesis And The Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible, 1990, 29). He claims that misplaced fossils and changes in radioactivity (which creationists use to argue against marcroevolution) are not needed to reconcile science and theology because the same single sequence of events that encompasses the time period from "the beginning" to the appearance of mankind did take six days and 15 billion years — simultaneously — starting at the same instant and finishing at the same instant.
Personally, I do not agree with many of his conclusions (the "six days" are God's time and the 15 billion years are our time), but I think the overall idea has merit. Obviously, I found both his books to be very interesting, and I found the latest one, The Science Of God, to be extremely fascinating, even though I probably disagree with his conclusions here the most. For those interested in Dr. Schroeder's theory, you will need to read his books. I mention him here because, as a physicist, he is one who believes the consensus of modern science concerning the age of the Universe is in harmony with the fact that God created it all in just six, consecutive, twenty-four hour days.
D. Russell Humphreys, Ph.D., author of Starlight And Time: Solving The Puzzle Of Distant Starlight In A Young Universe, is, by everyone's accounting, a scientific creationist with impeccable scientific credentials. Since receiving his Ph.D. in physics in 1972 from LSU, he has worked in the High Voltage Laboratory at GE and the Sandia National Laboratories in nuclear physics, geophysics, pulsed power research, theoretical atomic and nuclear physics, and the Particle Beam Fusion Project.
Dr. Humphreys cites the same evidence for a 15 billion year-old Universe as does Dr. Schroeder. Consequently, he challenges some of the traditional creationist theories (like Morris' vapor canopy). This has caused him to be seriously criticized by his fellow creationists. Nevertheless, Humphreys, who believes in a very straightforward reading of Scripture, advances a young-Earth cosmology that challenges the commonly accepted Big Bang theory. Having heard of Schroeder's work in Israel, he wrote to him to see if they had come to the same conclusions. The response from Schroeder was that they did not. However, there certainly are some similarities in the cosmologies proposed by these two men. Of primary importance is that both men, who respect the integrity of Scripture, attempt to harmonize the six days of Genesis with the 15 billion years of science.
Basically (very basically, in fact), Humphreys rejects the unbounded Universe and randomness of philosophical naturalism, which is called the "cosmological principle" or "Copernican principle," in favor of a bounded Universe in which there is a center of mass and a net gravitational force. This view, according to Humphreys, permits one to consider the time-distorting effects of gravity on a massive scale, which is set forth by Einstein's general theory of relativity (GR). GR, which says that gravity affects time, has been well established experimentally. For instance, the atomic clock at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, ticks five microseconds per year slower than an identical clock at the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder, Colorado, with both clocks being accurate to about one microsecond per year. The difference is exactly what GR predicts for the one-mile difference in altitude. So, which clock is showing (or running at) the right time? Both are — in their own frame of reference. In other words, there is no longer any way to say which is the "correct" rate at which time runs, as it all depends on where one is in relation to a gravitational field.
Consequently, GR, the physics framework for all modern cosmologies, is the basis for Humphreys' new cosmology which demonstrates that gravitational time distortion in the early universe would have meant that while a few days were passing on Earth, billions of years would have been available for light to travel to Earth. This means that although God created the Universe in six ordinary days only a few thousand years ago, we must ask: Six days measured by what clock? In what frame of reference? Therefore, Humphreys argues that the mathematics of this new theory shows that while God makes the Universe in six days in the Earth's reference frame ("Earth Standard Time," if you will), the light from distant stars has ample time in the extra-terrestrial reference frame to travel the required distances.
I do not know whether Schroeder or Humphreys is correct, or even on the right track for that matter, but I certainly appreciate the efforts of both men. If their theories are ultimately falsified, then so be it. In the meantime, those who argue as if most everything we know about time is settled appear to be manifesting their own short-sightedness on this subject, in that they seem to have no idea what time really is — a creation of God. However, it does not seem all that prudent to speak, as Schroeder does, of "God's time," since the Creator, who sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10; Revelation 22:13; John 8:58, etc.) actually exists outside of time. As such, time is a created feature of the Universe, just like matter and space. And while we're on this subject, it is interesting to note that the equations of GR have long indicated that, in fact, time had a beginning, just as is taught in the very first verse of the Bible.
For the Bible-believer, certain things about time are settled. As sure as we believe time had a beginning, we believe it will have an end. These facts may be open to scientific inquiry, but for us they are already settled. Nevertheless, the modern world believes the truth about anything lies not in the Bible, but in science. Many, therefore, seem to think that science has been very enlightening when it comes to time. It hasn't been! In his 1995 book, entitled About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Paul Davies, the physicist I mentioned at the beginning of this article, makes it clear that the scientific study of time has proved to be "disturbing, disorienting and startling" (p. 10). He goes on to call it "befuddling," goes so far as to warn his readers that they will probably be even more confused about time after they read his book. In fact, Dr. Davies honestly admits that he was more confused on this subject of time after writing his book than he was before. Such candor is much appreciated, as it seems to be almost a forgotten commodity in today's world.
Newton plucked time right out of nature and gave it an abstract, independent existence. In the Newtonian world view, time existed to keep track of motion mathematically (i.e., it didn't actually do anything). Einstein restored time to its rightful place at the heart of nature, as an integral part of the physical world. According to Davies, Einstein's "spacetime" is, in essence, just another field to be studied, along with electromagnetic and nuclear force fields. As such, it was a monumental first step. However, it did not solve the "riddle of time." That is, what is time? Einstein's time has no arrow (->): it is blind to the distinction between past and future. That is, it does not flow, if you will. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that something vital is missing from the equations, or even that there is more than one kind of time. The revolution begun by Einstein is not over by any means; it has, in fact, just begun.
Nevertheless, Einstein did make contact with one ancient aspect of time that is of paramount importance to theists: the traditional association between Time and Creation. In fact, modern cosmology is the most high-reaching enterprise to emerge from all his work. Exploring the implication of Einstein's time for the Universe as a whole, scientists have made one of the most important discoveries in the history of human thought: that time, and thus all of physical reality, must have had a definite beginning in the past. If time is flexible and mutable, as Einstein demonstrated, then it is possible for time to come into existence, and also for it to pass away again — that is, there can be a beginning and an end to time. In scientific parlance, the origin of time is called "the Big Bang." Bible-believers, of course, call it "the Creation." So, scientists and theists are on the same page when it comes to time: it has an alpha and omega. Curiously, Einstein remained steeped in Newtonian thinking and did not, himself, draw this conclusion. Instead, he clung to the idea that the Universe is eternal and essentially unchanging in its overall structure. He later described this as the biggest blunder of his life and reluctantly agreed that the Universe may not have existed forever, but probably came into existence in a big bang some billions of years ago.
Today, big-bang theory has become the orthodox cosmology, but as Davies so aptly points out, it faces a major hurdle in providing a convincing account of how the Universe came into existence from nothing through natural processes. Of course, both YECs and OECs know, by faith, that it didn't. We also believe there is scientific evidence for this, but tell that to a naturalist. Furthermore, there is no greater obstacle to this theory than how time itself can originate naturally. Again, both YECs and OECs know it didn't. Does science, as defined today, have the capacity to explain the beginning of time? I don't think so, even though Stephen Hawking et al. have tried. However, time has always existed just outside the realm of quantum physics, and the efforts so far to incorporate it end up, paradoxically, by eliminating it altogether. In other words, time vanishes!
So, despite its popularity, the big-bang theory has not been without its credible detractors. Right from the start, attempts to "date the creation" ran into serious trouble. The age kept coming up wrong! That's right, even with the billions of years postulated, there simply wasn't enough time for stars and planets to come into existence as they presently are. Worse yet, there were some astronomical objects that appeared to be older than the Universe, which is clearly absurd. However, since 1992, when the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) provided cosmologists with measurements of the slight ripples (anisotropy) in the background heat of the Universe, these scientists have been able to inject a new level of precision into their cosmological modeling. But once again, there's a snag that has resurrected the age issue once again — the COBE data themselves! Some astronomers believe that, with a bit of adapting and fudging, the time scales can all be made to jibe. Others disagree, and reject the entire big-bang scenario.
Now I know that old-Earthers will say, "But, Allan, we're not talking about thousands of years here." That's right, you're not. But if you can't get this time issue settled, then don't come pontificating to me about what science has proven about the age of the Universe. Science hasn't proven the Universe to be 15 billions years old or the Earth 4.5 billion. So, refer to me as a "religious zealot" because I believe the Earth is relatively young, if that's what you want to do, but I think my OEC brethren ought to be willing to admit their own religious zealotry as well.
In the end, time will tell. In the meantime, science presses on, and I'm all for it.